By Amos Maseko
DURING their time, former President Robert Mugabe and his nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai were regarded as the big men of Zimbabwean politics and their tenures, admittedly, altered the face of Zimbabwean politics.
But while they both earned admiration for commanding the country’s biggest political followings, they were also blamed for being two divisive figures in the country by digging in and remaining in their entrenched positions.
Hundreds died during the 18 year era of their bitter duel.
Mugabe was ousted November 2017 through a popular military coup while Tsvangirai ebbed out through a colon cancer ailment that later took his life February this year.
But was that the end of bitter politics in Zimbabwe? Maybe not.
Enter Emmerson Mnangagwa, who, for long shadowed Mugabe, as well as Nelson Chamisa, a longtime aide to Tsvangirai who was also viewed in many quarters as a Tsvangirai understudy.
The two politicians are said to have taken over from where their predecessors left and have continued on a front that has polarised a crisis weary nation leading to continued death and poverty.
Mnangagwa another Mugabe
Mnangagwa has been accused of the same transgressions that Mugabe was accused of while Chamisa has, ironically, also been likened to Mugabe.
Mugabe earned a bad name in world politics through his opaque style of leadership that saw him riding roughshod over state institutions and battering his opponents.
The now 94-year-old veteran politician was accused of poll theft with military doing the dirty work for him and Mnangagwa has just fitted into the same template with the 2018 elections mired in controversy related to vote manipulation.
Under Mugabe, police, the military, and to some extent, the judiciary were all viewed to be operating at his whims, something now replicated by a system led by Mnangagwa.
Similarly, the partisan distribution of food and other aid related handouts remains the same as left by Mugabe while the public media has also remained under state control with a strong bias towards the ruling Zanu PF party.
Chamisa another Mugabe, Tsvangirai
Chamisa has earned a lot of rebuke for his February seizure of the top MDC job at the expense fellow party deputy presidents Thokozani Khupe (then) and Elias Mudzuri.
His predecessor was accused of visiting abuses on party dissenters, among them, former legislator, Trudy Stevenson and Elton Mangoma, a liitle later.
MDC youths 2017 stormed an MDC meeting called by Khupe in Bulawayo and beat up some party bigwigs from Matebeleland for holding a meeting that was allegedly intended to oppose the main opposition’s decision to merge with former allies.
Under Tsvangirai’s 18 year reign, the MDC split twice with the once firebrand opposition leader singled out for blame in the two episodes.
Chamisa, critics say, has just done that too, beginning with the assault and near burning of Khupe and party secretary general Douglas Mwonzora by his fanatical followers during the late former Prime Minister’s funeral wake in February.
The 40-year-old politician has not just been compared to his former boss but has also been accused of stealing Mugabe’s traits.
When he felt is job was being challenged, Mugabe hounded his deputy Joice Mujuru out of the ruling party, accusing her of treachery and most ridiculously, that she had hired sorcerers to kill him.
Several more bigwigs linked to Mujuru fell by the wayside during a purge last seen during the party’s bitter years in the liberation war.
Mugabe turned to Mnangagwa, who had taken over as Mujuru’s successor, battering and labelling his a traitor and coup plotter in front of party supporters.
Chamisa, it is said, has inherited and perfected the art as seen by the way he forced Khupe out of MDC and lately, Mudzuri’s labelling by party allies as traitor.
The former Harare mayor, who is seen as a potential challenge to Chamisa’s shaky reign, was last week forced to abandon an MDC demonstration when angry supporters bayed for his blood for allegedly selling out when he attended a state house meeting for parliament’s presiding officers in disregard of a party stance not to recognise Mnangagwa as the country’s legitimate leader.
Harare based political commentator, Vivid Gwede agrees the post Mugabe-Tsvangirai era remains politically tense.
“This is because of the legitimacy question which persists,” he says.
“This is the source of divisions and the lack of dialogue about the way forward. Mnangagwa prefers to carry the beast alone to feast by himself, but he can’t carry it. So there is stalemate and a crisis.”
Political and economic commentator Geraldine Sibanda feels this could be the cause of the country’s long democratic struggle.
“The democratic struggle in Zimbabwe has been a protracted one. Although this is the case, there has been very little room for new players,” she says.
“Those that founded the MDC have wanted to hold on to their turfs so it has become a classic and sad case of isophormic mimicry – MDC has become a shadow of Zanu PF and not just in their leadership.
“Both policy documents are tragically liberal. Both organisations accept very little or no criticism. The supporters of both organisations exhibit various forms of vitriol. In both organisations, it has become taboo to contest the President.
“Perhaps this is so because the MDC may feel that there is need to fight fire with fire.
“So this is beyond Mugabe or Tsvangirai. It’s about the political culture that both organisations have allowed to flourish, which culture has ceased to be useful in Zimbabwe’s struggle for democracy. At this rate the struggle will take much, much longer.”