Zimbabwe’s veteran leader, President Robert Mugabe has a new challenger.
Her name is Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, a woman who until 2014 was the country’s vice president and second secretary of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party for 10 years.
On the “Super Tuesday” of 1 March, she addressed her first press conference as leader of the newly-formed Zimbabwe People First party and immediately declared war on her former party and boss.
The entry of Joice Mujuru (60) into the political ring has been met with expectations of blood and thunder as Zimbabwe hurtles towards national elections in 2018.
Mujuru was expelled from the ruling party and government in 2014 when, after a flurry of accusations of her plotting to unseat President Mugabe ahead of the party’s elective congress, she lost her position in the party’s Central Committee and Politburo organs.
In April 2015, she was expelled from the ruling party.
Since then, she has maintained a stolid silence, refusing to speak to the media. Only two colleagues, Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa – both formerly Zanu-PF stalwarts who were expelled from Zanu-PF for associating with Mujuru – commented on her fall from grace.
But her silence was broken irregularly by statements in the private media on a couple of issues, mainly relating to her seeking to deflect accusations that were being levelled, or previously had been levelled against her.
It was in September last year that she came up with a meaningful political statement by way of a “manifesto” entitled, “Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development” (BUILD) which outlined the policy position and objectives of the then yet-to-be-named party.
Again, she kept her own counsel until breaking her silence in an interview with Voice of America’s Studio 7. As the world was glued to the US “Super Tuesday” presidential primaries, Mujuru decided to strike.
She held her party’s first press conference at Harare’s five-star Miekles Hotel, a colonial relic, which immediately raised eyebrows on the political symbolism and messaging.
She was flanked by a number of former ruling party members. “Today is a historic day,” she declared.
“Today we present ourselves to you in humility and the humbling comfort of the people’s support. There has been tense speculation from our detractors. There has been strong anticipation from our supporters. We had to resist temptation, the temptation to formalise our being and existence without adequate consultation with the people of Zimbabwe,” she stated.
“This is a day of great significance in our country’s political history. Today we confirm our existence as a viable home-grown inclusive political party. It is now public knowledge that the Zimbabwe People First party is here.”
She then outlined her vision regarding the economy, the country’s indigenisation laws and other important issues.
She said: “The investment environment is crowded by multiple incoherent policies. Zimbabwe urgently needs investor-friendly policies to stimulate economic activity. The scourge of corruption will need to be totally uprooted. There is urgent need to create jobs for the huge growing army of unemployed. A whole review of the indigenisation act would be effected. We shall emphasise economic empowerment that attracts investment.”
She also pledged to rejoin the Commonwealth that Zimbabwe left in 2003 following what Harare saw as unfair treatment, tied to the fallout the country had had with Britain over the land reform programme in 2000.
A new kid on the block
The development has set the Zimbabwean political scene on fire again. President Mugabe’s party won emphatically in the 2013 election, with a more than two-thirds majority of seats in parliament, trouncing the main opposition MDC-T challenge.
Since then, the opposition has imploded with former secretary general in the MDC-T, Tendai Biti, initially branching off to form what was referred to as MDC Renewal along with former treasurer-general Elton Mangoma.
They subsequently disagreed and now lead the People’s Democratic Party and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe parties respectively, adding to a wide field of relatively weak opposition parties. Many analysts suggest that these fractured entities will only ensure the hegemony of the ruling Zanu-PF.
The entry of Mujuru has created ripples of excitement, although President Mugabe has dismissed his former mentee’s actions.
At an event marking his 92nd birthday on 28 February, in the ancient city of Masvingo, in the south-east of the country, President Mugabe commented that his new rival would soon splinter into People Second, People Third, etc.
Zanu-PF’s UK chairman Ndavaningi Nick Mangwana, who heads the ruling party’s largest external branch, gives Mujuru absolutely no chance. “Joice Mujuru was a top official in the Government of Zimbabwe for over 34 years. For ten years of that period she was vice-president and second in command. For 24 years she was a government minister. In that period, she left no legacy at all,” he said
“Minsters formulate groundbreaking policies and set landmark legislative programmes. There is no one who can point to one thing she did which changed the socio-economic or even political outlook of the country.
“As a woman, the only woman who was empowered by her is herself. She was the same person who banned women from expressing themselves in the 1980s by banning Miss Zimbabwe Pageants.
“All her legacies are self-serving, such as the accumulation of $9bn wealth by her family. The person she wants to contest, President Robert Mugabe, has got a legacy. He brought indigenisation, land reform, pan-Africanism, and was the first person to bring post-colonial National Reconciliation.
“But Mrs Mujuru’s focus is to bring back neo-colonialism via the back door by taking Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth,” he charged.
“She has no gravitas to cause President Mugabe sleepless nights. Someone who leaves no legacy after holding key positions for that long is the embodiment of mediocrity.”
