The observer commented that, ’if you were to put two Zimbabweans on the moon and visited them the next day, you would find that they have formed three parties’’. The remark was said in respect of splits and divisions bedevilling and weakening the liberation movement at the time. It seems the observation has become a pervasive jinx that has come back to hound and weaken the pro-democracy movement that is fighting against the militarised dictatorship of President Mugabe.
Masi, as he was fondly called by his fellow academics and political disciples went on to write the ground breaking book,’’ Struggles within the Struggle’ detailing the fatal degeneration of the armed struggle into internecine fighting for power, control and leadership of the liberation movement with ethnicity being a key weapon for the liberation elites. On reflection, this important book which has been read mainly through the ethnic ‘problematique’ with respect to the liberation struggle, critically shades light on the kind of leadership Zimbabwe would have after independence, selfish, tribal, parochial, narrow minded and destructive. For these leaders independence would mean power retention and self-enrichment at all costs. Indeed, independence came and the ZANU PF elites have accumulated immeasurable wealth by milking the country dry, making ordinary people poorer. The challenges the country is facing today are a matter of public record.
The spectre of politics of splitting has hounded post liberation Zimbabwe with a multiplicity of off-shoot parties, poorly organised, with no resources, at certain instances no constituencies emerging or new parties sprouting during the electoral calendar in the first decade of independence. Fast forward to a decade since the formation of the robust labour backed Movement for Democratic Change; more parties have come and gone. The MDC itself has split into the MDC-T, MDC-N, MDC-M, and MDC-99. Other new parties have also come up for example ZAPU-Dabengwa sprouting from ZAPU-2000 and Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn. Politics of splitting have also affected the Zimbabwe National Students Union and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to name just two among critical social formations among others which are blazing the same course taken by political parties.
We don’t seek to interrogate the causes of this political practice but to point out that for political institutions and actors claiming to be fighting for democratic transformation and not just for the reform of the electoral system, access to power or patronage, these splits increase the costs of attaining the ultimate goal while postponing the realisation of democratic transformation. It also speaks volumes on the quality, interests, vision or lack of a broad vision on the side of all our leaders.
What is baffling is the failure of the pro-democratic movement to honestly own up to some of our national mistakes and to progress on the basis of addressing not merely the political authoritarian question but the broad issues in favour of a broad based democracy anchored on the principles of tolerance of diversity, transparency, accountability and respect for human life and human rights. In fact our preferred solution to the current intractable authoritarian question determines the socio-economic and political trajectory of our country and the possible outcomes.
One could say that the flows of the Lancaster House pact which brought independence to the country in failing to entrench a broad based democracy and the reluctance of the politically privileged class to open up our society have come full circle to hound us. The limitations of elite pacts have already manifested themselves in the divisive politics of the Inclusive Government, yet the broadened privileged political class from the parties in the Inclusive Government are by far living large at the expense of ordinary people. Already a’ war-veteran’ tendency and penchants for privilege and entitlement that breeds a form of patronage is fast becoming a pattern that will soon explode. It is these tendencies that are forestalling any form of broad based unity among political parties and social movements that could provide for a broad based social organisation of our society beyond mere opportunistic political elite interests.
There is no doubt that had former opposition parties united in 2008, collaborated closely with civil society and churches, ZANU PF would be history by now. Undoubtedly unity is important for itself, if not for electoral benefits from the numbers of potential voters pulled together, organisational capacity, skills and resources it draws together.
Just like the liberation movement which failed to unite the coalition of forces against the Smith regime in 1980, largely for selfish reasons, the pro-democracy movement remain weakened by divisions and suspicions which have derailed any chances for even the minimum collaboration. Accordingly the political costs continue to accumulate and everyday democracy is postponed while human suffering exacerbate.
Acolytes and political hangers on who by default find themselves in some privileged positions have escalated the political costs of the struggle for democracy by pitching against unity within their political formations. But leadership should be exercised to bear in convincing these and other sectors whose loyal sacrifice kept the struggle on course at certain critical points. Indeed the knowledge that Zimbabwe would benefit more from combined efforts by nurturing resilient democratic impulses should be enough to convince true democrats to commit themselves to political cooperation if not unity. True national leaders should detest the ‘faction leader tag’. It is a fact of our history that President Mugabe was a leader of the Shona factions of ZANU PF until the Unity Accord brought back the voters from western regions of Zimbabwe, albeit temporarily before they massively voted the MDCs since 2000.
