HARARE – As a united opposition front against President Robert Mugabe gains momentum, the beleaguered governing Zanu PF has been thrown into panic, desperately trying to woo back expelled members, a South Africa-based think-tank NKC African Economics has said.
The apparent willingness of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) boss Morgan Tsvangirai to take a backseat in any opposition coalition against Mugabe and Zanu PF come 2018, suggests there may be real hope for a viable opposition coalition — a factor that has hampered attempts to unseat the nonagenarian and his governing party on previous occasions, Gary van Staden, analyst with Cape Town-based NKC Research said in his latest commentary.
Tsvangirai said on April 29 that the MDC realised the importance of a viable coalition to challenge Zanu PF in the 2018 general elections.
“The MDC will not stand in the way of any coalition discussions,” Tsvangirai said.
“We are talking to people, and we are looking for possibilities for change and if coalitions are one of the possibilities for change, we will go for that, and go for it genuinely and not playing a big brother mentality.”
The latter comment was seized upon by Zimbabwean observers and regional sources as a sign that Tsvangirai would not be pushing his leadership of a coalition movement — an issue that has proved a major obstacle in the past.
The sources pointed out that his comments were probably also an acknowledgement that the recently formed Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party of former Vice President Joice Mujuru was now a major player in the opposition movement in Zimbabwe.
Zanu PF has said the party launched by Mujuru, who was Mugabe’s deputy for 10 years and touted as a likely heir until she got fired in 2014 on untested allegations of plotting a putsch, was a “damp squib”.
Mujuru in her first remarks in the wake of the launch of the ZPF in March, said Zimbabweans were hungry for change, and promised to address unemployment and to amend the governing Zanu PF’s controversial black economic empowerment laws, which critics say have spooked foreign investors.
Zanu PF will seek to extend its 36-year rule in the 2018 election.
Analysts say it is likely to win the election if the opposition remains divided.
Mugabe controversially won the 2013 presidential election with 61 percent of the vote, claiming a seventh term as president, while Tsvangirai finished second with 34 percent of the vote amid accusations of ballot fraud.
Mujuru said she was launching ZPF to end Zanu PF rule.
“…we confirm our existence as a viable, inclusive home-grown political party,” Mujuru, 60, said amid applause by her party faithful at a 5-star hotel in Harare.
“We are not fighting one man but a system, that system which is unjust,” she told an audience including reporters, Western diplomats and four former Cabinet ministers fired by Mugabe.
Zanu PF political commissar Savior Kasukuwere said the governing party will defeat Mujuru’s party hands down in the 2018 election.
Another MDC faction leader, Welshman Ncube, has said unseating Mugabe and Zanu PF would remain a “tall order as long as opposition parties were not united”.
NKC said the progress of ZPF has shaken up Zanu PF to the point where it is now attempting to woo back the members and officials it unceremoniously expelled in a wave of purges led by First Lady Grace Mugabe that began in late 2014 and included the expulsion of Mujuru, several Cabinet ministers and senior Zanu PF officials.
“Zanu PF has set up a so-called ‘appeals committee’ to hear arguments from those officials and members it expelled as to why they should be allowed back in,” Van Staden said.
“So far, the response has been unenthusiastic with only a handful of minor officials and ordinary members successfully appealing their expulsion. The move smacks of desperation and a growing concern that ZPF is making serious inroads into Zanu PF support.”
The NKC analyst said if Mugabe and Zanu PF feel the political walls are beginning to close in around them, they are probably right.
“This time, it is not the party’s usual paranoia,” he said. “The Zimbabwean political landscape is shifting as significantly as just prior to the elections in 2008 that saw massive opposition party gains that were unfortunately later squandered.
“The emergence of ZPF and the clear popularity of … Mujuru has exposed the folly of the plots against her and has sent the ruling party into panicked attempts to stem the tide.
“Meanwhile, the positive response to fresh opposition coalition attempts is encouraging. But there is much still to be done, and coalition movements have a poor record in the country.
“Quality leadership is required this time in order to ensure that the reign of Zanu PF faces a serious, perhaps terminal, challenge next time.”
Speaking in his 92nd birthday interview, Mugabe — who has been nominated by Zanu PF as the 2018 presidential candidate — scoffed at the idea of a grand coalition, saying it will not threaten his rule in any way.
“If you put zero plus zero plus zero plus zero, grand zeros, what do they amount to? You are afraid of them?” Mugabe asked rhetorically.