Africa

Zim: Has Simba found his roar?

Takudzwa Munyaka

The former Zanu-PF leader is playing coy on plans to lead a grand coalition against President Robert Mugabe.

Food aid is needed in the rural areas and maize is imported from Zambia, while leaders like Simba Makoni have visions of an alliance being formed to bring democracy to the country. (Shepherd Tozvireva)

Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader Simba Makoni, a former Zanu-PF politburo member and finance minister who has been mentioned as the possible leader of a grand opposition alliance, says he is willing to take up that role – although he will not lobby for the position.

A coalition is being discussed by opposition parties, business leaders and civil society.

Makoni, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian, said he strongly believed that the grand coalition should “exclude no one” – in sharp contrast to some proponents of the coalition such as MDC leader Welshman Ncube, who has openly said any alliance should not include his archrival MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he says has failed the democracy test.

“I can tell you that nobody has approached me with the idea [that he leads the coalition]. I"m not soliciting for that role and it"s not the first time that my name has been thrown into leadership … Even in Zanu-PF that was the case, and I appreciate that, but I am not canvassing,” Makoni said.

Asked specifically whether he was willing to take up the position if he was asked to, Makoni said: “Look, I have been in a leadership role at different times in the last 20 years or so and I have always accepted that, not for myself but as a service to my country.”

Talks of a grand coalition that would be strong enough to dislodge Zanu-PF from power in Zimbabwe’s next general elections in 2018 have been gathering momentum since Zanu-PF controversially romped to victory in last year’s general elections. The electoral loss caused serious rifts in the MDC-T with some officials, led by secretary general Tendai Biti and deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma, calling for Tsvangirai’s resignation.

Talks
The officials then started pushing for a coalition with other, smaller parties that would exclude Tsvangirai after he refused to step down.

They have been in talks with Makoni and Ncube who have also been pushing the idea about the need for “democratic forces” to come together and form an alliance.

Last month Bitis renewal team held a national council meeting at which they announced the suspension of Tsvangirai and other senior officials.

Biti announced that the renewal team would now work towards establishing a grand coalition, saying Tsvangirai “can no longer be considered as a democrat or comrade in this struggle, is clearly unsuitable and has disqualified himself as a fit and proper patriot with the legitimacy, credibility, ability, decency or honesty of leading and executing the democratic struggle in Zimbabwe”.

Makoni, however, said it was important to bring everyone on board for the grand coalition to be a success.

“If someone opts out by themselves it is their right to do so. We should not say so and so should not be involved.”

He said even Zanu-PF officials would be welcome to join the grand coalition as there were many progressive officials in the party.

“This is not about power and force. It’s about service. It’s not about who is the biggest, who is the strongest or who is the most powerful. Collectively we can all contribute and there must be a total buy-in from all players,” he said.

Makoni said he had been pushing for a coalition for a long time.

“I am not the only one who believes in a grand coalition but I have been talking about it since I left Zanu-PF in 2008,” he said.

“In January 2012 I talked about what I termed a grand coalition for change and since then others have talked about the same thing although with different names, be it broad alliance, united democratic front, grand alliance or big tent, the idea is the same.”

Makoni said he had held several bilateral meetings with other leaders in recent months about the idea, but no formal meetings had been held.

He said the different players working towards the grand coalition had built a “very strong consensus” for co-operation in the past two months.

But a decision about whether to collapse the parties and form one party or whether political parties should maintain their organisational autonomy but form alliances during elections had not been reached, because formal talks had not yet begun, he said.

Convention
Those pushing for the grand coalition are planning a convention to discuss how the alliance will be structured. 

Makoni said: “We don"t have to have one party to work together.” He said in mature democracies unified politics is achieved simply by agreeing and working together.

The former finance minister said his vision for the coalition is that it should not be for politicians alone and should include business, church and traditional leaders, among others.

The grand coalition was aimed at, among other things, fostering national unity and finding solutions to the problems bedevilling the country, he said.

Makoni’s name had once featured prominently in the short list of those who were likely to succeed Mugabe as he was seen as well educated and level-headed.

He had also been seen as a compromised candidate in the factional-riddled Zanu-PF, although around 2008 there was talk that the Mujuru camp was pushing him to challenge Mugabe.

Even when Zanu-PF’s popularity waned, Makoni was being mentioned as a person who would be able to turn around the fortunes of the party given that he was liked in both business and diplomatic circles.

At the age of 30, Makoni became one of Zimbabwe"s youngest ministers after he was appointed deputy agriculture minister before heading the industry and energy development portfolio.

He is a former executive secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community.

In 2002 he was fired as minister of finance by Mugabe for insisting that the Zimbabwean dollar should be devalued.

He left the party in 2008 to form Mavambo, a move that rocked Zanu-PF, but he has not done well at the polls in successive elections.

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