That was the story of September 11, 2017, the occasion of Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party as it turned a significant 18 years of age.
The year 18 is often celebrated as the legal age of majority, the age of maturity and a juncture at which one is expected to be responsible enough as to take civic duties.
That is the standard across the world.
It is supposed to be such a significant signpost and marker of history.
The Movement for Democratic Change was formed on September 11, 1999 and went on to become Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party which, within months of its formation, almost caused a major upset in its first election contest.
During elections held between June 24-25, the MDC won 57 of the 120 elected seats, with 47 percent of the popular vote while the ruling Zanu-PF won 63 seats which translated to about 48 of the popular vote.
The MDC had arrived.
It was led by the firebrand Morgan Tsvangirai who had made his name as a trade unionist, being the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU.
The MDC subsequently became a permanent player in our political fixtures.
Only, at 18, the party does not seem to be enjoying entry into the world of adulthood, majority or maturity – take your pick.
It has long lost its virginity and novelty.
It is looking horrible, slovenly and haggard.
It does not have the glow and promise of a teenager entering the world with confidence.
The MDC is limping, refusing to look people in the eye and drags itself about among the shadows as though coming from an ordeal of drunken rape.
The party has been through a lot since it was born.
Morgan Tsvangirai has led the party for 18 years and it has progressively declined under his watch.
It has split on two major occasions:
In 2005, when Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda, among others, went away unhappy with Tsvangirai’s violent dictatorship.
In 2014, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma and others left the organisation decrying the same violent dictatorship and strongly yearning for leadership renewal.
In between there had been low key splinters and defections such as Job Sikhala’s formation of his MDC 99 outfit.
Ironically, in September 2017, these men are back together (save for Mangoma, although a member of his Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe Pishai Muchauraya recently rejoined Tsvangirai).
This is under the banner of a coalition going under the loose name of MDC Alliance.
The flip side is that the MDC is facing yet another split, this time with deputy president Thokozani Khupe appearing to seek to break away.
In fact, this may as well have cast a pall on the party’s 18th birthday.
The fear of a major split is so real and big that there has been a massive stand-off between Tsvangirai and his first elected deputy.
Khupe is against the above reunion under the aegis of the Alliance.
Her argument is that it does not add value to the waning opposition and unduly rewards people like Welshman who may end up being her superior.
Her sentiments appear to be motivated by self-interest anchored on regional dynamics but she has the support of the whole Matabeleland provinces and top officials, namely party chairman Lovemore Moyo and organising secretary Abednico Bhebhe.
In these past few weeks she has stood her ground and the fear of another split has come to be ever present, real and continuing.
One of the newspapers announced that Tsvangirai and his deputy were due to meet on Monday in an effort to find common ground and avert a split.
For these past few weeks Khupe had refused to meet Tsvangirai, except “at a neutral venue” preferably in the Nyanga resort area.
It is not clear if the meeting took place on the party’s birthday.
Let’s analyse the issue in another way.
In these days of social media when people can afford to paint roses out of their otherwise miserable lives, the party did not manage to put a brave, cheerful face, either.
The official MDC Zimbabwe Facebook page which is administered by Morgan Tsvangirai’s “presidential” spokesperson and party director of communications, Luke Tamborinyoka, did not have anything on the party’s 18th birth- day.
Luke’s own Facebook page on September 11 had nothing on the anniversary but he posted a cryptic and silly sounding post that read “Command Stupidity”.
Party spokesperson Obert Gutu on his regular two pages on Facebook, posted a rather poor graphic of the MDC logo inscribed, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MDC-T 11/09/99-11/09/2017”.
The message attracted only 12 “Likes” on one page and 30 “Likes” and six comments on another.
There was nothing on secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora’s social media.
Nelson Chamisa, the other vice president, wrote on Twitter and his Facebook feed:
“MDC @ 18 – the party of excellence attains the legal age of majority 2day having bn formed 11 sept 1999. 2018 is such a maturity test!”
It had 23 Facebook likes and three comments.
The party did not issue any anniversary statement and the party’s website was mum.
For those interested in semiotics, it is quite clear that the MDC did not enjoy its birthday on Monday and its supporters were not too enthusiastic, either.
That means a lot of things.
The opposition party has stagnated.
Going into next year’s election, such lack of enthusiasm betrays a party that is lacking in confidence and almost fatalistic.
It is largely held that the opposition will lose in next year’s elections.
2018 will mark 19 years that Morgan Tsvangirai has been in charge of the party.
With the benefit of hindsight, one may see that Tsvangirai is the elephant in the room.
The 18 years that the MDC attained on Monday are 18 years of failure and it is the failure of Tsvangirai.
He has run three successive presidential attempts and failed on each score.
In a rather strange twist of fate, he is the party’s strength and down- fall.
He has been described as the face of the opposition and the mill around its neck at the same time.
No doubt, this conflict played out in people’s minds as the party turned its not so happy birthday on Mon- day.