Is Ncube's political stock rising?

HARARE - Welshman  Ncube’s suave allure is helping train the eyes of the world on  Zimbabwe’s democracy struggle, but some experts say his rising appeal  could split votes in the forthcoming watershed election.

The smaller MDC’s president, who is steadily rising to personify opposition efforts to shrug off the yoke of decades of dictatorship, made his debut  as a global political agreement (GPA) principal this month in the  latest chapter in his transformation from a fringe opposition leader to a  credible challenger in the 2013 presidential race.

The 51-year-old law professor has suggested he is willing to accept the  mantle of president if, as expected, his party wins the 2013 elections  seen as the apex of recent reforms.

But many are dismissing outright his presidential bid, saying his support is mainly concentrated in Matabeleland and lacks national appeal.

In a BBC HARDTalk interview this week, Zeinabi Badawi portrays Ncube as  the stumbling block to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s bid to unseat President Robert Mugabe, itself a recognition of Ncube’s rising  political power.

But Charity Manyeruke, an international relations lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said Ncube was no match for Mugabe.

She  and many other political analysts dismissed Ncube as presidential  no-hoper, running a low-level campaign far from the limelight.

But  Mthulisi Mathuthu, a UK-based Zimbabwean journalist says “Ncube’s  whirlwind campaign trail across the country is paying dividends and in a  way that stands to reverse the fortunes of both the MDC and Zanu PF considerably.”

He says there is conspiracy to portray Ncube “as indeed a ‘divisive’  person going against the supposedly credible people (Tsvangirai) of  international stature like Mandela.”

With democratic pedigree and strong charisma acting to shield him from negative comments, Ncube needs to work extra hard to gain national  appeal, critics say.

The few pre-election polls show that only  Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist and leader of the mainstream MDC,  has a real chance of unseating Mugabe in the forthcoming election.

But Western governments are showing great interest in finding “political  alternatives” to the “error-prone” Tsvangirai after his recent personal  problems added to the leadership struggles rumbling on in the MDC.

“There seems to be a hunt for alternatives within the democratic opposition,” analyst Dewa Mavhinga said.

Ncube  rode on earlier attempts by Mugabe and Tsvangirai to sideline him from  the ruling matrix.

His deep appreciation of articles has propelled him  into Zimbabwe’s mainstream political scene both as negotiator of the GPA  and now as a Principal.

He has just emerged from a victory of sorts  after successfully easing Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara out of  the smaller MDC presidency, even though the fight to get the robotics  professor out of the DPM’s office is still before the courts.

Ncube’s has won the so-called “battle of the professors” against Mutambara, a win that has buoyed him.

With  10 parliamentary seats, he has held sway in the hung Zimbabwe  Parliament, where the other two ruling parties Zanu PF and Tsvangirai’s  MDC enjoy almost an equal legislative representation.

As MDC president  and the highest pro-democracy Ndebele figurehead, he is slowly carving  an almost cult status in Matabeleland where some are drawing comparisons between him and the late vice president and nationalist Joshua Nkomo.

He now sees himself as a serious candidate to end Mugabe’s 32-year grip on power.

Critics  say his solidification in mainstream politics was buoyed by the  $750 million Essar deal that is set to revive State firm Ziscosteel — a  Redcliff-based steelmaker that collapsed in 2008 at the height of  economic meltdown after failing to mobilise cash to retool.

Both  Zanu PF and mainstream MDC legislators have demanded a parliamentary  probe into the deal amid damning accusations that Ncube received  “substantial inducements” from Essar to influence its US$750 million  takeover of the former giant steel maker.

“We  are now seeing him distributing cattle and bicycles in the rural areas,  and we wonder whether these are not the benefits from the Essar deal,”  MDC MP for Highfield Simon Hove told Parliament earlier this month.

Ncube has angrily rubbished the reports.

His  BBC HARDTalk interview this week as one of the leading opposition  figures in Zimbabwe confirmed his unique place in the imaginations of  Westerners who critics say don not appreciate his real poll ratings back  home.

Afrobarometer said if elections were held in July, Ncube would  garner no more than one percent of the vote.

But  Ncube’s lavish welcomes after his recent recognition as GPA principal  by Sadc threatens to further strain relations with Tsvangirai, largely  acknowledged as the architect of sweeping political changes since 2009.

“It  is a bit unusual for fringe opposition leaders to receive such high  level treatment (as the BBC interview),” said a Western diplomat in  Harare. I think the international community is beginning to appreciate him as a serious political actor in Zimbabwe,” he said.

His  smaller pro-democracy party has been eagerly pushing the country’s  reforms from inside the legislature for over three years — but has been  largely felt shunned by the Zanu PF/MDC juggernaut.

Following  the October 2005 MDC split that saw Ncube parting ways with Tsvangirai  to form his own party, his relations with the PM soured dramatically.

But  he is beginning to mend relations with Tsvangirai, forming strategic  alliances in the reform agenda. But he has ruled out reunification.

“The things that divide us now make it impossible for us to work together,” he said.

“I  have absolutely nothing against the person of Morgan Tsvangirai. Our  differences are about our political behaviours and the things we do as  politicians.

“I keep underlining, it is on record that our colleagues in  the MDC often practise violence; it is on record that Morgan  Tsvangirai himself has reversed collectively made decisions and it is  also on record that the local government structures that they control  have acted as corruptly if not more corruptly than the Zanu PF ones.” -
Gift Phiri

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