By Gift Phiri
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has reacted angrily to reports that former first lady Grace Mugabe will be his running mate for the July 30 elections, saying the assertions were meant to create the sense that only his rival, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, stands for a clean break from the Robert Mugabe days.
Chamisa — who took over the leadership of the MDC in February after the death of MDC founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, from cancer and has been enthroned the MDC Alliance presidential candidate — yesterday vehemently denied plans to join forces with Grace, a ferociously ambitious politician who precipitated the downfall of her 94-year-old husband, saying he will not dignify the claims with a response.
“Ndezvekutungana kwembudzi izvo, hakuna zvakadero (That is child play, there is no such thing),” Chamisa told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.
The claims were made by a bitter splinter group of the new National Patriotic Front (NPF) following the recall of the party’s interim leader, Ambrose Mutinhiri, on Friday.
Mutinhiri — a former army brigadier and a veteran of the 1970s war against white minority rule — rejected the recall, insisting he was still in charge of NPF, with his allies claiming that Grace had reportedly funded top executive members to force his dismissal to pave way for her rise as NPF leader.
Grace’s alleged political intentions, reports say, were a precursor to joining the Chamisa-led MDC Alliance as its deputy.
The splinter NPF’s national political commissar, Jim Kunaka, sensationally claimed at a news conference in Harare on Friday that Grace wanted to become the vice president of the MDC Alliance.
But MDC Alliance spokesman, Welshman Ncube, rubbished the claims yesterday.
“We have no desire whatsoever to be associated with the terrible rule of Robert Mugabe,” said Ncube.
While the Eunice Sandi-Moyo faction of the NPF — which has Mugabe’s backing — has thrown its weight behind Chamisa’s MDC Alliance, one of the opposition conglomerate’s principals, Tendai Biti, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that this does not mean roping in Grace as Chamisa’s deputy.
“It’s absolutely rubbish,” Biti told the Daily News on Sunday. “The MDC Alliance has seven parties. Yes we are working towards a grand coalition, but that does not change two fundamentals, that our leaders is Nelson Chamisa and that our name is MDC Alliance.”
Biti said the ruling Zanu PF was running scared and concocting lies after the presentation of the “unparalleled” MDC Alliance manifesto, which promises to breathe new life into the dying economy by slashing taxes, decommissioning bond notes, joining a regional monetary union and seeking debt forgiveness.
“Zanu PF is at it again. They are doing it to distract attention from our blueprint. They are not used to the battle of ideas. They are like catfish, they only hunt in muddy waters. They went quiet when we launched the manifesto, then they come with this,” Biti fumed.
Asked if the MDC was mulling bringing in Grace – infamous for her luxurious shopping habits, mercurial temper and unpopularity among ordinary Zimbabweans — Biti retorted: “Zvinoita here? It’s not possible.”
Douglas Mwonzora, the secretary general of the MDC, said the opposition party has never engaged Mugabe since his downfall in November after 37 years in power.
“This is totally false. At no time did we ever engage former president Robert Mugabe or his wife,” Mwonzora told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.
“The false rumour is being spread by desperate people in Zanu PF who fear the inevitable bhora musango and the emphatic win by the MDC Alliance.”
A survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (Mpoi) and Afrobarometer has predicted a closely-contested presidential race between Mnangagwa and Chamisa that seems to point towards a run-off.
Conducted between April 28 and May 13, the survey predicts that Mnangagwa, aged 75, could get 42 percent of the vote, while Chamisa, who turned 40 on February 2, could garner 31 percent.
In their survey, Mpoi and Afrobarometer noted that the voting intentions of 25 percent of the respondents were unknown.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a post doctoral research fellow with the University of Johannesburg, told the Daily News on Sunday that the survey shows that Chamisa was on the rise and has chance to win elections.
“It shows that Mugabe was more popular than Mnangagwa which is true and he faces losing a democratic election . Mugabe never polled less 50 percent in Mpoi surveys.
“Chamisa is growing the MDC base if you look at the last survey and has, in fact, double MDC chances, so he is on the right track. The important thing is to read the number of people who refuse to say anything and these are likely supporters of the opposition. Zanu PF supporters usually come out openly to state their preferences,” Ruhanya said.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told the Daily News on Sunday that there were strong efforts on the part of the Generation 40 (G40) faction of Zanu PF to grasp the coat-tails of the MDC Alliance, with Grace being its focal point.
“However, it seems that this is one of the first ‘dirty tricks’ of the campaign, the first fake news, to create the sense that only Mnangagwa stands for a clean break from the Mugabe days, and that the MDC is becoming Mugabe-Lite in its efforts to secure support.
“I regret that the era of fake news will mark the election campaign. It may in fact be more effective than old-fashioned thuggery. It doesn’t have to be on the front page of the Herald. It will become widespread on social media platforms. Baba Jukwa showed what could be done in the last elections. This time, his descendants will be somewhat nastier,” Chan predicted.
Analyst Maxwell Saungweme said this is a mad season for Zimbabwean politics and contestants need to trade, talk, and conduct themselves seriously and carefully as gestures, hyperbole or certain actions can be misconstrued in the court of public opinion and cost votes.
“The involvement of NPF at (the MDC) Alliance electoral reform demo and pronouncements from politically morphing animals such as (Jelousy) Mawarire and Kunaka may have led to the thinking that G40/NPF are joining the Alliance,” Saungweme said.
“Further rumours on social media of Grace VP also seemed to corroborate statements from these NPF politicians. Chamisa and the alliance have to take the brickbats for allowing NPF to talk at their events given that NPF is an extension of Mugabeism the opposition was formed in 1998 to remove.”
Saungweme said an alliance has to be of people with similar political ideologies and intentions.
“You can’t mix people who are responsible for the rot in Zim and those formed to fix the rot together into a political alliance. Both NPF/G40 and Lacoste are factions of Zanu PF that believes in Mugabeism – dictatorship, patronage politics, primitive accumulation of wealth, corruption, rights abuses, unaccountable governance etc,” he said.
“How can a democracy alliance allow such characters to be near them?” he asked rhetorically. Daily News