What Makoni’s candidacy means for Zimbabwe

“You who are with us here, I hope we can trust you,” so President Robert Mugabe addressed party cadres gathered for the launch of his presidential campaign in Harare last Friday. Such is the level of paranoia gripping the octogenarian leader ever since the defection of former finance minister, Simba Makoni, that he has instructed all Zanu PF candidates to campaign for him first before they can sell their own bids to the electorate.

Mugabe has every justification to feel paranoid, for Makoni’s presidential bid as an independent rests largely on a subterranean campaign within the structures of the ruling party. Makoni’s claims of support from Zanu PF’s bigwigs were borne out last weekend with the defection of former home affairs minister and Matabeleland heavyweight, Dumiso Dabengwa. More strategic defections are expected; not least that of so-called kingmaker and former defence forces commander, Solomon Mujuru.

In simple terms, Makoni’s presidential bid can best be understood as a dogged effort to give Zanu PF supporters the leadership plebiscite that they were constitutionally entitled to at their party’s extra-ordinary congress in December last year. Mugabe pre-emptied that election by using the notoriously venal war veterans to railroad his endorsement as the party’s presidential candidate.

The obvious working premise for Makoni’s camp is that the popular consensus within Zanu PF is that Mugabe must, indeed, go. Their major objective, therefore, is to wrestle the pith of the former national liberation movement from Mugabe and the coterie of radicals that he has surrounded himself with. It is for this reason that Makoni and his backers continue publicly to profess their allegiance to Zanu PF.

However, Makoni also calculates that his cross-party appeal will sweep opposition voters from under Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC’s feet. His endorsement by Arthur Mutambara’s MDC faction goes a long way in realising this goal – it delivers the Matabeleland vote. By broadening his message beyond party cleavages and promising to form a government of all the talents in order to carry through his programme of national reconstruction, Makoni stands a strong chance of harvesting the mass of opposition voters who are disillusioned with the MDC’s repeated failure to convert the economic decline into decisive electoral victory.

In particular, urban professionals and middle class voters accuse Tsvangirai of failing to demonstrate governance capacity by way of comprehensive and consistent policy output in response to the multi-layered national crisis. However, the former trade unionist remains popular with large sections of the working class and unemployed voters in urban townships where his rallies continue to draw large crowds.

It is to these voters that Makoni must explain the nature of his allegiance to Zanu PF if he is to make headway with them. Would he make a triumphal return to Zanu PF should he win the presidency, for instance? Speculation on Makoni’s Zanu PF links is rife among Zimbabweans both at home and abroad, and rightly so.

Zanu PF has captured and made the state an extension of itself. It has overthrown legal-rational authority and replaced it with a jingoism that allows its super-patriots to lord it over the rest of the citizenry. For these reasons, Zanu PF has become a political creature whose demise many Zimbabweans would love to see. Makoni must, therefore, explain clearly what it is about Zanu PF that he remains proud to be associated with, and whether or not he has ambitions to lead a reformed version of it. Dispelling the scepticism of urban voters is crucial for Makoni to win over the anti-Zanu PF vote and gain the edge over Tsvangirai.

Analysts in Zimbabwe do not expect an outright victory by any one of the candidates and predict a run-off poll to decide the winner. It is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion that Mugabe will be a participant in any run-off (that is assuming he fails to rig the whole thing in the first instance). Makoni’s novelty is likely to be the decisive factor in a run-off poll, whoever he faces.

In the final analysis, Makoni has massive goodwill going for him. He has generally enjoyed a good press throughout his career and is respected as a man of integrity, capable of exercising rational, competent and conciliatory national leadership. However, his reliance on his Zanu PF heavyweight friends to haul in the vote for him could be his undoing if they should decide to stick with Mugabe after all, as vice-president Joice Mujuru has done.