AFTER deftly defying the odds to secure nomination to contest the August presidential election — against frontrunners President Emmerson Mnangagwa and main opposition CCC leader Nelson Chamisa — Saviour Kasukuwere has brought a new dynamic into the potentially volatile race, Zanu PF and opposition sources say.
Insiders say while winning the election might be a bridge too far for him, Kasukuwere may become the X factor through his political credentials, gravitas and experience.
On top of this, Kasukuwere has been linked to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and the military. Given how he has positioned his candidacy and his messaging, Kasukuwere might fish from Mnangagwa’s pond and split the vote.
This has happened before with Thokozani Khupe in 2018 and Simba Makoni in 2008.
“In view of Zimbabwe’s ethnic political configurations, dynamics and rivalries, he is bound to have a stronger showing in Zanu PF’s Mashonaland provinces strongholds which have always been bellwether regions for ruling party presidential candidates,” one official told The NewsHawks.
The former Zanu PF political commissar, MP and minister — who hails from Mount Darwin in Mashonaland Central province — could be decisive in a fiercely-contested presidential race. The crucial election may reset the nation buffeted by protracted socio-political and economic problems since the turn of the millennium.
Another observer said: “Ethnicity and identity politics, whose undercurrents always influence local politics and resource allocation despite muted public debate on that, could become pronounced as Kasukuwere, a Zezuru politician, battles two Karanga candidates — Mnangagwa and Chamisa — in a country where instrumentalisation of tribal identities for political capital, hegemony and votes is not unusual.
“Zanu PF politicians have always weaponised ethnicity for hegemonic purposes internally and nationally whenever it suited them.”
That framework of analysis was given focus and impetus by Masvingo Chief Fortune Charumbira, who is Zimbabwe’s Chiefs’ Council and Pan-African Parliament president when he proposed that Mnangagwa and Chamisa must as a necessity not become competitors as Karangas.
This raised alarm in domestic politics. However, analysts say ethnicity alone is reductionist and woefully inadequate to explain the Kasukuwere factor — indeed complex political phenomena — and win any candidate the election. As a result, Kasukuwere might actually end up in a loose alliance with Chamisa against Mnangagwa.
Both of them yesterday made friendly remarks towards each other. Kasukuwere is treading the political minefield carefully. While he declared that “I don’t fear jail, I don’t fear death; I only fear for the future of the country if we do nothing”, he did not plunge headlong into the Zimbabwean political cauldron to file nomination, showing he is calculating.
In a bid to draw out Mnangagwa and his coercive apparatus to check if they would arrest him if he comes back, Kasukuwere, a former intelligence operative, flew a kite to see who would take the bait.
A source said: “He bought an air ticket through a travel agency and checked in online. He then sent the list of passengers — in which he was number 34 — and later a manifest to his contacts in Harare who quickly leaked that to Mnangagwa’s circles and state security agents. They reacted quickly and deployed intelligence agents to wait for him at the airport, ready to pounce and arrest him.”
However, Kasukuwere — widely known as Tyson after legendary American boxer Mike Tyson — did not travel to Harare. His mission had however been accomplished.
He had seen how Mnangagwa’s government would behave if he were to come back to Zimbabwe. Already police claim there are two warrants of arrest hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. Kasukuwere insists he is coming to fight in the trenches when campaigns begin.
“I don’t care if they arrest me or kill me, I’m coming at the right time,” he said.
“Being forced to live in exile is a form of prison on its own.”
While security agents were chasing shadows trying to arrest him, Kasukuwere got Harare lawyers Jacqueline Sande and Munyaradzi Rex Midzi to quickly manoeuvre with his nomination papers to file.
Sande became his chief elections agent. Former Foreign Affairs and Tourism minister Walter Mzembi chairs the Kasukuwere campaign. Mzembi yesterday dismissed the purported warrants of arrests against Kasukuwere.
“No amount of threats or intimidation will deter him from his impending travel to Harare,” Mzembi said.
The biggest fear in the Kasukuwere campaign was that he could have been blocked on eligibility grounds as a candidate.
In terms of the constitution, a candidate must be:
- a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent;
- at least 40 years of age; l ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe;
- registered as a voter.
