Why unity is elusive for MDC-Alliance
Reason Wafawarova on Monday
Leading to election 2018, we saw the formation of what is now called the MDC-Alliance on the backdrop of massive campaigning for a united front against ZANU-PF, not around a common cause or unity of purpose. Leading to the 2008 election the same calls were made where the Tsvangirai-led MDC kept telling the nation it was going into the race united with the Arthur Mutambara-led splinter group.
Whenever we hear the opposition talk of these unity proposals or campaigns, the real motive is always the shared enmity with the ruling ZANU-PF, not exactly any shared values between those seeking to come together. That is a problem.
The principle of democracy is that you promote what you stand for, not what you stand against, you vote for what you want, not against what you do not want, you vote to promote your choice, not to protest against the choice of others. This is why democracy must by definition be about alternative policies competing on the political playing field, not about one side of the political divide scoring cheap by vilifying the other.
To our opposition unity is a matter of convenience, a seasonal matter only applicable on election eves, just because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate — another routine defeat at the hands of ZANU-PF.
It is hard to imagine the EFF and the DA going into an election as one entity and force just to defeat the ANC in South Africa. We know what the EFF stands for, and what the DA stands for. Unity of any kind is impossible at ideological levels.
Human history records that rivalry and prejudice have always been the greatest enemies of unity, and wherever the two exist there is no hope for people coming together.
From its beginning the problems in the MDC have always been cemented in rivalry created by prejudices as evidenced by Tsvangirai’s mistrust and suspicions towards the constituency of “intellectuals” and other perceived power centres that the late founding leader suspected of disloyalty to his leadership.
That the MDC was formed as a coalition of diverse interest groups, many of them with conflicting orientations, is common knowledge.
Over the years the different groups have openly fought for space and supremacy within the party, leading to numerous splits and unending internal divisions.
Tsvangirai at one time had to resort to the so-called kitchen cabinet, and just like Nelson Chamisa is doing with the thuggish and violent Vanguard today, the late founding leader of the opposition also had to rely on hoodlums to reinforce and protect his power from what he believed was a threat from the likes of Welshman Ncube, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Job Sikhala, Elton Mangoma, Tendai Biti and others.
These people had their own prejudices against Tsvangirai, whose political acumen they doubted, and whose capacity to handle complex political matters they also doubted, given his limited exposure to academics.
As journalist James A. Haught once wrote, “anything that divides people can spawn hostility.”
In the case of the MDC the concept of democracy, which many in the party interpret to mean doing as one may so wish, has been the strongest divider. The limited understanding of what democracy is makes it next to impossible for the MDC to be democratic internally.
There simply has been no rallying point in the MDC outside a shared hatred for Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF until 2017, and the same-shared hatred for ED Mnangagwa and his Government and party today.
There is still no rallying point, and the limited understanding of the term democracy by the generality of the MDC leadership, together with the majority of its supporters, has put to naught the general belief that democracy makes people “good”, as evidenced by some of the heinous acts that have so far been committed by known MDC activists on known fellow MDC members.
We had inter-faction skirmishes in Bulawayo in October 2007, and in November the same year, MDC-T members openly bashed each other at Harvest House. Before the 2005 split, leaders like Welshman Ncube, Trudy Stevenson, Toendepi Shonhe, Peter Guhu and others were attacked and injured by hoodlums openly claiming to be defending Tsvangirai’s bidding.
At the funeral of Morgan Tsvangirai himself, the Nelson Chamisa-aligned Vanguard just fell short of burning Douglas Mwonzora and Thokazani Khupe to death in a village hut in which they had taken refuge after fleeing from the marauding youths.
Post the 2013 election, Elton Mangoma had been openly bashed for writing a letter to Morgan Tsvangirai questioning his capacity to continue leading the party, following the party’s heavy loss to ZANU-PF.
The MDC now gives us this awkward view that for good people to do evil it takes democracy. How else can one explain the assaults, attempted murders and the wanton destruction of public and private property by MDC activists in the name of exercising democratic rights?
Unity does not mean avoiding fielding candidates from various factions or parties for the same contested post in an election.
Unity means rallying around a principle or a value, being united towards attaining a common goal meant to mutually benefit the uniting parties or people.
To some the term unity simply means the absence of friction or strife.
Although this simplistic way of looking at unity can be somewhat ludicrous, the MDC still will fail the test since friction and strife have been synonymous with the party from just about the time it was formed in 1999.
It has always been example after example: Welshman Ncube versus Tsvangirai, Tapiwa Mashakada reported as burning down Sikhala’s house, Sikhala threatening to leave the party, Munyaradzi Gwisai expelled for exercising his right to free speech, Peter Guhu escaping murder, Misihairabwi-Mushonga assaulted for opposing Tsvangirai, Tsvangirai splitting the party, Trudy Stevenson assaulted and left for dead; again for daring to challenge Tsvangirai, one guy losing an eye in Bulawayo, Lucia Matibenga and her colleagues set upon and assaulted by Tsvangirai’s youths for daring to question why the women’s assembly was dissolved.
Nelson Chamisa unilaterally and illegally takes over the leadership, and the Vanguard terrorises his opponents unabated, even manipulating provincial structures and coercing them to nominate and endorse the 41-year-old politician as the unopposed presidential candidate for the illegal party’s upcoming illegal congress — based on the recent High Court judgment on Chamisa’s legitimacy.
Strategically fielding a single against ZANU-PF for whatever post has not worked for the MDC in the past because that alone lacks the unity of purpose to attract the vote.
Realistically, are two men with pistols pointed at each other considered to be in unity simply because they are not pulling the trigger for fear of pleasing a third party with a victory they mutually feel is unwarranted?
