The official entrance into Zimbabwe’s political arena by the country’s former vice president, Joice Mujuru, drew mixed reaction Tuesday, from analysts, many of who believe she has the potential to shake up the increasingly fracturing Zanu-PF party, of which she was once a staunch member and supporter.
Tuesday’s official launch of the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party, was preceded by months of ambiguity as the party took its time to strategically lay out is agenda through a manifesto in September, and then registering in February.
At the launch in Harare, Mrs. Mujuru declared “Zimbabwe People First is here, Zimbabwe People First is now."
Now that she’s fair game in politics, many people are weighing her chances of defeating her former boss, President Robert Mugabe, in the 2018 elections.
Senior consultant Pier Pigou with the International Crisis Group said Tuesday’s ZPF launch announcement was significant.
“Certainly it’s an important contribution to the evolution of Zimbabwean politics,” said Pigou, but cautioned that “the major issue is whether this party is able to organize, mobilize, in the communities within Zimbabwe, and is able to get its support base to register and participate in the electoral process.”
Zimbabwe-based publisher and author, Ibbo Mandaza, expressed confidence in Mrs. Mujuru’s ability to forge a strong support base, and described her party’s launch as a “game changer,” and “very significant landmark” for the country given the fact that she was once a part of the Zanu-PF fabric.
Mandaza said she showed more promise than the two other parties that had broken away from Zanu-PF , one led by the late Edgar Tekere who had launched his own party called the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum), and Simba Makoni, who started his own party called, Mavambo Kusile Dawn (MKD).
“We have had at least two previous breakaways, by members of Zanu-PF,” explained Mandaza. “Edgar Tekere, ZUM, and then you have Simba Makoni with Mavambo, and now Joice Mujuru with People First. This is the most momentous,” said Mandaza.
However, he clarified that Mrs. Mujuru’s breakaway from Zanu-PF was not of her own making as she was kicked out of the party, following accusations that she wanted to topple President Mugabe and that she was engaging with Western countries.
“This is most momentous, one with critical mass even though inadvertent in the sense that it was something that was landed them by the actions of Mugabe and his wife in 2014 whereby some 85% of Zanu-PF leadership was purged,” elaborated Mandaza.
The fact that Mrs. Mujuru was “purged” from Zanu-PF as put by Mandaza, as opposed to voluntarily leaving for the benefit of the betterment of the Zimbabwean people, presents a problem for her, some analysts said.
Among such critics is United Kingdom-based political analyst Clifford Mashiri. “The problem of identity will not leave her, unless she works very hard to clear her name and her image in the time between now and the election.”
Mashiri explained that while Mrs. Mujuru was a formidable candidate and her entrance into politics significant, he said her biggest challenge is explaining to the voting public that she was not the cause of their suffering while a part of Zanu-PF.
“Definitely her image is very much tainted by her participation in a regime that cost people’s lives, others would argue, through these massacres of people in Matabeleland (Gukurahundi), in Chiadzwa (mining site in Manicaland), and all these election murders, they occurred under her watch.”
Not all analysts, however, expressed support for Mrs. Mujuru’s decision to form her own political party and try her hand at defeating President Mugabe.
Political commentator Brilliant Mhlanga of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom said Mrs. Mujuru had infact created more confusion and armed Zanu-PF.
“We have seen so many political parties being born in Zimbabwe but all we know is that they are all seeking to fragment the same electorate they are hoping to, the well of it where they are supposed to be getting the water from,” Mhlanga said. “The more political parties we are having, the more we lose opportunities of actually dislodging Zanu-PF because more political parties are being born, and they are dividing the electorate. It doesn’t help anything.”
Mhlanga also dismissed the possibility of a coalition saying many of the country’s opposition political parties are seeing personal power, rather than sacrifice for the national good.
Pigou, however, said a coalition between Mrs. Mujuru and Vice President Emmerson Mnangangwa could be a winning ticket, but with President Mugabe at the helm all possibilities are slim.