‘It’s a long walk to State House’

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HARARE – Kent University Law lecturer and former advisor to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Alex Magaisa, speaks to Dailynews about the Zanu PF succession wars and  potential coalition involving ex-Vice President Joice Mujuru and below are the excerpts of the interview.

ALEX MAGAISA

ALEX MAGAISA

Q: How does the infighting in Zanu PF aid the opposition movement in its attempts to form a new government in 2018?

A: First of all, I take issue with the notion of the existence of something called an “opposition movement”. It assumes the existence of a homogenous entity that is challenging Zanu PF in unison. There is no such thing. Unfortunately, this language, which people in opposition and the media use routinely, gives the misleading impression that it exists when it’s only something in the imagination. What exist instead, are numerous opposition parties that are, by and large, separated not even by ideology but by the egos and ambitions of their different leaders.

The point I wish to make here is fundamental even though it is neither new nor rocket science: until such time that the opposition parties unite around a common purpose and fight elections as a single unit, their chances of overcoming Zanu PF will remain severely limited, even against an imploding Zanu PF.

Secondly, the infighting in Zanu PF is a symptom of a failure of leadership in managing transition. All leaders in Africa that emerged after independence have had to manage transition — from their seminal tenure to the next. It is never easy but the likes of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and even Sam Nujoma in Namibia showed the way. After the civil war, Mozambique has also managed the process very well, thanks to the leadership shown by Joachim Chissano. Botswana is also a supreme example of a country that managed the transition well.

President (Robert) Mugabe doesn’t think it is democratic to choose a successor, but democracy does not have a single formula. It is adaptable and those countries that have been able to manage transitions from the liberation leader have done well and those that haven’t, have struggled.

In so far as your question is concerned, yes, the infighting in Zanu PF presents opportunities for the opposition parties but the realisation of those opportunities depends on their ability (to) recognise and implement the wisdom of unity. They have to unite.

Q: Should we read too much into this infighting given that it has been there in the past yet Zanu PF were still winning elections?

A: There is a danger of giving undue weight to the infighting particularly because the elections are still some distance away. They have a chance to re-group before 2018. Optimists in Zanu PF will say they are going through a process of “creative destruction”, where the old and moribund dies and gives way to the new.

They would say the expulsion of some of their members is simply a removal of unwanted elements and that instead of weakening them, it actually makes them more efficient.

Nevertheless, in-fighting can lead to problems for the presidential candidate, with the example of the 2008 elections being a good precedent. In that election, Zanu PF have admitted that some of their members played Bhora Musango (playing the ball into the long grass) a strategy where they undermined Mugabe’s campaign, which impacted heavily on the presidential elections, which Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai on March 29. If the factions play Bhora Musango, then a Zanu PF candidate will be in serious trouble.

Q: What are the chances of Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding (President Robert) Mugabe in the event that such a situation arises given hostilities within the two factions in Zanu PF?

A: Mnangagwa’s chances are just as good as Mujuru’s chances were before the December 2014 congress and we all know what happened to Mujuru — it all went up in smoke just when everybody imagined that she was unstoppable! Mnangagwa is being cautious and understandably so, because there are no guarantees.

We now know that there is a faction that is against his elevation to the presidency after Mugabe. The hostility is in fact playing out in the open particularly on social media where fellow politicians, who were thought of as his allies like Prof (Jonathan) Moyo, are regularly tweeting critical comments against Mnangagwa.

The President’s wife, Grace, appeared to have also taken a highly critical stance before quickly backtracking and appearing to back Mnangagwa, probably upon advice that she had moved too quickly. We also read there is a group imploring everyone to back Grace (Mugabe) saying “Munhuwese kunaamai”.

All these are signs that Mnangagwa has determined rivals along the way and he will not have an easy stroll to State House. He still has a big fight on his hands if he is to succeed Mugabe in Zanu PF, let alone as Zimbabwe’s leader.

Some observers doubt his electability, saying he lacks the mass appeal that his boss has enjoyed in the past. So even if he succeeds against his Zanu PF rivals within, he will still have a big challenge in national elections because the faction that he beats may well turn against him and play Bhora Musango in the national elections.

There is what is called politics dzeshayisano literally meaning, ‘if I can’t have it, then no-one else will’. I suspect if he prevails over the Zanu PF faction that is opposing him, they might well use these same tactics, just to stop him from achieving his long-standing ambition to lead Zimbabwe. This means he has to be tactful in the way he handles the factional fighting as he cannot afford to alienate a large chunk of the party.

Q: You worked with Morgan Tsvangirai as his advisor in the GNU; what does he need to do to succeed in the 2018 elections?

A: 2018 is a crucial election for Tsvangirai as it might turn out to be his last shot at the Presidency. The problem for Tsvangirai has never been a lack of support but that the electoral system is so blatantly skewed against the opposition.

