IT is understandable that President Mugabe – and those few who remain huddled with him – should feel threatened by Simba Makoni’s bid for the top office on March 29.Â For all indications and predictions so far confirm that Mugabe is a rank outsider in the forthcoming poll, giving him a bare 4% of the vote.Â
This is not surprising given latest reports that the old man received only 13% of the vote in the 2002 presidential election. A grave warning to all Zimbabweans that everything should be done to avoid another rigged election this time around.
The race is now firmly between Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai.Â I am not certain that Tsvangirai understood fully the import of the statement he made two weeks ago, to the effect that the forthcoming election is “a referendum on Robert Mugabe”.Â But the obvious inferences to be drawn from the statement should have educated such of his overzealous supporters as Roy Bennett (writing in the Cape Argus on February 17) and Jacob Rukweza (a sub-editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, writing in Candid Comment last week): that the main objective of the vote is to end Mugabe’s misrule; and that the opposition as a whole should do everything possible to ensure that outcome by avoiding unnecessary inter-party bickering and distractive campaigning.
I believe this was the central consideration that inspired David Coltart (writing in the Cape Argus on March 10 ) when he described Roy Bennett’s attack on Makoni as “unfortunate” and “unjustified”.
Coltart’s reply in this regard should likewise shut up Rukweza’s diatribe: “Simba Makoni was never implicated in the Gukurahundi”; and as regards Murambatsvina, “the facts are that Makoni resigned, in an unprecedented and brave act, from Cabinet in 2002, well before Murambatsvina took place” in 2005.
But that is not to deny that Makoni (and some of us involved in the Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn initiative) has a strong historical association with the national liberation movement, Zanu PF specifically. But neither Zanu PF nor the Zimbabwe state has ever been ideologically and politically monolithic; and it should not surprise any serious and informed analyst of the Zimbabwean polity that the most formidable challenge to Mugabe’s misrule consists of personsÂ – particularly Makoni himself – who have been the conscience of a party that now stands ideologically and organisationally vacuous, a far cry from the movement that inspired and motivated millions of Zimbabweans during the struggleÂ and well into post-Independence.
And let us not forget the millions of Zimbabweans for whom the struggle and the gains of Independence remain indelible in their memory, and for whom the hope is that the removal of Mugabe and his cabal of politically bankrupt leaders will be a real dawn.Â There are many in Zanu PF who share this vision and constitute a good proportion of that 95% of voters who have already turned away from Mugabe and will vote against him.
But there has also been a huge swing away from the MDC to the Makoni camp in the period since Makoni announced his candidature. And what about the many, many more Zimbabweans who do not belong to eitherÂ Zanu PF or MDC but who rallied to Makoni’s clarion call, and rushed in their numbers to inspect and register on the voters’ roll before nomination.
The figures speak for themselves and do confirm that Makoni has every reason to expect and anticipate electoral victory.Â The records show that 45% more voters registered in the period between the day on which Makoni announced his candidature, and when the voter inspection and registration process ended.
These are the realities that speak for themselves; less, perhaps, about the personality of Makoni himself. This is not a new reality about which the likes of Bennett and Rukweza should feel uncomfortable and threatened. It is one that all Zimbabweans should embrace as heralding hopes and expectations of a better future, the real opportunity to begin liberating ourselves from fear, stress and tension, and from poverty and the burden of failure and inertia.
It is not true, as suggested by Rukweza, that “the majority of those who have embraced Makoni as their future president have confessed that they know very little about their candidate of choice”.Â It was not an accident that those of us who initiated the Simba project last December decided unanimously that Makoni was the best person to lead this initiative. Some of us have known him since the early 1970’s, as one with a rare intellect, a principled and honest man, hardworking, and a patriot second to none.Â He did not campaign for himself: we chose him to lead us; and, as Coltart concluded, it is Makoni’s courageousness that should be supported, not criticised. Of course, it is up to the Zimbabwean electorate to assess and decide on Makoni at the polls.
Makoni’s election campaign so far has yielded a good response; he is emerging to be a popular and charismatic figure.Â He has been embraced as a symbol of Zimbabwe’s hope across the country. Makoni has the political and technocratic skills that gives him more than an edge over all the other presidential hopefuls in the forthcoming election.Â He has had almost 30 years of exposure to the public policy arena, as the youngest Minister of State at Independence and, subsequently, as Minister of Industry and Energy; and from 2000 to 2002 as the Minister of Finance who might have made a difference to the flagging Zimbabwean economy had he been afforded the opportunity by Mugabe.
Makoni’s tenure at Sadc (1984-1994) will have exposed him to the challenges of both external relations and economic development. And, contrary to some reports which seek to throw aspersions on his tenure at Sadc, it was Makoni who put the regional organisation on its feet and left it at a level of pre-eminence that the body has not enjoyed again ever since those days.Â But our future president also knows the world of business, as both a trained chemist and industrialist, as well as an entrepreneur and farmer.Â We can be certain Simba Makoni will bring all these 30 years of exposure to statecraft, international diplomacy and entrepreneurship, to bear in the new government that he will lead. Above all, Makoni’s dramatic re-entry into the political scene cuts him out as the unifier of an otherwise polarised Zimbabwe.
So, if this election turns out to be the most peaceful, it will largely be due to the entry into the race of Simba Makoni and his “Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn” movement.Â What a wonderful sight for me to have witnessed, throughout most of the campaign so far, the MDC’s, Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn, and Zanu PF, all contesting side by side, bereft of the acrimony and violence that has characterised previous elections. It is a great pity that certain elements and individuals in Zanu PF are bent on frustrating the campaign process, preparing to rig the elections and even threatening assassination.
However, I am hopeful that Zimbabwe is on the threshold of a genuine democratic multi-party dispensation. But only if all of us keep the eye on the ball and desist from reckless distractions as those attempted by Bennett and Rukweza.
l Mandaza is a member of Makoni’s management committee.