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COLUMN: MARY REVESAI

Makoni must come clean on crucial credentials

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By Mary Revesai

LIKE many other developments in Zimbabwe today, the emergence of Simba Makoni to challenge Robert Mugabe for the leadership of the country after almost 28 years of the incumbent’s one-man rule has elicited conflicting reactions and raised more questions than answers among ordinary people weary from being constantly beaten down.

The former finance minister’s announcement on Tuesday last week that he was offering himself to the nation as a presidential candidate at first sounded like manna from heaven for a nation that was already resigned to the fact that President Mugabe and Zanu PF would rig the elections and strut back into power after next month’s polls.

The signs that this would be the most likely scenario were there for all to see. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was, as usual at such crucial junctures, in disarray with the two factions failing to re-unite after bickering over the selection of candidates and allocation of “safe seats”.

Reports of Zanu PF’s usual dirty tricks were already rife when Makoni did the unthinkable and stepped forward to announce his intention to challenge the un-yielding incumbent. The dirty tactics included the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s partisan handling of the delimitation exercise to favour the ruling party, impediments placed in the path of prospective voters wishing to register and the use of food and other dispensations to buy votes in the rural areas.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) which identified some of these abuses reported that in some rural areas, peasants who allocated agricultural implements and inputs were already being threatened with dire consequences if the ruling party lost after they had benefited so much from government largesse.

And as happens in the build-up to all elections, traditional chiefs who had recently been inundated with vehicles and other benefits were already declaring their areas to be off limits for the MDC.

Amid these imponderables and more, enter Makoni. It seemed almost too good to be true but battle weary Zimbabweans were ready to clutch at any straws and at first Makoni’s move seemed to give a ray of hope that change could at last be possible. Then Makoni seemed to dampen hopes by insisting he was still loyal to the ruling party. Although it was announced that Makoni had been expelled from Zanu PF and he has been cannon fodder in the state media since his announcement, doubts about what he represents are growing by the day.

The former Finance Minister has gone to great trouble to prove that he is his own man and that there are “great many” in the ruling party who are disillusioned with the way the country is being led. As an admittedly cynical Zimbabwean, I have waited a week for concrete proof of Makoni’s utterances and I have not seen any.

Where are the “great many” like-minded people in the ruling party who were supposed to stand with Makoni? Knowing the kind of rival he is up against, Makoni and his group should know that it is best to strike while the iron is hot. Last week’s announcement would have had more credence if all those said to be standing with former Finance Minister had openly declared their intentions on that day or had done so since then.

In the absence of any further developments to maintain the momentum of Makoni’s announcement, speculation of all kinds is creeping in and taking hold. One version is that although Makoni initially had the backing of some influential members of President Mugabe’s government, these have subsequently been called to the carpet by the foxy old man and asked individually to say where they stand.

Even without believing Margaret Dongo’s observation that most people in Zanu PF are “Mugabe’s wives”, it is difficult to imagine that many of these people would stand their ground once put on the spot by their benefactor and dispenser of patronage.

Makoni himself was reportedly summoned by President Mugabe after the press had published reports about his plans to break ranks with the ruling party and challenge Mugabe in the presidential race.

The subsequent lack of momentum and clarity after Makoni’s seemingly bold move has given rise to suggestions that he too buckled under pressure and threats when he came face to face with the Dear Leader and agreed to be a decoy to split the MDC urban vote in return for appointment to a high position after the elections.

These rumours may seem unfounded and untrue, but in the absence of convincing explanations and rebuttals in the face of scepticism sparked by the apparent lack of consolidation of Makoni’s position, with just over a month to go before the elections, ordinary people cannot decide what to make of the aspiring president.

Some people say it is difficult to imagine Makoni being used but they only need to recall how the appointment of Joice Mujuru was proclaimed from the rooftops as a victory for women and as proof of the government’s commitment to gender equality. But it has subsequently turned out that Mujuru was used in 2004 to defuse a situation that would have been more threatening to Mugabe’s throne.

I refer here to the Tsholotsho group under Emmerson Mnangagwa that had won the support of a majority of provinces for Mnangagwa to succeed the late Simon Muzenda as vice president. He would then have only been a breath away from the top job. Mugabe was prepared to use Mujuru and subsequently Mnangagwa himself when Mujuru lost favour for aspiring to ascend to the presidency of Zimbabwe. With political survival his only concern, nothing is impossible with Zimbabwe’s ruler of the last 28 years.

Street talk is rife in Harare that Makoni may be doing what he is doing at Mugabe’s behest after being promised the presidency when Mugabe retires. Far-fetched that theory may be, but not exactly out of the realms of possibility given Mugabe’s Machiavellian survival antics

What Makoni needs to do to keep the goodwill that he initially won among the masses because of his courageous move is to come clean about who his allies in Zanu PF are and how his initiative proposes to proceed. His supposed allies must be prepared to stand up and be counted.

Makoni has not explained publicly why after seeing the light, he needs to maintain ties with the discredited and unpopular Zanu PF whose repressive policies have robbed ordinary people of their freedoms and entitlement to economic prosperity and security.

He has not explained why the party that has brought the country to its knees and pauperized the masses deserves his continuing loyalty and allegiance.

Both leaders of the two MDC factions, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, have said they do not believe there can such a thing as a reformed wing of a party that has caused such destruction and misery across the board.

Makoni must respond to questions being raised about his candidature splitting the opposition vote and defeating the objective of dislodging Mugabe. The longer he remains cagey on these crucial matters, the more he is likely to lose and be seen as a spoiler. He cannot have it both ways: breaking ranks with the ruling party and yearning to remain part of it.

Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare

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