Rattled by the rise of Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CC) and its close relations with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema’s ruling United Party for National Development (UPND), a Zanu PF delegation led by Secretary for Administration Obert Mpofu this week visited Lusaka to manage – and hopefully improve – frosty diplomatic ties.
Informed sources on both sides of the Zambezi River said this week part of the agenda of the meeting included formal party-to-party introductions; developing a fraternal relationship between the two parties which never existed; opening new lines of communication for engagement; tackling local, regional and international issues of mutual interest and managing the relationship between UPND and CCC – in fact isolating Zimbabwe’s main rebranded opposition.
The sources said Zanu PF was more concerned about sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, the traditional refugee for the party to avoid scrutiny and criticism by neighbours, as well as isolating CCC, while UPND was worried about democracy and good governance issues.
“There were many issues which arose during the meeting that Zanu PF sought. However, for Zanu PF the bottomline was sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs – a Mugabeist philosophy and mindset that still lingers on, while also isolating the CCC in. the process,” a source said.
“For the UPND, it was the issues that Hichilema campaigned on that mattered the most: Democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and economic reform, as well human right and change. That is why in the end, there was no meeting of minds. Both parties hold mutual contempt for each other, hence worlds apart.”
As reported by The NewsHawks, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu PF are worried Hichilema, who campaigned on the ticket of democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and reform – values and issues the authoritarian ruling party in Harare resent – would keep them at bay and support Nelson Chamisa’s CCC.
Persistent attacks on Zanu PF by UPND and subsequent hostile engagements both ways by its youth leader Joseph Kalimbwe and Zimbabwe’s ruling party activists have intensified tensions, especially on social media.
Kalimbwe, who describes Zanu PF as “Lungu’s oppressive friends” and has refused to be intimidated and silenced, has been aggressive in painting Zimbabwe’s ruling party as an authoritarian organisation whose repressive rule has destroyed Zimbabwe. He views Zanu PF leaders as “dictators”.
Anxious and eager to fix the situation before it deteriorates to unmanageable mutual hostilities, Mnangagwa sent a delegation led by Mpofu, which included the party’s secretary for foreign affairs Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and secretary for finance Patrick Chinamasa, to do some troubleshooting.
Mnangagwa, who grew up in Zambia and is to all intents and purposes a Zambian, has been trying to manage icy relations with Hichilema, even going to the extent of claiming they are related. He further said he grew up with Hichilema’s wife in Mumbwa, west of Lusaka, and they both speak Tonga in a desperate bid at appeasement.
Zanu PF fears Hichilema will become part of a network in the region which may aggressively support change and fund the opposition, including the CCC.
Already panic over of a possible Raila Odinga victory over William Ruto in Kenya are heightening anxiety in Harare.
Zanu PF has no relations to talk about with UPND. Hichilema’s landslide against the Patriotic Front and its leader Edgar Lungu, Mnangagwa’s associate, last August created problematic diplomatic relations between Harare and Lusaka, more specifically Zanu PF and the UPND.
Zanu PF relatively had better relations Unip during the late nationalist founding Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda’s time, but had difficulties with Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multi-Party Democracy. Although Kaunda was an ally of Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo rather than Robert Mugabe and his Zanu, after independence tolerance between the two developed.
Chiluba led the struggle to end Kaunda’s one-party rule. In 1991, Chiluba, who died in 2011, won the country’s first multi-party elections to become Zambia’s second president since independence in 1964, although his rule was characterised by a failed democratic transition.
In 2002, Levy Mwanawasa became the third president of Zambia. He served as president from January 2002 until his death in August 2008. During that period, Zambia’s relations with Zimbabwe sunk to an all-time low amid clashes between Mugabe and Mwanwasa mainly at Sadc meetings at the height of the Zimbabwe crisis which had become a regional problem.
Relations improved when Michael Sata became fifth president of Zambia from 2011 to 2014. A social democrat, he led the Patriotic Front, a major political party in Zambia, with close ties to Zanu PF. Lungu ruled after Sata from 2015 to 2021 when Hichilema came in last August.
