Is Joice Mujuru The Game Changer In Opposition Politics?

By Sij Ncube

Harare, March 04, 2016 – FORMER vice president Joice Mujuru’s foray into the country’s dicey opposition politics has ignited excitement with analysts saying she is a potential game changer ahead of the crunch 2018 polls.

Mujuru, ousted from government and later expelled from Zanu PF 2015 over an alleged plot to overthrow Mugabe, unveiled the Zimbabwe People First party on Tuesday in grand style.

She lost no time in pledging to restore the country to its former glory as the bread basket of southern Africa.

Mujuru further promised to restore human dignity as well as overhaul President Robert Mugabe’s controversial empowerment laws critics blame for lack of direct foreign investment.

But her presidential ambitions have been met with mixed feelings among locals.

While some critics say she is what the country needs to re-launch a fresh opposition assault against Mugabe’s misrule as a former insider, others says she is carrying too much baggage to be taken seriously as a legitimate challenger to her former boss and Zanu PF.

Mujuru, one of the country’s founding cabinet ministers and once a close Mugabe protégé, has refused to publicly attack her former boss, claiming it was not her style of leadership, something which has allowed her detractors to maintain that her heart and soul are still with Mugabe and Zanu PF.  

However, her entry into opposition politics is seen reviving opposition politics whose leaders are now fatigued by over a decade of a gruelling fight with Mugabe.

Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst, is adamant Mujuru has a big chance as she can attract people from both MDC and Zanu PF.

“She generally commands respect from both camps. I however still feel that a big coalition is the only way for opposition parties to wrestle power from Zanu PF.

“If opposition parties do not realise this they should know that the best that each of them can be is to be the champion among losers. The focus should be on how to defeat Zanu PF,” said Mukonza.

Blessing Vava, a political analyst based in South Africa, concurred, saying Mujuru has a significant following of the people she was fired with from Zanu PF, such as former administrator Didymus Mutasa, former spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, among other former ministers and provincial chairpersons.

“She is going to be a game changer. With her liberation war credentials and 34 years of experience in government should be a credit as she builds her ZPF project,” said Vava.

Jameson Timba, an MDC-T official and former minister in the government of national unity, said the launch of People First is a welcome development in his party’s quest to build a plural and tolerant democratic culture in Zimbabwe.

Maxwell Saungweme, another political analyst, agrees Mujuru adds excitement and momentum to an otherwise dull political terrain that was dominated by Zanu PF factionalism and many weak splinter groupings of opposition parties and pretenders.

“She represents some ‘change’ from the usual political rivalry between traditional opposition parties and Zanu PF,” he said.

“She represents hope to many, and her seeming rebellion from Zanu PF portrays her as a strong woman capable of changing things.”

Saungweme said Mujuru plays victim after losing her husband, the late former army commander Solomon Mujuru in a mysterious 2011 inferno, as well as her dramatic hounding out of Zanu PF three years later.

“The death of her husband to many appear politically motivated, hence many Zimbabweans including some Zanu PF members and sections in the security sector and liberation heroes see her as widowed by persecution hence the sympathise with her,” noted Saungweme.

Previously generals have intimated they would not salute anyone who did not take part in the liberation war like MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai but Mujuru is seen as a different ball-game as already she has soldiers amidst her set-up.

Saungweme is adamant Mujuru has sympathy from some in the military due to the influence of her a husband, a decorated general who had a following and also her own influence and liberation war credentials.  

“Generals will salute her. Already Mbudzi was there who is one of their own. They used to salute her and they will continue doing so.”

But cleansing herself from Zanu PF could be a tough one. Critics point out that she never really criticised the party and Mugabe before but blamed her perceived political opponents in that party for her ouster.

Saungweme added that Mujuru also has her own downside because of her lengthy association with Zanu PF.

He said Zanu PF is a pervasive political system and it’s hard to really cleanse yourself once you have been in it and she has been in the party for too long and in top leadership.

“She thinks the Zanu way. Look already on her top table at that press brief, it was her, Mutasa and Gumbo -looks like a typical tripartite Zanu PF presidium. The way she introduced herself and her speech -very Zanu PF and Mugabe like. The slogan, the party gesture and name seem to diluted versions from a Zanu PF script,” he said.