Politics of factionalism

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai

Reason Wafawarova on Thursday
THE pestiferous culture of factionalism makes the concept itself a complex one, and it is not easy to give an easy definition of this inevitable scourge in politics. It is neither true nor factual to assert that the factional infighting within Zanu-PF is a new phenomenon, just as it is a fact that political parties

across the world are always characterised by intra-group gangs competing for power, only differing in the level of factional viciousness.

Here is a somewhat neutral definition of factionalism from James Madison:

“A faction within a political party is a set of members who regularly vote together to carry decisions regarding party policy and rules; and regularly votes for candidates on the faction’s tickets (i.e. a list or slate of candidates) in elections within the party.”

In the Zimbabwean contest, members of a faction often do a little more than merely voting together for particular policies or rules. What we have seen with factions within the two main political parties Zanu-PF and the MDC-T are power contests that have resulted in mass expulsions and splits respectively.

The problem with belonging to a faction is that one has to make an undertaking to surrender personal opinion, principles and integrity — all for the endorsement and ratification of policy positions prescribed by the power hierarchy running the particular faction in question.

The nonsensical tussling between two groups of Zanu-PF members supposedly dividing themselves along the pro and anti-Mnangagwa ascendancy to power is quite telling, not least because the ousted Mujuru cabal was essentially also an anti-Mnangagwa group that adventurously overstepped the mark in an effort to outdo the veteran politician in an ill-imagined race to the national throne.

Mnangagwa himself has an amazing way of keeping away from the burning fires, being the old diehard soldier he is.

The Mujuru cabal fatally raced itself into very dangerous waters, and so seems to be the case with the new cabal that purports to be fighting to stop an imagined ascendancy to the presidency of the country by Vice President Mnangagwa.

The problem with factional fighting is the supremacy of expedience over nobility, rationality and principle. Often there is no sound judgement when factional members advance their sectarian causes, many times solely driven by vacuous ambition.

Even by the lenient standards of a neutral definition, factionalism is generally a bad thing, and it is not easy to give any justification for it. Ethically, factional culture is inherently objectionable, not least because common decency and respect means that the views and ideas of other people deserve to be listened to fair-mindedly. This also means that when someone stands for public office, they should be considered or rated on their merit, not on which faction they happen to be associated. It is a sad indictment when a less meritorious person benefits from the politics of factionalism, and Zimbabwe must never allow factionists to elevate themselves to the pedestal of kingmakers, as seems to be the case in some quarters today.

Democracy is all about moral legitimacy, not just about the winning of the numbers game. True democracy cannot be defined by the mere counting of heads, but by standing for what is contained in the heads of the majority.

There is no obligation for a minority to treat the decision of a winning majority with respect when democracy itself has been reduced to the game of merely getting the numbers by any means necessary.

A majority vote secured on the backdrop of vote buying, intimidation or coercion deserves no legitimacy, and that is from, however, many the number of angles one might choose to look at things. It really does not matter that such a vote gets ratified by the Politburo, or even by a court of law. Factionalism excludes non-factionists from effective organisation of the party. When one faction becomes so huge that it dominates the entire structures of the party, there is virtually no point in participation by anyone who is not a member of that faction. Alienation of members based on factionalism renders party membership useless, and it defeats the idea of healthy debate and the contesting of ideas.

We have probably reached the height of factionalism in Zanu-PF, and this is the point where non-factionists will often realise that they might as well not be there.

They often will recline into inactivity, or in rare cases withdraw their membership, especially from within the lower ranks of the party. This is what often pushes the party away from the reality lived by the general populace. It is neither an exaggeration nor propaganda that Zanu-PF does not seem to be in touch with the needs of the people at the moment, and that the party is seized with internal politicking more than it is with running national affairs. Sadly the nation seems to haplessly pay considerable attention to the misdemeanours. The media is equally obsessed with factional affairs in Zanu-PF and also in whatever remains of an opposition that used to go by the acronym MDC.

One would think our political space would at a time like now be inundated with development-oriented questions from a concerned media. No such thing has ever happened in Zimbabwe, and that is unfortunate. Factionalism breeds injustice and undemocratic practices, like the laughable abuse of the “vote of no confidence” facility — something Zanu-PF factionists have used ruthlessly to eliminate competitors in the past. Pretending that internal democracy within the party is alive and well is not only preposterous, but also a great insult to the concept of democracy itself.

It is hardly sensible to have a whole party executive sit down to deliberate on the gravity of a party member chanting “a wrong slogan,” more so an ambiguous or a meaningless one. It is like a church’s board of elders deciding to excommunicate a member for not properly chanting “Amen” in church. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong or undemocratic about like-minded people voting together to maximise their chances of success. Indeed that is the whole principle of party politics, and of democracy itself. What is wrong is to allow a party’s activities to be hijacked by people of shared venality — charlatans whose like-mindedness is not rooted in principle or nobility.

