The tussle for the control of the yet-to-be-formed coalition of opposition parties pitting former vice-president Joice Mujuru and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai could torpedo efforts to put together a united front against President Robert Mugabe in next year’s elections, it has emerged.
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Tsvangirai and Mujuru last month raised the stakes against the 93-year-old Mugabe, who wants to run for another five-year term in the 2018 polls after they signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), committing themselves to talks to form the coalition.
A day after the ground-breaking deal with Mujuru — a lieutenant of the Zanu PF leader for over a decade — Tsvangirai signed another MoU with MDC’s founding secretary-general Welshman Ncube, setting the stage for a reunion with the former Industry minister’s breakaway party.
The deal between Tsvangirai and Mujuru brought a new dimension to Zimbabwe’s opposition politics as the National People’s Party (NPP) leader was expected to embolden Mugabe’s opponents with the liberation war credentials, which had proved a missing link for them in previous elections.
However, in what could prove to be a bad omen for those dreaming of ending Mugabe’s 37-year rule, the deal could suffer a stillbirth, The Standard reveals today.
According to NPP insiders, Mujuru is now under pressure from some former Zanu PF heavyweights to abandon the deal if she is not made leader of the opposition coalition.
One of Mujuru’s deputies, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo last week went public about his opposition to a coalition led by Tsvangirai.
He echoed sentiments by former Zanu PF Masvingo kingpin Dzikamai Mavhaire, who is now a kingmaker in Mujuru’s NPP and does not hide his contempt for the MDC-T leader.
NPP insiders said trouble started brewing soon after Mujuru decided to sign the deal at Tsvangirai’s Harare mansion.
The choice of the venue was viewed by opponents of the coalition as a sign that Mujuru had capitulated.
“The situation has been made worse by the fact that people like Nkomo will never accept Tsvangirai’s leadership of the coalition because of their past acrimonious relationships,” a senior NPP official said.
“On the other hand, people like Mavhaire still have that Zanu PF mentality that Tsvangirai is a sell-out because he did not participate in the liberation struggle.
“The likes of Mavhaire are taking time to realise that they are now in opposition, that is why they are saying NPP can go it alone in the next polls if Mujuru is not appointed leader of the coalition.”
The situation has been made worse by Tsvangirai loyalists who continue to insist in public that he is the natural choice to lead the coalition.
“Those against a Tsvangirai-led coalition fear the MDC-T leader will appoint cronies from his party and leave them in the cold if he wins the election,” another source said.
He accused Tsvangirai of negotiating in bad faith by meddling in other parties’affairs.
“Tsvangirai was the one who advised Mujuru to dump Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, saying his people are not comfortable working with them,” the source added.
“But after the split of ZimPF, Tsvangirai announced that he was willing to work with Gumbo and Mutasa.
“The idea was to weaken Mujuru so that her stakes at the coalition negotiating table were weakened and he becomes the sole viable candidate.
“After the split, Mujuru became weaker and compromised on everything, but now she is buckling under internal pressure and is making an about-turn on the deal.”
Signs that talks between Mujuru and Tsvangirai divided the NPP first emerged when the former VP’s spokesperson Gift Nyandoro and then party spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire engaged in a fistfight at a Harare hotel.
Mawarire had issued a series of statements that reflected a tough stance against Tsvangirai, while Nyandoro appeared to be advocating for a softer approach.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka said the MDC-T leader remained committed to the coalition and dismissed the notion that he played a role in the NPP split.
“It is not about Tsvangirai, it is about what the people of Zimbabwe want,” he said.
“President Tsvangirai was mandated by the party to work on a coalition.
“He had a month-long visit of provinces and was mandated to work with other parties.”
He remains committed to a coalition and has nothing to do with developments in other parties.”
Meanwhile, other opposition parties are pressing ahead with plans to form a parallel coalition after they agreed to form the Mass Opposition Movement (MOM).
The agreement was signed in Cape Town, South Africa last week. Tsvangirai, Mujuru and Ncube were conspicuous by their absence.
The majority of the parties that signed the deal are also members of the Coalition of Democrats.
The divisions in the opposition have been attributed to personal egos, personality clashes and ideological differences as well as the stampede for positions in the next government in case Mugabe is defeated.
“It is all about positions,” an NPP source said.
“Party members are desperate to go into the coalition with the positions they hold now.”
“A fear of losing the positions has resulted in resistance. The resistance against a coalition is more pronounced in the MDC-T, which thinks they can even win the polls alone.
“That is why you see other members who have been into hiding like Jameson Timba are now alive, they hope Tsvangirai will lead the coalition and they will retain their positions.
“This is the same with people like Mavhaire, Nkomo, they know they will lose their VP positions in a coalition, that is why they are now against it.
“Nkomo and the likes of (People’s Democratic Party [PDP] party leader Tendai) Biti have also not forgiven each other for their past wrongs and are not willing to work together.”
MDC-T deputy president Nelson Chamisa admitted that current talks to form a coalition were flawed, saying opposition parties needed to look beyond personalities.
He said his party had put in place “sign posts’’ that should lead to a coalition such as reforms, followed by dialogue with other parties.
PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said his party would sign MoUs “with the people” if it failed to reach agreements with other parties, signalling that they were prepared to go it alone.
Mafume said there was need for primary elections to choose the coalition leader and parliamentary election candidates. Tsvangirai’s former aide, Toendepi Shonhe, who also predicted a Zanu PF landslide next year, said a grand coalition was supported by the elites and would only unite 32% of the voters.
Veteran political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the conflicting signals by the opposition on the formation of a coalition could cost them the vote in next year’s polls.
“It is becoming very confusing and first of all, it should be asked what is the objective of the coalition in the first place,” he said.
“As you can see, others are in both coalitions while others are not at all. It is very confusing indeed.
“Obviously, it will send conflicting statements to the electorate and some of us who think there should be coalitions around the need for reforms before elections.
“That is the only coalition in my view that makes sense.”
Harare-based political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said only a few opposition parties were critical in the formation of the proposed coalition.
“If you are talking about the opposition for elections in 2018, a regrouped MDC and that is all the groups that were in the original MDC of 1999 and Joice Mujuru, Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa,” he said.
“This is the opposition we have and if Ruhanya wakes up to announce that he has a political party, it won’t make me a serious opposition, why, because I don’t have structures and I will only be known through the internet and the media.”
Lloyd Sachikonye, a political analyst, concurred, saying only a coalition that included Mujuru and Tsvangirai would make a difference.
“That coalition will not be very consequential. I think when one talks of a coalition, one will be thinking of a coalition between substantial parties, including the MDC-T and Mujuru, although she has unknown support, he said.
Mawarire maintained that the leader of the coalition must be chosen through a democratic process.
“I believe, as I have always done, that a coalition leader has to be chosen through a democratically-agreed process among coalition partners, not through uncanny declarations by political spent forces at rallies,” he said.
“It is bad when done by Mutasa and equally frivolous and politically naïve when done by Sipepa Nkomo considering his party is locked in negotiations with MDC-T.
“I thought the coalition was about bringing together opposition political parties to effect regime change, not a struggle for positions.”
Mugabe has already dismissed the proposed coalition, saying it would suffer heavy defeat in the polls.