In a ringing endorsement of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, firebrand former Zanu PF chairperson for Mashonaland West, Temba Mliswa, says the only politician who can take on President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF and win the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections is the dogged former prime minister.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News yesterday, in which he pooh-poohed both the tactics and the appetite for a bruising political fight by former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters, the garrulous Mliswa described Mujuru and her close aides as “cowards of note”.
“The only leader who has popularity outside Zanu PF is Tsvangirai who has proved it in several elections. Tsvangirai has also got the biggest opposition party in the country and banks on his unquestionable grass roots support and what does People First have? Nothing!
“At least (Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader) Simba Makoni has something because we know he once garnered eight percent of the vote in 2008.
“Even Mliswa has something outside Zanu PF after participating in the recent by-elections as an independent,” he said as he savaged Mujuru, her allies and the chances of the “original” Zanu PF formation that uses the slogan People First as the 2018 elections beckon.
Mliswa described Mujuru and her close aides as cowards who were also “too compromised” to publicly challenge Mugabe and the post-congress Zanu PF, by officially forming and operationalising their political outfit.
He said the reasons why Mujuru and the likes of former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa were being cagey about when exactly they would officially launch their party was because they were afraid of being arrested on one hand and also had a “misguided belief” that the former VP was “very popular”.
“The first thing is that these people worked with Mugabe for a long time and some of them are corrupt, so they are hesitant. They are clearly afraid. They also mistakenly think that Mujuru’s popularity within Zanu PF translates to popularity for a presidential bid. No, they are wrong,” Mliswa said.
He added that the fact that Mujuru shared her Zanu PF supporters with Mugabe “almost half-half” meant that if she were to challenge for the presidency, their votes would be split to Tsvangirai’s advantage.
He said even if Mujuru and her allies hoped for a grand coalition with other opposition parties, the likes of Tsvangirai would get very little out of it as “the success of such a coalition depends on what you bring on the table”.
Mliswa accused Mujuru and other leaders of the People First movement, who include his uncle Mutasa, of being “lily-livered” after they failed to defend other former ruling party officials who were ruthlessly purged for supporting the former VP when she was still Mugabe’s deputy.
“They kept quiet when hardworking cadres like Jabulani Sibanda were being expelled when they had the power to intervene through the politburo that they controlled. They could have called (Mugabe’s wife) Grace to order when she went around misleading the nation about Mujuru, but they did not even raise a finger.
“Why did they not have (David) Butau, (Ray) Kaukonde, (Kudakwashe) Bhasikiti and myself participate in the recent by-elections as People First candidates to test our popularity? Did we not lose an opportunity?”, Mliswa asked.
He said as a result, even if the People First movement were to eventually metamorphosise into a fully-fledged political party, he would not be part of it. Rather, he would form a youth advocacy group aimed at alerting young voters about the need to vote, as well as to make leaders accountable.
“I do not join people who do not have support. We will campaign in various constituencies, holding meetings with aspiring electoral candidates, interrogating them on their plans for the community,” he said.
Mliswa spoke as feisty war veteran Margaret Dongo has pledged her loyalty to Mujuru, dispelling concerns that she was working against the “original” Zanu PF formation which is locked in a bitter power struggle with Mugabe’s post-congress Zanu PF.
A week ago, Dongo was identified with a new political outfit, the Movement for People First — which was said at the time to be different from the “original” Zanu PF that is fronted by stalwarts of the country’s liberation struggle, and whose presumptive leader is Mujuru.
But concerted lobbying behind the scenes by Mujuru’s close allies, as well as successful appeals for “patience” on Dongo’s part and that of a group of restless war veterans who were rallying behind her, appear to have persuaded her to abandon the plans to form her own separate political party.
Dongo, the interim chairperson of the Movement for People First, told the Daily News on Thursday that she and her comrades were fully behind Mujuru, whom they wanted to lead the People First movement and rescue the country from “the edge of the precipice” where it had allegedly been placed by Mugabe’s “35 long years of misrule”.
“It is necessary to correct the seeming impression that what we have launched is a fully-fledged political party that works against the People First’s aspirations to form a new political party in Zimbabwe.
“The correct scenario is that the Movement for People First is a grouping that is set to work towards a common political front under Cde Joice Mujuru, but with an interim mandate to do anything and everything that the looming larger party would have done had it been launched.
“We are therefore a mobilising and information-gathering tool of the coming bigger party, hence the reference to me as interim chairperson of the Movement for People First and not its president,” Dongo said.
The formation of the Movement for People First had come amid fears of the heavy infiltration of the “original” Zanu PF formation by State agents, even as the liberation war stalwarts who are spearheading its uncoiling were adamant that nothing would stop the formation of the planned party.
Sources privy to the goings-on in People First also told the Daily News that Mujuru herself — who is apparently very close to Dongo — was being kept abreast of the planning work for the official launch of the “original” Zanu PF. The former VP had also apparently impressed it on all her supporters to unite and work for a common cause.