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Zimbabwe opposition must change from confrontation to cooperation: Shumba

By Dr Tapiwa Shumba

OPINION – It could be true that only a fool will do the same thing over and over again but still expect a different result.

Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai and Dumiso Dabengwa at a press conference last year
Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai and Dumiso Dabengwa at a press conference in 2013

After 15 years of the same strategy, it is high time opposition political parties accept that the old strategy has not worked and might never work.

The opposition, specifically the MDC adopted and pursued a very difficult, tactically costly and historically incomprehensible approach towards fighting for change. Although the idea of change is noble and resonates with the aspirations of the general populace, it is the strategy of confrontation that has destroyed any hope for that change.

When pursuing confrontational politics, everything ZANU-PF and Mugabe says or does has to be branded and opposed as evil.

Sometimes this involves choosing the more ridiculous and appalling alternatives simply to oppose what has been said or done. Not only that, at times it involves shunning government programmes and equally demanding abstinence by opposition members.

It is because of this confrontational strategy that the opposition must also partly take responsibility for the obvious polarisation in the country.

Opposition members increasingly found themselves alienated from government and government linked institutions. Citizens failed to engage and enjoy peace simply because they belonged to different political parties.

In pursuing the confrontational strategy and not wanting to be seen as the same with ZANU-PF, the opposition stammered and chewed words on important issues such as land reform. The narrative that land redistribution was equally part of the opposition agenda is now buried in the fear of being associated with what became the fast track land reform.

Not only that, members of the opposition became aggressively against land reform which the opposition had sought to equally champion. In fact, the MDC had a policy forbidding its members from acquiring land under the government land reform programme.

More so, all other government programmes, such as agricultural inputs schemes, garikai/hlalani kuhle, the presidential scholarship, youth loans and many others of the past decade had to be branded as illicit ZANU-PF shenanigans which opposition members were to shun, discredit and condemn.

In return, the MDC did not have any initiatives to assist the same constituency it instructed to snub government initiatives. The gospel always being, “we are in a struggle”, “we must sacrifice and stick to our principle”.

The GNU later exposed the untruthfulness and evil of that gospel when the same leaders rushed in to benefit from government initiatives that they, for more than a decade, had always insisted that their membership should despise and disparage.

Young people in the opposition must be vigilant. We are bypassed by government initiatives in the false belief that we are discrediting and undermining the ZANU-PF government. This will come back to haunt us in the future.

We don’t have land. We rejected government agricultural inputs. We spurned government loans. All these, in truth, belong to us. Land belongs to the nation. It is worse for loans, agricultural inputs and scholarships because it is the working class and business class membership of the opposition that pay taxes to support government expenditure.

In essence, you are giving money to a government that you refuse to recognise and benefit from. On which part is it not your government then?

Anywhere, fast forward to 2015, the opposition has continued to pursue the same hypocritical strategy that serves more to impoverish its membership than it is a tactic to weaken ZANU-PF. This strategy does not affect ZANU-PF; of course not.

We cannot make our people suffer first so that we can lead them. By that time they might not be any left to experience the good times we promise.

Almost two years after 31 July 2013, the MDC still maintains the same old confrontational strategy. The hallmark of it is in not accepting elections results and by extension the current government and President.

In truth, the MDC and its leadership must accept that both the strategy and leadership of confrontation have failed and outlived any purpose. Of course some are justified in maintaining a strategy from which they have built their political reputation because change will surely extinguish them.

However, national interest is more important than political careers and life must go on with or without individual politicians. In essence, as times changes and new challenges emerge, they too must change.

Opposition political parties must now consider a new strategy of cooperation. Without a doubt, opposing can still be done with cooperation. In that way some ground can be gained through consensus and negotiations on key issues of national interest on both the opposition and government side.

A case in point is the constitution making process. ZANU-PF is not shy to go it alone; even to hell, but with an appropriate measure of checks and balances, it has sometimes come to the table.

Government itself is not the monster, but opportunist elements in ZANU-PF that view fighting the opposition as a holy war to protect their loot and greediness. There are many good people in ZANU-PF who wish to see a prosperous country. There are also many aimless individuals in the opposition who are simply looking for a living through politics.

In my opinion, President Mugabe was right in his speech to parliament when he said the opposition had not only rejected the election results but also chose to close any channels of engagements. This observation is supported by both the current situation and history.

The MDC-T in particular must realise that they need the government more than the government needs them. It is them that want to push the government towards adopting certain alternative policy reforms.

Surely, international experiences have shown us that in countries where there is national convergence, there is also progress. To refuse to recognise the current government and continue to talk about an imminent election is not just irresponsible but perhaps also foolish.

Opposition political parties must understand and quickly believe the reality that ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe are in power and in charge of the country.

It is only with accepting this reality that a new responsive strategy can be defined. Everyone else has moved on and carved new strategies accordingly. The opposition must not remain dormant and trapped in the past.

Perhaps a new breed of opposition political leaders who are not obsessed with the old philosophy of confrontation must emerge and divorce themselves from the status quo.

Dr Tapiwa Shumba is a former spokesperson of the MDC in South Africa currently on a one year political sabbatical. This sabbatical he says “was taken as a period of studying, analysing and observing Zimbabwe political dynamics from a vantage point.”