HARARE – The fledgling National Patriotic Front (NPF) — the new political outfit which is linked to former president Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace — reiterated yesterday that it was in advanced discussions with the MDC Alliance on the two parties working together.
At the same time, analysts warned that the country’s main opposition risked receiving a massive hiding in next month’s eagerly anticipated national elections if it goes ahead with the plan to work with the new political formation.
This comes as the NPF and the main MDC formation led by Nelson Chamisa are said to have recently held a “top secret” meeting in Cape Town, South Africa — where it was alleged Mugabe and his wife wanted to be involved in choosing the MDC Alliance’s vice president.
It also comes as a large cross-section of Zimbabweans, including civic society leaders, have warned the MDC Alliance about the dangers of embracing the NPF — which last week sacked its interim leader Ambrose Mutinhiri, moments after announcing it was backing Chamisa in next month’s presidential poll.
Yesterday, the NPF’s secretary-general, Shadreck Mashayamombe, also moved to give the clearest indication to date that the Mugabe-backed party would contest elections under the MDC Alliance banner — disclosing that negotiations had reached an advanced stage.
“There is only one game in town and that is the (MDC) Alliance. We have not agreed on seats yet, but we will certainly get there,” a cagey Mashayamombe told the Daily News.
Other well-placed sources said the MDC Alliance had apparently given the NPF four seats — including in Harare South where Mashayamombe was MP before he was sacked from Zanu PF after Mugabe resigned as the country’s president on the back of military intervention.
The other three constituencies involved one in Chiredzi, another in Kwekwe Central — which was once occupied by Masango Matambanadzo (Blackman) who was sacked also from Zanu PF — and the last one in Bulawayo.
At the weekend, NPF interim president Eunice Sandi Moyo also suggested that they were likely to get more seats in the MDC Alliance, despite spirited denials by the main opposition.
The sudden appearance of the NPF in the opposition mix, which was first hinted during the Alliance’s hugely successful demonstration against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) last week, has thrown the chances of Zapu joining the pact into serious doubt.
Last week, Chamisa was on the verge of inking a coalition deal with veteran politician and Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, who yesterday revealed that there was no movement on the talks.
“We have met with the MDC. Actually, we met last week and we gave them our proposal and now we are waiting for their response.
“We will make a decision tomorrow (today) if there is nothing from them,” Dabengwa said.
Chamisa, the MDC Alliance presidential candidate, has emerged as a serious challenger to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in next month’s elections.
The looming national elections have generated such interest among both ordinary Zimbabweans and ambitious politicians alike that a number of opposition leaders are set to contest Mnangagwa in the presidential plebiscite.
The polls themselves will be the first in the past two decades not to feature Mugabe and the late MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai who lost his valiant battle with cancer of the colon in February.
Chamisa has been packing rally venues to the rafters, but the MDC Alliance’s dalliances with the NPF have unsettled some people within the opposition — including dashing talks to mend an ugly rift with the leader of the splinter MDC faction led by Thokozani Khupe, whose party said it would not tolerate any association with the Mugabes.
“Robert Mugabe is yesterday’s man. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“The sun has set on Mugabe’s political career. That’s for sure. For almost four decades, Mugabe was at the helm of a repressive, fascist, dictatorial and deeply corrupt regime.
“He brooked no opposition, both internal and external. For anyone to therefore think that they can reap political capital from embracing Mugabe’s political cadaver simply boggles the mind.
“The MDC-T led by Dr. Thokozani Khupe will not collaborate with any political formation that is repressive, oppressive and corrupt.
“We are a very principled political party. We don’t believe in adopting desperate and opportunistic political alliances and associations.
“We don’t sup with the devil. We are not Machiavellian,” Khupe’s deputy Obert Gutu said.
Meanwhile, political analysts warned that the MDC Alliance was at the risk of losing some support by hobnobbing with the NPF.
“As for Mugabe’s political cachet and whether the Alliance needs him, my sense is that it is impossible to say at this juncture.
“The Afrobarometer survey shows a continued measure of support for Mugabe, but you can’t just add that to Chamisa’s numbers. Many in his ranks revile Mugabe and his wife.
“How would they react if such a pact was foisted on them. I think the negative blowback amongst Alliance partners for such a deal would probably outweigh any gains,” Piers Pigou, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group, said.
Professor of World Politics at the London School of Oriental and African studies Stephen Chan said the MDC should exclude NPF from its pact with other political parties.
“Such an alliance would be purely opportunistic, but strange things happen in politics.
“Having said that, I think the NPF brings very little to the MDC. The entire MDC SMART platform (manifesto) is about moving away from the past — so incorporating this part of the past is a mistake.
“Having said that also, if the NPF brings with it personnel and experience in electoral malpractice, it may be that the MDC wishes to benefit from this kind of knowledge to prevent any malpractice in July.
“As a purely political move, I do not think Mugabe holds any significant residual affection amongst the voting public. I think everyone wants to move on.
“Indeed, what can an old man with a very small party do, especially if it is part of a large alliance with many small party leaders?
“So the NPF would have little clout within the MDC — but, at the same time, the MDC actually doesn’t need the NPF in voting terms,” Chan said.
Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said Mugabe should not be accommodated in any coalition because when people marched on the streets of Harare last year, along with the military, they were giving him marching orders.
“People are fed up with Mugabe and marched with the military in November to remove Mugabe. They still don’t like him.
“The (MDC) Alliance is fooling itself to think that Mugabe has any political currency that can help them win votes. It’s enough in the Alliance to have a couple of principals bringing nothing but themselves alone.
“It’s unnecessary to complicate matters by bringing Mugabe who was retired to Blue House by all to an Alliance that has a lot of ‘sleeping partners’ already!
“This development confirms various issues . . . that there may be Zanu PF infiltration in the Alliance in high places and that the Alliance is not about what the people want but just power grab,” Saungweme said.
Mugabe resigned from office late last year, a few hours after Parliament had initiated proceedings to impeach him — after he had refused to leave office during eight tense days that began with the military intervening in the governance of the country.
But the 94-year-old has stunned Zimbabweans in recent months by re-entering the political arena and holding several meetings with opposition leaders and some former Zanu PF bigwigs — including openly lending his support to the NPF.