Newly-elected Norton legislator Temba Mliswa says a grand opposition coalition led by indomitable MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and including war veterans, will beat President Robert Mugabe and his warring Zanu-PF hands down in the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.
The gutsy Mliswa said among the lessons that long-suffering Zimbabweans and the country’s brutalised opposition could learn from his stunning victory last Saturday, was that they could once again defeat Mugabe and Zanu-PF, just as Tsvangirai and the MDC had done in 2008 — as the ruling party was “nothing” without the backing of war veterans.
Indeed, and despite battering and bribing voters with residential stands, as well as printing and distributing fake MDC flyers to confuse the people of Norton, Zanu-PF was given a royal hiding in last weekend’s keenly-followed by-election in the constituency which was resoundingly won by the former ruling party bigwig.
Mliswa blew out of the water Zanu-PF’s little-known Ronald Chindedza to win the Norton by-election, which came about following the expulsion of former war veterans’ leader and Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvangwa from the ruling party — which is being devoured by its seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars.
He polled 8 927 votes to Chindedza’s 6 192, to deliver a hammer blow to Zanu-PF which was bidding to avoid defeat in Mugabe’s own backyard, as well as preventing disgruntled war veterans who campaigned for Mliswa from gaining a measure of revenge on Mugabe and his former liberation movement, following their recent hounding out of the party.
This was also despite the fact that the Norton by-election had been marked by violence, the controversial parcelling out of residential stands and mega rallies by vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, among other prominent Zanu-PF politicians, as they drummed up support for Chindedza.
Analysts and opposition officials who spoke to the Daily News at the weekend also said Mliswa’s unexpected victory had raised optimism among both pro-democracy groups and the ranks of the opposition that the 2018 national elections could be up for the taking.
Speaking yesterday, Mliswa said the support that he had received from Tsvangirai and the MDC, war veterans, village heads and ordinary Zimbabweans, among many other people, was both “amazing and critical”, and a sign-post to what would happen in 2018 if “like-minded people come together”.
“To be honest and truthful, I wouldn’t have won this seat had it not been for Morgan Tsvangirai. He promised to support me to make sure that I win the election and true to his word, he came to the party. He dispatched his team and MDC vice president Nelson Chamisa was actually on the ground campaigning for me.
“Even when Zanu-PF unleashed violence on us, Chamisa was caught in the crossfire and inhaled teargas just like all of us. It’s a fact of life that Tsvangirai has the people. It took him just to advise his structures to work with me and victory was delivered.
“The war veterans also played a crucial role in my victory. That is why it is important for Tsvangirai to lead the planned opposition grand coalition in 2018 which will involve everyone, including war veterans,” Mliswa said.
“If Tsvangirai decides to accommodate Mai Mujuru, then so be it, but that man is not only popular and genuine, he is also a natural leader and a father figure. The people of Zimbabwe like him and we can’t take that away from him.
“The problem with many of the country’s leadership is that they only think about themselves and not the people. I am grateful for the support I received from Tsvangirai and the MDC, as well as war veterans and the PDP (People’s Democratic Party),” he added.
Elaborating further on the possible role that Mujuru could take in the mooted coalition, Mliswa said “the problem with People First is that it has relegated the founders to the terraces”, after “she was invited to the party”.
“My concern is that Mujuru is trying to relegate people like (former State Security minister Didymus) Mutasa and (former Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare) Gumbo when they are the founders of the party. Those people principally suffered for Mujuru.
“In Norton, we stood up against the brutal Zanu-PF regime. The election was testing the coalition and electoral reforms and I don’t have to be a member of the MDC to support Tsvangirai. Zanu-PF rigs elections but without war veterans they are nothing.
People should also realise that both Mujuru and (vice president) Emmerson Mnangagwa were hand-picked by Mugabe while Tsvangirai has his own massive constituency. So let’s all back Tsvangirai for 2018,” he said.
Mliswa’s Norton victory has put the burning Zanu-PF in more turmoil, amid divisive accusations and counter accusations of internal sabotage by warring factions angling to take-over the reigns from Mugabe.
Meanwhile, MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News yesterday that Mliswa’s victory offered the opposition “a launch pad” for the proposed grand coalition.
“This is very good news that creates the possibility of having a grand coalition to confront the Zanu-PF regime in 2018. United we are stronger and divided we are weaker. The people of Zimbabwe can rest assured that the coalition is coming. The Zanu-PF regime will be history come the next elections,” he said.
Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said any attempts to derail the mooted grand coalition would not prevail.
“As ZPF, we know there are people desperate to scuttle the proposed coalition of opposition political parties and part of the strategy is straining relationships among the top leaders of the parties involved.
“However, we know that the will of the people, which is to see a united opposition in 2018, will be respected and is on firm ground. It can never be derailed by contrived statements cooked by enemies of the people and mischievously attributed to our leaders,” he said.
Speaking at the weekend, political analyst and former civic leader, Gladys Hlatywayo, urged the opposition to build on Mliswa’s victory which she said had been made necessary by a united approach.
“Lessons learnt here are that a united front of the opposition coupled with lack of elite cohesion in the ruling party, can be lethal to Zanu-PF. The opposition needs to be crafty going forward, especially on the reform agenda, to ensure that the election process is democratic and immune to the electoral shenanigans of yesteryear.
“The united front forged by the opposition was crucial. The war veterans ditched the ruling party and supported Mliswa. Having been part of the ruling party himself, Mliswa was able to withstand Zanu-PF’s intimidation and violence and fought for the seat.
“The manner in which (Zanu-PF national political commissar Saviour) Kasukuwere conceded defeat also signals a willingness to re-strategise on Zanu-PF’s part and the opposition must equally up its game,” Hlatywayo said.
University of Zimbabwe politics professor, Eldred Masunungure, said while it was too early to read “too much” into Mliswa’s shock victory, Zanu-PF could expect more shocks in the 2018 polls.
“One swallow does not make a summer and this is only one victory out of dozens other by-elections since 2013. In addition, Norton has traditionally been an MDC seat and the 2013 result was rather weird.
“Nonetheless it is a cardinal lesson for Zanu-PF that patronage has its limits. You can dole out 9 000 stands but still get 6 000 votes. This is also so, considering the amount of effort that was put in by Zanu-PF, with two vice presidents going there to try and persuade and force the electorate, or both.
“It is a lesson for 2018 that they can expect to see repeated. They are reaping what they are sowing through the partisan distribution of food aid and other electoral ills,” Masunungure said.
Zanu-PF insiders also said that Mliswa’s victory was a significant blow to the ruling party, adding that disaffected party bigwigs and war veterans, who had a stunning fall out with Mugabe earlier this year, had vigorously campaigned to ensure that Zanu-PF did not win the seat.
The ex-combatants served Mugabe with divorce papers in July to end a long relationship which dated back to the days of the 1970s liberation struggle. This was after the war veterans’ executive issued a damning communiqué in which they said churlishly that the nonagenarian was now “a hard sell” for the 2018 national elections.