THE nomination court has sat and registered aspiring candidates for the upcoming polls. The process was marred with drama generally, but it was the presumptive presidential candidates that provided the most entertainment.
It started with Saviour Kasukuwere selling a dummy about his travel back to Zimbabwe, which gave rise to the moniker ‘Passenger 34’. Some juvenile James Bond branding gimmick that impressionable fanatics swallowed hook, line, and sinker! I will not be feeding from that frenzy.
On the same day, Linda Masarira, Elisabeth Valerio, and the overhyped all-hat-and-no-cowboy Robert Chapman provided the icing on the drama. They failed to pay the presidential nomination on time — or ever.
The US$20 000 presidential nomination fee seems like a good filter for chancers and POLADprenuers if you ask me.
But, they are not the focus of my missive this week, as the heading already suggests. I am more interested in the passenger, who never was! Saviour Kasukuwere.
Is his bid for president a serious and realistic enterprise anchored on realpolitik, or is it just the usual popular delusion — a virus so amok around elections?
The above subheading is the title of a book by Charles Mackay, a mid-nineteenth-century journalist and student of crowd psychology. It explores how easily popular opinion or narrative can mislead even ordinarily level-headed people to lose their heads and think contrary to conventional logic.
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Written back in 1841, this book is quite an apt reference point for every election season in Zimbabwe as the mania of delusion visits even the seemingly rational.
We have had our unfair share of delusional presidential wannabes. But, I genuinely do not believe that Kasukuwere is delusional. At least, that is my hope. Neither do I think he is naïve to believe that he can win the presidential contest.
The framing of my arguments in this article is based on this premise. And, if I am not misrepresenting him as a rational consequentialist, who is considerably experienced in political craft, then he has different objectives. Running as an independent is obviously not the best thing and is clearly not by design but rather by desperation.
But let us already disabuse ourselves of this self-serving independent candidate label.
To present Kasukuwere as an independent candidate is to be overly generous with definitions. For all intents and purposes, he is independent only in name. Like other former Zanu PF ‘independent candidates’’ including Margaret Dongo, Jonathan Moyo, and Temba Mliswa, he remains tethered to some faction of the ruling party and probably has support from some influential bigwigs inside.
His campaign messaging so far, including the letter announcing his candidacy, clearly shows that he considers himself a Zanu PF candidate, targeting disenchanted Zanu PF members.
For a discerning analyst, he is still on the 2017 G40-Lacoste pedestal and sees his participation in this election as a continuation of that fight. He is clearly positioning himself as a Zanu PF double candidate. I will explore how he hopes to profit from this positioning, including my thoughts about whether he stands a chance or not.
Be that as it may, his entrance into the election has already shifted the contours of engagement and has revealed his mettle for innovation and pace-setting.
One boon in Kasukuwere’s bonnet is that he seems to have surrounded himself with a competent team and good political communication advisors. From the ‘Passenger 34’ branding to the whirlwind media campaign in South Africa, he undeniably proves his political communication acumen.
Whether he will maintain that momentum or not will become apparent in the next weeks as electioneering heats up and the campaign trail becomes more gruelling.
His South African media campaign was a well-thought-out publicity coup. Knowing the constrained space for opposition politicians within the broadcasting sector in Zimbabwe, he knew it would be difficult for him to get noticed or communicate his message effectively once in Zimbabwe. He should know this very well, having been part of the Robert Mugabe architects for that very same monopolisation of the broadcast media by Zanu PF.
It is safe to hazard that every household with a television has access to some South African media channels and probably watches them more than local programmes. This is precisely what Kasukuwere counted on, and indeed, he stole the thunder and executed a publicity coup!
Not to be outdone, Nelson Chamisa, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Presidential candidate and Monica Mutsvangwa, the Minister of Broadcasting and Information Publicity, invaded the South African airwaves to counter the apparent free media reign of the fabled passenger-in-waiting. He set the pace, and they followed!
Well and good, but will this help him win?
Kasukuwere’s idea of winning
Whether or not Kasukuwere will win depends on what is his idea of winning. As suggested earlier, he is not delusional or naive – I hope. If he knows that he will not win the presidential poll - which he will not, then what would he profit from such a seemingly fool’s errand?
The answer is not as simple as the question may seem to suggest. It lies in scenario mapping of what he thinks are likely outcomes influenced by his candidacy.
If you can’t win, don’t lose
Legendary Dutch footballer and manager Johan Cruyff once counselled his team, ‘If you can’t win, make sure you don’t lose!” This oxymoron may best describe the first intention that can be read from Kasukuwere’s candidacy. In this case, his objective would be to ensure President Emmerson Mnangagwa does not win the first round.
Far from being some cold revenge scheme, this is a measured pursuit whose outcome would be to deny incumbent President Mnangagwa and CCC leader Nelson Chamisa the 50%+1 votes required to win the first round of polls.
If this happens, a presidential run-off election will be held for the two top contenders. He will not be on the ballot for this one, but if he manages to cause such an upset resulting in a re-run, then he becomes the kingmaker.
He hopes, in my view, to weaponise his first-round electoral outcome as a bargaining chip in case of a re-run. He would then choose whom between the two candidates to endorse and support in return for some concessions.
He would not have won, but again he would not have lost. Johan Cruyff would be proud from yonder for such a feat.
