2018: The politics of chance and splintering

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By Seewell Mashizha

NOT so very long ago we made the observation that Zimbabwe’s silly season of politics was with us once again. The signs of melodrama were there, everywhere. We also alluded to the late Professor Masipula Sithole’s observation about the propensity of Zimbabweans to form ever more and more political parties and for those political parties to break up into rival units at the flimsiest of excuses. According to the latest ZEC announcement, a staggering 128 political parties have announced their intention to seek office in this year’s harmonized elections. Come polling day we would need a booklet to house all one hundred and twenty-eight presidential candidates!

Given that not all of us are beneficiaries of reading dynamics courses, it would take us quite some time to leaf through the booklet and find the picture of our preferred candidate. This alone can have quite a few serious repercussions on the integrity of the poll. ZEC will have to ensure that the better-known candidates and parties appear at the top and the lesser known ones somewhere else. But the question then arises regarding whose name and logo should be at the top and what criteria to use in making that decision. The Johnny-come-latelies would obviously cry foul and rush to the courts. All in all we could be in for interesting times. Alternatively ZEC could use the alphabetical order.

What a drag it is when things that really ought to be quite simple become unnecessarily complex. To circumvent this, some resolute action might become necessary and those whose task it is to conduct the elections might have to urgently ask the legislature to help simplify things now and for the future. If parties were legally registered and had to pay a substantial registration fee, the situation would be less daunting.

In this regard, nuisance value candidates like the “perennial” Egypt Dzinemunhenzva should spare voters the agony of having to read their names on the ballot box. Dzinemunhenzva once claimed that he had a secret plan to defeat then incumbent president, Robert Mugabe- a plan that we never saw in action! That it always was Dzinemunhenzva’s democratic right to dream about ascending to the highest office in the land is a given. He even has the right to be the political comic that many think he is.

As if to be true to his role of inveterate comic, Dzinemunhenzva in 2017 “rebranded” his party and gave it a strange name: the Forces of the Liberation Organisation of African National Party (FLOANP). Asked about his intentions, Dzinemunhenzva said he would, in 2018, field a complete list of candidates and be vying for the office of President. What is baffling is that we never hear of anyone other than himself in Dzinemunhenzva’s party. In 2013 the man could not raise a nomination fee. We wait with bated breath to see if he makes it into the fray, this time around.

Given Zimbabwe’s prolonged grief and misfortunes, some will argue that we can do with comic relief such as that so dutifully-provided by the “dependable” Egypt Dzinemunhenzva. Just the name of his rebranded party is reason enough for mirth. We need must ask if is his “liberation organization” is supposed to be liberating his African National Party? Nevertheless, give it to the man for his persistence and for wanting to try his luck. He is in the throng of political chancers in this year’s contestation.

If Masipula Sithole were here today he would probably give a knowing chuckle and feel justifiably vindicated. The two major parties have, in recent times, suffered schisms that have seen some of their members (disgruntled or expelled) form splinter groups. In ZANU-PF the expulsion of Joice Mujuru for alleged plots against Robert Mugabe also saw Didymus Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo and Simbarashe Bhasikiti jettisoned. Willy-nilly, that paved way for what became a short-lived elevation of Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to party and national Vice President. The fallout is what sired the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), a still-born party that neither ruffled feathers nor made any headway.

The ZPF went through serious birth pangs that saw Joice Mujuru, its founding president, leaving the party to start her National People’s Party (NPP). Here, one has to mention the nomadic Jealousy Mawarire, best-known for petitioning the courts in 2013 to have Robert Mugabe set the date for that year’s harmonised elections. Since then he has periodically dabbled in politics. In true fly-by-night fashion, Mawarire had a brief but eventful flirtation with the NPP. During that sojourn of his he had a public bust-up with Gift Nyandoro outside Harare’s Bronte Hotel. Nyandoro was left with a broken leg.

The fracas between Mawarire and Nyandoro was the outward expression of a grim turf war between them. Mawarire was the national spokesman of the NPP while Nyandoro was Joice Mujuru’s spokesman. In the end Jealousy Mawarire drifted away only to re-surface later in the nebulous New Patriotic Front (NPF), a party rumoured to have the blessing of the ousted Robert Mugabe.

Perhaps the most telling events in ZANU-PF were its internal upheavals during the course of 2017. The upheavals were a precursor to the events of November 2017 in which long-time leader Robert Mugabe was prevailed upon to step down and Emmerson Mnangagwa became President.

Another Mawarire, “the Evan of it”, went about draped in the national flag and started a movement that huge numbers of Zimbabweans found irresistible. Evan Mawarire’s “#This Flag” saw his profile rise phenomenally. In a move calculated to highlight his personal predicament construed by some to be a microcosm of Zimbabwe’s situation at the time, Mawarire at one time shed bitter tears because, as he said, he found himself so brutalized that he could not even afford school fees for his children.

Having been at one time Child President of Zimbabwe, there were expectations that Evan Mawarire would aim for the ultimate prize and seek the country’s presidency. Imagine then the recent anti-climax when Mawarire announced his intention to seek election to the City Council of Harare.

The MDC-T has had its own dramas which have since led to the courts. The tussle over the party’s name means that the two factions are at each other’s throats at a time when they should be doing other things. The Chamisa faction suffered a setback when Justice Bere of the High Court of Zimbabwe, at a session in Bulawayo, ruled that the matter brought by it was not urgent. The judgment raises questions about Chamisa’s legitimacy.

Since rising to the helm of his faction of the MDC-T, Nelson Chamisa has shown a singular lack of originality. In fact he behaves more like a ZANU-PF apprentice. Most of his recent major moves can be traced to ZANU-PF. In 2013, while at an MDC-T rally in Gokwe, Chamisa, Biti and Tsvangirai were captured intensely studying a copy of the ZANU-PF manifesto. Tendai Biti was later to commend ZANU-PF for its simple message comprised of the things the party promised to do for the country, including two million jobs. Typically, Chamisa has taken the bait of hyperbole and gone over the moon to declare that a government led by him would build airports in the villages and have a bullet train running in next to no time. And he dazzles his bemused audiences with conjured-up pictures of spaghetti roads. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

Another of Chamisa’s enactments is his forceful seizure of power designed to at least “counteract” and at most be equal to Mnangagwa in terms of their power narratives. When the military establishment embarked on “Operation Restore Legacy,” Emmerson Mnangagwa was truly on his way to becoming President. Chamisa thought of a way to try checkmating that occurrence. This is where his pseudo-military vanguard comes in.

Chamisa’s much-flaunted popularity provokes questions about why he has been so loathe to go to congress. For him congress would have been too tame. What he needed was a spectacle. Accordingly, If Chamisa were a musician we would say he was playing ZANU-PF and Mnangagwa covers.

Of interest too is the furore raised when ZANU-PF was reported to be collecting BVR voter registration slips. The allegation was that the slips would be used to rig the elections. ZANU-PF’s explanation was that what they were doing was an internal audit on a constituency basis to determine how the party stood. Curiously, the MDC Alliance has begun to use the same tactic in its preparations for party primaries. Morgen Komichi, the party’s deputy chairman stoutly defended the move.

More recently, in the aftermath of its early frenetic rallies around the country, the MDC Alliance has begun to wonder why, according to them, Mnangagwa is not campaigning. The answer to that question seems to have hit home. What with Elias Mudzuri, Chamisa’s deputy, being quoted as having said, “While our MDC Alliance rallies are important, the election-winning formula lies in constituency and ward-based campaign strategies.” Another leaf from the ZANU-PF curriculum!