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MDC History: Part 2: Role of Civil Society by Dr Tapiwa Mashakada

By Dr Tapiwa Mashakada

PART ONE dealt with the birth pains the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) endured in order to deliver a labour backed political party. It was not all rosy because within the ranks of ZCTU, there were some leaders from affiliate unions who remained loyal to Zanu PF and its government.

Dr Tapiwa Mashakada
Dr Tapiwa Mashakada

They were violently opposed to the idea of confrontation and cutting the umbilical cord with Government. Some of these comrades belonged to the Zimbabwe Leather, Shoe and Allied Workers Union; The Transport and General Workers Union, the Cement and Lime Workers Union, the Furniture Union, the Mineworkers Union and the Construction Workers Union.

I was advised not to mention names of union leaders who resisted because of legal implications.

Back to the role of Students. Arthur Mutambara and Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tendai Biti led a generation of students in the 1980s who opposed the one party state. They led student demonstrations against government. The famous one was held on October 4, 1988 at the University of Zimbabwe.

The student leaders were arrested and tortured. Morgan Tsvangirai gave a solidarity statement and was arrested as I indicated in my previous article and how he was saved by his homeboy Mike Bimha. Some people do not appreciate the link between early student demos and the formation of the MDC.

Student demos heightened the governance crisis and created mass consciousness. The UZ students were an enlightened elite armed with Marxist theory, they became radicalized. UZ became a bastion of ideological debates. Anybody who did not agree with students at UZ was labelled a bourgoisie or petty bourgoisie. Among those labelled were Professor Masipula Sithole and Dr Ibbo Mandaza.

But I have always said with hindsight that Ibbo won the great debate about Communism and Capitalism. The Soviet Union collapsed like a deck of cards and the Berlin Wall fell. Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania and his wife were killed by firing squad. In East Germany Eric Honecker was forced into exile screaming “one day Socialism will rise”. Or will it?.

Anyway I was talking about the student movement which was generational. Students were in fact the ones who started to challenge the one party state and corruption. Yes the ZCTU used its power as a social partner and an organized class to form the party but the torch of opposing the status quo had already been lighted by the radical students who were inspired by Che Guevara and the Bolshevik Revolution.

Students failed to form a party because of the transient nature of student politics. After graduation they often scattered. Some were even absorbed by the very system they opposed. Some went abroad for further studies like Mutambara, Gwisai and Madhuku. Mutambara went to Cambridge, Madhuku went to Oxford and Gwisai went to Columbia.

I’am not too familiar with the post-Mutambara student leaders so I may not do justice to them but I have an idea that after Mutambara’s generation there came Christopher Giwa who caused a lot of noise at the UZ. He died in a mysterious car crash near Marondera.

Then came Paul Chimhosva and Tinomudaishe Chinyoka, and the era of Learnmore Jongwe, Tafadzwa Musekiwa, Daniel Molokele, Job Sikhala, Nelson Chamisa, Chalton Hwende and Musundire. 

Nelson Chamisa shut down business at the Harare Polytechnic before he was expelled. He became an iconic leader of the Zimbabwe national Students Union (Zinasu). Tsvangirai sent an emissary in October 1998 to invite Chamisa to come and join ZCTU efforts to form a political party. Chamisa did not waste time. He actually went in the forefront and won MT’s trust as a charismatic youth leader.

So students played a big role in the formative stages of the MDC.

I now review the role played by the Constitutional Movement which was started by Tawanda Mutasa at the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. He started the Constitutional reform debate in Zimbabwe which later on led to the formation of the NCA led by Morgan Tsvangirai as its Chairperson.

Other NCA founders included Thoko Matshe, Tendai Biti, Lovemore Madhuku, Deprose Muchena, Brian Kagoro, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Douglas Mwonzora, Isaac Maphosa, Brian Raftopoulos, Welshman Ncube, Jacob Mafume, Grace Kwinjeh and others.

Again I cannot exhaust this section as I was not a member of the NCA. When the book is written, I will need researchers from those who were in the student and NCA leadership to write their chapters. The NCA campaigned against the Chidyausiku led National Constitutional Commission.

The NCA led the No vote in the Referendum of 2000 which succeeded. For the first time Mugabe was humiliated. The people had spoken but the backlash was too heavy. The Constitutional movement therefore equally played a key role in supporting the formation of the MDC by labour.

Other civil society groups included the Sekai Holland led Association of Women’s Clubs; Independents led by Fidelis George Mhashu, rural women led by Sithembiso Nyoni, the Informal Sector, Academia and so on and so forth. All these organizations helped ZCTU form the MDC. 

However, there were labour organizations that helped ZCTU through capacity building on defending labour rights over many years. This horned the skills and leadership development at ZCTU.

The Friederich Ebert Stiftung under its various Resident Representatives esp Dr Traub Merz, The African American Labour Centre ( now Solidarity Centre), FNV, LO Norway, Cosatu and SATUCC which was at some stage led by Tsvangirai and Abisha Nyaguwo.

Contrary to propaganda, the Americans and the British were no where near the formation of the MDC. The MDC is the workers project as i have shown in my narrative.

In Part 3, I go back to the National Working Peoples’Convention of February 1999. Comments are most welcome.