This is why electoral reforms are critical. The electoral machinery has to be non-partisan, impartial and independent and when I talk about the electoral machinery I don’t just mean Zec, which most people often focus on.

There are bodies such as the Logistics Committee, which actually runs the election on the day and the Observers’ Accreditation Committee, which approve local and international observers. There is also the public media which provides the platform to disseminate political messages.The police and security services are also important in an election. Then in the rural areas you have a system presided over by traditional leaders.

Now, this entire system is biased against the opposition and in favour of Zanu PF. Tsvangirai and the MDC have to overcome this huge and complex system which is closely wedded to Zanu PF.

I saw this system at work in 2013 and I can tell you it’s not a walk in the park. Even if one has the numbers, and we had the numbers, you still need to overcome this system.

The split in Zanu PF presents an opportunity. Those who have left, like Mujuru and her team were part of this system. They should know it well — how it works, how it operates and how it manages the electoral system to thwart the opposition.

This is why it is important for Tsvangirai and Mujuru to form a strategic alliance. Separately, they will struggle against Zanu PF but united, they can share their strong points — Tsvangirai’s massive support and Mujuru’s knowledge of the State and the electoral system.

Q: Does a coalition involving Joice Mujuru help Tsvangirai in his presidential bid and what does Mujuru bring to the opposition?

A: I believe it would be helpful to work as a single unit than as separate actors in an election. Separately, they will simply divide votes but working together brings economies of scale. The question as to who becomes the leading candidate would obviously have to be discussed between them and I wouldn’t want to pre-empt that discussion.

My view is they have to be pragmatic. Tsvangirai has already proven himself that he has a great deal of loyal supporters. But he will need more and those who come with Mujuru, the Zanu chunk that he has never had, may just be what he needs.

If it is true that Mujuru had a loyal following in Zanu PF, then those supporters would help a coalition candidate. But she also brings in important knowledge of the State — how the electoral machinery does things and how irregularities can be curbed. Further, she has alliances within the State — people who occupy important roles with the State system who would back her than they would back Tsvangirai standing alone.

Also, as a war veteran of proven pedigree, no-one can disqualify her candidature on the basis that she did not participate in the liberation struggle.

I hear some people who say but Mujuru was part of the system and she is as bad as all of them. But you know what, we must learn from other countries and from history. After years of trying to go it alone, it took a “Rainbow Coalition” in Kenya in 2002 to beat the long-standing ruling party, KANU (Kenya African National  Union) .

The Rainbow Coalition consisted of elements from the old KANU and those in the democratic movement. When they fought together, they were able to overcome. Likewise, Zimbabwe needs a coalition of the old and the new — those who know the Zanu PF and State system and those who have been fighting for democracy. It’s about being pragmatic.

Q: Other parties such as MDC led by Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti are not comfortable working with Tsvangirai, what would be their options if  Mujuru goes with Tsvangirai?

A: You call the shots if you have the numbers to back you up. Political power, at the end of the day, is determined by the numbers that one is able to harness.

Of the current crop of opposition leaders there is no question that Tsvangirai is the one who enjoys greatest amount of support. The support that Mujuru has is not proven.

It is based on conjecture and yet every opposition leader is clamouring to gain her favour. Who knows what might happen — it might just be the Simba Makoni scenario all over again — a good man with a lot of goodwill around him whom everyone thought would bring lots of Zanu PF people with him, but ultimately, it amounted to not much.

So it’s hard to rationalise why opposition leaders should be falling over each other to gain partnership with Mujuru. Mujuru herself needs to demonstrate, like everybody else, that she has the numbers to back her ambition to lead.

If the other players refuse to work with Tsvangirai but Mujuru chooses to work with Tsvangirai, then they would have to go it alone but I wouldn’t fancy their chances.

Ncube’s party has struggled badly after the poor showing in the 2013 elections and senior officials have been leaving the party at an alarming rate. Biti and his PDP are new kids on the block who are yet to prove themselves.

Q: Are there any prospects of a delayed election in 2018 and the possibility of consummating a deal that will bring in another GNU?

A: I don’t think so. Tsvangirai and the MDC must have learnt from their experience in the last GNU that the risk of such an arrangement is that it only helps Zanu PF to re-group and rehabilitate itself while gaining some much-needed breathing spaces.

Right now, they are clueless and all over the place. Why would the opposition throw a life-jacket to an adversary that is drowning on account of its own folly? The MDC went into the GNU in 2008 with good intentions but afterwards it seemed like they had been used and had wasted their time.

I can’t see why the 2018 election should be delayed. Zimbabwe has always held regular and periodic elections and I can’t see that changing. 2013 was a good time to extend the life of Parliament to allow reforms to take place but it didn’t happen.

In fact it was vociferously opposed. It would be hypocritical to do so now just because Zanu PF is facing problems.

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