opinionBy Ray Ndlovu
WELSHMAN Ncube, the leader of the smaller Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), appears to have been the biggest beneficiary of the latest hive of political activity in the aftermath of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Mozambique.
While last Wednesday's visit by South African President Jacob Zuma to Zimbabwe and the SADC summit held in Maputo at the weekend placed the country's political crisis on the spotlight, Ncube emerged with his tail up. The week-long events have hoisted him to the powerful position of a de facto principal in the fragile unity government.
Critics have been forced to eat humble pie over Ncube's recognition by SADC as a principal, with different schools of thought emerging. One school of thought suggests that family ties between Zuma and Ncube could have been the reason for the MDC leader's recognition in the eyes of SADC.
Ncube's son, Wesley is married to Gugulethu Zuma, daughter of the South African President. Until now, Ncube, had not been formally recognised as a principal by SADC and has been operating under the shadow of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara - who has hung onto the unity government post.
Others say Ncube rightfully deserved the principal status since his victory over Mutambara at a party congress in Harare last year. On Wednesday, Zuma's snub of DPM Mutambara in favour of a meeting with Ncube dealt a body blow on the robotics professor's political career.
But ZANU-PF has stuck to its guns, declining to endorse Ncube as a principal. Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, said Ncube's recognition by SADC as leader of the MDC would not upgrade him to the status of principal when it comes to Zimbabwe government matters.
"The long and short of all this is that Professor Mutambara remains a principal in the same way Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is and the same way President (Robert) Mugabe is," he said
"He (Mutambara) remains so in spite of the SADC decision, which relates to political parties anyway."
Political analyst, Trevor Maisiri of the International Crisis Group, said the recent move by Zuma could trigger Mutambara's waning political fortunes.
He said: "Mutambara is young and has great potential in being a part of building the nation. He, however, needs to re-create his political stature and credibility by either joining one of the political parties or focusing more on a technical developmental role rather than outright party politics ... Ncube is the man of the moment and he has risen steadily onto the political stage".
But in DPM Mutambara's defence, has been President Mugabe who has argued that the robotics professor was a representative of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and did not necessarily have to represent a political party in order to remain in the unity government.
SADC heads of State at the weekend summit in Mozambique are understood to have dismissed President Mugabe's assertion and demanded that Mutambara's role within SADC come to an end.
"When President Mugabe sought to draw a distinction between party leaders and GPA principals, the summit firmly rejected that distinction insisting that DPM Mutambara did not sign the GPA in his personal capacity, but in his representative capacity as the leader of the MDC," said Ncube.
"By the end of the day, even President Mugabe was forced to concede that on political matters, such as that of the negotiations for a new constitution, he was duty-bound to deal with the MDC leadership as elected at the party congress".
Political observers pointed out that Zuma's meeting with Ncube as leader of the MDC also had the effect of rubber-stamping his party as a force to be reckoned with in the country's political landscape.
Ncube will participate in his first presidential election race next year -- a move that has earned him the nickname of being a rookie in a contest that will mainly pit ZANU-PF against the MDC-T.
His MDC party has also made significant inroads into perceived MDC-T political strongholds such as the three Matabeleland provinces where it has gained significant visibility through weekend campaign rallies and community work in its bid to dislodge the MDC-T.
ZANU-PF grassroot structures currently weighed down by infighting and the disbandment of District Coordinating Committees are largely seen to have weakened the former revolutionary party's sway throughout the country -- leaving it vulnerable to the onslaught from Ncube's MDC which is seeking to score political mileage even in ZANU-PF strongholds. Asked why President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai appeared to dilly-dally in recognising him as a principal in the unity government, Ncube said they had their own personal reasons and denied that his Matabeleland links could be the reason for his sidelining.
Both President Mugabe and the PM have in the past accused Ncube of being involved in cheap tribal politics.