But, this is easier said, not easily done. I will unpack my scepticism in a moment. For now, let me indulge in these entertaining vanities.
The GNU nostalgia
In his messaging, Kasukuwere keeps invoking the GNU nostalgia and promises to constitute a unity government should he win. Packaged as statesmanship and inclusivity by this self-proclaimed unifier, it is but a sober realisation that he has no other choice!
Without parliamentary candidates, how else would he constitute a government? That is the only clear, though remotely possible path to the creation of a unity government.
Before the opposition gets carried away, if a re-run was to be held between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, there is no logical explanation for why he would throw in his lot with Chamisa.
What would he gain in the long run? It would be logical for him to throw in his lot with Zanu PF and negotiate for accommodation and re-admission into the party. He clearly seeks a way back in, and this could be it.
On another plane, if Kasukuwere were to win–which he will not, it would just be a Zanu PF factional triumph, and he would sooner have Zanu PF on his side, constituting a Zanu PF government.
Has the opposition not learned the lesson of the November 2017 transition aftermath so generously dispensed by Patrick Chinamasa? Clearly, Kasukuwere positions his campaign as a continuation of the 2017 factional contest. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!
The anatomy for the birth of GNU
I may be bursting some people’s fool’s paradise bubble by this framing. I apologise, but facts are stubborn.
Okay, for academic purposes, let us say, indeed, a GNU is on the cards, how and why would it come into being?
A unity government is usually formed due to a state of emergency or a crisis such as a war, a natural disaster, or an economic crisis. In 2008, there was a convergence of an irretrievably broken economy, a disputed election, and a run-off that lacked credibility due to widespread violence and a poll where only Robert Mugabe was the candidate after late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew.
The country was at the precipice of collapse. All this created a perfect storm for a serious legitimacy crisis, resulting in mediation and the amendment of the constitution to create a GNU.
None of these conditions are present now. Granted, we are facing a dire economic situation, but it is not enough for President Mnangagwa or Chamisa to want to create a GNU should either of them win. One would have to manufacture a legitimacy crisis for such to happen. At present, I do not see how.
Another explanation could be that Kasukuwere is just seeking relevance within the political arena, having been on the periphery for more than five years.
An election contest will bring him back into the political space and ensure he remains a force to reckon with. So far, he seems to be proving his relevance if the rush to contest his dominance of the South African media landscape last week is anything to go by.
But this would be a massive gamble.
If he fails to garner a significant percentage of the vote, he would have achieved the opposite — proving his irrelevance. He would have condemned himself to the dustbin of Zimbabwe’s unforgiving electoral politics. Ask Simba Makoni, Elton Mangoma, and others of such stock.
Another dimension is that he may be angling to position himself for the Zanu PF succession race after Mnangagwa. Short of amending the constitution, this would be the President’s last term should he win the general election.
As such, the battle for his succession will gain momentum soon after the 2023 elections. Kasukuwere may be seeing the absence of a clear successor as an opportunity to announce his presence and readiness to take over.
Age is on his side, and he commands considerable gravitas within the party and its associated stockholders hence he may be a real contender in the looming Zanu PF succession contest. To do that, he must prove his mettle and, in the process, his relevance.
Will he win, though?
The big question that remains is, ‘will he win?’ In this case, I consider winning to be within the frame of garnering enough votes to cause a re-run and profit from concessions he will get from supporting one of the two contenders.
My view is that he will not garner enough votes to be a factor even in the event of a re-run. A re-run may happen without him having caused it. There is nothing on the ground to suggest that he has the numbers beside some anecdotal reference to the G40 residue in the party.
While there may be significant G40 remnants in the party, experience has proven that Zanu PF members are not loyal to personalities or ideas but to power.
They will vote, whichever, way they think the pendulum of power is swinging. This enables them to continue the extraction of benefits from a patronage system anchored on proximity to state resources and institutions.
I still remember a week in November 2017 when Zanu PF provinces passed a vote of no confidence on Mnangagwa when he was fired from the government.
The following week they passed a vote of no confidence on Mugabe when it was clear that his presidency was on the ropes. The pendulum had swung in a different direction. Trust Zanu PF supporters to know where their bread is buttered. In pursuit of the benefits of patronage and rent extraction, they are loyal only to power. At this point, Kasukuwere has none.
False equivalence with Makoni
I have heard arguments that equate Kasukuwere’s bid with the Simba Makoni presidential candidacy that triggered a re-run after he garnered 8,3% votes in 2008, denying both Tsvangirai and Mugabe the 50%+1 threshold.
This comparison is a nice self-pleasuring narrative that seeks to draw a false equivalence. For Makoni to garner such a significant percentage, he had the support of three small political parties.
It was his Mavambo Kusile Dawn, Welshman’s variant of the MDC, and Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu. The latter two parties had boots on the ground, especially in the Matabeleland region. At this point, Kasukuwere has no party backing him, neither does he have any presence on the ground whatsoever, and it is only two months before the polls.
The sober view
When all have been cast and counted, Kasukuwere’s presidential bid, fun and exciting as it promises to be, and despite pursuing seemingly realistic objectives, will not result in any major disruption in the outcome of the election. It is a big storm in a teacup!
This is my sober view; I take no prisoners!
Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. — Twitter: @NtandoDumani