By Seewell Mashizha
ON at least two occasions, Nelson Chamisa has expressed the view that Emmerson Mnangagwa is not as great a challenge as Robert Mugabe. Besides deriding Mnangagwa at MDC Alliance rallies, Chamisa also stated on BBC Hard Talk that he would beat Mnangagwa in the elections and be the next president.
The alleged weakness of Mnangagwa as a presidential candidate is becoming more of a supposition by the day. Apparently, the Alliance can no longer vouch for it, hence the preoccupation with processes and technicalities. Some of the detail they want on the voters’ role is decidedly frightening, unprecedented and undemocratic. What does the Alliance want with voters’ pictures?
The opposition once took it for granted that the setting of Robert Mugabe’s political sun would raise their own. Nobody else in ZANU-PF was thought to be strong enough to exert the kind of influence that Mugabe did or to have his wily political acumen.
Some eight months after Operation Restore Legacy, people have to be asking if the MDC read the scenario correctly. Is ED really a softer target or is someone hallucinating? Signs on the ground suggest a serious underestimation of the man. Accordingly, Mugabe’s departure does not appear to have been beneficent where the opposition is concerned. But what are the reasons for this?
From the formation of the MDC in 1999 to date, and especially since November 2017, when long-time time president Robert Mugabe was recalled by his party, the “Mugabe must go” cry has had an almost palpable ambivalence.
To understand how the theory of ZANU-PF vulnerability after Mugabe came about, we need to go back to the year 2000. In that year, most of those who took a chance on the MDC found themselves in parliament. The then fledgling MDC nearly dealt a mortal blow to ZANU-PF in 2000. Incumbent vice president at the time, Simon V. Muzenda, observed that even a baboon standing on the MDC ticket would have made it.
In line with the Mugabe must go mantra, Morgan Tsvangirai told an MDC rally;
What we want to tell Mugabe is that, please go peacefully. If you do not go peacefully we will remove you violently.
Tsvangirai was openly advocating violence as a way of unseating a sitting government. In part, this was what made outsiders predict an armed conflict to resolve the succession issue at the end of Mugabe’s tenure of office.
The more Tsvangirai and his party screamed for Mugabe to go, the more they puffed up his profile. Being aware of this paradox, Muzenda interpreted the MDC’s fixation with Mugabe this way:
In a game of football there is usually that one star,
usually a striker, so feared by the cowed rival team
that it spends much of its time and effort on the pitch
trying to neutralize the man. A coach who benches
such a player is definitely out of his mind. So, President
Mugabe, our most lethal striker, is indispensable. That is
Why the opposition is obsessed with him. He is here to stay.
I translated these words from the Shona in which they were originally delivered. Muzenda’s reading of the MDC’s fixation with Mugabe was correct. He rightly saw the fixation as that party’s Achilles’ heel. It prevented the party from thinking things out. Thus, the MDC Alliance’s current predicament regarding how it will fare against the ‘Crocodile’ can be traced back to its preoccupation with Mugabe. While the MDC was distracted a new potent force was stirring quietly under the surface: ED Mnangagwa.
Experience teaches one lesson consistently: never to be too flippant or dismissive of anyone, particularly where someone keeps his cards close to the chest. It is certainly foolhardy to underestimate Mnangagwa. He is a consummate planner, a skilled organizer and administrator. The way Zimbabwe’s landscape has changed since he took over is testimony to that. What we see happening in terms of greater freedoms and the emphasis on investment is exactly what he planned from the beginning.
Whether one agrees with Mnangagwa or not is immaterial. His vision for the country is clear: peaceful political contestation, economic growth and progress as well as the attainment of middle-income status by 2030. This would mean an annual per car pita income of USD3500. Significantly, Mnangagwa has taken steps to ensure that if the international world does not embrace him, it does nothing to frustrate him either.
Following the formation of the NPF in the aftermath of the recall of Robert Mugabe, what happened shows that all things are possible in politics and that former foes can under certain circumstances become bedfellows. Thus we hear that the NPF, largely thought to be a party with Robert Mugabe’s blessing, is not contesting the presidency and is urging its supporters to vote for Chamisa.
Word also has it that Grace Mugabe has not shelved her political ambitions and there is mention of her wanting to join the MDC Alliance if she can become its Vice President. This could be the reason why Nelson Chamisa is yet to appoint a Vice President. These computations were unthinkable not so very long ago. The official ZANU-PF stance under Robert Mugabe held that there could be no coalescence with a party fronting white interests and owing its genesis to imperial Britain and white capital.
Chamisa’s cryptic reply when asked to comment on the rumour that he and Grace Mugabe were joining forces, was as non-committal as it was an indirect affirmation. Where previously he would have been categorical in denying any link with anyone with ZANU-PF connections, claiming that he was allergic to that party, this time around he avoided shutting the door.
In his words the MDC Alliance is like a church that worships under a tree. It can never fill up. Therefore, there is always room for anyone to come in, including former first lady, Grace Mugabe. There are rumours circulating about a financial injection from the Mugabes into the Alliance. For now it does seem to be the kind of fake news that is consistent with the rumour mill on social media. There is no evidence of any largess for the Alliance on the ground.
Seeing the effects of “Operation Restore Legacy” on the ground, some in the Alliance now say that there was a coup. Paradoxically, that is a reversal of their Mugabe must go mantra. It does not matter that they do not say so expressly. They are thinking it and wanting it, nevertheless.
Thus far, Mnangagwa has avoided responding to personal attacks on him and concentrated on matters of development. Of late, Chamisa and others have taken the cue. That means Chamisa is responding to an agenda that is not his. Mnangagwa is the proactive one while Chamisa only reacts. ED has so far done and said all the right things. Western envoys have become frequent visitors to Zimbabwe, as have business delegations. The electorate sees all these things and may appreciate them in its own way.
The MDC Alliance is in a catch-22 situation. It had not bargained on Mnangagwa attracting crowds. Hitherto, the belief was that he was unelectable, but this is fast changing into justifiable consternation. The man appears to have outfoxed them.
Calling Mnangagwa’s government a junta has borne no observable fruits. Instead it points to MDC-Alliance-doublespeak through which it shifts from welcoming the fall of Mugabe as a logical outcome of popular national discontent, to calling his ouster a coup, out-right. This then means that the preferred position of the Alliance is the re-instatement of Robert Mugabe. However, the Alliance cannot pronounce this without exposing itself to rejection at the polls. For that reason too, an alliance with Grace Mugabe could be the Alliance’s kiss of death.
Meanwhile some Alliance members who were puffing themselves up as if they had any substance are smarting from the humiliation they suffered on nomination day when Chamisa reneged on earlier promises to cede some constituencies to them.
While ZANU-PF has had a head-start at council level with some 46 unopposed seats going to it, it is also interesting to note that Chamisa’s MDC Alliance has neglected to field candidates in some national assembly constituencies. There are at least three national assembly seats in which ZANU-PF is unopposed. This is either conceit of the highest order or an admission of defeat in advance. Who is fooling who?
Does ZAPU or Joice Mujuru’s Rainbow Coalition command any real support? Mujuru’s recent debacle at Jhambezi in Matabeleland North is indicative of what is in store for her and Sipepa Nkomo who seems to be relishing the position of Vice President in an obscure organization.
When all is said and done, the crocodile may yet sink all with one mighty lash. Then will the world know just how devastating in contestation the man who says he is as soft as wool can be. Either that, or he collapses phenomenally. We can each have our pick.