Absurd as such a view may sound, that is exactly what Nelson Chamisa was assigned to tell the people of Zimbabwe by Tsvangirai in 2008. Then he was the party spokesperson.
Tsvangirai was pleading with Mutambara that while it would suit both of them to keep their pistols pointed at each other, they had to make sure that they did not fire at each other because that would leave Robert Mugabe with no meaningful competitor.
That is not unity, and the people of Zimbabwe are a fairly academically enlightened lot and it has naturally been impossible to hoodwink them with such uncalculated manoeuvres.
We did see in the 1990s some opposition parties “uniting” under some emblem made up of symbols of three hands each carrying its own racial colour, and they sang “Manya manya nemvura tinoda kuundura jongwe” but the people of Zimbabwe saw them for what they were — pretenders who mistook quest for power for unity.
The MDC has been trying to repeat this cosmetic unity and clearly this has not worked.
The MDC leadership may want to be reminded of the likes of Edgar Tekere, Abel Muzorewa, Wurayayi Zembe and Isaac Manyemba — people who all tried pseudo-unity and failed.
There is still evident monolithic unity in Zanu-PF, especially when one looks at how old the party is run, much as there are evident competing forces threatening to tear the revolutionary party into smithereens. We hear of G40 ousted in 2017, and G4O remnants within the party.
When the electorate look at an institution like Zanu-PF in comparison to the patching business that the opposition MDC has been, it clearly knows who is better positioned to govern the country.
The electorate is not as dumb as to fail to see the ludicrousness of a party that only preaches unity because it fears to lose an election.
Zimbabweans clearly know what to make of a party that keeps threatening to boycott elections only to jump into the ring at the instructions of its foreign handlers, or after realising no one is taking their threat seriously.
The people of Zimbabwe are quite clear on political contenders and political jokers, given that many of them have lived through the eras of the Magoches, the Dumbutshenas, the Muzorewas and the Paul Siwelas of this world.
The people may not have been vigilant enough to stop some breathtaking jokers from going to Parliament, but they still know better than being fooled into a unity that is only cosmetic.
Here are other reasons why the MDC cannot possibly unite in the true sense of the word. The vested interests in the various power centres are largely too diverse for any possible compromises, for example the change wanted by the white element of the MDC has not been exactly the change wanted by the ZCTU, ZINASU or the ordinary urban resident.
The only common change so far shared is the aspired absence of ZANU-PF from power, and that exactly for power’s sake.
Secondly, the MDC leaders are clearly more concerned with their own supremacy and personal interests than they are with unity.
For Tsvangirai, any talk of unity had to come after confirmation that his aspiration of becoming the supreme leader was secured.
This is how Nelson Chamisa operates as well. Congress can only come after conformation that he is not going to be contested.
For others like the sitting MPs, talks of unity must come in the context of them securing new candidacy endorsements unopposed.
For others, unity must always be on con
ditions of them securing powerful positions within the MDC itself. All this cannot pass for unity but plain amateurish political play and selfishness.
Thirdly, the rift created by the MDC fallouts over the years is so big that the fear of losing to ZANU-PF alone cannot mend the gap.
Any unity between opposition rivals would require such a level of friendship and trust between the feuding parties that are very difficult to contemplate.
I assert that the only unity the MDC factions can successfully sell to the people of Zimbabwe is a unity around good alternative policies — policies centred right on the Zimbabwe national interest.
It is a unity beyond mere loathing and hatred of President Mnangagwa.
It is unity in hope — a hope for positive social development.
Outside that framework, the gospel of unity as synoptically preached by the ever-feuding factions of the MDC for the purposes of amassing votes from assumed gullible voters will just not yield the ultimate victory.
Now we are told Douglas Mwonzora and Elias Mudzuri are the enemies, that Thokozani Khupe is a ZANU-PF mole, in fact anyone that differs with Nelson Chamisa must by definition be something unacceptably terrible.
The people of Zimbabwe must stop idolising politicians, and start interrogating party policies. ZANU-PF cannot be always right by definition, and the same goes for the MDC, for individual politicians, and for any other political party.
If the MDC factions want to unite they have to do so outside this unconvincing framework of uniting against President Mnangagwa or Zanu-PF.
The nation wants to see them uniting under an alternative policy. “Chisa mbama Chisa” or “Chamisa Chete Chete” are slogans, not policies. Jingoism and fanaticism will not work.
The Land Reform Programme is a policy, “Zimbabwe is open for business” is part of the re-engagement policy, part of the investment policy.
We need to start interrogating these policies. What are the successes and failures of the Land Reform Programme? Has anyone been re-engaged by Zimbabwe yet? Is there any investment coming into the country. How are the proposed policies going to be funded and implemented? Have election promises on housing been fulfilled?
Coalitions must be based on policy synergies, not on how best to secure political power.
For as long as we remain as simplistic as to think that political power in and of itself can bring social development we will remain a poor and troubled nation.
If Chamisa had told us the need, cost, benefit, and the how to implement part of his village airports goal we probably would have been better informed before we voted. The same goes for his bullet trains, eight- lane freeways, and so on.
This writer is based in Australia and there is an election coming in eight days. The opposition says they will increase funding and benefits for healthcare and the Medicare system, that that they will provide free child care services for parents earning less than $69 000 per year, that they will increase superannuation (the equivalent of NSSA) from 9,5 percent of earnings to 12 percent.
They have explained where the money to fund all this will come from, and what they are going to cut on, and how they are going to secure the schemes from abuse.
It is all researched well with statistics and evidence, not some silly and simplistic promises like Trump will fund the programmes, or China has promised to give us billions.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.