Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Crunch Time for Makoni Election Bid

A promising contender has thrown his hat into the ring, but the danger is that those who encouraged him will be too scared to back him publicly.
By IWPR Srdan
The Makoni project – the palace coup that aims to oust President Robert Mugabe as the ruling ZANU PF party’s candidate in landmark elections next month – has reached a crossroads.

It either falters irrevocably this week or gathers unstoppable momentum, depending on the backing that Mugabe’s would-be replacement, former finance minister Simba Makoni, is able to gather.

Will disgruntled members of ZANU-PF come out of the shadows and openly support the rebellion? Or will they melt away - as has happened in the past - leaving Makoni on his own to face Mugabe’s wrath?

Several past attempts to challenge Mugabe have faltered because conspirators were cowed at the eleventh hour. The most recent, in 2004, involved an elaborate plot hatched in Tsholotsho in Matabeleland, and resulted in the participants scampering for cover while Mugabe sacked six provincial chairmen from the party.

At a February 7 press conference, Makoni urged his backers to come out publicly, but so far none has dared to speak out.

“Let me encourage those others in ZANU-PF who have been, and still are, working with us in this project for national renewal to remain steadfast and not to be intimidated,” he said. “I offered myself to my party and my country. I have a deeper faith and loyalty to my country than to my party.

“I stood up myself and I expect and hope that those who have been working with us will do the same.”

With a few days to go to the review of nominations for the crucial March 29 presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the powerful figures believed to be backing Makoni will be brave enough to leave ZANU-PF and join him in his campaign.

The other option, according to a senior ZANU-PF official secretly supporting Makoni, is to try to convince Mugabe to withdraw his name from the presidential race.

This source told IWPR that negotiations with Mugabe would be initiated by Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents, Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru, before the issue of him stepping down was aired at the next ZANU-PF politburo meeting, scheduled for two days before the nomination court sits on February 15.

“There are efforts to talk to the president about him stepping aside and allowing Makoni to stand on a ZANU-PF ticket,” said the source. “They want to appeal to the president to prevent the party from splitting. But you know ZANU-PF – no one might even raise the issue without worrying about the consequences.”

The Zimbabwean opposition has called on senior ZANU-PF figures to publicly come out and support Makoni, arguing that this would give him credibility as a candidate.

Makoni is expected to unveil his manifesto and campaign plan shortly. The plan, according to the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, would outline the creation of a new party – possibly to be called the Patriotic Front – which would recruit reform-minded members of ZANU-PF and other parties, as well as from wider society.

If Makoni became president, the party would form a government of national unity, and would also introduce a new constitution via a referendum.

Before the former finance minister announced he was standing, Ibboh Mandaza, one of the coordinators of what is known as the Makoni project, told IWPR that he had the backing of the party in nine of the country’s ten provinces, including Mugabe’s own Mashonaland West.

The only province that is divided is Midlands, home to former speaker and housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is fighting tenaciously in Mugabe’s corner. Mnangagwa is a bitter rival of retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, seen as the prime mover behind Makoni’s election bid.

As well as Mujuru, a majority of ZANU-PF politburo members, including General Vitalis Zvinavashe and former ZAPU member Dumiso Dabengwa, are said to want Mugabe out of the race. Most cabinet ministers also opposed Mugabe as their candidate, according to Mandaza.

But the danger of betrayal looms large.

A member of the ZANU-PF Central Committee who is a loyal supporter of Mugabe laughed off the idea that vice-presidents Msika and Mujuri would confront Mugabe and ask him to stand down, or that the party’s politburo would discuss the issue.

Speaking after Makoni’s press conference, the functionary said Makoni had exposed himself and would be left to face Mugabe on his own.

Quoting the late Edson Zvobgo, an influential founding member of ZANU, he said no one would be willing to go against Mugabe and face the consequences.

“Like what Zvobgo once said, you cannot leave ZANU-PF. Makoni is not seriously expecting whoever his backers are to come out publicly and support him, which will mean leaving ZANU-PF to join him,” said the central committee member, who did not want to be named.

“I also don’t believe anyone will raise the matter in a forum with Mugabe. You guys don’t know Mugabe and you don’t know how scared all those people are of him. So Simba [Makoni] should not expect anyone coming out. There is too much at risk if they leave ZANU PF. Remember, some of these people are not ‘clean’ people,” he said.

This vacillation is exemplified by one former ZANU-PF member of parliament who has been in the political wilderness for some time, and is now weighing up whether to come out for Makoni or remain in the shadows.

He benefited personally from Mugabe’s controversial land reform, which saw white-owned farms seized, ostensibly for redistribution to poor peasants but more often than not ending up in the hands of rich and powerful regime insiders.

The politician fears he might lose his farm if he acts rashly, so he plans to come out into the open only if and when the real heavyweights publicly declare for Makoni.

“These people [in Makoni’s camp] just don’t know how much support they have from ZANU-PF people in the lower ranks. At the moment there is just speculation and no one wants to shoot themselves in the foot. The big guys just have to display the same bravery as Simba [Makoni] has done,” he said.

“I am worried that if I join [Makoni now], they will take my farm.”

Hativagone Mushonga is an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.