Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle started in earnest last week, with the publication of Joice Mujuru’s ‘manifesto’. Although her People First party has not yet been launched this is a clear signal that it will be soon. Amongst the new acronyms and the big promises, the important question is what alliances will be struck with whom, and whether this is the basis for a genuine opposition that can dislodge the hold of ZANU-PF.
Joice Mujuru was unceremoniously thrown out of ZANU-PF only at the end of last year by a faction led by Grace Mugabe, and closely linked to the current Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa. Once President Mugabe’s favoured successor her fall was rapid. Joice Mujuru was a ZANU-PF stalwart with a strong track record dating from her heroism in the liberation war, where she took the nom de guerre, Teurai Ropa (spill blood), reputedly gunning down a Rhodesian helicopter in a fierce battle. Before her fall, she was Vice President and a leading business person, taking over her husband’s empire after he died in mysterious circumstances in 2011. Solomon Mujuru, a general and also a war hero (known as Rex Nhongo and commander-in-chief of ZANLA), was a key figure in the post-independence political mix, but had fallen out with key members of ZANU-PF.
Since December, Joice Mujuru has bided her time. Along with her, a number of key members of her ‘gamatox’ faction were expelled too. Her team have also been discussing with the various factions of the split MDC opposition too, and the ‘manifesto’ is the result. Some in the MDC have cried foul and argued that it has been plagiarised, others are looking to new alliances that might bring the opposition together.
So beyond the new acronyms (BUILD – Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development; RAMP – Remove All Measurable Pitfalls and PEACE – Presidential Economic and Advisory Centre for Excellence), what does the short manifesto say? In many respects there is indeed not much to distinguish it from other offerings from other parties, including ZANU-PF. In his recent speech to parliament, Mugabe himself offered a ten-point plan for investment, inclusive growth, tackling corruption and so on that was barely different in key aspects. The government’s ZIMASSET programme offers an ambitious – some would say unrealistic – plan to do the same. And the MDC opposition’s own plans, and own acronym’s, of ART, JUICE and the rest are all very similar, and many opposition commentators have welcomed the new document. Everyone painfully realises that accountable institutions and new investment in the economy are the key.
But you have to look beyond the general statements to the more subtle emphases and associated mood music to get to the differences. Mai Mujuru’s manifesto, as Alex Magaisa points out, did not start with the classic ZANU-PF narrative centred on the liberation war. It’s mentioned, but not as the origin of all positions. The statement on ‘ideology’ covers all bases:
“We are national democrats, guided by the values of the liberation struggle, of self determination, self-dignity, self-pride, expressed through the adoption of market driven policies under a constitutional democracy, with the State acting as a facilitator and regulator to allow for a level playing field and provide equal opportunities for all.”
This moves beyond the ZANU-PF position of the nationalist state, but towards the more liberal version of a facilitating and regulating state, operating in the context of market-driven policies and the ‘rule of law’. There are important shifts on the discourse of being ‘indigenous’ that are significant too. Land in Zimbabwe is to be available for all those who call the country ‘home’, and the ‘indigenisation’ policies so favoured a few years back are to be relaxed to encourage investment. Of course all these are open to flexible interpretation, and a discourse of ‘home’ could be used to discriminate just as one of ‘indigeneity’.
The assertion of securing property rights and boosting investment has been interpreted by some as a swing to a ‘neo-liberal’ view, and away from a more nationalist perspective rooted in a developmental state argument. Certainly, the Mujuru faction has always been more ‘business friendly’ – they have plenty of businesses to protect and support after all – while the Mnangagwa group builds on the exposure to Chinese principles of development, with the hope that alliances with the East not the West will see Zimbabwe through (as yet unfulfilled, and with a shrinking possibility as China’s economy contracts). But these differences do not come out clearly in public positions or documents, and we have to look for more subtle inferences and indications to get a sense of underlying positions.