The benefits for pulling political and material resources, collective organisation, mobilisation and a broad based movement against the weakened dictatorial resiliency far outweighs any possibility of any single party beating ZANU PF at elections. Other than laying a strong foundation for a more democratic, broad based society, it provides irrefutable capacity for building a critical mass, ready for action to defend the people‘s will against any possible military machinations. Negotiations and pacts are no substitute for alternative strategising yet viable political alternatives can provide solid reinforcement for all forms of pacts. Ignore the daily acts of bravado publicly paraded by ZANU PF actors, there is clear uncertainty and anxiety within that party as old age and failing health continue to take its toll on President Mugabe at a time when his party is failing to stitch together a viable succession strategy. And can the pro-democracy leaders allow this despondence to spill to their camp? Ultimately the failure by all leaders in the pro-democracy camp to seize opportunities to salvage the country from this overdue crisis cannot be forgiven.
There is no doubt that the social base of all political parties in Zimbabwe has weakened in the past decade. While ZANU PF maintains an illusion of dominance in the rural Mashonaland areas, it has been losing same voters to the MDC-T especially in Manicaland, Masvingo and parts of the Midlands in addition to its failure to retain Matebeleland.
The MDC-T is not assured of its dominance in urban areas as the shrinking urban electoral base seems to be increasingly fluid. There is likely to be more apathy in the urban areas than in rural areas, while the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe National Students Union, key allies of the MDC-T have been torn apart in splits similar to those suffered by political parties where arrogance, ethnicity and political hedonism (the quest for pleasure, personal power and influence at the expense of the aspirations of the people) are key factors more than policy or ideological orientation. The national structures of these institutions have been decimated to the detriment of their role and capacity in the democratic process to influence national discourses and process. Equally the MDC-N cannot draw pride of legitimacy if it remains confined to isolated constituencies in one region. The influence of other political parties has been very minimal.
While a broad front has its challenges, its potential impact far outweighs the politically divided and at certain times conflicting efforts. A broad front has the potential to stretch the rigging machinery of ZANU PF, its resources and capacity. It has been said in some sectors that the cabal involved in fiddling with the 2008 results of elections won by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, simply used the ballots cast for Simba Makoni of Mavambo/Kusile to reduce his victory’s percentage to less than 51% to justify a run-off election. While the architectures of the 2008 bloodless coup retained President Mugabe as the Head of State, they sure did not rig the elections for him but for their self-interests. Indeed the military remains the major threat to a democratic Zimbabwe. While President Mugabe struggles with his health and age, they remain lingering over any democratic-electoral process. Other than any negotiations to ‘cream’ them off the state, reassuring them against their fears, it is people power that is the strongest security and insurance to a future democratic Zimbabwe, hence the need to avoid the 2008 situation by ensuring that Zimbabweans from pro-democratic different social formations are united in fighting for democracy in their country.
This is not to say that Zimbabwe must be a one party state. We argue that democratisation has been slowed down by a culture of splitting, whatever the causes, and we blame the responsibility on everyone involved. But even more, we are confounded by the failure of leaders who share the same broad vision for a democratic Zimbabwe to at least collaborate to rid our country of dictatorship. The trading of barbs is continuing to harm the integrity and public standing of the concerned leaders, while minimising the benefits they could accrue from the negotiations, first around the GPA issues and in the Inclusive Government. As national leaders, pro-democratic leaders should strive to respect each other, positively reach out to citizens across the whole nation cutting across class, race and ethnicity.
Dethroning the ZANU PF dictatorship and the process to build a new government on the basis of new values will require the skills that the MDC-T or its side of the government, or any other political party in the Inclusive Government does not currently have. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should seek to lead a broad based movement that inspires all by its force of numbers, presence and skills that finally President Mugabe’s dictatorship will be swept away. Such a movement must have space for all progressives on the bases of merit, not privilege, patronage or ethnicity. Such a robust, vibrant yet tolerant movement bringing together selfless democrats, their political parties and civic organizations will be the first step in building an all-inclusive, merit based and tolerant society where democracy endures.
Article authored by Gideon Chitanga a PhD Fellow (Politics and International Studies) Rhodes University and edited by Trust Matsilele a Masters of Philosophy Journalism candidate, Stellenbosch University.