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2023 Elections: Will Kasukuwere entry tilt the scales in favour of the opposition?

Former Zanu PF firebrand Saviour Kasukuwere, on Monday, confirmed his entry into the race for Zimbabwe’s top job — The Presidential Race, effectively pitting him against the incumbent and Zanu PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa and the youthful leader of the opposition Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC)’s Nelson Chamisa.

Kasukuwere’s confirmation has triggered debate among political commentators with some saying he is likely to “eat into the Zanu PF votes,” a move that will likely split the ruling party votes leaving Chamisa as the winner of the crucial plebiscite.

Some analysts brought back the memories of the 2008 “Simba Makoni effect” that saw him clawing some space into a tight presidential vote in 2008.

Kasukuwere effect may work in Mnangagwa’s favour

While many are seeing Kasukuwere’s entry as a stumbling block to Mnangagwa’s chances of clinching his second term, others are claiming his entry may actually work in the incumbent’s favour.

“There are chances that Kasukuwere’s votes may come from members of the opposition who are disgruntled but cannot vote for Zanu PF,” opined one analyst who requested anonymity due to the nature of his current consultancy with a Non Governmental Organisation in Zimbabwe.

“His candidature may split the anti-Mnangagwa vote and allow him to win the elections. It may work the other way round instead of what we are thinking will happen.

“The Simba Makoni effect actually worked to split the anti-Mugabe vote and denied the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirayi and outright victory.”

Pedzisai Ruhanya, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) Director, believes Kasukuwere’s candidature will affect the Zanu PF vote.

“Tyson is much bigger than Simba (Makoni) in Zanu PF especially in Masholand provinces. His entry will fundamentally erode Zanu PF social base,” argued Ruhanya.

As the debate rages on, media personality Gilbert Nyambabvu believes “The (Kasukuwere) project does not need him to win. My sense is that the idea is to stop ED (Mnangagwa) winning by taking votes away from him … so a Simba-like 10% or better and force a stalemate … then negotiations.”

Nyambabvu believes there is a project meant to force a government of national unity and this can only be done by stopping the incumbent Mnangagwa from outright victory.

Another analyst and Africa University lecturer, Alexander Rusero does not concur with Nyambabvu as he thinks Kasukuwere “has no capacity, but very delusional and living in denial of a political glory bygone era.”

Riding on bitter Mugabe loyalists

Kasukuwere, who has been living in exile in South Africa since 2017 after former President Robert Mugabe’s ouster, will most likely bank on bitter Mugabe loyalists who failed to mend relations with Mnangagwa and Zanu PF over how the veteran leader was removed from power.

Many believe the Mugabe loyalists voted for Chamisa in 2018 after the former President said he will not vote for his “tormentors.”

“These are the same people who will vote for Kasukuwere because he has been a Mugabe ally and led the G40 outfit that almost dealt a huge political blow to Mnangagwa in the battle for the heart and soul of Zanu PF,” said one Zanu PF member adding: “In Kasukuwere, they have found a political home.”

Kasukuwere was a powerful figure in Mugabe’s regime, serving as his political commissar and local government minister. He fled the country after a military-assisted intervention that toppled Mugabe and ushered in Mnangagwa as president. He briefly returned in 2018, but faced corruption charges that were later dropped by the courts. He then went back to South Africa, promising to come back and challenge Mnangagwa’s legitimacy.

Speaking to South African Journalist, Sophie Mokwana, Kasukuwere said he will be making an official statement soon.

“Sophie good morning. The call has been made and yes I will be making a formal statement on my candidature. Thank you for asking,” said the former minister on his Twitter handle.

Kasukuwere will have to overcome many obstacles in his bid for the presidency, including the popularity of Mnangagwa and Chamisa, who are the main contenders in the race. He will also have to deal with the shadow of Mugabe, who died in 2019 and left a legacy of division and economic ruin.