Zimbabwean opposition party Movement for Democratic Change 99 has announced its plan to oust President Robert Mugabe by June 2012 and vowed not to allow elections while Bob’s in power. Party president Job Sikhala says he will use whatever means necessary, but who will follow? By GREG NICOLSON.
Job Sikhala is a master of the sound bite. “Mugabe is trying to compel the people of Zimbabwe to go to elections and we have resolved that we will never allow again for the people of our country to be killed for making their own choice,” he said on a support-raising tour of South Africa on Sunday, pausing for journalists to pen the quote. “We have boldly made the resolution that MDC-99 will never allow Mugabe to kill a single soul again, because these people do not support him … We will never allow Zimbabwe to have elections again as long as Mugabe is at the helm of our country.”
Mugabe has said elections will be held in early 2012 because the unity government he was forced into with his rival Morgan Tsvangirai isn’t working. “Once I announce the date, everyone will follow,” said the octogenarian. It’s thought that his party, Zanu-PF, wants him to take another election before he’s too old to contest. Tsvangirai’s MDC-T wants a later date so the government can finish reforms, like writing a new constitution.
“The only way to deal with a madman is for you also to be a madman,” said Sikhala, in contrast to the prime minister’s moderate comments. He said he was ready to strike first to get rid of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader since independence. “He must be absolutely and totally confronted so as to protect the generation of today… We are going to incessantly engage in demonstrations and mass action and we have given ourselves a target of June. By June the dictator must crumble.”
In the last decade 6,000 MDC supporters had been killed and 1.5-million Zimbabweans fled the country, numbers usually reflecting an armed struggle, said Sikhala. No progress had been made after two years of the unity government and the opposition had been banned from holding rallies and their supporters intimidated. “This is even in the period when there is no proclamation of elections. What about when elections are proclaimed? It means the dictator is prepared to kill all of us for opposing him. So our strategy is to pre-empt him by striking first.”
Photo: MDC-99’s Job Sikhala. (Greg Nicolson/iMaverick)
The MDC-99 has planned rallies and mass movements throughout January and February, and hopes to have a peaceful impact by early March. If this fails, said Sikhala, they will directly challenge Mugabe. They won’t seek permission for the demonstrations, putting the party in confrontation with the police. “We are prepared to die for our cause. We are not joking… If Mugabe uses firearms against defenceless citizens, we will also borrow and use firearms,” said Sikhala, slamming his fist on the table. He has previously stated the party would become a terror group if change does not come.
It’s unclear if he has the following to match the rhetoric. Fear of openly supporting the opposition makes it difficult to measure backing across the splinted parties. Sikhala has attributes that could inspire Zimbabwe’s youth: he was a student leader at the University of Zimbabwe, doesn’t live in a rich suburb and definitely doesn’t buy suits from Mugabe’s tailor. On Sunday he had journalists in stitches and some of the crowd clapping. He isn’t afraid to confront Mugabe by calling him a tyrant and asking why he doesn’t receive medical treatment locally rather than in Singapore.
But Sikhala doesn’t have an authoritative and long-standing party behind him. He was a founding member of the MDC but shifted his support to the MDC-M in 2005. He established MDC-99 when he then fell out with his new comrades. The original MDC (stick with me) was established in 1999 and Sikhala claims to represent its founding values, as opposed to Tsvangirai’s MDC-T and Arthur Mutumbara’s MDC-M. He was critical of how Tsvangirai dealt with Mugabe after the 2008 election. “If I was Morgan, I was going to squeeze him into a corner where he asks for forgiveness.”
If harassment is anything to go by, Mugabe seems to view him as a threat. He spent the first days of 2012 in jail for allegedly contravening immigration laws by working with South African Theresa Bester in Harare (Bester is serving a two-month prison sentence). He has been arrested numerous times and in March last year, it was reported he was beaten and tortured by police as part of Mugabe’s plan to crackdown on dissidents amid uprisings across North Africa.
If the MDC-99 has the ability to organise an uprising, it wasn’t on display on Sunday. The press conference started one hour and 15 minutes late and the first sign of a politico was when the hotel manager handed out Sikhala’s card. We’ll see in the coming months whether the opposition can muster support for an uprising. Sikhala says he is prepared to die for free elections in Zimbabwe and will lead from the front. The question is, will anyone follow? DM
Main photo: MDC’s press conference in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. (Greg Nicolson/iMaverick)
"I know of a cure for everything: salt water...in one way or the other. Sweat or tears or the salt sea." ~ Karen Blixen