Mammoth task ahead for Mujuru
IT was always going to be interesting to hear how President Robert Mugabe would respond to the indication that his former protégée, Joice Mujuru, was preparing to challenge him for the country’s top job.
Mujuru was shown the exit door in both the ruling ZANU-PF and government in December last year following allegations that she tried to topple President Mugabe from power.
The veteran leader, known for his wit and political acumen, kept the nation guessing for a week on what he thought of Mujuru’s looming return, only to use a luncheon hosted last Tuesday to mark the opening of Parliament to make his first public comments on her pending political resurrection.
There, President Mugabe said: “…I am not afraid of Mai Mujuru. She created trouble for herself and now there are some who would want to have her at the top even when she has done nothing to deserve it. If she wants politics, let her do it. Now you are writing that she is fighting me? …Do you know this fist?”
President Mugabe used the gathering to finally show his hand and answer the questions lingering on everyone’s mind: Was he afraid of Mujuru? Was this the beginning of the end for President Mugabe? Would he reach out to Mujuru… and so went on and on the litany of unanswered questions.
But like an accomplished actor who has been in the theatre of politics for a long time, President Mugabe did not seem to bat an eye-lid over his new challenger, given his responses.
If anything, he seemed to invite his new opponent to a final dalliance with him — an invitation presumably to write her own ill-fated political epitaph.
After all, President Mugabe boasts of a political career spanning over four decades, which perhaps explains the air of invincibility he exudes and the edge he has over political rivals.
His long list of opponents have ranged from former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith, former British premier Tony Blair, to present-day nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai.
After three election encounters, President Mugabe can boast of defeating Tsvangirai at each turn, giving more wind to his sails in the face of a comeback from Mujuru.
At the venerable age of 91, which many political observers agree to be President Mugabe’s sunset years, it is unlikely that he would want to bow out of the political arena with a legacy of defeat at the hands of Mujuru.
Yet ironically it was President Mugabe himself who encouraged Mujuru in December 2004 at a ZANU-PF congress, where he commended Mujuru and told her to “aim higher, don’t settle for less,” — presumably urging her on to, someday, vie for the presidency and leadership of ZANU-PF.
His words, in retrospect, now appear to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Mujuru sets her sights for the country’s top job.
So what makes President Mugabe so confident that the challenge by Mujuru is one that he will skirt past with ease?
The answer may lie in a look at how power struggles and fallouts in ZANU-PF have turned out in the past.
President Mugabe has read the script before him too many times; former party loyalists sever ties with his ZANU-PF and set out on their own political path. Briefly these ‘new’ opponents dazzle the electorate with hopes of a thrilling political showdown and putting an end to his rule. Then they disappear from the political radar after being humiliated at the ballot.
Three years away from a general election, political observers are in agreement that Zimbabwe has already been plunged into election mode.
The anticipation can only be equated to the global buzz created earlier this year by the “Fight of the Century” match between Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Emmanuel Pacquiao.
That boxing match ended, amid the expectations and analysis proffered by experts, with the unbeaten winning streak of Mayweather remaining intact.
Mujuru is merely joining a long-list of former ZANU-PF leaders who have challenged President Mugabe before and the world waits to see how she would fair.
Past challengers from President Mugabe’s party include the likes of Ndabaningi Sithole, Edgar Tekere, Margaret Dongo, Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa; they have all unsuccessfully tried to defeat the incumbent since 1980.
In the 1996 presidential elections, Sithole, a founder of ZANU, pulled out of an election challenge against the incumbent at the 11th hour. A disgruntled Tekere formed Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in the 1990’s to challenge ZANU-PF, only to smoke the peace pipe at the turn of the century in 2006 and seek for re-admission into the revolutionary party. Dongo, who was unsuccessful in challenging President Mugabe in the 1996 election as she was under the legal age of 40, founded the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, which has been a near-comatose political outfit.
In the 2008 election, Makoni defected from ZANU-PF and joined the election race under his Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn party to challenge Mugabe, but has since its formation remained on the back-benches of Zimbabwean politics. While liberation war supremo, Dabengwa exited ZANU-PF in 2008 and declared his support for Makoni, he was later to revive ZAPU and lost his challenge to President Mugabe in the 2013 elections.
The extent of the purges in ZANU-PF, which nine months later do not show any signs of letting up and are aimed at cleansing the revolutionary party of elements aligned to Mujuru, however, to a degree, show Mujuru’s far-reaching influence within ZANU-PF structures.
London-based political analyst, Simukai Tinhu said Mujuru, having served as President Mugabe’s second in command for more than a decade, was a stronger challenger to the incumbent.
“As vice-president, she briefed President Mugabe on the day-to-day running of the Office of the President and the nation in general. In other words, she has an intimate knowledge of ZANU-PF strengths and weaknesses, its inner workings, psychology and how it manipulates the State machinery to counter the opposition and win elections,” said Tinhu.
“Mujuru will need to demonstrate that she is capable of building a true mass movement and convert it into an electoral market that is capable of seriously challenging ZANU-PF.
“With ZANU- PF at its weakest following last year’s vicious infighting and purges and the economy in a dire situation, the circumstances appear right for tapping a powerful national mood that has the potential to produce ground-breaking leadership,” he added.
A liberation war heroine and respected political leader, Mujuru appears to have everything in her favour and could cause the biggest political upset in Zimbabwe yet.
That road, however, is one that will be far from easy.