Former vice-president Joice Mujuru and ex-deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe present the best chance for Zimbabwe to get its first female leader, but the two will have to move mountains for them to win the race on July 30, analysts have said.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mujuru, who was fired from government and Zanu PF in 2014 amid accusations that she was eyeing then president Robert Mugabe’s throne, and Khupe, sidelined from the mainstream MDC-T after a vicious power struggle that followed former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s death in February, are among the 23 candidates whose names will be on the ballot paper for the first post-Mugabe presidential elections.
Violet Mariyacha of the little known United Democratic Movement is another female candidate in the race, but no analyst has given her any chance of making an impact.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa are being tipped as the favourites to win the polls, but this has not stopped the Khupe and Mujuru camps from dreaming.
“There has been a major shift because we have for the first time two very strong presidential candidates with a solid political history having been deputy presidents of the two biggest political parties in the country,” Khupe’s chief election agent Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
“For Khupe it’s even worse because she is coming from an internal power struggle, a serious rapture and not a congressional procedure, it has been very difficult and will likely continue to be.”
The outspoken former Matabeleland South proportional representation MP said Khupe had proven that she was an astute politician during the battle for control of the MDC-T.
“Her main victory even before the elections is that she is clearly the de facto and de jure leader of the MDC-T,” Misiharabwi-Mushonga said.
“The decision by our cousins to go into the election using a new party is testimony to that. It is an admission that they are illegitimate.
“There is a lot of unhappiness and disunity within the alliance. The little unity that the alliance would have brought has been eroded and dissipated.”
Mujuru, now leading the People’s Rainbow Coalition — an alliance of fringe opposition parties — seemed destined for the presidency until the ugly fallout with Mugabe.
Former first lady Grace Mugabe was at the forefront of a campaign to humiliate Mujuru until she threw in the towel before reinventing herself as an opposition party leader.
However, Misihairabwi-Mushonga believes Grace must be acknowledged for making women believe that they can challenge for the presidency.
“For all her faults, Grace Mugabe broke a huge barrier and at some stage Zimbabweans had resigned themselves to never getting to a situation in which they would have woken up with a woman leader,” the veteran women’s rights activist said.
“If this election had been held in early 2015 just after Mujuru was removed, she might have won it on the sympathy vote.
“People have for months accused Khupe of supping with Mugabe, but they suddenly wake up in his political bed.
“They now have G40 candidates, so who has been working with Mugabe?” she asked in apparent reference to a proposed election pact between the MDC Alliance and the National Patriotic Front, a new opposition party linked to Zimbabwe’s former leader.
International Crisis Group southern Africa senior consultant Piers Pigou said Mujuru and Khupe were facing an uphill task against Mnangagwa and Chamisa, who lead mass parties.
“Khupe and Mujuru do not lead well-resourced parties. Much depends on how they focus time-linked resources,” he said.
“In addition, they face multiple challenges from entrenched legacies and continued manifestations of patriarchy, sexism and misogyny.
“We need to have a wider angle assessment of gender representation at all levels of political structures.”
Sithembile Mpofu, a political commentator, said of the three female candidates, Mujuru and Khupe were seasoned politicians who needed to be taken seriously.
But Mpofu does not see them landing the presidency because of a number of factors that include a small support base.
She said Mujuru and Khupe were experienced politicians but still lacked the grassroots support necessary to win the presidency.
“Both are examples of the folly of affirmative action within the political realm,” she said.
“Mujuru reached the heady heights of being vice-president of Zanu PF but not by building a broad support base.
“She was a powerful figure in Zanu PF, but if we are to be honest she was not powerful enough to occupy the position she held.”
Mpofu believes Mujuru was a beneficiary of an affirmative action policy who didn’t do enough to grow her influence as a politician.
“The power she accumulated, affirmative action and the war hero narrative benevolently built up around her by Zanu PF resulted in her rising to the vice-presidency,” she said.
“Once her political party withdrew the narrative they had kindly granted her and revoked the gender ticket, she was left with only her support base, which was unfortunately not broad or strong enough to sustain a strong challenge to Mugabe at the time.”
Mpofu said Khupe, to a large extent, also owed her rise to the fact that she was from Matabeleland and that she was a woman, which was not enough to position her for the presidency.
“Khupe, unlike Mujuru, did manage to build broad based support,” she said.
“This support was, however, won after she had reached the vice-presidency on a regional ticket because the MDC’s VP post was reserved solely for candidates from the Matabeleland region.
“However, her ascendancy to be VP was as a result of her popularity at regional level.
“She, thereafter, proceeded to build up support from other regions of the country and her position was solidified by a broad support base as she retained her seat at the two party congresses, receiving votes from regions other than her own.”
Mpofu said both Mujuru and Khupe would be “a hard sell” in the election.
“The lesson to be learnt is that the affirmative action route, whether it is a gender or regional ticket, is not a shortcut to power and women must not be lulled into a false sense of political security,” she argued.
Mnangagwa recently expressed disappointment that few women won in the Zanu PF primaries saying “democracy did not bring the results we wanted.”