Watershed poll for Zimbabwe

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Despite the doom and gloom brought on by the economic hardships, Zimbabweans have a spring in their step in the run-up to the March 29 poll.

This is a break from the past. Elections in Zimbabwe, as evinced by events in 2000 and three years later in 2005, have been, apart from the excessive violence and wanton rigging, nothing to write home about.

But a watershed moment awaits in 33 days, prompting a Harare newspaper to exclaim: Here is a chance to beat Mugabe!

According to news from our northern neighbours, President Robert Mugabe's chances of winning an absolute majority of 51percent of the vote have dimmed since Simba Makoni's entry into the presidential race.

The youthful Makoni, 57 to Mugabe's 84, is the former finance minister who was kicked out of the ruling Zanu-PF for doing the "unthinkable" - throwing his name into the hat to challenge the octogenarian in the presidential race.

Mugabe brooks no dissent. Sacking those who dare to speak their minds is his modus operandi.

This is the same fate that befell his old buddy from the days of the guerilla war against Ian Smith, Edgar Tekere. Then there was Margaret Dongo, who went to the bush at 15, fleeing Rhodesia for Mozambique in 1975, the same year as Mugabe.

Another high-profile expulsion was that of his former blue-eyed boy, Jonathan Moyo, an academic of note whose track record at Wits University was soiled by his personal indiscretions.

Moyo's sin was to dare stand, much against Mugabe's advice, as an independent candidate in the 2005 elections, in which he won convincingly in Tsholotsho, his home town.

Makoni has done a Moyo, and his punishment has been the same. But while Mugabe had been relatively kind to Moyo, his former publicity minister, he had no kind words for Makoni.

The president reportedly chided Moyo thus: "No, Jonathan, you are clever, but you lack wisdom. You are educated, but do not have the wisdom."

An exceptionally gifted public speaker, Mugabe has not been able to camouflage his war talk, often referring to political opponents as snakes whose heads should be bashed in.

He likened Makoni to a prostitute.

When his ire was still aimed at MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the old pedagogue warned his supporters against "the tea boy".

But whatever Mugabe's intentions, aren't expulsions, in the long run, a blessing in disguise? Aren't they good for democracy?

Professor Susan Booysen, head of public policy at Wits , says Makoni's entry is fantastic.

"It is the best thing that has happened to Zimbabwe in a long time," Booysen says.

Politics in Zimbabwe had become stale and had the elections been contested by only Zanu-PF and the MDC, there wouldn't have been a doubt about the outcome, she says. The MDC is not strong enough.

Bantu Holomisa was expelled from the ANC in September 1996. He went on to found his own political party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), a name his detractors in the ruling party griped was inspired by the United Democratic Front, the struggle vehicle of the pre-1994 days.

Had he stayed put, one battles to imagine anyone, except the anti-ANC opposition, who'd have been such a thorn on the side of the party in government.

He's spoken out against corruption (Stella Sigcau), floor-crossing and the disbanding of the Scorpions, counter views that might have been unpalatable to the ANC but good for democracy, especially one as young as South Africa's.

"I never thought I'd leave the ANC in the manner that I did," says Holomisa. "But I'm glad that I left the movement without having been accused of stealing money or committing any scandals that violated the constitution of the ANC."

His departure was precipitated by a matter of principle over which he did not see eye to eye with the ruling party, Holomisa says. "And I did not apologise," he adds.

He says it was not his wish to form a political party, but the move was influenced by "some members of the party".

When it entered the 1999 elections, the UDM was just 18 months old and "it managed to send 14 members to parliament and was represented in six provincial legislatures".

It was the official opposition in a few others, like Limpopo.

Holomisa says the UDM has been the voice of reason, whatever that means. What is certain, though, is that its voice has been good for democracy.

The UDM itself has had to fire two of its own - Malizole Diko, who made an attempt at forming his own party, and former correctional services minister Sipo Mzimela. The latter was shown the door for embezzling party funds.

The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, better known as the PAC, was known for firing members at will in exile. Lately, they haven't been as successful. When they tried to remove Motsoko Pheko, he sought solace in the courts, which ruled that he stay put.

Ngila Muendane was among the many ejected from the party of Leballo, Mothopeng and Makwetu while in exile.

"I was invited back to the fold when we returned to the country," says Muendane, author and motivational speaker.

Like those who begged Holomisa out of political limbo, Muendane says there are powerful structures within Zanu-PF who implored Makoni to stand.

"They are people who cannot, for obvious reasons, show their hand," he says.

Booysen adds her voice to this view as well: "I hear Makoni has the advantage of highly influential support."

The same Zimbabwean paper that is optimistic about the chance to unseat Mugabe says: "Next month Mugabe goes into the race as the fall guy here because supporters of Tsvangirai and Makoni regard Mugabe as the greatest impediment to social development because of his government's paper trail of disaster spanning over two decades."

Musa Zondi of the IFP says their erstwhile national chairman, Ziba Jiyane, was expelled for bringing the party into disrepute.

"When we decided to haul him before our disciplinary committee for a hearing, he failed to show up," says Zondi. "The party was left no choice but to get rid of Jiyane."

For a while Jiyane did the sensible thing by establishing his tongue-twister organisation, Nadeco.

In a move that seems to please Zondi immensely and vindicate the IFP, Jiyane was expelled from the party he founded "in less than a year".

As the age-old piece of wisdom advises, in every dark cloud there's a silver lining - Makoni's silver shines brighter.