ZAPU leader, Dr Dumiso Dabengwa deserves respect as a freedom fighter. His credentials as a military and intelligence strategist who contributed immensely to the making of Zimbabwe, and as a politician in its post-independence development, are beyond reproach. He started political activism in 1958 during the African National Congress days as he worked for Bulawayo City Council in its social welfare department. At that time, Black Nationalism was gaining momentum across the country and in Southern Africa. Many cadres were being arrested for that and detained at various prisons, among them, Khami Maximum Prison. His tasks in the department included registering names of people who sought to visit their relatives incarcerated at the prison. Later on, he was arrested himself for subversive speech, tried and jailed. So instead of him booking visitors to prisoners, someone was registering his own relatives coming to see him in prison.
“People came from all over the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to visit these leaders,” Dr Dabengwa is quoted on the Zapu website as saying, “and I would register them and organise transport for them to the prison complex. That is when it dawned to me that there was active resistance to the oppression we were going through from all over the federation and the rest of Africa.”
“When (ANC) the leaders were released, I was then working for Barclays Bank. I had completed my Matriculation. There were whites who had completed Cambridge Ordinary Level. Whites were paid 25 pounds and I was paid 12, 50 pounds, yet we had the same qualification and I was allocated more work and responsibilities than them.”
He later joined the National Democratic Party, then Zapu, trained in military intelligence and campaigned in the struggle, ending up as a commander. So he was there when it all started, planned and prosecuted the war. There is no reason chronicling his story further, for it speaks for itself.
But this election season, like the 2008 one did for him, has started off very badly, or compromisingly for the 79 year-old nationalist. It has been so bad, that all indications are that it is most likely to end on the same note on 31July.
Dr Dabengwa is humiliating himself by grovelling for political accommodation from a big-brotherly MDC-T and dismissive MDC. In recent weeks, he has transformed himself into some kind of “election coalition salesman” seeking a pact with politicians whose profiles are, to a large extent, his antitheses.
Judging by his remarks a day or two before the sitting of the Nomination Courts on Friday and his subsequent address at a party meeting at Beit Hall in Luveve on Sunday, it is evident he is actually dying to achieve some kind of election agreement.
He is prepared to give up all he has in what appears to be a failing bid for the alliance. He is prepared to surrender not only the party’s candidature for the elections, but also the party itself! The most humiliating part is that even after minimising himself to that level, no one is prepared to work with him; no one regards him as useful.
MDC leader, Professor Welshman Ncube does not actually have time and courtesy to respond to his overtures, but Dr Dabengwa is such an “optimist” he is still holding out for positive news.
“I even told Welshman Ncube,” he lamented at Beit Hall, “that I was willing and prepared to be just the president of the party and he be nominated as the presidential candidate. I was even prepared to pave way for him to be the presidential candidate of Zapu as age has taken its toll on me and because I could not hold two positions at the same time, but there has been no reply.”
By making so many and drastic concessions, he is unwittingly telling Prof Ncube that he is nothing; that he has lacks confidence in himself. And when you lack a sense of self worth in politics, no one has time for you. They see you as a desperate pest, looking for a host to live on.
Nothing demonstrates how far Dr Dabengwa’s political fortunes have fallen than this.
What is most ironic in the coalition talk is that the Zapu leader and his former colleague in Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, Dr Simba Makoni — the supposed heavyweights who defected from Zanu-PF in petulance on 1 March 2008 — are the ones kneeling before relative upstarts, pleading for alliances.
Dr Makoni, a presidential candidate who got eight percent of the vote in March 2008, is now only good enough to run in a rural constituency, Makoni West in Manicaland. It will be a massive story if he loses in that constituency!
Professor Jonathan Moyo recently warned how cold it can be when a politician who used to work within a group, is out on his own. You have to prove your real worth as an individual politician as opposed to the shared praise or criticism you get operating within a system like Zanu-PF.
Nathaniel Manheru dismisses both Dr Dabengwa and Dr Makoni as bare and bitter politicians whose barrenness “comes from the fact that collectively and singly, their bitterness has failed to find organisational root and support on the ground, whether within Zanu-PF or beyond it.”
Indeed, there is no other reason why both MDCs have refused to work with Dr Dabengwa and Dr Makoni apart from the fact that they don’t bring much on the table. Politics is as much about ideas as it is about public support. If you lack public support, and self worth as well, no matter how eloquent you are you are nothing politically.
Speaking at Beit Hall, Dr Dabengwa voiced his frustration at his party’s failure to field candidates in some constituencies and wards. Zapu fielded candidates in all 12 National Assembly constituencies in Bulawayo but, our tally based on recent press reports shows the party has no candidates in three municipal wards in the city. Out of Matabeleland South’s 13 National Assembly constituencies, the party has 11 candidates, according to reports. It is not represented in Beitbridge East and Insiza South. In Matabeleland North, Zapu does not have a candidate in one of the 13 Lower House constituencies.
While it is easier for parties to raise candidates in National Assembly constituencies because the choice is made from a bigger pool of people, it is tougher to do so in smaller municipal zones. Only political parties that are strong at the grassroots, the vanguard of every political party, are generally able to come up with council representatives. This is probably the challenge Zapu faced in the 45 wards in Bulilima, Mangwe and Plumtree local authorities. Here, the party is fielding as few as five candidates — one in Plumtree, four in Mangwe. This means that it failed to field any candidates in Bulilima.
These are official figures issued by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and our own tally based on press reports. No one knows yet how the party is represented elsewhere across the country but indications are negative. A party which fields only five representatives out of a possible 45 in three local authorities in a general election is not worth anyone’s while, thus both MDCs could be right to spurn Dr Dabengwa’s coalition approaches.
So much for a man, who claims to have pulled a whole Zapu out of the Unity Accord! Without discussing whether his party has people or not as elections would prove or disprove that, it is difficult for many to agree with him that he indeed withdrew Zapu from Zanu-PF. This is because most figures who were senior in Zapu in the period leading to 22 December, 1987 did not defect like him. Also, Zapu’s failure to attract candidates, who, in fact, are the people, strengthens this argument.
This is why Zanu-PF national chairman, Cde Simon Khaya Moyo always says those who want to resuscitate Zapu must first raise its top leadership, the likes of the late Vice-Presidents Joshua Nkomo (who signed the agreement) and Joseph Msika so that they can repudiate the agreement themselves.
What Dr Dabengwa tried to do is like Professor Arthur Mutambara proclaiming after the 8-9 January 2011 MDC congress which overthrew him that he remained president of the party when it is clear that he did not have the confidence of the majority in the rank and file.
But you get a sense that, at least Prof Mutambara’s position is better than Dr Dabengwa’s in that the former was party president going into the disputed congress whereas the latter was, with respect, only one of the leaders of Zapu going to the Unity Accord.
Prof Mutambara can actually be better for a second reason – his faction had the then MDC national chairman, Mr Joubert Mudzumwe and a few others.
Elections are coming in the next 26 days; therefore Dr Dabengwa and Zapu have a chance to confound their critics. However, indications portend an electoral disaster. If that happens, he will go down in history as a storied man who let himself down because of his not-so-good choices at crucial times.