Rift between protest leaders and opposition will gift Mugabe poll victory

By Maynard Manyowa 

Robert Mugabe ought to be in a precarious position right now. His government, bankrupt, is battling to control poverty, unemployment, and struggles to pay its own work force.

The situation, which is bad, to say the very least, long spiraled out of control. Over the last year there have been a several skirmishes; running battles between different versions of protesters, and the police.

At the peak of the unrest, a mini-coalition of different movements shut down the country completely for 24 hours. Hacktivists joined the fray, and all government websites were knocked offline.

But with a monopoly on terror, Mugabe, is always capable of taking violence up a notch to consolidate power. He already has. Protest leaders, like, Patson Dzamara, Linda Masarira, Promise Mkwananzi, Pride Mkono and Evan Mawarire have been arrested, detained, beaten, jailed, threatened, and subjected to arson attacks.

Internally, Uncle Bob faces a much bigger and stern test. Brutal infighting has resulted in factionalism. Mugabe’s attempts to install his wife as the next head of state have angered his loyal cadres. The army, the war veterans, and several senior figures in his party have rejected his plans.

A few figures, most, a group of young turks, have risen to his defense, assaulting party and army leadership. Mugabe, nearing the end of his life, and out of strength, is incapable of controlling any of the warring factions.

For as long as anyone can remember, Mugabe has always been some form of a demi-god. A man whose word was beyond contestation. Now, he faces challenges, left, right, center, and behind.

He does not have entire control of the army, nor the state security apparatus. His own wife, has taken a penchant for shooting herself and her husband in the foot.

This is probably the best time to defeat Mugabe, not because he has lost control of his bowel movements, but because he has lost control of his head, his house, his party, and his forces are scattered.

The protest leaders have a semblance of support in their constituency. They appeal largely to middle class voters, disenfranchised workers, and a large contingent of youth in the country.

The main opposition party, the MDC-T has support in its key constituencies as well. They are very strong at grassroots level, although, more and more young Zimbabweans local and abroad have become disillusioned by them.

Both have something the other does not have, something they both need. Yet, there is a problem. They are up in arms, against each other.

The opposition accuses the activists and newer political parties of trying to split their votes. In itself, this is an admission, that newer younger leaders who are not part of the current political dynamic are appealing to a constituency that the MDC-T is losing support from.

The young leaders, insist that their efforts to partner somehow with the MDC-T and other parties were frustrated by ‘Big Brother Bully Tactics’, condescending attitudes, and blatant arrogance from the bigger parties. This is not without merit. They also add that the MDC-T should not feel entitled to protest votes, as if Zimbabwe is a one opposition party state.

What is certain though, despite who is to blame, is that, key constituencies are being split. The squabbling between the MDC-T and its potential coalition partners, as well as the hostility between the main opposition and the activists (and followers) does nothing to help ordinary Zimbabweans.

In fact, it is a blessing for Mugabe.

For two years now, there have been murmurs of coalitions, and potential partnerships. Recently, activists have begun announcing that they will run as independent candidates in the 2018 polls.

In the meantime, Grace Mugabe has been on nationwide tours, meeting the people, distributing aid, albeit on partisan lines.

Robert Mugabe has joined in as well. Holding rallies across the country. Zanu PF is campaigning outright!

In the meanwhile, the opposition, protest leaders, and new political players are bickering and quarrelling. None of them are campaigning, not at least at the level that Zanu PF is moving at.

Robert Mugabe can call for elections as early as January 2018. He has the legal capacity to do so, and has been campaigning for all of 24 months now. Those that are hoping to contest against him, have less than half a dozen months to find their feet, start campaigning, and launch a meaningful campaign.

That obviously is impossible, and it is becoming increasingly clear, that the greatest opportunity to unseat Mugabe, will be lost. And that, for suffering Zimbabweans, is extremely unfortunate.

  • Maynard Manyowa is a contributing editor on Khuluma Afrika – a nonpartisan center for investigative journalism and political analysis.