By Clemence Manyukwe
ZANU-PF desperate to annihilate its rivals at the next elections, has dangled a carrot in front of beleaguered Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara whose political star took a rapid tailspin following his dramatic ouster as president of the smaller faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-M) early this month.
Impeccable sources revealed this week that the 45-year-old former MDC-M president is featuring prominently on ZANU-PF’s shopping list of charismatic politicians with technocratic backgrounds whom it wants to win over to reboot its political fortunes ahead of the make-or-break elections scheduled for this year.
The shopping list, according to the insiders includes Mavambo/ Kusile/ Dawn (MKD) leader, Simba Makoni, who, at 30, became the youngest bureaucrat in President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet when he was appointed minister of industry and energy in 1981 after joining the country’s first black administration a year earlier as deputy minister of agriculture.
While Makoni might be a hard target for ZANU-PF despite the fact that he is struggling to turn MKD into a political force to reckon with, Mutambara is seen in the position of a drowning man who can clutch at a straw in a desperate bid to enhance his fortunes.
Until Sunday, Mutambara had looked safe in his lofty position of Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) despite having been reduced to an ordinary card-carrying member of the MDC-M in a bloodless coup at the party’s acrimonious congress held early this month. His fortunes now hang by the thread after the MDC leadership — in its wisdom or lack of it — resolved at the weekend to re-assign him to a lesser glamorous post of Minister of Regional Integration and International Co-operation.
Indications are that the embattled DPM, who is currently weighing his options, is unlikely to accept the ministerial appointment, which will make him jobless.
But he can still cling to his post at the benevolence of President Mugabe should the shrewd politician, for strategic reasons, ignore a recommendation from the MDC to demote the robotics professor and elevate Welshman Ncube, the new MDC leader, to the position of DPM. This is, however, highly unlikely unless President Mugabe wants to compound the bickering in the volatile inclusive government.
Technically, the incumbent now has a perfect excuse to stall the re-assignment. Legal experts this week said President Mugabe might dig in citing a pending court action in which former MDC-M national chairperson, Jobert Mudzumwe, is leading a splinter group challenging Ncube’s election. Mutambara is said to be taking his re-assignment as an insult since the Ministry of Regional Integration and International Co-operation appears to exist only in name.
According to a recent report by the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, the ministry is at number 36 out of the 37 ministries in terms of budgetary allocations for this year. The report adds that the ministry has only two vehicles, and has resorted to slashing its vacancies from 32 to 20 due to inadequate funding and limited office space.
Some of the ministry’s employees are recent graduates with no experience and require training, but there are no funds for that. Sources said President Mugabe’s strategists have sounded out Mutambara on the possibility of defecting to ZANU-PF and joining its think-tanks who are plotting the downfall of the MDC-T led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Ideologically, it is difficult to distinguish Mutambara from ZANU-PF hardliners, which won him more enemies than friends within the MDC-M. Beyond issues of ideology, critics see Mutambara and many others of his generation fighting ZANU-PF as belonging to a group of people that got frustrated with ZANU-PF’s failure to renew itself and not its policies. They then joined opposition politics in order to deliver change.
Rightly or wrongly, Mutambara, who first cut his teeth in local politics as a student leader at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), has been accused of sounding more ZANU-PF than the party he was supposed to represent, formed specifically to wrest power from President Mugabe and his party. He has been one of the most vociferous opponents of targeted sanctions outside ZANU-PF.
Should the DPM switch camps, he may land a diplomatic posting or earn an appointment as a special envoy on sanctions. Mutambara was not available to comment on his political troubles this week, with his office saying he was out of the country and would be back on February 6. He is understood to be attending the World Economic Forum currently underway in Switzerland.
ZANU-PF secretary for information and publicity, Rugare Gumbo, said Mutambara would be welcome to join the party.
“It is natural that we would welcome him back. We have always said that we are an inclusive party, a progressive party. If Mutambara says he wants to come, there are procedures to be followed and once that is done, I don’t see any problem at all, although that would be the decision of the leadership,” he said.
Writing in one of the State-owned dailies last week, the paper’s columnist, Nathaniel Manheru, believed to be stationed at Munhumutapa Building where the offices of the Presidency are housed, said after being deposed from the MDC, Mutambara would never be the same as he had learnt a lot and had been accorded “vast accommodation” by President Mugabe.
Manheru added that losing the MDC leadership post would prove not to be a terrible thing for the former UZ student leader as he is faced by what he termed an onward march.
“Unexpectedly, and through repeated interaction with (President) Mugabe, he met filling depth, inexhaustible profoundness, vast accommodation and an alluring myth from which he found much to tap to build his own aura. To see the two together was like seeing a revolutionary grandfather trying to impart and inspire an eager youth so hungry for fame. Arthur has imbibed a lot from the old man, which is what will never make him the same,” wrote Manheru
Sources said the possibility for Mutambara joining the MDC-T was next to nothing as his obsession with nationalist and Pan-Africanist terminology would prove a liability in the eyes of the latter’s backers. MDC99 president, Job Sikhala, said his former boss was better off forming his own party.
Mutambara was parachuted by Ncube to head the MDC-M in 2006 following its infamous split from Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s MDC-T. Financial Gazette