Zimbabwe: Political Highlights of 2012

THE year 2012 marked the third anniversary of the so-called government of national unity (GNU).

Uneasy bedfellows in the form of Zanu PF and the two MDC formations took their acrimonious bickering to yet greater levels with so many conflicts playing out in the media as the GNU wobbles on ever closer to finality, with elections expected in 2013.

The Parliamentary Constitutional Select Committee (Copac), in charge of the constitution-making process, continued with its long-delayed quest to craft a draft constitution acceptable to the triumvirate, but incessant squabbling over provisions in the draft, including devolution and the dilution of presidential powers, ensured the process, initially scheduled to last 18 months, would spill over into 2013.

Much to the chagrin of their principals, MDC-T and Zanu PF negotiators connived to sneak in clauses, first imposing age limits that would have ruled out President Robert Mugabe from contesting due to old age, following this up with a controversial running-mates clause. Analysts believe this was an attempt by the two arch-rivals' representatives to manage the conflict-ridden succession issues within their parties, particularly Zanu PF.

Politically the year was not just about Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe and their respective parties; the smaller MDC formation also made the headlines as the the two professors, Welshman Ncube and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara took their leadership contest to court.

For a while it looked like the sun had finally set on Mutambara's short but eventful political career after a Bulawayo High Court ruling ordered him to stop masquerading as MDC leader.

This was soon followed by a Sadc resolution to recognise Ncube as a political party principal alongside Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Finance minister Biti went so far as to write Mutambara's political epitaph, declaring "he is finished", but the robotics professor rode the storm with the assistance of Mugabe and, to a lesser extent, Tsvangirai .

Mugabe flatly refused to remove Mutambara as deputy prime minister, insisting he did not want to interfere with court processes.

Boosted by Mugabe's endorsement, Mutambara flew to Chisumbanje heading an inter-ministerial team that successfully negotiated a solution to a long-running ethanol saga supposedly over whether or not to have mandatory blending of petrol with ethanol produced by controversial business tycoon Billy Rautenbach.

The saga had all the makings of a political soap opera featuring the all-too-familiar plot of Zanu PF/MDC-T rivalry, with the helpless Chisumbanje community whose livelihood was destroyed by the advances of Rautenbach's commercial enterprise in the sub-plot.

Ncube boycotted the official opening of the Copac Second All-Stakeholders' Conference in Harare at the end of October after Mugabe and Tsvangirai gave Mutambara the podium as a principal. He, however, returned the following day for the sub-committee deliberations and, as some comically pointed out, also in time to collect handy participation allowances.

True to expectations the conference failed to break the impasse over the draft constitution and would be best remembered for Mugabe's warning to delegates -- in a brazen display of his authoritarian disposition -- that principals, and not Copac or the people, would have the final say in the constitution-making process.

"I am saying this because sometimes parliament thinks that it is full of sovereignty that it should control the acts of the principals; hazviite (it won't happen)!" he said.

The spineless MPs failed to respond. After all, many of them had been skipping parliamentary sessions or sitting quietly through proceedings like blushing brides, only finding their collective voices to make outrageous demands for monetary payments and other incentives.

Some of the MPs abused the US$50 000 Constituency Development Funds meant to fund development initiatives in their constituencies, but were saved by legal loopholes.

All this came against the background of a United Nations Development Programme report declaring 65% of MPs require intensive training in legislation and budget analysis as they are not skilled or competent to perform their tasks.

All this took place amid party in-fighting with none of the GNU threesome immune.

In Zanu PF, it was manifest in the decision to disband the district co-ordinating committees (DCCs) which had assumed the mantle of kingmakers responsible for electing the party's provincial leadership and ultimately the national leaders.

Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, past master of so many covert Zanu PF power contestations, had all the DCCs eating out of his hand only to have the rug pulled from under his feet by schemers linked to alleged long-time succession adversary, Vice-President Joice Mujuru.

In the MDC-T, among the ruction highlights was the tension between Tsvangirai and his deputy Thokozani Khupe which exploded into full view in November after Tsvangirai exclusively told this paper Khupe would be disciplined for her part in the violence that rocked the party's Bulawayo congress last year.

Like the proverbial stuntman, Tsvangirai performed a spectacular somersault denying he ever uttered those words which were recorded for posterity.

There was also drama in September when Tsvangirai had to fend off sex scandals and scorned lovers after his former spouse Locardia Karimatsenga-Tembo successfully petitioned the court to prevent him from marrying Elizabeth Macheka under the Marriage Act Chapter 5:11. The wedding was relegated to a customary ceremony.

Karimatsenga-Tembo, who eventually won a reportedly handsome pay-off from Tsvangirai, was joined by South African Nosipho Shilubane in seeking to block Tsvangirai's wedding. Talk about the fury of women scorned!

Ncube, rocked by a revolt which resulted in defections by some of his elected MPs, fired legislators, including deputy speaker of the house of assembly Nomalanga Khumalo. Later Mutambara savoured the last laugh after the legislators declared allegiance to him.

Once again Zanu PF failed to deal with the controversial succession issue, with Mugabe retained as the party's presidential candidate in next year's elections. Mugabe will be 89 years old, making him one of the oldest presidential candidates in world history. If anything, touted presidential aspirants Mnangagwa and Mujuru fell over each other in a rush to deny their presidential ambitions by endorsing Mugabe.

All in all, 2012 was a year that promised so much yet delivered very little on the political front -- what with the snail's pace of the constitution-making exercise, inter and intra-party fights as well as failure to implement the legislative reforms to usher in a democratic dispensation.

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