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Can Zimbabwe’s opposition really unite?

By Tanonoka Joseph Whande

There seems to be a growing semblance of sanity among leaders of various political parties in Zimbabwe.

Tanonoka Joseph Whande
Tanonoka Joseph Whandeande

One after the other, leaders of various political parties are coming out into the open and declaring that Morgan Tsvangirai, the everlasting Movement For Democratic Change’s head honcho, should be at the head of the combined opposition’s ticket to challenge Robert Mugabe in next year’s presidential elections.

I am just afraid to hope because I have seen and heard it all before.

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For one, Tsvangirai, with all his shortcomings and lackadaisical approach to politics, still remains the center of opposition to the extent no other opposition leader and party have ever done.

Although this might be attributed to the sleepy follow-the leader mentality, Tsvangirai remains the only leader who can draw large crowds of voluntary people to his rallies as opposed to Mugabe whose party buses in people from afar and sends violent youths to force people to attend his or his wife’s rallies.

The MDC’s durability must be applauded but the resilience of the Zimbabwean people, who still continue to search for a meaningful leadership, must be applauded more.

Under normal circumstances, Tsvangirai should by now have been part of opposition history but despite his many attempts and failures to dislodge Mugabe, he still remains a force around whom people can gather and motivate themselves politically.

I do applaud Zimbabwe’s various leaders of opposition parties for coming out publicly and saying Tsvangirai is the only viable person to lead a grand coalition of opposition political parties against Mugabe.

These are people who, for years, have wanted to be presidents of Zimbabwe and who pride themselves in better education and liberation war credentials over Tsvangirai. They have all failed and, to remain visible, they are all jumping to sing praises to Tsvangirai so that if or when Tsvangirai wins, they can claim that they helped him to win the presidency and hopefully get a cabinet post or something.

I have seen it all before and we would be lucky if things got to the point of real unity because I, from previous experiences, have noticed that some of these same leaders will start a discord just before the elections and mess up a chance of defeating the ruling party.

Mugabe does not win the popular vote, he wins by keeping people away from the polls and owning, before any vote is cast, thousands of votes.

But the Zimbabwean opposition is its own worst enemy because every one of the opposition leaders wants to be president or, at least, as high up there as the circling vultures of the Savanna.

And the jostling has already started.

“We have formed a great team of Zimbabwean opposition and Morgan Tsvangirai and I are key components of this Dream Team,” said Tendai Biti, one time Tsvangirai’s Secretary General who dumped Tsvangirai and formed his own party which made no impact on either the MDC or the nation.

It seems and sounds like old times but it is not. There are certain realities that cannot be ignored.

Biti’s party has crumbled after he went on the rampage, disparaging Tsvangirai at every turn and declaring that he would never work with Tsvangirai again nor would he accept him to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties.

“Morgan Tsvangirai and I are key components of this Dream Team…”he now says, perching himself on the top shelf of the political ladder without being appointed or even invited. He deftly drops the words that insinuate that he alone is working with Tsvangirai for this end.

Small things like this can disorient unity talks and Biti knows it.

Biti is actually following in the footsteps of Welshman Ncube, the MDC Secretary General who came before him and branched out to lead a breakaway party.

Ncube’s party, like that of Biti, exists more on paper and only shows up in newspapers towards elections.

Last week,Simba Makoni, a former SADC Executive Secretary and Zimbabwe’s former Finance Minister but now leader of Mavambo/Kusile Dawn heaped praises on Tsvangirai as the only viable person to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties against Mugabe.

“He is a respected leader with popularity,” said Makoni. “I only hope that other

leaders in CODE realise that and will also want to have him.”

CODE stands for Coalition for Democrats, which is a grouping of about 13 smaller opposition political parties trying to unify to fight Mugabe in the elections.

Interestingly, there is also the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) – another grouping of other opposition parties that are not part of CODE.

Both CODE and NERA are wooing Tsvangirai but are themselves not actively trying to unify. Why?

“We want a leader who will do what we thought Mugabe would do, but failed

to do,” said Didymus Mutasa, one time Mugabe confidant and former State Security minister now languishing in opposition politics.

While every vote counts and while I urge for unity among the opposition, Thokozani Khupe’s warnings entice me.

“We must ask ourselves why we want a coalition as a political party,” Khupe said. “When you want a coalition, you would have realised a gap in your party and as the MDC, where is our gap (in Matabeleland)?”

She is wrong on that but right when she questions what value some of these so-called parties add.“You don’t want someone, who will come and disturb what we already have.”

Most of these political parties re-emerge towards elections and grab headlines more for fighting other parties than adding value to the political scene.

There is no doubt that a unified opposition can make a big difference and can actually bring the desired results as seen in other African countries, the most recent of which being the Gambia.

A new attitude on the part of our political leaders is called for. Our mediocre politicians must graduate into mature civic-minded people who fight for the well-being of the country and not for themselves.

Over the years, I have noticed that there is nothing more difficult for Zimbabwe’s opposition than uniting.

Because the differences are more personal than political or ideological, uniting Zimbabwe’s opposition is not an easy thing but it can be done…so, let us do it.

I am hoping that this time around, the troubles, misery and suffering we have seen and experienced will force these leaders into proper introspection and, for once, put the nation before themselves.