By Everson Mushava
Former vice-president, Joice Mujuru has presented herself as a shrewd political strategist by changing the name of her political party, dumping the name Zimbabwe People First that had been at the centre of controversy with former allies-turned arch-rivals, analysts have said.
Mujuru on Friday changed the name of her party from ZimPF to National People’s Party (NPP) after weeks of haggling with former party elders and Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa, who claimed that the name ZimPF belonged to them.
Gumbo, Mutasa and five others were fired from ZimPF last month on allegations of trying to topple Mujuru and spying on behalf of Zanu PF.
The two were immediately appointed caretaker leaders of the rival faction, opening the door for squabbles over the use of the name ZimPF, until Mujuru announced the change of name and intention to restructure the new outfit.
Before the change of name, three outfits — Mujuru, the Gumbo and Mutasa camp and another party led by Max Zeb Shumba — were using the same political party name, ZimPF.
MDC-T official, Job Sikhala, who once abandoned the Morgan Tsvangirai-led party to form MDC99 before returning to his former party, said Mujuru’s move was a show of political genius from the former guerrilla fighter.
“That was a masterstroke from a political genius,” he said.
“There is nothing in a name but an idea. Zimbabweans follow leaders and ideas, not names of the political parties.
“I vividly remember how we stuck to the name MDC after the acrimonious and unfortunate 2005 split but people went with Morgan Tsvangirai after he rebranded the party [and renamed it] MDC-T.
“So, it is the same with Joice Mujuru; people will follow the leader they know, not those addicted to politics of splits.
“It will even happen in the MDC-T today that if people rebel against Tsvangirai and tussle over the name MDC-T, he can announce another name tomorrow and people will go with him even if he remains by himself.”
The MDC-T has split twice since its formation in 1999. There has been a fight over the party’s name each time there were splits, leading to the formation of Sikhala’s MDC99 and Welshman Ncube’s MDC, a move analysts said confused voters.
Phillip Pasirayi, a communications and political analyst said: “The launch of the new party was a victory over the elders [Gumbo and Mutasa]. It was a good strategy to pre-empt the elders ,who were certainly bracing for a fight over the party name and symbols.
“Again, Mujuru has outwitted her foes but she should now work round the clock to sell the new party. It was important for Mujuru to re-brand given the confusion and contestation over who was in charge between Mujuru and the elders.
“If she had left it too long, it was certainly going to haunt her. Now that she has re-branded, she should ensure that the new party is not again infiltrated by Zanu PF and state agents, who will cause confusion to weaken her party and scuttle the proposed coalition.”
More Panganayi, a political analyst, weighed in saying: “Dropping the PF nomenclature shows that she is restrategising, but then the question that comes to mind is: Is this change cosmetic or it also includes change in ideology and focus?”
However, he warned that the move would be meaningless if it was not accompanied by a shift in ideology and composition of the faces in the party.
“The politics of personalities has again won. Again, the purported rebranding confirms the fractionalisation of opposition politics and to the voters we are going down the same alley we have been before,” he said.
“However, over the elders, she has scored a victory and has shown that she was not handled by them as Gumbo had alleged. Mujuru has shown that she is her own boss.”
Researcher and political analyst, Dewa Mavhinga said: “Changing the name of her party was a smart and logical move by Mujuru, it removes reason for unnecessary conflict and confusion and presents her with the opportunity to rebrand.”
He added: “Protracted legal battles over the party name would have been needless distractions at a time when focus should be on building credible alternatives to Zanu PF and finding ways of operationalising an opposition grand coalition that will push for much-needed reforms to level the electoral field.”
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former MDC-T official, Settlement Chikwinya said identity was critical when building a brand.
“Mujuru has set one foot ahead in terms of rebranding her political outfit by establishing a new name that is devoid of all the toxins that had come to be associated with People First,” he said.
“She now needs to move fast in making sure that the new name is attached to good work on the ground and that largely depends on her political programmes and more so, how she conducts herself as the leader in the public and political domain.”
But UK-based former Harare Polytechnic Mass Communications lecturer, Reward Mushayabasa said name changes were immaterial for political parties.
“What is in a name? I don’t think we need to read too much into the name changes. I don’t think the name changes are very critical at this point. The Zimbabwe electorate is not very much concerned about names,” he said.
“What is fundamental to the electorate is what the party stands for and whether it can proffer any sustainable solutions to the country’s political quagmire.
“People are tired of getting more of the same. What Zimbabwe needs is not more splinter parties.
“The country has an oversupply of these parties. What Zimbabwe needs is a coalition of all political parties to challenge Zanu PF’s political hegemony. Without this radical shift in mindset among the opposition parties, the future of politics in Zimbabwe looks very bleak.”
Political analyst, Blessing Vava said Mujuru’s move could be a double-edged sword as it could be interpreted to mean she lost the battle to Gumbo and Mutasa.
“She has basically succumbed and surrendered,” Vava said.
“By announcing NPP through a press conference, she has shown a lack of political acumenship. what was immediate and most important was for her to preside over the long-overdue convention to give her the political legitimacy to make such decisions.”
PDP official, Vince Musewe said the change of name by Mujuru may not change her fortunes.
“One thing I can, however, predict is that it will be the same old people just rebranding themselves and hoping to convince us they are the best suited to create the new Zimbabwe we imagine,” he said.
“I doubt that because we have politics of recycling and opportunism.”
Mujuru has been negotiating a coalition with Tsvangirai to fight President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF in next year’s elections.