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Zim elections: Bringing a third option into focus
Moyo, Mail and Guardian (SA)
April 26, 2013
Zimbabwe voters must
know that there are alternatives to Zanu-PF and the MDC, says opposition
In a country that has
become increasingly divided, Simba Makoni's brand of play-it-clean,
"issues-based" politics seems out of place. Makoni, a
former finance minister and now head of the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn
party, is fighting to convince Zimbabweans to look beyond Zanu-PF
and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
environment is unforgiving and polarised; supporters stack up high
on two sides, defending their positions with similar fanaticism.
They are, however, united in their suspicion of anything in the
middle, which makes the chance of a "three way" improbable.
is hostile to new political players," Makoni said in an interview
with the Mail & Guardian this week.
Two extremes have emerged
over the past decade: supporters of President Robert Mugabe on one
side, fiercely loyal to him and his nationalist rhetoric; and those
backing Morgan Tsvangirai, who support him not for any of his policies,
but because he is their best chance of getting rid of Mugabe.
For a man who
is battling to convince Zimbabweans that they do not have to endorse
either Zanu-PF or the MDC, all this must be very frustrating. "No,
it does not frustrate me, it saddens me," Makoni says with
"People have been
forced to believe they can only pick from three choices: Zanu-PF,
the MDC or no party at all. This is wrong."
But he insists that those
who are unhappy with the two main parties are in the majority. "Many
have opted out of voting because the current choices do not represent
their yearnings. We are mobilising that silent majority."
little 'middle ground'
Given the extremes, there
is very little "middle ground" in Zimbabwe. Media and
critics are quick to force politicians into declaring whether they
lean towards either the MDC or Zanu-PF. Makoni himself denies he
is trying to occupy a middle ground.
"There is no middle
ground. There is only one ground, where the people are, and that
is where we are."
Makoni's journey as an
opposition party leader has so far been rocky. His expedition began
in January 2008, when, frustrated in his efforts to force change
from within Zanu-PF, he walked into Mugabe's office to tell the
president that he was leaving the ruling party.
"I gave him a brutal
critique of the conditions of the country, the condition of the
party, and the fact that the prospect of winning, in an ossified
party that had refused to change, in a free and fair election, was
zero. I told him that I had tried to influence change from within,
and that that effort had failed. I therefore bade him goodbye."
And how did Mugabe react to his decision to leave? "He told
me I was making a grave mistake."
Mugabe may have been
right, some of Makoni's critics would say. The initial excitement
that greeted his candidacy was quickly clouded by a combination
of factors; rumours circulated that he was backed by a powerful
faction of Zanu-PF, which he denied. The MDC, more experienced in
opposition, branded him a Zanu-PF plant, a label that sticks easily
in conspiracy-loving Zimbabwe.
This crippled his campaign.
"I was carrying the baggage of being labelled a Zanu-PF project.
People in both parties went around whispering that Simba is a plant
of Zanu-PF. That did a lot of damage. I hope now, five years after
I left, no one is still in any doubt about where I belong."
Some have suggested that Makoni could have been a potential successor
to Mugabe had he stuck around and bided his time, but he says he
has no regrets about leaving.
Zanu-PF was a stifling
environment, where issues affecting people were ignored in the race
to sing Mugabe's praises, he says.
"There was very
limited discussion about issues [in the Zanu-PF politburo], but
a lot of praise singing, as there is now. When I tried to raise
issues I was called all sorts of names, they are very good at that."
Yet, should he not have
left Zanu-PF earlier?
"I don't regret
my time in government. But I'm proud of the fact that I could read
the signs when they came, that this path was a path towards destruction,
and that I could no longer be associated with the destruction of
The hard work
lies ahead, having to convince Zimbabweans to give him another chance
after he scored
only 8% of the presidential vote in 2008. That campaign delivered
some tough lessons for Makoni.
"We have to communicate
our message better, very clearly and explicitly. I don't think my
message was not clear, but I can understand that others did not
get it clearly, because people positioned us relative to Zanu-PF
Though he still needs
to shake off that "Zanu-PF plant" tag, Makoni refuses
to get down and dirty, something that frustrates his sympathisers.
to alert our people that, in the next campaign, they will not see
me sling mud at competitors, but they will hear me talk about the
issues that touch their lives. It's about issues, not about how
ugly or handsome, or how old or young a person is."
But isn't playing Mr Nice Guy a handicap in a country that loves
and thunder in its politics?
"Maybe that is because
our people are used to the culture of politics of denunciation.
We must see beyond that," he insists. It is a tough task in
a country where only the meanest politicians thrive, and where voting
is along party lines, and hardly on policies. "There is a saying
that people get the leadership they deserve. I'm quite sure we don't
deserve the leadership we have, but because we acquiesced, look
at where we are."
are slim at the polls
His chances are slim
at the polls, and by insisting on contesting, is he not there only
to split the vote? He is visibly annoyed by that suggestion, and
sits up to respond: "I challenge that notion. Those who voted
for me in 2008 were not going to vote for any other candidate. This
notion presumes that if people had not had the option to vote for
me, they would have voted for a candidate they did not like."
He has grand plans for
what his government would look like. It would have no more than
20 ministers, who would be appointed for their competence alone.
"People today are
given offices of responsibility according to their loyalty, according
to how much praise singing they can do, not according to how competently
they can serve people. We need to change that."
A key first step would
be to get rid of fear, which he says is the overriding factor in
Zimbabwe. "Even Mugabe himself lives in fear, the fear of losing
Ordinary people, he says,
live under the "fear of having their hut burnt because of their
political beliefs, of falling sick and finding themselves in hospital
with no medication".
Mugabe cannot preach
sovereignty when a vast section of the people he leads remains in
such fear and poverty, Makoni says. "Does Mugabe not have any
shame? Does he not ask himself these questions?"
Elections are expected
late this year, though the government has not yet agreed on when
they will be held.
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