ZIMBABWE People First (ZimPF) leader, Joice Mujuru, whose entry onto the political stage last year was welcomed, as a breath of fresh air, has over the past few months disappeared into the background, much to the chagrin of the party’s supporters.
Mujuru’s absence from the public arena has been made more conspicuous by her competitors’ recent grand-standing, with
Zanu PF last week staging its million man-march to reaffirm its support for President Robert Mugabe and the MDC-T holding its own demonstration in Bulawayo, where they painted the city red at the weekend.
Many of ZimPF’s supporters are now questioning if their leader would be able to stand the heat in the run up to the 2018 elections and if she has the credentials, as an alternative, as Mugabe continues to entrench his hold on power, while Morgan Tsvangirai continues as the face of the opposition.
Mujuru’s last public appearance was three months ago, when she was interviewed by a South African radio station.
After the interview, in which she received criticism on social media and political circles for performing badly, she went into hibernation and has not granted any interviews or made any public appearances since.
Party spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo said Mujuru’s absence from the public eye was part of their strategy, promising she will bounce back soon.
“I can assure you that she is there and something is being planned. She will soon be available for you to speak to her and the local media,” he said.
Zanu PF politburo member, Jonathan Moyo recently took to social media and had a go at Mujuru’s self-imposed exile, saying it was because she had realised she did not have support and had decided to withdraw from the public glare.
“Mujuru is struggling to get 100 people to attend her party’s rallies, which explains why she’s in hiding,” Moyo posted on Twitter.
Political analyst, Eldred Masunungure said if this was Mujuru’s strategy, it was “a very bad strategy”, which she needed to discard as a matter of urgency.
“If a party leader goes awol (absent without leave) it creates serious problems and politically it’s a non-starter, a poor tactic, which needs to be done away with, totally abandoned,” he said.
Masunungure said, as a leader, Mujuru was supposed to be a connector and a bridge between the party and the people by staying in constant touch with her support base.
“It doesn’t work that way in politics. If you are quiet and inactive, while shying away from the people, you will not connect with the people or potential support. If the March interview was bad, she has to take it as a learning curve because you don’t become a brilliant political leader overnight,” he said.
Gweru lawyer, Brian Dube said it appeared as if Mujuru was being forced into politics, yet she did not want and blamed her advisors for keeping her away from the people.
“There is no political strategy that takes away political leaders from their supporters. It appears there is too much hand holding of Mujuru and most of her communication is being handled by advisors of poor strategy,” he said.
Dube said Mujuru has to be out and about so people can judge her based on her competences.
He said if Mujuru was inaccessible at this early stage when she was not even a president, it could be worse when she gets into power.
“Imagine she is just in opposition and has the luxury of going into hibernation for three months, what will happen if she becomes President, she might go for the whole year hiding at her farm,” he said.
Media, communication and leadership expert, Maggie Mzumara, however, came to Mujuru’s defence, arguing that she was working underground.
“It is not a fact that Mujuru has disappeared. Mujuru has never for once stopped working to build her party since and before it became official. Just because you have not personally seen her does not mean she has withdrawn,” she said.
“Political mobilisation has different approaches. From what I have seen, Mujuru has been employing a lot of retail politics, where she meets with smaller and focused groups to mobilise and build structures, as opposed to perhaps the wholesale rallies most people are used to.”
Human rights activist, Gladys Hlatshwayo said Mujuru’s silence, two years before an election, was worrisome and cast her in bad light given her Zanu PF links.
“Mujuru must be decisive. Her disappearance and silence only serve to confirm rumours she is still to cut her umbilical cord with Zanu PF. The nation is gripped by serious challenges that range from economic to political problems. “Surely, if you are an opposition leader worth their salt, you must provide leadership and defend the people from the decayed and decomposed leadership of today,” she said.
Mujuru came into the opposition political fray early this year, with drama and excitement at a local hotel, where she held her first Press conference a year after she was unceremoniously booted out of Zanu PF following a slew of allegations, in a campaign spearheaded by First Lady Grace Mugabe.
She declared Zimbabwe was “a broken State crying out for transformation” and represented the hope of many people tired of Zanu PF and disillusioned by the MDC