Some started writing former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s political obituary as soon as President Robert Mugabe’s long-time deputy Joice Mujuru announced her return to politics, with the formation of her Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) party early this year.
The pessimists opined that the only way for Tsvangirai to remain relevant was for the MDC-T leader to form an electoral pact with Mujuru where he would come in as a junior partner.
But like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Tsvangirai used the grand stage last Thursday to remind all and sundry that he has not lost popularity.
After futile attempts by police to block MDC-T’s march against worsening poverty, the economic decline and the much-talked about missing $15 billion diamond revenue, thousands responded to Tsvangirai’s call to show their dissatisfaction with Mugabe’s rule through a march on the streets of Harare.
By mid-day on Thursday, Tsvangirai’s name was dominating world news headlines and those that had written him off as a spent force were being forced to take back their words.
Harare-based political commentator Vivid Gwede said Tsvangirai had shown that he still had what it took to march to State House in the 2018 general elections by pulling a crowd that some estimated at over 5 000.
“The role of opposition parties is to speak to power on issues affecting the people, and this is what Tsvangirai did yesterday [on Thursday]. This puts him on the pedestal,” Gwede said.
“The good attendance at the march puts Tsvangirai back on the radar of Zimbabwe politics in challenging Zanu PF’s imaginary popularity.”
He said the MDC-T had not been showing a significant presence after the electoral loss of 2013 and this could have left some of its supporters demotivated.
“This made their position weaker but the party is now reconnecting with the people. It is establishing itself as a strong opposition to force government to fulfil its promises,” Gwede said
“In the case of Mujuru, it is clear that she still has a lot to do to assert herself as the main opposition. She has tried to mobilise for a diaspora vote in South Africa, but People First is still to get a foothold.
“People First became subdued after its launch and we are still to see if they will maintain the hype that characterised it before it was officially introduced to the nation.”
MDC-T forced Mugabe to the negotiating table to form a government of national unity in 2009 after Tsvangirai thumped the veteran leader in the first round vote.
Some believe Tsvangirai won the vote, but was prevented from taking power by securocrats.
Mugabe has in the past inadvertently let slip that Tsvangirai had won 73% of the vote, but the official line is that the MDC-T leader failed to get past the 50% plus one vote stipulated by the country’s electoral laws.
After the end of the inclusive government, everything appeared to be going downhill for the MDC-T until Tsvangirai, last Thursday reminded his supporters of the heydays when he stormed into Zimbabwean politics.
Tsvangirai was propelled to fame by leading several demonstrations against Mugabe while he was still secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and as the MDC leader in 1999.
But after entering government through a Sadc-negotiated power-sharing agreement after disputed polls, observers said his party became attracted by the luxuries enjoyed by top government officials and lost touch with the masses, until last week’s march.
However, there are some who still believe the veteran trade unionist’s career will not be resurrected.
Zanu PF dismissed Tsvangirai’s march as whistling from the graveyard and a gimmick to lure the international community for funding.
“Those are whistles from the grave, we are not moved, and we are implementing ZimAsset and improving the welfare of our people,” Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo said after the demo.
“A meaningful demonstration that we will talk about is a protest against sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the Americans and their allies at the invitation of the MDC.”
But political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya said the people who attended Tsvangirai’s protest march confirmed that the MDC-T leader’s star was rising.
He said the march showed that Tsvangirai still connected with the people, both in the formal and informal sectors, who were suffering due to Mugabe’s misrule.
“This is the kind of opposition politics we expect from him — being part of the people, feeling their pain and sharing with them their sorrows,” Ruhanya said.
Another political analyst Ernest Mudzengi said: “It is too early to judge. For me, I have never believed that Tsvangirai had fallen. To conclude that he had fallen would be wrong. He has always managed to pull numbers. The issue is about the electoral playing field.”
He said it was only an assumption that Mujuru was more popular than Tsvangirai.
“Those conclusions that Mujuru would be the biggest player were made out of emotions, not facts on the ground.
“We haven’t seen much about Mujuru. That she has the numbers is still mere conjecture. It’s a prediction. Time will tell,” Mudzengi said.
ZimPF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said opposition parties were not in competition, but complementing each other in the fight to dethrone Mugabe.
“We are not in competition. The political space is free, as opposition, our efforts complement each other in fighting the ruling party,” Gumbo said.
Tsvangirai and Mujuru have reportedly been trying to reach out to each other for a possible coalition to remove Mugabe from power. Standard