ZIMBABWEANS in foreign lands are coalescing around a new political outfit called the United Democratic Front (UDF) to challenge the ruling ZANU-PF in the potentially explosive 2018 general elections, the Financial Gazette has reported.
While UDF is still to agree on a leader, those who are behind this latest political project are eager to bring on board an influential businessman currently based in the United Kingdom to lead the party.
In the event that they succeed, it would be the second time inside a decade that an opposition political party has had to headhunt for a leader in order to enhance their chances of dislodging President Robert Mugabe from power.
After breaking away from Morgan Tsvangirai in 2005, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rebels recruited Arthur Mutambara, a robotics professor, from his base in South Africa to lead the splinter group.
A few years down the line, Mutambara had to be jettisoned from his position through a bloodless palace coup, orchestrated by Welshman Ncube, who ironically had hired him in the first place.
UDF’s approach seems to strike a chord with a prophecy by Emmanuel Makandiwa, leader of the United Family International Church, who said that President Mugabe’s successor would emerge from the Diaspora.
The prophecy has been met with derision from both ZANU-PF and the MDC-T — the country’s major political actors.
UDF is promising to “use the electoral mandate from the 2018 elections to deliver positive and real time change that would benefit the ordinary people of Zimbabwe who are suffering because they are not the ‘chosen few’.”
The party, which has put together a manifesto as well as an outline for what it calls an advisory council, says the year “2018 would be the beginning of the process of dismantling the more than 35 years of despair and uncertainty”.
In its vision statement, UDF says it is for a just and fair Zimbabwean society where everyone is equal and morality is at the very core of nation building.
“The UDF is for a nation of proud citizens and a State that occupies its rightful place among the global family of nations while interacting, contributing meaningfully and visibly benefiting, from the global village that is the world economic and political environment today,” the vision statement said.
Over four million Zimbabweans now reside in foreign lands.
Despite contributing millions of United States dollars every year in Diaspora remittances that have partly helped to save the country from total collapse, Zimbabweans abroad are proscribed by the Electoral Act from exercising their right to vote.
While the new Constitution gives every Zimbabwean, who has attained the voting age, the right to vote, the Electoral Act is still to be aligned to the new charter.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission estimates that it may require more than US$281 million to prepare for and run the 2018 elections, which would most likely include the Diaspora vote.
This has heightened expectations amongst Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, who have been precluded for years from exercising their right to vote.
Political analyst, Otto Saki, described the development as an interesting and mixed cohort.
“The question that remains is whether they are able to then register to vote and actually come and vote. This is the important aspect. Over the years the Diaspora has remained engaged but not active, this will be a test of their resoluteness and determination to make a stand. Their greatest contribution has been remittances and now they seem to be following their hard earned money with political positions,” said Saki.
UDF is now on a massive mobilisation drive in South Africa, UK, France, Canada, Belgium and the United States, where it has established structures.
It is now in the process of establishing a foothold in Zimbabwe where the political playing field is already congested with over 40 opposition parties participating.
One of its point-persons in France told the Financial Gazette this week that they were working with “a selected few” local Christian leaders to drum up support for the party.
Church leaders appear to constitute the central plank of the new political party as men and women of the cloth emerge from the pulpit to take a keen interest in politics.
This comes at a time when a group of local clergymen have conglomerated under the Christian Voice International Zimbabwe to exert pressure on President Mugabe’s administration which has presided over the worst economic crisis in years.
Currently, there is a standoff between Treasury and government workers over the payment of salaries, which might result in the latter downing their tools yet again.
Zimbabwe’s economy took a turn for the worst around 2000 when government seized commercial farms from the minority whites for re-distribution to the landless blacks as part of its programme to address past historical imbalances.
The exercise has benefited mainly the ZANU-PF elite, the majority of whom do not have the expertise or resources to be productive on the farms.
With agriculture constituting about 70 percent of inputs that go into manufacturing, the chaotic land reforms have impacted negatively on the rest of the economy, which has suffered severe company closures and job losses.
In recent weeks, political temperatures have been rising, as citizens demand action from their government which retained power at the 2013 polls on the strength of a manifesto that promised 2,2 million jobs.
First, it was residents of Beitbridge who brought the border town to a standstill about three weeks ago as they protested the promulgation of a Statutory Instrument that spiked duty on a wide range of imported products, mainly basic commodities.
Then came the national shut-down a fortnight ago which was punctuated by incidents of violence in some parts of the country.
Since then, the national mood has been tense, with the security sector being put on high alert.
Interestingly, members of the clergy have assumed an active interest in the political see-saw that has the governing ZANU-PF party on one side and civil society on the other.
This week, the National Convergence Platform (NCP) was established to bring all stakeholders to discuss the country’s worsening social, economic and political environment and map out an amicable way forward.
Convened by retired Anglican bishop, Sebastian Bakare, NCP has constituted its board of trustees and has approved its strategy document.
“Unless all Zimbabweans come together in order to find a common language and strategy that addresses issues of common concern and seriously share the vision of the Zimbabwe that we want, today’s challenges (crisis) maybe with us for a long time to come. NCP seeks to avoid a situation where citizens of this country develop apathy and pessimism about the possibility of their dream Zimbabwe. It is possible for everybody to live a meaningful life,” said Bakare.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, together with the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches have also been speaking strongly against government.
In a statement last week, the churches said they were “concerned and alarmed by the unfortunate unfolding events in our beloved country, saddened by the political, social and economic meltdown, which has caused untold suffering of the masses and the resultant civic unrest and violence that has erupted across the land and the failure by our government and almost all political leaders to be responsive to the cries of our people”.
The statement deplored “the apparent disregard of the Constitution of Zimbabwe by the police and government through selective application of the law, failure to decisively deal with corruption, exclusion of citizens in determining their destiny and the politicisation of people’s genuine complaints and pains”.
The churches highlighted that people were concerned by a plethora of issues which they wanted urgently addressed.
Recently, church leaders in Zimbabwe came together in solidarity with Evan Mawarire, a pastor of the #ThisFlag campaign, who had been arrested for allegedly inciting violence.
They were part of a massive crowd of about 5 000 people that thronged the Harare Magistrates Courts, demanding Mawarire’s release.
Mawarire was subsequently released after the State unsuccessfully tried to alter his charge from the initial incitement of violence to subverting a constitutionally elected government.
He had been arrested by police after leading nationwide protests against widespread corruption and economic mismanagement.-Fingaz