Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Zimbabwe’s ‘odd couple’ hope to oust Mugabe

AFP, HARARE

One is a female former teenage guerrilla fighter who became Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s closest ally, the other is a battle-hardened opposition leader often dismissed as a busted flush.

Despite their differences, Joice Mujuru and Morgan Tsvangirai are in talks to lead a united opposition alliance to try to unseat Mugabe in Zimbabwe’s election next year.

The president, 93, has vowed to stand again to extend his rule, which began in 1980 and has been dominated by economic collapse and political repression.

His ZANU-PF party has a stranglehold on government, the civil service and military, and has a record of election interference and voter intimidation that presents a formidable obstacle for any challenger.

“For us, it is more the merrier in this opposition alliance,” Mujuru told reporters, speaking in the garden of her large house on outskirts of Harare.

“This is a coming-together in great numbers as a democratic force that should give confidence to our people,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s history of violent and fraud-riddled elections has eroded public trust in voting, but the coalition leaders hope a unified alternative to Mugabe will produce a high turnout that would make it harder to rig the result.

“I don’t expect Mugabe to say: ‘I am going to create conditions for free and fair elections,’” Tsvangirai, 65, told reporters at his office in a tower block in central Harare. “We need 80 percent participation, not 40 percent. If there is an overwhelming verdict, there will be no one who will stand in the way of the people.”

Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, knows first-hand the dangers of tangling with Mugabe’s regime.

Since emerging as an antigovernment trade unionist in the 1980s, he has often been targeted by the security forces and was brutally assaulted by police in 2007.

He won the most votes in the first-round of the 2008 presidential elections, but poll officials said it was not enough to avoid a run-off against Mugabe.

As ZANU-PF loyalists unleashed a wave of violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of the race and became prime minister in a power-sharing government in which he was widely seen as being outmanoeuvered by Mugabe.

“ZANU-PF has not won recent elections, it has rigged them,” Tsvangirai said.

“Anyone who is interested in ending ZANU-PF should unite, in spite of ideological differences,” he said.

“I think she [Mujuru] means well. I mean well. People will realize both of us are committed to the process,” he said.

Many of Tsvangirai’s supporters and anti-Mugabe activists view Mujuru as an untrustworthy opposition voice.

She served for 34 years as a loyal ZANU-PF minister and was a favorite to succeed Mugabe. As a youth, she fought in the war against colonial rule and was famed for shooting down an enemy helicopter.

However, in 2014 she was ousted as the country’s vice-president in a purge when Mugabe’s wife, Grace, accused her of plotting a coup.

After forming the new National People’s Party, 62-year-old Mujuru might draw some support from former ZANU-PF voters, women, the business community and even disgruntled members of the military.

Seen as a relative moderate within Mugabe’s circle, she recalls working well with Tsvangirai during the 2008-2013 power-sharing government.

“For me, it was a chance of seeing Zimbabweans working together in a more harmonious way,” she said. “I was one of the very few people who was always receptive to opposition parties.”

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