Another tough political test for Tendai Biti

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LAST week Zimbabwe marked exactly one year after Robert Mugabe’s supposed election victory. The events of July 2013 did not only wash away individuals who had been prominent on the country’s political landscape, amongst them Welshman Ncube and Arthur Mutambara, but also heralded the involuntary and ponderous retreat of opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai as the main figure in Zimbabwe’s opposition politics.
The disaster was on an immense scale that, a full year later, it is still on many people’s lips as if it happened yesterday. Amongst the majority of Zimbabweans, the direction in which the country’s politics was heading was anyone’s guess. Smaller parties like Ncube’s MDC-N went under and the bigger ones like Zanu PF and MDC-T plunged into power struggles of factious and at times individual interests.
Except for a few second-sighted political commentators, I doubt if anybody else foresaw the entry of Grace Mugabe into mainline politics. The president’s wife recently moved to take control of the ruling party’s Women’s League thereby qualifying to sit in its decision making bodies of the central committee and the Politburo. Let’s look at the president’s wife entry into politics a bit more closely, particularly the one thing that captured the imagination of many a political analyst and even the most indifferent of laity – her scathing remarks against Tendai Biti from the MDC ‘renewal’.
During her acceptance of the new role, Grace Mugabe’s theme song was always going to have a refrain that assigned both her and her husband some divine authority. Her ravings against all and sundry were also not totally unexpected, but it is the singling out of Tendai Biti for the worst of her vitriol that was sufficient to raise red flags. Biti has turned out to be a pain in the neck not only for the virago that Grace Mugabe has become but also for his erstwhile comrade, Morgan Tsvangirai.
As other political analysts have noted, Grace Mugabe is out to shield her family’s immense pillage that includes the lion’s share of the fertile Mazowe valley, the monopoly over the country’s dairy industry – and she still wants some more. Grace Mugabe’s loathing for Tendai Biti comes from the fact that the latter has provided an unequivocal voice against the kind of plunder that made her one of Africa’s richest women. And quite telling about her onslaught was the specific mention of her bugbear’s intelligence.Advertisement

Over the years Tendai Biti has proven to be a shrewd and intelligent politician, a strategist that the MDC led by Tsvangirai had come to rely upon to keep Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF on its toes. Biti steered the disaster-prone MDC ship through Zimbabwe’s troubled political waters, giving it a veneer of stability, notwithstanding its obviously distracted captain. Already in 2008, when Mugabe was wounded and cornered after his first-round election defeat, he sought to silence the man he saw as the architect of his agony – Biti was exiled, arrested, had spurious charges of treason levelled against him and got tortured, but he survived.
Many people would agree that Biti was the brain behind the only clear victory that Tsvangirai’s MDC had over Zanu PF in March 2008. He further proved his acumen during his stint in government as the finance minister of the unity government. His tenure gave a four year reprieve to a long suffering population. For the first time in a decade, Zimbabweans were paid a salary that allowed them to buy something, even though it was still not sufficient. It should therefore come as no surprise that Grace Mugabe’s inaugural political address was aimed at the intellect of a man who poses the most potent threat to her family’s stranglehold on political and economic power in Zimbabwe.
After enjoying ‘victories’ over Tsvangirai in successive elections since 2002 through using every trick in their book, from violence to sheer dupery, Mugabe and his party are now confident that they mastered the art of defeating Tsvangirai and they would be happy to retain him as the face of the opposition in 2018. This ‘secret’ was recently let out by none other than Zanu PF’s faceless and blowhard mouthpiece, Nathaniel Manheru. In his usual blathering élan, Manheru confessed his party’s satisfaction with Tsvangirai’s leadership in the opposition-“Thank God, Zanu PF is always blest with fools for opposition” he wrote.
The same cannot be said of if the party is faced with an enigmatic Biti with his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude towards Zanu PF. This stern approach to the country’s crisis has won him many admirers. Ironically one of the admirers is Robert Mugabe, who is publicly at loggerheads with Biti, but as revealed by Wikileaks, the nonagenarian has a lot of respect for the lawyer’s intelligence, which forced him to admit that he was the best finance minister he ever worked with since 1980. Of course Mugabe witnessed Biti’s successful defibrillation of an economy on its deathbed and how he successfully fended off constant onslaughts from Zanu PF agent provocateurs calling themselves war veterans. This is the kind of mind that the Mugabes do not want as the main opposition figure come 2018, hence the fiery attack by Grace.
For now Biti’s political survival, which seems closely tied to the country’s struggle depends on his ability to fend off further blows from Zanu PF’s unforgiving cudgel that is now in the hands of the president’s wife. The plot in Zimbabwe’s struggle for democracy has thickened; it is no longer a struggle against one discredited leader who is clinging onto power, but a struggle against the repackaging of an already impoverished and pariah country into another dynasty similar to North Korea.  Biti and like-minded people should realize that this is only the beginning of a more spirited attack, Pyongyang style.
Melusi Nkomo is a Ph.D candidate in Development Studies in Switzerland. He can be reached at