Lovemore Ranga Mataire Senior Writer
It was always coming. The signs were there since the departure of Munyaradzi Gwisai in 2002. Gwisai had tried, but failed to sway the party towards socialist leanings as a worker-based party.
It was clear from the onset that the MDC was at some stage bound to run out of steam, primarily due to lack of an enduring ideological foundation. All over the world, successful political organisations are never sustained by hollow political rhetoric or simple popular discontent. Successful political parties have always been sustained by genuine practical grievances framed within a shared broader ideological premise.
Intermittent popular discontent can be catalyst for change, but beyond that, political parties are conscious of the need to harness periodic disillusionment around an ideological framework that binds all like-minded individuals. This was not the case with MDC at its birth and as they say, curses are like chickens, they are definitely coming home to roost as the centre can no longer hold.
Without a binding ideological foundation and dogged by perennial electoral failures, individual interests are getting the better of a party, which at its first electoral test gave the governing Zanu-PF party a run for its money. But while lack of an ideological framework forms part of the main malaise afflicting the opposition party, other critical issues have popped up and are threatening to render the party redundant.
What are these issues?
The first issue is that the MDC for a long time survived on scapegoating Mugabe as the major impediment to a democratic dispensation and an envisaged prosperity.
For years, the “Mugabe Must Go” mantra became almost like an anthem. It resonated well among its supporters, who personified the country’s problems in Mugabe. The “Mugabe Must Go” mantra won the MDC sympathisers beyond the country’s borders. Donors stampeded to fund an opposition party they founded in trade unionism. Tsvangirai was touted as a leader ready to embrace the West, against Mugabe.
The party’s identification with the West and the apparent open support it got from former white commercial farmers became cannon fodder for the ruling Zanu-PF party, which projected it as a front for neo-colonial interests. On its part, the MDC never attempted to repudiate the tag of being a Western puppet party for fear of chasing away its traditional donors, most of whom were domiciled in Western capitals.
Fast forward to November 2017, Mugabe resigns through pressure from the people, an impending impeachment and military intervention codenamed Operation Restore Legacy.
The military intervention wrong-footed the MDC. Without liberation credentials, Tsvangirai and the majority of his top leadership would on a normal day have preferred a Zanu-PF led by the G40 cabal, who also had no liberation credentials and were intent on refashioning the former liberation party into a post-modernist entity with not much lineage to that extolled episode of the country’s trajectory.
Placed against the wall by a euphoric popular mass protest and the military intervention, the MDC chose to go with the wave and supported an impeachment motion moved by Zanu-PF.
The “Mugabe Must Go” mantra had finally won, but not at the instigation of the opposition, but through dramatic developments within the ruling party itself. The aftermath of Operation Restore Legacy saw the ruling party’s electoral ratings soaring, while the opposition’s standing went down as people attributed the new dispensation to Zanu-PF.
The frenzied attempts by some in the opposition parties to lobby for an inclusive Government explains the yearning for relevance. The hope was that an inclusive Government would dilute the popular momentum of Zanu-PF and in turn project the opposition as having played an active role in the new dispensation.
Realising that an inclusive Government was a hard-sell, the MDC readily accepted an invitation by the United States to offer its opinion on the new political dispensation.PDP leader Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa (MDC vice president) were dispatched to States. The trip was to be the Achilles’ heel of the opposition party’s residual support.
A massive social media backlash ensued as people condemned the Biti’s submission to a Congressional Committee. Some called the sojourn “the Trip of Shame”.
The attempt to reverse the positive goodwill for the new dispensation by insisting that the economic sanctions imposed by US and European Union should stay was received with revulsion by most Zimbabweans, who interpreted the move is a selfish and desperate. Many believed the MDC and its alliance partners had jumped the gun by rushing to America before the new Government had even settled down. Many believed that the opposition party should first have raised its concerns with the new Government instead of rushing to America.
The second issue that has arisen post-Mugabe is the one raised by the party’s policy coordinator-general and MP for Bulawayo South. Eddie Cross is the MDC’s ideological henchmen and a key strategist for the party. So when he speaks, many are bound to listen. On October 7, 2017, Cross penned a piece on his blog site titled “Life is not Fair.” The gist of his article is summarised in the following quotation:
“Now, just as we expect a wave of support for our 2018 Chakachia (wrong spelling for Chakachaya) programme, he (Tsvangirai) is suffering from an aggressive form of colon cancer. He has been struggling with his treatment and the family is concerned that he might not handle the election and subsequently the responsibility of being President of a country in a deep crisis.
After a lifetime of principled struggle, to have it all threatened by a diseases in your body. Life can be a bastard at times.” While the quotation might have been interpreted by some within the MDC as insensitive, its candidness and truthfulness is inescapable. Indeed, one is bound to feel sorry for Tsvangirai, but it is almost certain that the man won’t be able to sustain the rigours of a nationwide electoral campaign.
The leadership uncertainty in the MDC has created serious rifts with some clearly against the two vice presidents (Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri) taking over the leadership. The most vocal group is the one led by Thokozani Khupe, a veteran trade unionist from Bulawayo, who from the onset was against the MDC Alliance, which brought in Welshman Ncube and Biti.
But that is not all. And again Cross is on point. On December 25 2017, Cross wrote on his blog what were objective and honest opinions regarding the new dispensation and the state of affairs within the opposition. His piece was this time titled, “What Next”.
“So, what lies ahead for us in 2018? Firstly, we know the most crucial event is the election, which must take place in July or August this coming year. The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has made it clear, he is going to deliver a free and fair election, the outcome of which cannot be contested by anyone.”
Cross was not done yet and for the benefit of those who may have missed his blog post, here is what he said; “Mnangagwa is in absolute control of the State and I think he is going to deliver. One of the key elements behind this strategy is that he knows the opposition is in shambles. The other thing he knows fully well is that only a democratically elected Government will be recognised by the international community and recovery and reconstruction of the Zimbabwe state and economy is not possible without that.
“I was given a transcript of his speech in Shona to the faithful at the Zanu-PF headquarters in Harare when he returned from his brief exile while the ‘coup’ was planned and executed. In that address, he showed clearly that he understood what a free and fair election meant for him and the party.
“Already, you can feel the impact of his early momentum. Time will tell, but the early indications are that we will see very significant changes in 2018 and that our economy and maybe our country, will begin the long road back to where we should have been …”
The key input from Cross’ piece is that the opposition is in “shambles” and is in sixes and sevens, unable to offer a new paradigm different from the “Mugabe must go” mantra. Cross was to repeat his statements in an interview with Star FM’s George Msumba almost a week ago.
He described the situation in the MDC as similar to “herding cats” with people running in every direction and that it’s almost as if there is no centre calling shots anymore. He attributed the leadership vacuum to Tsvangirai’s ill-health.
It may be too late for the MDC to try and formulate an enduring ideological framework to bring the fractious groups together who from the onset represented divergent interests. It may also be very late for the MDC to have a paradigm shift divorced from speaking out about hollow issues meant to please benefactors to real issues that give hope to their supporters.
As indicated by Cross, the MDC is still talking about the BVR and yet as an alternative government, they should have already started talking about policy issues and coming up with a concrete manifesto to inspire their supporters.
But all this is practically impossible owing to the lack of a body of ideas that binds all and the future of its ailing leader.