This time last year, Tendai Biti, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, was trying to lead an alliance of opposition political parties under the banner of Coalition of Democrats (CODE) which was more or less rivalling a process led by MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai in the name of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera). It will be remembered that those behind CODE were working very hard and even had meetings in Cape Town, South Africa where some foreign hands tried to hammer an agreement among Zimbabwe’s 20 or so “serious” opposition parties.
CODE had the express intent of being so big as to force Tsvangirai — the country’s biggest opposition face — to notice them and “invite” him to join in. Tsvangirai refused to be part of CODE and shunned their meetings and overtures. Thus, Tsvangirai and those behind CODE continued parallel processes — with Tsvangirai attempting to morph Nera from a protest platform into a formalised coalition organisation in the name of MDC Alliance — and these parallels subsist to this day.
This week, CODE announced that Elton Mangoma will be its presidential candidate for the 2018 elections. Mangoma, who broke away from the MDC-T along with Biti, is the leader of Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe. CODE is currently made up of Zapu, RDZ, Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe led by Barbara Nyagomo, Zimbabweans United for Democracy Party (Farai Mbira), Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (Gilbert Dzikiti), African Democratic Party (Marceline Chikasha), Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (Simba Makoni) and ZimFirst (Maxwell Shumba).
The privately-owned NewsDay reported this week that Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa was elected the supreme council chairperson (and) “becomes the leader of the grouping” while Makoni, Chikasha and Shumba are other members of the supreme council. We are not sure about the workability of the arrangement. But this is not the complete story.
We are told that Joice Mujuru, formerly Zanu-PF and Zimbabwe People First and leader of National People’s Party, had wanted to be part of CODE, if not its leader. We were told that she was even contemplating swallowing CODE whole and give the modest concession of not using NPP as the name of the alliance — reminiscent of just how she refused to be part of the MDC Alliance because she did not like the name of the MDC in it. The latest development appears to suggest that she has been frozen out. But all is not lost, we guess, there could still be a dozen more parties to join hands with!
At least for now. Two-faced Biti We had set off to demonstrate how Tendai Biti is a dishonest, duplicitous character. That can wait. After all, it is the nature of politicians — and Biti is a doyen — to be hypocritical and self-seeking. But the larger point is that, as we remember very well, less than 12 months ago, Biti was out there passing most bitter comments and barbs against Tsvangirai, his leadership (read dictatorship) and general suitability to lead a coalition.
He was even questioning Tsvangirai’s morality — and we have a record of that in an interview we chose not to air for some reason or the other. But it is there stowed away, and we could well dust it up if we like. A prevailing theme in Biti’s criticism of Tsvangirai — and other African leaders — was that of some people who carry the “Big Man Syndrome”. It is a huge surprise therefore that Biti has now turned around and is projecting Tsvangirai as the best foot forward under the Alliance which he controversially joined leading to what appears now to be a low intensity split with colleagues such as Gorden Moyo and Lucia Matibenga. As Tsvangirai recently returned from South Africa where he had sought medical attention, Biti said he supported the ailing former trade unionist for president.
“Yes, we have absolute confidence in Morgan Tsvangirai and none among us is fit enough to play doctor to his life. We are going to support him and we will stand with him,” Biti was quoted as saying on New Zimbabwe. Asked if he thought Tsvangirai would pull through to next year in his current condition, Biti responded, “Absolutely, absolutely! That’s what we have chosen; that’s our decision as Zimbabweans and we owe him that.” Huh?
Is this the same Biti who not so long ago was telling us that President Mugabe’s health and age were and remained electoral issues? Are we to forget that Biti said that age was sickness in and of itself? Let us revisit that. It was in January 2014 at a discussion in Harare. Biti made his presentation and aimed a distasteful barb at the Head of State saying:
“We are paralysed by a crisis of leadership; that you can have the chief executive officer of the country at 90. I know that there has been debate about the President’s health, but in my respectful submission, being 90 is illness on its own.” Fast forward to October 2017, Morgan Tsvangirai is terminally ill and reports are circulating that added to the declared ailment of colon cancer; there is a fresh worry that Tsvangirai has developed cancer of the prostate which complicates his already grave situation. Rumours are that he may soon be airlifted to the United Kingdom for specialist treatment. Our Biti does not seem to realise the irony.
Now, we ask: if old age is sickness what then becomes of physical ailment that Tsvangirai is suffering from? An opposition dystopia? Wonders never cease! News at the time of writing is that there is a new coalition in town — just as we had budgeted for — and its name is People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC). It is going to be led by Mujuru as its presidential candidate for 2018. Rainbow Coalition consists of Mujuru’s NPP, Lucia Matibenga’s PDP (Moyo et al made her president after purportedly removing Biti for his decision to join the MDC Alliance) and two small outfits called ZUNDE (Zimbabweans United for Democracy) and DARE (Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment), respectively.
We are told that Rainbow Coalition will be launched in Bulawayo next week. The reader’s head must be swirling by now at the confused state of affairs in the opposition movement.
It is fragmented.
It is direction-less.
It is radarless.
It is in a state of disrepair.
It is a state of dystopia.
If Morgan Tsvangirai had his way, the opposition would have come under his wing — or the tent to use his term — and formed the grand coalition, but this has become a mirage. Egos have overtaken unity — and Tsvangirai himself is seen as part of the problem. He is the big man that ironically is the best and worst hopes for an opposition coalition.
He has the pedigree as a brave man and fighter, but 18 years down the line, he is incapable of doing the magic that eluded him in his prime. We all saw that video of him arriving at the airport from South Africa: frail, gaunt, aged, sunken, grey and greying and barely able to walk. No, that was not the best of scenes. Even the most cold-hearted people would pity him and he surely will be sidelined by illness for at least the rest of the year. Does it now explain why Madame Thokozani Khupe, who visited him a few days ago, is now sounding so confident and ebullient?
She had been boxed in as a regional leader, but upon visiting Tsvangirai she ventured into Chitungwiza where she sold herself as the heir(ess) apparent. And she was showing us the middle finger and the number of rats she is giving to the Alliance. That does mean a lot.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders under the alliance banner have been meeting Western diplomats minus Tsvangirai, all happening at a time that the road is way clear for elections as the voter registration exercise moves on. Zimbabwe’s opposition will need a miracle — perhaps, at best, the coalition of these various coalitions, including those that the likes of Egypt Dzinemunenzva may be cooking somewhere in Wedza (we don’t know). It will surely need the hand of a god.