As reported by The NewsHawks last week, Mnangagwa is worried sick and scared stiff of a major geo-political and electoral shift in the country, following Hichilema’s victory which has spurred opposition parties in the region, hence the visit by Zanu PF officials.
The Mnangagwa administration is closely monitoring Chamisa and Hichilema’s relations and manoeuvres, especially following the local opposition leader’s meetings with the Zambian President twice inside five months; first in Lusaka during his inauguration on 24 August 2021 and recently in South Africa on 26 January during a book launch.
Zanu PF is worried Hichilema, who until last year was an opposition politician, could facilitate funding for Chamisa ahead of next year’s general elections, and is desperate to improve relations with the Zambian president and his party.
Hichilema defeated Mnangagwa’s ally Lungu in the presidential elections after securing a landslide victory last August. He outpolled Lungu by about a million votes, securing 59.02% of the vote compared to Lungu’s 38.71%.
Ahead of the Zambian polls Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba naively labelled opposition leaders in the region, including Hichilema, sell-outs.
Mnangagwa attended Hichilema’s inauguration, but soon after arriving from Lusaka he told party supporters in Mutare that what had happened in Zambia would never happen in Zimbabwe – showing his real attitude towards UPND.
Hichilema also invited opposition officials in the region, including Chamisa. CCC deputy president Tendai Biti and opposition official Gladys Hlatywayo who is the CCC secretary for international relations, also attended the event.
Chamisa and Hichilema have maintained close relations and contact, but the meeting in South Africa on 26 January during the launch of a book written by Dr Greg Mills, entitled Expensive Poverty, Why Aid Fails And How It Can Work, worried Zanu PF.
The book launch was also attended by some businesspeople, including members of the Oppenheimer family, raising fears back in Harare, that a potential funding arrangement could have been organised behind the scenes.
Zanu PF is worried by Kalimbwe’s hostile engagement, which reflected the UPND’s attitude towards it and pushed in Lusaka to isolate the vocal youth leader.
Kalimbwe confirmed to The NewsHawks that Zanu PF complained about him.
“Some people (the Zanu PF delegation) came to Zambia to discuss my tweets and have me isolated. Now their supporters are issuing death threats,” he told The NewsHawks.
However, Kalimbwe has remained unfazed and continues to fire brickbats at Zanu PF.
Before the meeting, Kalimbwe had tweeted: “Lungu’s regional oppressive friends of many years (Zanu PF) are in town, hoping to create new friendships.”
On Wednesday, the day the meeting was held, he called on regional leaders to abandon silent diplomacy and confront dictators, in an apparent reference to Zanu PF, which reflects the UPND’s attitude towards Zimbabwe’s ruling party.
“The politics of silent diplomacy is not doing our region and continent any good. We must call out human rights violators for what they truly are – oppressors. They have blood on their hands,” he tweeted.
Asked what issues were discussed, UPND spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa declined to comment, saying he was not part of the meeting and had not been briefed about its outcome.
UPND national chairperson Stephen Katuka, who attended the meeting, was not available to comment.
Following the meeting, Mpofu released a statement hailing the UPND, which he said has never sold out, in an apparent swipe at CCC, formerly the MDC Alliance, while trying to curry favour with the Zambian ruling party in a bid to drive a wedge between the two.
“We fully respect the UPND for being a purely home-grown opposition whose agenda is more internally influenced than it is externally enforced,” Mpofu said.
“First and foremost, UPND’s rise to power was a result of a democratic electoral process. The UPND has no record of inviting external measures to destabilise Zambia’s economy. The UPND is not famed for instigating external measures which paralysed the health sector to generate a public outcry for regime change in Zambia.
“The UPND’s rise was never influenced by external pressure which compromised the rights of the ordinary men, women and children in Zambia. Therefore, we respect the UPND’s legitimacy and integrity to govern and we will be committed to support it whenever need continues to arise at any moment.
“Zanu PF and UPND also identified various areas of mutual interest especially with regards to the need for the effective implementation of democracy and good governance values for sustainable nation-building goals in Zambia and Zimbabwe. We have agreed to also normalise an increased frequency of high-level meetings between our parties. We also agreed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.”