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

Makoni Rises to the Challenge

Ruling party rift deepens as senior member takes on Mugabe in presidential poll.
By IWPR Srdan
Former finance minister Simba Makoni’s decision to stand against Robert Mugabe in presidential elections next month effectively splits the ruling ZANU-PF party and changes the whole Zimbabwean political landscape, analysts believe.

The move, announced at a press conference on February 5, could not have been better timed. In ongoing primary elections for candidates to contest combined presidential, parliamentary and local government ballots, the faction of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, loyal to Mugabe has been dominating in a process expertly manipulated by the president and his close circle.

Veteran politicians allied to the ZANU-PF faction that is commonly linked to retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, have been shut out of the running.

Variously described as affable, erudite and debonair, Makoni called a press conference to announce that following consultations with ruling party members and activists countrywide, and also with others outside ZANU-PF, he had decided to challenge Mugabe.

“I have accepted the call and hereby advise the people of Zimbabwe that I offer myself as candidate for the office of president of Zimbabwe in the forthcoming elections,” said Makoni.

Professor Heneri Dzinotyeweyi, who leads a fringe political party called the Zimbabwe Integrated Programme, ZIP, said, “Makoni’s move is a clear signal that ZANU-PF is finally splitting because some people have had enough of Mugabe’s dictatorial attitude and intimidation.”

For Bill Saidi, a veteran journalist and deputy editor of the privately-owned weekly The Standard, Makoni’s move was groundbreaking in the sense that for the first time a senior ZANU-PF leader had challenged Mugabe’s hold on power.

“He [Makoni] has debunked the popular attitude in Zimbabwe that everyone in ZANU-PF is afraid of challenging Mugabe.

“I believe this is an important starting point for Zimbabweans, who have to disabuse themselves of the notion that only Mugabe can rule this country.”

Last month, Ibbo Mandaza, a ZANU-PF insider, confirmed to IWPR in an exclusive interview that Makoni would stand against Mugabe in the March elections.

Speaking anonymously then, he said that ten party provinces were opposed to Mugabe, including that of the president, Mashonaland West. The only province that remained loyal to him was the Midlands, which is home to Rural Housing and Social Amenities Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a bitter rival of Mujuru.

But many are sceptical about Makoni’s chances. “Obviously I don’t believe that he will win because Mugabe has already put in place the machinery to rig the elections,” said Saidi.

“The point to note here is that at least someone in ZANU-PF has finally got the courage to challenge Mugabe. I believe after this dramatic move there will be more people who will stand against Mugabe in the party. The perception that Mugabe can never be challenged is collapsing.”

Dzinotyiweyi said he believed the majority of ZANU-PF members will not support Mugabe - but the question was how they will show their dissatisfaction with him at the elections, because intimidation within the party is so serious.

“In Makoni, ZANU-PF has found a viable alternative but the only problem is whether their wishes will prevail at the elections,” he said.

On the streets of the capital, there was more optimism about Makoni’s prospects

Speaking for many, Crispen Barwe, a teacher, said, “I believe change will come from within ZANU-PF. For me the opposition is still too busy fighting amongst themselves and they are no longer really strong enough to provide a real challenge to Mugabe.

“Makoni seems to be the one who will lead a split within ZANU-PF or at least be the symbol of change in the party which is run on the basis of patronage and fear. I am sure he knows the system that he is up against because he used to be Mugabe’s close cadre and has been in ZANU-PF for more than 25 years.”

Educated as a chemical engineer in Britain, and a financial adviser by profession, Makoni, analysts told IWPR last month, was perhaps the most widely liked figure in a deeply unpopular and corrupt party.

Friends and critics alike agreed that Makoni was extremely clever and had a reputation for integrity. They said he was so far untainted by the scandals, looting of assets and human rights violations that have been the hallmark of ZANU-PF leaders over the past two decades.

They said Makoni was widely seen as the most presentable choice available for those concerned to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation.

However, there are others who are sceptical of Makoni’s motives. These suspect that this could be a ZANU-PF ploy to lure votes away from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. Indeed, Makoni’s intention to stand puts the MDC in a quandary.

The main faction, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has not yet announced whether it is going to participate in the elections and indications are that there may be a mass exodus of his supporters to the Makoni project.

The MDC itself has remained divided, eroding in the process its support base, which says the party lacks decisive leadership.

Benedict Unendoro is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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