After three failed to attempts to dislodge Africa’s oldest ruler, Zimbabwe’s veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is convinced he has finally found the formula to send President Robert Mugabe to retirement.
Mr Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, will face the 93-year-old ruler for the fourth time in presidential election next year, and unlike in previous polls, he has started his campaign early.
He has been working on building a coalition of opposition parties that would bring all President Mugabe’s opponents together and this would make 2018 the most anticipated poll in Zimbabwe’s history.
The former Prime Minister believes an opposition coalition would give Zimbabweans, especially the youth, a reason to take part in the polls as voter apathy has in the past played into the veteran ruler’s hands.
“We want an alliance that will address the apathy in the country, especially among the young voters, and to ensure that the possibility of victory is assured before we even go into that election,” he said.
“That is going to be a game changer.”
Mr Tsvangirai recently concluded a nationwide tour to consult his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters on the proposed coalition and it appears his mind was already made about joining hands with former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and her newly-formed National People’s Party (NPP).
Mrs Mujuru was fired from both the ruling Zanu-PF party and government in 2014 after she was accused of plotting to topple President Mugabe.
She has since become an attractive partner for the opposition parties seeking an alliance because of her liberation war history and the belief that she still enjoys some form of support in the security forces.
Her husband, the late General Solomon Mujuru, was Zimbabwe’s first black army commander and was considered a power broke in the ruling party.
Top security commanders have publicly challenged Mr Tsvangirai’s presidential ambitions, saying he had no liberation war record and that he was too close to Western countries.
An alliance with Mrs Mujuru, which the MDC leader is convinced, was now close to becoming a reality, would help win over the doubting Thomases, some observers say.
“It is too early yet (to comment on the coalition with NPP, but I can tell you that it is a process that has been fully endorsed by my party and I have been given the sole mandate to ensure that an alliance for the opposition succeeds; I can tell you that it will succeed,” Mr Tsvangirai added.
“I am not at liberty to reveal (the nature of the negotiations) because we have made a commitment that we will not negotiate in the media.
“Much as we would like the media to cover these stories, I always think it is something instructive that you do not negotiate in the media.”
On the other hand, Mrs Mujuru has been speaking more confidently about prospects of a united front against President Mugabe in the next elections, indicating that a deal between the major opposition parties was imminent.
“Like what I have said already, from what you have heard from Mr Tsvangirai that he is ready to work with us and that even from our side, we are also ready to work with other democratic forces that are ready to work with us,” she told The Standard newspaper recently.
Bridge the gaps
“Right now, it is MDC we are talking to on a bilateral basis but we also have many more that we are talking to.
Mrs Mujuru added: “So for 2018, we are sure the democratic forces will be ready to work together because the enemy we are facing is one.
“We are not enemies amongst ourselves as opposition parties.
“We know what the Zimbabwean people are aiming to have at the moment, so our focus is to bridge the gaps that separate us so that come 2018, which is very close, we will pull together,” she said.
While the gap between Mr Tsvangirai and Mrs Mujuru’s parties was narrowing, they were viewed with suspicion by smaller parties who have since formed their own alliance known as the Coalition of Democrats (Code).
Code, which has among its ranks parties led by former Finance ministers Simba Makoni and Tendai Biti as well as former Industry minister Welshman Ncube, has over a dozen parties.
It also shares the belief that a divided opposition would be a gift to Zanu-PF in next year’s elections.
“The signing of the Coalition of Democrats framework presents a new narrative for the people of Zimbabwe where ego and selfish aspirations were discarded for a better people-centred Zimbabwe,” Code said last year.
“Indeed the challenge and crisis of governance can only be answered by those who are inclusive and not exclusive.”
Both Mr Tsvangirai and Mrs Mujuru insist they are not shutting the door on the so-called small parties.
“We see the need for an alliance, the only problem is that some people feel that in the alliance building process, we should be equal,” the MDC leader said when asked about his reluctance to negotiate with Code members.
“How do you say you are equal when you are not equal? It is a realistic assessment but what I want to tell you is that, we respect every party and we respect every leader.
“The coalition is not about individuals but it is about what the people on the ground have been crying for.”
The veteran opposition politician also does not see any problems when it comes to selection of the coalition’s leader in a race that was likely to be between himself and Mrs Mujuru.
“I do not think the leadership of the alliance is an issue that can stop the alliance,” Mr Tsvangirai said.
“Remember, I outlined that we need an alliance agreement, we need a policy agreement and we need a post-election agreement.
“So, those agreements are very important because during the course of that, you will be able to ascertain who should lead this process for the success of the alliance.”
MDC founder member Bekithemba Mpofu, now an academic based in South Africa, said President Mugabe had managed to stay in power for over 36 years largely because of a fragmented opposition.
“If you look at past elections and how the opposition lost to Mugabe, it was not popularity contests but a political scientist who has manipulated public opinion with or without the involvement of the media,” he said.
“Mugabe’s people using state resources, continue to sponsor opposition forces to split votes.
“The opposition parties have to be vigilant because there is no way they can win next year’s elections without a coalition.”
Dr Mpofu warned the opposition parties to guard against infiltration, pointing out that Zanu-PF had a history of sponsoring candidates during elections to split votes.
“The mistake a coalition can make is to try and bring everyone together because they risk infiltration,” he added.
“Zanu-PF sponsors most of these small parties directly or indirectly.”
The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance leader, the Reverend Useni Sibanda, said there was a real possibility of President Mugabe losing next year’s elections if the opposition parties joined hands.
“I think that if the opposition parties united and also ensured that pseudo political parties created by the intelligence are not part of the mix, a major upset against the ruling party is likely,” he said.
“However, the key issue is to deal with the uneven electoral field and control of the election management system by Zanu-PF.
“It is also important to bear in mind that main opposition party MDC has won elections without a coalition but failed to take over the reins due to the militarisation of the state. This is why the Joice Mujuru factor is critical.”
Zanu-PF insists that it is not missing sleep over the looming coalition of its rivals because it considers other opposition parties that the MDC is courting as too weak.
“A grand coalition in Zimbabwe is by definition untenable because there are many opposition individuals, but only one real opposition party, MDC,” tweeted Prof Jonathan Moyo, a leading Zanu-PF strategist.
“The first rule in electoral strategy is to distinguish between phantom and real opposition,” he added.
According to Zimbabwe’s constitution, next year’s polls should be the last for President Mugabe and this could see him retiring at the age of 98.
A fractured opposition has been President Mugabe’s trump card in previous elections.