Is this the man to beat Mugabe?

Simba Makoni, the one-time finance minister, has split the Zanu-PF party, says Moses Moyo

BY Moses Moyo LAST UPDATED AT 08:56 ON Wed 16 Jan 2008

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is likely to face a strong challenge in elections this year at the hands of an entirely new political party, and a new young presidential candidate. Mugabe's Zanu-PF power base has split, allowing the formation of a newly-constituted Patriotic Front party.

The man earmarked to be the next President is Simba Makoni, a charismatic candidate who was briefly finance minister and who is popular inside Zanu-PF and with the general public. Makoni was identified on Monday by the BBC News as a potential threat to Mugabe; but reporter John Simpson failed to reveal that Makoni represents a new party.

Some observers believe Makoni is too lightweight to take on the formidable Mugabe. But many find him a charismatic figure and point to his power base, a group led by ex-general and businessman Solomon Mujuru and his wife Joyce, who is one of Mugabe's vice-presidents.

The official announcement of the new party is expected in the first week of February. Observers see it as the result of long-simmering resentment of Mugabe within Zanu-PF, coupled with despair over the ever-more lamentable state of the country's economy.

Combined parliamentary and presidential elections were slated for February, but have recently been officially delayed until March. However, The First Post has learned that Mugabe, in a bid to gain time, has now put them off until June.

Personalities in the Patriotic Front leadership include such expected names as writer and ex-minister Fay Chung, former academic and press boss Ibbo Mandaza, and industry minister Nkosana Moyo. More of a surprise is the inclusion of one of the bogeymen of the Mugabe administration, Happyton Bonyongwe, director of Zimbabwe’s feared CIO spy agency.

Currently the Patriotic Front leadership is assiduously courting Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition grouping in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

With the MDC on board, the Front would be unstoppable in any reasonably fair election. But Tsvangirai is reluctant to commit himself, arguing he should be the party leader and be guaranteed a top post in any new administration.

Meanwhile party members are busy drumming up support in the provinces, using the political structures put in place by Zanu-PF, and secretly canvassing provincial party chairmen and other officials. Sources claim they have commitments from all provincial leaders except those in Mashonaland West and Midlands provinces.

Until today the Front's meetings have been held in secret, usually at farms owned by different leaders. Mugabe himself is known to be aware of the Front's plans, and one source says that he has summoned Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to his holiday retreat in Malaysia, in order to plan how to frustrate the new party's bank dealings. Any such moves are likely to be ineffective, as Solomon Mujuru keeps most of his considerable fortune – made from trading in gold and diamonds - outside the country.

And as the news of the new Patriotic Front breaks, the fight for the country's future will now be out in the open. · 

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