opinionBy Dumisani Muleya
Next year's high-stakes general elections in Zimbabwe will mark a political watershed for this troubled country and careers of gladiators, especiallly leading presidential poll candidates President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as their political parties.
The elections would come at time when Zimbabweans remain uncertain about the political future of their country which has been locked in a political stalemate triggered by disputed election outcomes for over a decade now.
Zimbabwe's modern history has been characterised by periods of tranquility punctuated by intervals of turmoil.
Although the country enjoyed structure-induced stability after Independence in 1980, with ruthless suppression of dissent, it has since 2000 been going through another rollercoaster period.
The situation remains volatile and as a result people are showing evidence of having been torn in all directions, especially during the current transitional period. If one follows public debates, be it through direct engagement or via social media platforms, there is clear evidence Zimbabweans are polarised and deeply divided.
The nuanced and sometimes openly hostile political and socio-economic relations among Zimbabweans need to be situated in their proper political context.
People have been idealistic and hoping for a better future for a long time but they have been frequently clashing with disillusionment and compromise.
In the midst of the heated national debate about the future direction of the country, a consensus is emerging that the only way out for Zimbabwe is through free, fair and credible elections. Even Mugabe and his Zanu PF diehards now agree, at least in public, that violence is not the solution.
Yet despite lingering optimism that the next elections could bring some form of relief and change, many Zimbabweans continue to fear a recurrence of political violence and instability.
That is why the next elections could be a turning point for Zimbabwe in many ways.
The polls would also be a breaking point for political movers and shakers.
For Mugabe, the elections are simply a do-or-die affair: either he wins and saves himself potential trouble or is condemned to hell through defeat.
If Mugabe loses, that will certainly mark the end of his long and controversial political career.
If he wins, depending on whether legitimately or through fraud, he might have a chance to redeem himself. But then again his victory might still be divisive, beyond guaranteeing himself as president for life and immunity from accountability for his excesses in power.
However, he also has another problem in view of the party's congress next year. While Mugabe had an easy ride leading to the ongoing Gweru conference, the situation might be different at congress, depending on the elections outcome.
Having said this, the next elections might give Zanu PF a new lease of life or bury the party. The trouble with Zanu PF is that its fate is largely tied to Mugabe's.
For Tsvangirai the elections could also be a make-or-break affair.
If he wins, he would be guaranteed longevity in politics, but if he loses he might find himself under pressure to quit.
Going by his remarks that he might go if he loses (although he later claimed to have been "joking"), he seems to understand this. Like Zanu PF and Mugabe, the MDC-T's future without Tsvangirai, leader and face of the party, is bleak.
Of course, the next elections would also be a moment of truth for MDC leader Welshman Ncube and his party.
If they have a decent showing, their future could be bright, but if they lose outright they would be gone. So careers will be made and broken in the next elections.