Simba Makoni joins presidential race
By Lance Guma
05 February 2008
Former finance minister Simba Makoni has made a spectacular u-turn by announcing he will contest the presidential elections in 52 days time. This is despite him holding a private meeting with Mugabe at state house two weeks ago at which his grievances with the party were said to have been resolved. All that seems to have been cast aside after Makoni was barred from challenging Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in Zanu PF primary elections for the newly created, Makoni constituency. Makoni, who is a member of the influential Zanu PF politburo, said his decision followed ‘extensive and intensive consultations with party members and activists countrywide.’ He said he shared, ‘the agony and anguish of all citizens,’ who have had to endure extreme hardships for nearly 10 years.
On Tuesday Newsreel spoke to Makoni who said he still hopes to be an official Zanu PF candidate. However he said he doubts he will be accepted, given the way he had announced his candidature. Pressed on whether he will lead a political party to challenge for the parliamentary seats, Makoni said all he was interested in at the moment was the presidency. He said the team working behind him will put together another press conference some time next week at which they will articulate their policies and what they have to offer the people of Zimbabwe.
The last minute challenge from the former finance minister has attracted both suspicion and optimism. Some analysts believe he has no hope of attracting votes from Mugabe’s rural base and will only drain away urban votes that have traditionally favoured the MDC. It’s this equation, coupled with Makoni’s private meeting with Mugabe, that has set the rumour mill into overdrive. Events in the divided MDC party have also served to create a very muddied picture. At the weekend the party announced that attempts to reunite had collapsed over the allocation of parliamentary seats. The two MDC parties are now set to field two contesting candidates in each constituency, while Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai will be the presidential candidates. Against this background the entry of Makoni can only benefit Mugabe who will take advantage of the split votes.
The more optimistic analysts are pointing to the support Makoni seems to enjoy from retired general Solomon Mujuru and other senior, but retired, army generals. The view is that he might attract the support of the army and disgruntled Zanu PF members who will throw their weight behind him. Geoff Hill, a journalist and author of the book, ‘What happens After Mugabe,’ believes Makoni is more of a problem for Mugabe than Tsvangirai. Hill says Makoni will probably get support from Zanu PF supporters unhappy with Mugabe, while MDC members are unlikely to defect to him. He says the failure of the MDC to unite had given Makoni the encouragement to stand.
Makoni shot to prominence after heading the Southern African Development Community for almost 9 years as Executive Secretary. He served as the country’s deputy minister for Agriculture at independence in 1980, led the government owned Zimpapers group in 1994, before becoming finance minister in 2000. He resigned the post over policy differences with Mugabe. Whether he is a genuine challenger or a spoiler in the elections is a debate that has got the whole country talking.
A NewZimbabwe.com article says retired Major General Kudzai Mbudzi is backing Makoni and warned the country’s intelligence services against trying to launch a terror campaign against ‘their’ candidate. Mbudzi was suspended from Zanu PF for criticising the leadership and according to reports said, ‘we expect overzealous reaction from the intelligence. They must be warned that we were also part of the intelligence and we won’t tolerate that. We warn them that they would be dealt with accordingly in their individual capacity.’ He further said they would not launch a party and were comfortable with the name Zanu PF since “the constitution is fortunately” silent on the use of symbols and names. He also claimed Makoni had the support of ninety-percent of key people in Zanu PF and this made them confident of winning the election.