Some in ZANU-PF have accused the Mujuru manifesto of rejecting the land reform and proposing policies that will usher in a recolonization of land by whites. The Herald as the mouthpiece of the party is particularly shrill on this, as is Jonathan Moyo’s twitter feed. But I do not see this in the document. On land it is clear that the establishment of productive agriculture, based on secure tenure, is essential (the same as in Mugabe’s 10-point plan) and that paying compensation to those removed through land reform is crucial (as in the Constitution, and in current government policy – although of course only a small proportion has been paid and constitutionally this is only required for ‘improvements’ to the land). On land, Mujuru, just as the MDC claimed in their last election manifesto, seems committed to the land reform, but emphasises agriculture and productivity, as everyone else. Indeed, at face value, section 6 on land policy seems to have no differences with the current government position.
So it will be the interpretation and realisation of all these policies that will matter, not the documents themselves, as they are open to so much interpretive flexibility. This will depend on how alliances are struck, and who the constituency for any new political formation will be. These manoeuvres in the run-up to 2018 will be vital. ZANU-PF has maintained a constituency that includes large portions of the rural poor, alongside many of the new beneficiaries of the land reform. The MDC opposition parties failed to mobilise these groups, and did not offer a convincing stance on land and rural development, and instead relied on the traditional base of disaffected urban populations, and workers. For a range of reasons – including vote rigging, intimidation but also a failure to engage with rural issues – the opposition failed in 2013, and has imploded since.
A key question is whether People First – or whatever a new party emerges as – can develop a narrative around land and rural development that earlier opposition groups failed to do, and in so doing create an unstoppable vote drawn from the traditional ZANU-PF base. I do not see this appeal to the aspirant rural population – particularly those in the A1 farms, and their natural allies in the communal areas – coming through as yet. The political-economic analysis of Zimbabwe’s dramatically changed rural scene remains very weak across all parties, but as I have argued before, there is an important constituency out there ready to be enlisted, who neither are attracted to ZANU-PF’s tired nationalist discourse, nor the ‘return to commercial farming’ position of the MDC. But instead they will seek to ally themselves with a progressive political voice that understands the consequences of radical land reform, and how this has provided opportunities for a significant number of new, relatively younger, educated and aspiring farmers, well linked to urban and other economic and political circuits.
There are two other factors that will play heavily into the 2018 electoral drama, and will be central to this complex alliance building. The first is regional and ethnic political affiliation. With Mnangagwa and Mujuru potentially pitched against each other, we can see the split among Shona groups becoming more significant, alongside the longstanding Shona/Ndebele divide. This is of course unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable as individuals seek support. Alliance making across such divisions will be crucial, and may require links to and between different MDC factions for a solid electoral bloc to be created. Secondly, of course are alliances with the security services, the securocracy as Ibbo Mandaza calls it. The MDC opposition were of course rejected by the securocrats, some publicly saying they would not serve under a Tsvangirai leadership. But there are divisions now within the military-security elite that play into the new splits within and beyond ZANU-PF. For now, President Mugabe has retained a core group with known affiliations to Mujuru, but there will no doubt be plenty of behind-the-scenes discussions of who will ally with whom in the coming period. Joice Mujuru has promised ‘security reform’ in her manifesto, and this will no doubt please the donors she is wooing, but ensuring a stable transition that brings the security elite with her will be paramount, and having been intimately wrapped up in this political-military establishment with ZANU-PF for so many years, she knows how dangerous and challenging this will be.
While the policy statements will remain bland and general, appealing to everyone and no one, it will be this backroom politics and complex alliance building that will occupy people, and fill the bars and newspaper columns with endless gossip and speculation for the next few years. Hopefully this process of building alliances for the future, from whatever party, will not just happen in elite business-security-political circles as is the default, but will remember the wider population – the electorate – whose trust and commitment has to be sought. The majority of the electorate remains poor and rural, but with a growing group of emergent aspirants who could, if given the chance, drive a new political consensus. It’s going to be a rocky ride, but clearly Zimbabwe’s politics in the next while is not going to be dull.