It does not take rocket science to figure out that putting factional interests ahead of constitutional mandates within the party is a rotten culture, and those playing ping pong with the party’s constitution can be fairly counted as worthless scavengers piling the rot. In 2008, Zanu-PF nearly imploded because factional members decided to sacrifice the party in pursuit of their own interests, and the party survived ouster from Government by a mediation miracle.

Driven by the infamous “Bhora Musango” slogan, the factionists played spoilers in a bid to bring down President Robert Mugabe through the presidential electoral race, and clearly the dissidents were prepared for an alternative presidency from renegade Simba Makoni, failing they would gladly accept any alternative winner, Morgan Tsvangirai very much included, if not preferred.

The move almost paid dividends when Tsvangirai led the first round of the presidential race, but could not win the last round. In the run up to the 2013 elections, the goofball faction was essentially opposed to the plebiscite alongside Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC offshoots, both groups repeatedly telling us how Zimbabwe “was not ready for elections,” whatever that meant. It is not easy to believe the party vibrancy preached by Zanu-PF official spokespeople, especially with the recent emergence of unrelenting factional warriors. There is a distinct difference between vibrancy and chaos, and the sooner the pretences are thrown away the better for the party’s future prospects.

As events are showing within Zanu-PF almost daily, factional warriors maximise their influence by excluding those who disagree with them, and this is why suspensions and expulsions have become synonymous with the party itself.

Simpletons and nonentities have been rewarded with positions and other favours for simply defecting to factional power brokers, making the party to suffer feudalism. If the problem of factionalism is not addressed, Zanu-PF will most probably oppose itself into demise, especially now that there is no meaningful external threat to the party’s existence and dominance.

The balkanisation of the party is no longer a matter of expert analysis or secrecy. It is a reality speaking itself to high heavens, going by utterances of rival Zanu-PF factionists on social media.

One can see that personal differences, clashing ambitions, and murky and long forgotten historical events are the major causes of the factionalism bedevilling the party today. The stupid-looking but fierce hegemony factional wars have sadly overshadowed the focus on the primary needs of the populace. With the MDC opposition hardly anywhere in the picture, it has become unnecessary for the ruling party to even pretend to be seized with matters national.

Commentators and writers are still reminding Zanu-PF leadership to take its election-winning developmental blueprint Zim-Asset seriously — three years post election. Life must be hard for talented Zanu-PF members who have no factional alliance. The factions have become so daring that they now have the audacity to demand loyalty even from journalists and columnists like this writer.

If we are going to have the party legitimately claiming safe custody of the revolutionary legacy of our liberation struggle, this production line of soulless apparatchiks must be destroyed.

Indeed there are some of these highly energetic and proficient characters masquerading as heroic icons within Zanu-PF power corridors, but they evidently have no revolutionary soul, no Zanu-PF soul, no liberation legacy soul, and above all no soul to empathise with the suffering Zimbabwean masses. It appears like control freaks run the factions and cabals jostling for power within Zanu-PF, and these people have no more than tunnel visions limited only to the concept of power for power’s sake. It is sad that we have selfish people who would rather want to see the party lose an election than that they lose their place in the perking order, and these deadly functionaries have thrived well in the landscape of factional politics.

We saw during Webster Shamu’s reign that party’s commissariat department had now assumed a presiding role over factionalism as opposed to averting it, and openly so too. Hopefully the aftermath of Shamu’s demise will not recur the graceless omen.

It would not matter that much if the basis of factionalism in Zimbabwean politics across the divide were ideology. Sadly the basis of factionalism in Zimbabwean political parties is patronage; that is the ability of factional leaders to confer jobs, political posts, honours and other goodies on themselves and on their favoured loyalists and supporters. This has become the fatal attraction luring our people into politics. It’s a deadly national disease.

As a writer I have been enticed and invited to write in promotion of factional agendas, and I bet there are colleagues out there that have failed to resist the tempting call. For me the answer is very short and simple. This writer does not subscribe to patronage. There are telling similarities between the MDC-T and Zanu-PF when it comes to patronage politics, and one just needs to look at the electing and appointing of the top leadership and the trends will match quite apparently.

The leadership within both parties seem to believe they have some don powers to doll out posts to all aspiring others, as they may so wish. For as long as factional warriors are allowed to superimpose their personal interests over the national interest, our people will continue to suffer leadership mediocrity, and we essentially have no valid reason to hope for national development.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

  • Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.
Pin It