For the presidential — at least 10 voters registered in each of the 10 provinces, at least 100 nominators in all (section 104(1)(a) of the Electoral Act). Out of all this, the biggest hurdle against Kasukuwere was likely to have been the issue of being “ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe” as he has been out of the country for five years. There were genuine fears he might be blocked on the regard. Candidates pay US$20 000 nomination fees, but this was not a barrier to him as he seems to have good funding for his campaign.
Nomination courts sat on 21 June countrywide in Harare for presidential election candidates.
What is nomination? This is a process that requires prospective candidates to go through the nomination court which qualifies or disqualifies one to contest in any election. Where was it done? All nominations of presidential candidates are filed in the capital city Harare.
Nominations of National Assembly constituency members were received at designated provincial venues for all constituencies in the respective provinces.
Those of party-list candidates for the Senate, National Assembly and Provincial Councils will be received at designated provincial venues. Nominations of candidates for election to local authority councils were at designated offices of the various local authorities countrywide.
Any person who meets the requisite qualifications. Kasukuwere entered the presidential election contest in dramatic manner as he exited the country amid the November 2017 coup.
He briefly returned home in May 2018 in a tense environment before he took flight again as Mnangagwa and his political hounds pursued him viciously.
Prior to leaving the country again, he had been arrested in September 2018 for alleged abuse of power when he was still Local Government and also Indigenisation minister under the late former president Robert Mugabe.
Kasukuwere was critical to Mugabe’s rule in Zanu PF and government until he was ousted in a coup led by Mnangagwa in November 2017.
The X factor
Born on 23 October 1970, Kasukuwere is an experienced local politician who served under the late president Mugabe as Local Government minister between October and November 2017.
He was also Zanu PF national commissar from 2014 until the November 2017 coup which ousted Mugabe.
By the end of Mugabe’s rule, Kasukuwere had gained political clout, so much of his trust and confidence to an extent he was briefed by his boss in Mexico in May 2017 on the possibility of former Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi becoming his successor in December that year.
This became known as the Mexico Declaration. Kasukuwere was deeply involved in Mugabe’s succession battle, which is why when the coup came he was a target together with his erstwhile friend Professor Jonathan Moyo, a former Zanu PF MP and minister.
Moyo, a former Zanu PF political strategist who was part of the party’s G40 faction like Kasukuwere and others, tried to champion that proposition.
Besides that, Kasukuwere also has lot of political experience. He served as youth leader, deputy minister and minister in various portfolios and capacities.
On top of his political credentials and experience, Kasukuwere knows the lay of the land from his many years as a grassroots political operator. He was also in the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), ironically as a junior officer when Mnangagwa was State Security minister in the 1980s. Kasukuwere is also an experienced businessman.
As a result of his political and business networks, he has managed to source significant resources to support his campaign.
Kasukuwere comes from Mount Darwin in Mashonaland Central province where he was an MP. During the Mugabe times, Mashonaland provinces — East, Central and West — were bellwether regions whose electorates tended to reflect the voting behaviour of the entire nation in general, despite inconsequential variations.
Candidates supported in bellwether provinces in presidential elections generally end up winning the election as a whole.
However, winning the presidential election for him could be a bridge too far. Drawing from his credentials, experience and ethnic appeal, Kasukuwere is likely to erode Mnangagwa’s support base in Mashonaland provinces, creating a run-off or handing over victory to Chamisa.
Mnangagwa has deliberately or unwittingly fashioned himself as a Karanga President on the basis of clansmanship through his power base, appointments and symbolisms, hence Kasukuwere, a Zezuru political actor, may seek to exploit the ethnic faultlines to mobilise votes.
Even if Zimbabweans do not always talk about it, ethnicity has continued to shape and influence the economic, social, and political life of Zimbabwe since the achievement of independence in 1980.
After the toppling of Mugabe by Mnangagwa, Zezurus have generally been grumbling about the issue. This has fuelled ethnic polarisation within Zanu PF and in national politics, which Kasukuwere could exploit to dramatic effect.
However, Kasukuwere’s biggest albatross is his previous association with Zanu PF and all its excesses, which he admits.
“I have made many mistakes. I am not a saint,” he said.
The other challenge he has is that his messaging initially sounded like he is a Mugabeist and wants to continue from where the late former president Robert Mugabe left. His public letter this week also read like he is still fighting Mugabe’s succession battle and Zanu PF internal wars dating back to the November 2017 coup which ousted Mugabe.