Opposition parties have welcomed the new entrant – obviously hoping for a not-so-distant coalition with her as they feel she brings experience, liberation war credentials and hopefully some insights on how to defeat the ruling party.
But Maxwell Saungweme, a local political analyst, is cautious as of now. He told New African: “Mujuru’s outfit still has a lot of homework to do before we can consider it strong enough to meaningfully change the political terrain.
“I hope they won’t remain a pressure group like (Professor) Welshman Ncube’s MDC or (Professor Lovemore) Madhuku’s National Constitutional Assembly.
“They still have to get their congress right, spell out their policies and demonstrate to the electorate their difference from their mother party, Zanu-PF. So in short, it’s too early to make clear predictions for 2018,” he said.
A window of opportunity appears to have opened because of infighting within the party she left, with factionalism between two camps appearing set to weaken the party, which has embarked on familiar purges.
But this is not a takeaway bone for the third-dog Mujuru, says Saungweme. “The friction in Zanu-PF mirrors the disunity and polarisation in opposition parties as well. Even the Mujuru outfit has fissures. MDC has multiple fragments and is also as weak as Zanu-PF.
“The next two years to 2018 will be characterised by many parties trying to battle it out. Gone are the days for election contests to be between Zanu-PF and MDC. We are likely to have more than five presidential candidates. In such a situation where we have so many political parties, the Zanu-PF faction with control of the security services will carry the day, and will ‘win’ the election.”
Oxford scholar, researcher and political analyst Simukai Tinhu says although Mujuru has considerable political clout, she may not be able to beat her former boss – just yet.
He said: “She (was) a vice president for 10 years, she also has liberation war credentials. As a result, one can safely say that she has considerable political experience.
“If she runs against Mugabe, she is likely to lose. Mugabe is determined not to lose an election at any cost. In general, it is difficult to assess her prospects against Zanu-PF as a party…
“Considering her former stature in Zanu-PF, her former support within the liberation movement and also the number and seniority of elites that left Zanu-PF with her as well as those that are ready to jump ship if sufficiently convinced that she has the potential, one can safely conclude that she is likely to get at least 8% at the next election.
“Indeed, it is not an underestimation that given her popularity in the Mashonaland provinces, she has a better chance than any other Zanu-PF candidate, other than Mugabe, if there is a free and fair election. It is also plausible that she is likely to get a third of the vote if Mugabe runs, forcing a second round of elections.”
Tinhu believes Mujuru’s best chances will come if she gets into a pre-electoral pact with the MDC. And he has more advice for her: “Mujuru will need to expend considerable energy on recruiting outside the former Zanu-PF clique that was defenestrated from the ruling party, in particular politicians of the older generation, as a way of showing that she has launched a progressive political party rather than a haven for politicians who were not wanted by the ruling party.”
“She needs to do more work and convince Zimbabweans that she is no longer part of Zanu-PF,” says Tinhu. “It seems she is struggling with this. For example, her criticism of Mugabe appears circumscribed.”
As evidence of this, her claim that she does, in fact, have evidence that the 2013 elections were rigged, (contrary to earlier denials), could be seen as positioning herself for a potential pre-electoral, or post first-round, presidential elections with Zanu-PF in 2018.”
Mujuru appears to have set the tone for a dance with Western powers, who have been alienated by the revolutionary stance of President Mugabe.
She has promised a return to the Commonwealth and she seeks to undo programmes such as indigenisation and land reform.
At her press conference, a number of Western diplomats attended to hear her speak. Getting the nod of Western powers will not only be a huge endorsement of character but garner funding as Western money has the capacity to oil her way to the presidency.
Not too fast, though, says Tinhu. “It appears that the international community has adopted a wait and see approach.
“They want to see her potential. Certainly, the US appears not to want much to do with her. Their policy is that they want a clean break; and they mean Zanu-PF and its splinter groups are incapable of reform of any nature, whether there is a change of leadership or not.
“The British, who had been gravitating towards Mnangagwa, but seem to be backtracking, might show some interest given her neo-liberal approach towards economic policy.
“The Australian, and the EU’s policies appear to be shaped by London’s foreign policy, and are likely to settle on what the British would have finally decided. The same can be said about the Canadians, who also follow US policy.
“Mujuru’s best bet is the Nordic countries, which appear to have showed the greatest interest. These countries are also generous with funding.”
Another political analyst and international relations expert, Briggs Bomba, believes Mujuru will prove attractive to the West. ”She was always seen as representing the reformist, moderate voice within Zanu-PF.
It is important however to realise that her utility was based on the assumption that she was going to inherit an intact Zanu-PF and be able to discipline the constituent social forces under a reform agenda.
“The fact that she is outside now and appears to be building from scratch i.e. without fundamentally breaking away critical constituencies from Zanu-PF severely devalues her currency,” he says.