In the past couple of months there has been a clear and increasing interest and scrutiny of the opposition leadership in Zimbabwe. The interest is informed by the reality that Zimbabwe faces national elections in 12 or so months’ time and the search for someone who can upstage President Mugabe, from an opposition’s standpoint, is no longer routine a matter.
In fact, 2018 is considered a watershed year with implications for both the opposition, whose “face” has been Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T, and the ruling party.
Tsvangirai’s prospects have looked ever diminishing, after losing elections since 2000 (that is, discounting a narrow first round lead in March 2008 which he surrendered by purporting to withdraw from a subsequent run-off when the election had already started).
It is recognised that 2018 could as well make, at long last or break Tsvangirai, for good.
People are peeling their eyes to ascertain Tsvangirai’s suitability.
He is not convincing, even to some of his ardent supporters.
For his own part, Tsvangirai has been trying to show friend and foe that he still has it going on; that he is still good enough to stand up after having failed for close to two decades.
Hence, he has been campaigning across the country (in fact, he has never rested since 2013 save in hiatuses occasioned by his poor health and lack of resources).
He has just concluded a tour of provinces — all 10 of them — spending one and half months at it.
But, as we seek to demonstrate here, the exercise was nothing remarkable by way of form and substance; message and impact.
During the tour, Tsvangirai, as far as reports and our knowledge and information of the meetings go, did not have anything new to say or inspire the sparse groups that he drew, from Binga to Mutoko.
The sparseness of the audiences is ominous.
We would see him under trees, in a small classroom, inside a hut or some such modest rendezvous.
The people invariably didn’t look excited, animated. It’s because Tsvangirai did not bear anything exciting.
Tsvangirai and his spin henchmen told us this was a “listening tour”.
We know better.
It was more like an echo chamber and ego trip. Tsvangirai was just navel-gazing.
There are two main ways to look at it: one, Tsvangirai is trying to maintain his support base and ensure that the diminishing prospects and fatigue among supporters do not get worse.
He has to be assuring.
The people have to be convinced that he has the capacity to win next year’s elections.
There is a desperate ring to it as the serial loser asks for one more chance.
Tsvangirai knows that if he loses again in 2018, it will be over. Unforgivably.
That is enough reason to traverse the length and breadth of the country.
His life depends on it. Connected to this is the issue of coalition among opposition, and in particular the possibility of joining hands with Joice Mujuru and her National People’s Party. The object and purport of Tsvangirai’s “listening tour” would be to gauge his supporters’ sentiment and attitude towards such an important question.
Yet this, more than anything else, demonstrates his navel-gazing exercise. His supporters would tell him what he wanted to hear; that he doesn’t need any coalition or, if one materialised, he should be the leader. Political loyalists have a way of lionising or immortalising their leaders, and it is a disease that is yet to find a cure in these parts.
And that is Tsvangirai’s idea of a listening tour, whatever that is. Which leads to a discussion of what to make of the man who wants to be President of the Republic. There is no better way than to analyse the statement that he gave to the media last week following the tour and a national executive council meeting.
The address sounded old, vapid and lifeless.
In instances it became worse and rather ridiculous, actually, making one wonder whether Tsvangirai has any respect for his audience or is yet too plain to realise that there will be no serious takers for village drink like banter.
Consider the first issue that he addressed regarding Biometric Voter Registration.
He talked about “The brazen attempt to steal the next election” and complained about how, “. . . Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, a supposedly independent Commission, had allowed the Zanu-PF Government to hijack the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise, in the process casting fresh doubts on the prospect for a free, fair and credible election in 2018”.
Just how a Government institution, even then, a Chapter 12 institution — is expected to act as a separate body without bureaucratic links to the Government is not quite understandable and a vexatious notion of independence.
But when one expects such a commission of Government to surrender its functions and bureaucratic responsibilities to an outside body such as a UN organ it is an even ridiculous and a poor attempt at seeking international attention.
It gets worse. Tsvangirai complains about “dubious companies such as Nikuv International Projects (being contracted) to steal the people’s vote”.
He said: “We are hearing more disturbing reports about what this Government is doing to subvert the will of the people in the next election. For instance, we are aware of teams that have been working and training under the tutelage of a spy agency of a country that shall remain nameless for now.
“There is also a ploy to have Nikuv International Projects get registered under surrogate names in an attempt to enable the company to win the tender to supply the BVR kits.
“If Zimbabwe proceeds to use the BVR system, which Zanu-PF is not keen to do, we are also aware of plans to have Nikuv International Projects work with some named Indian companies in hacking or engaging in cyber attacks on the whole electoral system once it becomes clear that the results are not going in Zanu-PF’s favour.”
For political watchers, the issue of Nikuv is just banter which nobody takes seriously. It is banter that has become some kind of urban legend. Tsvangirai should have known better than to elevate the rumour — which even in his delivery did not seem to even dress in a semblance of dignity.
He was not finished.
“We know as well that there are plans to tamper with silver nitrate and other inks such as UV ink that may be used in order to fudge the result of the next election,” he charges.
Oh, pretty please!
The issue of mutating inks and changing ballots is dramatic enough but should not be given any more legs to run. A recent piece by an Israeli journalist who investigated the claims of mutating ballots and Nikuv should be very instructive in so far as it exposed this legend.
But, for obvious reasons, the MDC-T will not hear of it. Not least, this lie that the party is saying long enough until it becomes a truth, is the basis of a demonstration that MDC-T wants to hold on March 22. It makes some sense, doesn’t it?
Suffice to say that after his close to useless navel-gazing tour of provinces, Tsvangirai does not have new ideas or programmes except to revert to the familiar tactic of confronting Zanu-PF by way of protests, this time based on ridiculous claims of mutating ballots.
We await to see how it all pans out.
It does not require the sophistication of a robotics scientist, though, to realise that even if this goes ahead, MDC-T and Tsvangirai will not staunch their bleeding fortunes.
Meanwhile, it won’t even help trying to make shallow inducements to supposed hardliners in the security sector to allow Tsvangirai to transition to power.
He has to win elections first — and he is unlikely to do so.