By Tafi Mhaka
In 1999, former president Robert Mugabe launched the beginning of a malicious, protracted and still-active assault on the MDC’s integrity. Amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, Mugabe routinely labelled the MDC economic saboteurs and a ‘party of murderers’ and ‘stooges’.
He called then-party president Morgan Tsvangirai a ‘British poodle’ and ‘ugly tea boy’, and branded white commercial farmers, many who backed the MDC, ‘enemies of the state’.
Mugabe’s distasteful propaganda lacked credible evidence, all right, but it sat well with Zanu-PF’s mostly poor, neglected and highly disillusioned rural support base.
Two decades after the intoxicating promise of independence had literally lapsed and dissipated into obscurity and incredible hardship, somebody had to be responsible for Zanu-PF’s glaring economic mismanagement and a burning failure to establish a productive land redistribution programme.
Unsurprisingly, Mugabe’s ruinous proclamations and deceitful scheming came at the expense of the MDC’s political legitimacy, especially among the conservative security establishment, the Zanu-PF youth league, the judiciary and war veterans. Worryingly, today, Zanu-PF’s aggressive brand of ethnic nationalism remains a potent political tool.
The disturbing pictures of ZNA soldiers assuming combat positions to shoot and kill unarmed civilians on August 1, 2018 confirm this. As do discomforting images of baton-wielding ZRP officers attacking peaceful, unarmed protestors during an aborted demonstration in Harare on August 16, 2019.
The pitiful depictions bear testimony to the unsubstantiated illegitimacy foisted upon the MDC Alliance by significant sections of the uniformed forces and, by extension, society.
Many gullible police and army recruits come from poverty-stricken Zanu-PF strongholds, disadvantaged communities where Mugabe’s reckless misrepresentations about the MDC still carry massive political currency and continually provoke a deadly hatred for Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party. Additionally, a majority of Zanu-PF supporters remain convinced the MDC Alliance is behind the financial sanctions supposedly crippling Zimbabwe’s economy.
What’s more, MDC Alliance leaders have been portrayed as weak-minded, western lackeys by a pliant government media. Widely publicised visits by the MDC leadership to London and Washington, to lobby for foreign support, have been lampooned and cited as credible proof of the party’s disloyalty to Zimbabwe’s best interests.
Yet, as startling revelations from the 2011 Wikileaks cables prove, Zanu-PF’s shadowy associations with western powers run deep and remain wholly distinguishable from the MDC’s transparent lobbying.
However, perception is everything, and the MDC Alliance’s reputation is severely tainted. Also, last year, Nelson Chamisa lost a sham presidential election that he participated in voluntarily. Try as he may, Chamisa can’t undo that costly miscalculation or dispel long established, fabricated determinations that easily.
Worse still, as evidenced by Zanu-PF’s crushing victory in Lupane’s parliamentary by-election on August 3, not everyone can connect the dots between Zimbabwe’s economic deterioration and Zanu-PF’s destructive impunity and extensive maladministration. This, to say the least, is a massive impediment to the MDC Alliance’s claim to political hegemony.
Left without a constitutional mandate to rule, the MDC Alliance must demonstrate a mass mobilisation capability that will potentially supersede Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legal entitlement to power.
Yet, even if millions of people participated in anti-government marches calling for Mnangagwa’s removal, the ZDF would, in all likelihood, have a decisive say on Zimbabwe’s political future.
That’s why Chamisa must work on building strong strategic alliances with progressive war veterans, as well as senior police and military officers who have objective and holistic understandings of Zimbabwe’s complex challenges. That is serving officers who remain loyal to their constitutional mandate to serve and protect Zimbabweans of all descriptions and party affiliations.
Be that as it may, restoring the MDC Alliance’s fractured credibility won’t be easy, and achieving widespread consensus for authentic change across the political divide will certainly require bold and intelligent political manoeuvring.
Nevertheless, Chamisa must work on building political capital and launching a multi-pronged democratic challenge to Zanu-PF’s despotism and malfeasance.