While Mugabe begins to rally his troops for another ruthless election campaign, the opposition is preoccupied with splits and backbiting. If Welshman Ncube, who recently took over as president of the smaller Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), fails to contain a revolt by a group of dissenters Zimbabweans could well end up with four MDCs on the next ballot.
Last year, at a popular braai spot on the southern verges of Harare, another MDC was formed — Job Sikhala, a comically brash long-time opposition figure, announced he was forming his own MDC, which he would call MDC-99, after the year the original MDC was formed.
“We have decided to take over and restore the people’s project and continue from where we left when we were fighting Mugabe,” he said. Once a party was formed, the next step was to place your “president” on a high horse. And Sikhala’s arrival, his party said, had “shaken Zimbabwe’s political markets” and “queues have formed at our headquarters” for party cards, sending “shivers down the spines of our erstwhile friends”.
As a reflection of the new priorities in the opposition, Sikhala declared his party would do so well it would be “the main opposition party after the elections”. On his Facebook page this week, Sikhala asked his followers: “Ncube, Tsvangirai or Sikhala?” No mention of Mugabe as a rival.
Space for more
A fourth MDC would be only fair, seeing that there is more than one Zanu. Zanu-Ndonga, formed decades ago by late nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole, has stood in every election since independence, drawing support only from Sithole’s rural home province, where the party emblem, a walking stick, was something of a sacred symbol.
Now, its leader, Reketai Semwayo, says the party is joining Tsvangirai, as it finds it “prudent as a broke party with no chances of winning any council, parliamentary, senatorial or presidential election”.
In Bulawayo, in late December, the launch of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front almost failed to take place. Its secret president, known only as “General Nandinandi”, had been delayed in Johannesburg, waiting reporters were told.
In 2008 Dumiso Dabengwa left Mugabe to back Simba Makoni, who himself had broken away from Zanu-PF to form the Mavambo Kusile Dawn (MKD) party.
Last year Dabengwa left MKD to form Zapu, which he says is a revival of the old Zapu, the Joshua Nkomo-led liberation movement of which Dabengwa had been a senior member.
Now Dabengwa’s new Zapu is splitting. A rival group has threatened to leave the party unless he steps down for Nkomo’s son, Sibangalizwe.
If that happens yet another Zapu would be added to the list — there is already Zapu-Federal Party, or Zapu-FP, not to be confused with Zanu-PF or the former PF-Zapu. And there is also Zapu 2000.
The splintering of the opposition has kept Mugabe in power. In 2008 the opposition’s total vote would have been enough to defeat him outright, but his 43% was enough to force a run-off, during which he crushed the opposition violently.
Ncube led the 2005 split from the MDC, after Tsvangirai overruled a council vote on elections. Ncube regrets the episode, but adds: “I take heart in that, if the situation that we were in was to present itself again, I would take the same route. If he could reject the vote of the national council, what would stop him from rejecting the vote of the people?”
Talks to form a coalition for 2008 collapsed because the two sides could not agree on which would get the best government posts if they beat Mugabe.
“They backtracked at the 11th hour because they wanted to show the world that they were more popular than us.
“Fine, they were more popular, but what did they get from that?” Ncube told NewsDay. The contempt is mutual. Tsvangirai has often appeared more accommodating of Mugabe than of Ncube.
Nelson Chamisa, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, agreed that only a coalition could defeat Mugabe. But reuniting with Ncube would be like yoking “a donkey and a horse” and would only “retard momentum”, Chamisa said. This article was first published in the M&G