February is traditionally a 'good' month for President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, not so much that he sends Valentine Day flowers to his beloved youthful wife, Grace Marufu, but his birthday falls on 21 February. He and his cohorts consequently concocted the 21st February Movement- a typical Stalinist birthday celebration where State propaganda accumulates a groundswell of superficial enthusiasm around parents mostly drawn from Mugabe's rural base, whose children share this birthday. The kids engage in Maoist-type charity games. Although his cronies tout that trillions of Zimbabwe dollars spent on this national charade are merely a 'private affair', nobody is fooled.
This February, one Simba Herbert Stanley Makoni, almost 30 years Mugabe's junior, is about to spoil the dictator's birthday party. Dr Makoni, a British-trained medical chemistry graduate, on 5 February 2008 announced that he would stand against Mugabe in the presidential elections scheduled for March 29.
In a normal constitutional democracy, this would hardly make news. For Mugabe however, it comes as a crude reminder that even members of his secret Politburo want a piece of the political cake he has been hugging since 1980. A ZimOnline report says that at thirty, Dr Makoni was appointed the youngest minister in President Mugabe's first post-independence government, then became executive secretary of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Community (fore-runner to the current SADC) before being deployed as chief executive officer of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Group.
He was dismissed from ZimPapers in 1997 after clashing with Mugabe's uncle, Charles Chikerema, re- appointed finance and economic development minister in 2000 before resigning from the government in August 2002 when he differed with it over the direction of the economy. In a public attack on Makoni in 2002, Mugabe branded him “enemy of the state" for advancing a liberal economics agenda.
The scramble for Mugabe's kingdom is nothing new. He allegedly suppresses potential leaders in his party. In the last election, fanatic information minister (now independent Member of Parliament) Professor Jonathan Moyo was expelled from the party for purportedly fermenting a leadership change in ZANUpf. All members suspected to be part of a rebel group that met at an obscure primary school in Matebeleland, have either been struck off Mugabe's roll of honour or thrown into political disarray. Even current vice president Joyce Mujuru, wife of the powerful ex-military commander Solomon, was at one time anointed heir apparent. Her refusal has not allayed speculation that she and her husband are part of the inside team that backs Dr Makoni' s presidential bid. As expected, the ZANUpf propaganda machinery is using war veterans and so-called 'analysts' to brand Dr Makoni an agent of British and American imperialism. One such zealot, Joseph Chinotimba, vice chairman of Mugabe's 30 000-member War Veteran Association has threatened to physically harm Dr Makoni.
"Traitors should know that ZANUpf has a history of dealing harshly with their kind," he said. The unexplained death of ZANUpf pioneers Hebert Chitepo and Josiah Magama Tongogara is said to symbolise this 'history'. Since 1980, about thirty thousand Zimbabweans have lost their lives under ZANUpf rule, while five million are in exile. Zimbabwe is now one of the poorest countries in Africa; with a world record inflation rate of well over one hundred thousand per cent. The local currency has plunged against the US dollar on a thriving black market from Z$3-million at the beginning of January to the current Z$9-million, but still officially pegged at Z$30 000.
The entry of Dr Simba Makoni onto the political market in Zimbabwe has brought a new spring in the gait of analyses. Leaders of the fractious opposition Movement for Democratic Change MDC - Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara – are considering throwing their weight behind Makoni. A combination of pressure from inside their respective political structures and the courtyard of public opinion points to the fact that it is easier to negotiate with a ZANUpf reformist like Makoni, than wait for Mugabe to undergo transfiguration.
Zimbabweans are weary of political turncoats who abandon the ZANUpf ship only to board when the political storm has subdisded. Edgar Tekere, one of Mugabe's fiercest critics in the 90s established Zimbabwe Unity Movement but later begged for mercy from Mugabe, taking millions of voters into a blind alley. Dzikamai Mavhaire, who once told Mugabe to retire, was promptly expelled from ZANUpf and later re-admitted after profuse public apologies. For now, Dr Makoni stands 'officially' expelled from Mugabe's party, yet some press reports quote Chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly political pressure group Dr Lovemore Madhuku saying: "Makoni is a joke. He belongs to the ZANUpf group ‘inappropriately’ referred to as a reformist. What he has done is opportunism. He has simply taken advantage of the forces that have been fighting Mugabe all along and those forces are us [civil society]".
If Kenya's Information Minister Samuel Poghisio says the world has an exaggerated image of the violence in Kenya, will president Robert Mugabe use pomp and ceremony on 21 February to portray a smokescreen of normalcy in Zimbabwe?
With the advent of Dr Makoni onto Zimbabwe's exasperated political market, Mr Mugabe may be nibbling at his last public cake before receding into the hall of the infamous rogue democracies that manipulate elections like Chad, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Malaysia and Thailand. By the time the last child snores into sub-consciousness on 21 February, the souls of Mugabe's club members - Kamuzu Banda, Kenneth Kaunda, Idi Amin, Laurent Kabila, Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Mengistu will snatch the withered proverbial red roses from Lady Grace's stately vase and stuff them into the pigeon hole of eternal political oblivion. For Zimbabweans, it may now be a goodbye to populist Comrade President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and a new dawn for liberal Dr Simba Makoni.
By Rejoice Ngwenya
Besides being a Freelance Writer in Zimbabwe, Rejoice runs his own policy dialogue ‘think tank’ called Coalition for Market & Liberal Solutions: COMALISO
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