HARARE – In remarks that are likely to stoke tensions within opposition ranks, former Vice President Joice Mujuru has once again punted herself to lead the country’s envisaged grand coalition, at the same time seemingly questioning the suitability of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to front the mooted alliance.
This comes despite Mujuru — a former Zanu PF bigwig who now leads the fledgling National People’s Party (NPP) — having recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tsvangirai, as they signalled their intention of finalising talks for the mooted opposition alliance.
But the former long-serving number two to President Robert Mugabe once again threw the cat among the pigeons last week when she suggested that Tsvangirai did not fit the profile of the ideal leader to front the planned coalition.
“We want someone who can also unite and appeal to those who fought the war, those in the army, as well as and those in the farms.
“This is because some fear that if someone else becomes the leader they will lose their farms, or those in the army will be blamed for certain things, and those in the police will be blamed for certain things.
“And those people will be happy to hear that they have one of their own,” Mujuru said as she promoted her candidacy during a meeting with her supporters in Zvimba, Mashonaland West.
Analysts have previously said Mujuru, whose liberation struggle nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood), and whose late husband Solomon was the first black post-independence army commander, could provide the much-needed bridge that opposition parties have been missing to ensure the smooth transfer of power if they win the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
Speaking in 2002, the late commander of the defence forces, Vitalis Gava Zvinavashe, infamously said the military would not salute anyone without liberation credentials, in apparent reference to Tsvangirai.
Yesterday, analysts told the Daily News that Mujuru’s statement last week was “a naked advertisement” that she wanted to lead the coalition — warning, however, that this could stoke tensions within opposition ranks.
“Such utterances seem designed to send the message that Tsvangirai, from her point of view, is unsuitable to lead the coalition.
“The characteristics she profiles appear tailored to reflect what she thinks she brings to the table. But they do not reflect the needs or priorities of significant other constituencies.
“The issues she raises are of course not unimportant and any coalition leadership should be able to address these issues. But leadership is not simply about who sits on the throne,” Piers Pigou, a consultant with the International Crisis Group, said.
“It also certainly doesn’t bode well for the coalition … and this highlights the importance of an innovative approach to the coalition building effort … Mujuru is untested outside of Zanu PF and what we’ve seen so far is somewhat underwhelming,” Pigou added.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, also said it appeared as if it was going to be difficult for opposition parties to agree on a coalition leader, which would weaken the planned alliance.
“The coalition will likely happen but I don’t think it will be strong enough. They will get to it, but it will be a weak coalition unless if they can come up with an acceptable formula to choose the coalition leader.
“I think it will probably end up being a quarrelsome coalition,” Masunungure told the Daily News.
Other analysts said a positive attribute of Tsvangirai was that he had the strongest appeal and control over his core supporters, as witnessed at his weekend rally in Gweru, which was attended by tens of thousands of his followers.
“(Tsvangirai) is the best foot forward, no doubt about that. But he must be magnanimous, crafty, humble and inclusive in the manner in which he approaches the coalition talks,” said civic leader Gladys Hlatywayo.
“The situation requires astute leadership that is able to remain focused on the end-game and rise above petty differences of yesteryears. It equally requires dealing effectively with internal discontent and the divisive politics of positions,” she added.
Political observers have also previously said the opposition, if they contest next year’s elections as a united front, stand a good chance of finally bringing an end to both Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s long rule.
Optimism has been high within opposition circles ever since Tsvangirai and Mujuru joined forces and walked the streets of Gweru in August last year, in a rare public show of unity.
A large cross-section of Zimbabweans, including political analysts and civic groups, have also said Tsvangirai is the only opposition leader capable of giving Mugabe and the warring Zanu PF a run for their money in the make-or-break 2018 national elections.
Speaking to the Daily News in an interview early this year, former Cabinet minister and for long Mugabe’s confidante, Didymus Mutasa, said while there were many people who aspired to lead the planned grand alliance, only Tsvangirai had the support and “the credentials” to take that position — completely rubbishing in the process both the capacity and chances of Mujuru to lead the opposition.
This was after Mutasa and Mujuru’s highly-publicised fallout while they still worked together at the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) — a disaffection which eventually led Mujuru to forming the NPP.
Mutasa was effusive in his praise of Tsvangirai, making special mention of the way the MDC president had persevered against all odds in his push for a more democratic Zimbabwe, including taking on Mugabe and a Zanu PF that he said often behaved “thuggishly” when challenged.
“For me Tsvangirai is the natural leader of the coalition because of who he is … What the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) is today stands for what Tsvangirai and the MDC built. The rest of us are latecomers in this game.
“We want a leader who will do what we thought Mugabe would do, but failed to do, and as ZPF we want to have discussions about who should lead the coalition because when we wanted to do it while we were still with Mujuru she prevaricated.
“As a party we cannot accept a situation where Mujuru leads the coalition having proved her lack of capacity with ZPF, although she is welcome to be part of the coalition because we need everyone,” Mutasa said without hiding his disdain for Mujuru.