By Sij Ncube
BULAWAYO – With the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) boycotting next month’s by-elections in Bulawayo, it is high time Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu showed its political pedigree by winning some seats, analysts say.
Dabengwa, a former Zanu (PF) politburo member and minister of home affairs, revived Zapu in between 2007-2010 but today it still has nothing to show in local government and parliament despite fronting itself as a viable revolutionary party to President Robert Mugabe’ party.
With the MDC formations out of the way, critics say Zapu has a chance of showing its hand by at least winning some of the vacant seats in the June 10 by-elections particularly in its perceived stronghold of Matabeleland, Bulawayo.
There are five seats in Bulawayo up for grabs after the recall of legislators from parliament following their break-away from MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai after his controversial loss to Mugabe in July 2013.
The five constituencies are Pumula, Makokoba, Luveve, Lobengula and Mpopoma-Pelandaba seats regarded as no-go areas for Mugabe and Zanu PF since the advent of the MDC in 1999.
For the past 13 years, the MDC has swept all the seats in Bulawayo, much to the chagrin of Zanu (PF) but with the MDC formations out of the way analysts see Zapu having a realistic chance of going to parliament provided it puts its house in order despite a Zanu (PF) state media sustained propaganda campaign.
Mugabe’s party is so cock-sure of winning the vacant seats after a 15-year absence with perennial losers such as Colonel Tshinga Dube confident of eventually making it to parliament.
Dube, a likeable fellow despite his Zanu (PF) and military links, is eyeing the Makokoba constituency which was previously held by Gorden Moyo, a former minister in the ill-fated government of national unity.
Tshinga has since 2000 sought to win the Makokoba seat to the extent of pumping several thousands of dollars into the impoverished constituency but has continuously been rejected by the electorate largely because “he is wearing the wrong jacket.” He has on several occasions pumped his personal finances to Matabeleland’s popular football team Highlanders.
Recently he facilitated the procurement of a team bus for the country’s second biggest and popular football team.
Critics are quick to point out that his generosity has previously not counted anything and believe a well-organised Zapu could once more turnout to be a party spoiler if Dabebgwa’s party mobilises MDC supporters to vote for the revolutionary party.
Analysts say it should not be a problem for Dabengwa’s party to coax opposition supporters in Bulawayo to vote Zapu, pointing out that Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube and Simba Makoni have intimated forming a grand political coalition ahead of the 2018 polls.
Although there is a sprinkle of independents and other small opposition parties, it is the participation of Dabengwa’s Zapu which has people talking with critics challenging the former Zipra intelligence supreme to rise to the occasion by grabbing the vacant seats in the June 10 polls.
Dabengwa and other ardent supporters of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo revived Zapu after disgruntlement over what they perceived as the skewed implementation of the Unity Accord Mugabe signed with the later Father Zimbabwe.
Zapu’s failure to win a single seat in the June 10 polls would give credence to assertions Zapu is a hopeless political outfit packed with clueless politicians driven by political nostalgia, the analysts add.
As if to show the party is gearing to make a difference in the pending polls Dabengwa and Team Zapu two weeks ago held a well-attended rally at Stanley Square, the traditional venue for opposition parties, with party officials and supporters clad in new yellow t-shirts specifically fashioned for the June 10 by-elections.
Party officials have appealed to all the MDC formations to support ZAPU in Bulawayo urged the formations to ask their supports to cast their votes in favour of ZAPU.
“Anything besides this will mean easy victory for ZANU and a spell to Zimbabwe’s future, “says Strike Mkandla, Zapu alternate secretary general.
On his part Dabengwa has launched door-to-door campaigns in the targeted constituencies in Bulawayo, an exercise party supporters claim “looks and sounds” more vigorous than in past polls Zapu has participated.
Maxwell Saungweme, an analyst closely following the pending by-elections, strongly believes it is high time parties such as ZAPU who have been facing divided votes with the MDC to shine in their areas.
Saungweme, however, cautions Dabengwa that the Zanu(PF) rigging machine will be at work during the polls.
“But ZAPU and other parties should not just be an end in itself but part of properly arranged strategy, with action plans on what to do if their votes are stolen by ZANU PF. Otherwise they will be used to legitimise Zanu(PF) electoral fraud as the MDC has been doing in the past,” he said.
Alex Magaisa, a former advisor to Tsvangirai during the inclusive government, says the June 10 by-elections presented Zapu their great opportunity.
“If they fail, then I can’t see how else they can lay a claim to leadership. Matabeleland should be Zapu’s natural base, for historical reasons and this is a God-send opportunity for them to shine,” says Magaisa, adding that failure would condemn them to a natural death.
But Bulawayo-based analyst Zenzele Ndebele does not give Zapu any chance in the pending polls and tips Zanu PF to win all the seats in Bulawayo.
“I am not sure people take them seriously. People have lost faith in the opposition. Zapu has never really presented any serious challenge as an opposition party. They are (strong) on social media yes but on the ground Zapu is not present.”
Charles Mangongera, an independent political researcher, says it would have been an opportunity for ZAPU to shine but “if one looks at the results of previous elections ZAPU has not been an effective electoral challenger.”
“The boycott by the MDC certainly presents an altered political terrain and one hopes that ZAPU has a strategy to occupy the space that the MDC has previously occupied in a region that loathes Zanu (PF).”
David Macheka, commenting on social media regarding Zapu’s chances, wrote: “ZAPU can win some seats basing on the fact that that those areas are likely to vote for anything that is not Zanu (PF), however, there could be massive voter apathy by non- ZANU PF supporters that can lead to ZANU PF victory.”
According to its manifesto crafted in 2010 Zapu is an advocate of devolution of power, among other things to make Zimbabwe a better country.
“For ZAPU, devolution is not a simple reaction to ZANU PF rule. The concept and putting into practice of devolution provides the answer to our communities’ livelihoods quest for basic freedoms, decentralizing and delegating administrative power to the local level, away from centralized abuse of power that was inherited from the colonial state only to be embraced ‘stock-lock and barrel’ by the detractors to further its undiluted quest for power and control,” reads part of the manifesto.
“For ZAPU, devolution will provide the only viable alternative to decision making designed to anchor the development programmes where the people are, at the provincial, district and village levels. Devolution will unleash the creative innovative spirits of our people and their institutions at the local level, without the detached hands of the far away and unconcerned central authority. It provides the answer to rooting out centralized control which is at the root of the now rampant, unprecedented and systemic corruption, at virtually all levels of central government authority.”