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Tafi Mhaka: The view from Joburg: Zanu-PF can’t stop winning elections. And Chamisa can’t defeat Mnangagwa

By Tafi Mhaka

Living in Johannesburg, South Africa is similar to having a modest home away from a neglected homeland. It doesn’t matter where you go to in Johannesburg, you’ll be sure to find Zimbabweans of every manner settled in this cosmopolitan city.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Most are simply delighted and somewhat relieved to have a job and affordable, regular access to clean water, electricity, healthcare and finance facilities. Most hardly talk about returning ‘home’, permanently, especially as thousands of Zimbabweans continue to flock to Johannesburg to search for jobs.

By my instinctive estimation, the number of fresh exiles landing in Johannesburg, every month, trumps the 2008 wave propelled by hyperinflation and political instability. Unlike 2008, though, many newly-arrived migrants are relatively young and obviously have very little formal work experience.

They drive Uber taxis and work for companies such as Mr Delivery. They run small, informal businesses. They stand and sit at traffic stops, outside malls and construction sites, looking for odd jobs to do, hoping against all odds to make a day’s worth of money to pocket and eventually send home to family left in Zimbabwe.

Despite a 55% unemployment rate amongst South African youths, rampant company closures, a projected 1.5% growth rate and xenophobic violence, most Zimbabweans would rather stay put and hustle for a job in Johannesburg. And despite Mthuli Ncube’s vaunted economic reforms, our migrant struggle is testament to how undesirable a place to work Zimbabwe looks from here.

It’s been nearly two decades since the MDC challenged Zanu-PF’s tenuous stronghold on power. Yet, despite its overwhelming popularity and possibly several stolen poll victories over the years, the MDC’s no closer to actually achieving power than it may have been the day after the June 25 2000 parliamentary election results were announced.

Clearly, widespread public despondency, immense popularity and a strong moral imperative to rule won’t land the MDC-A a five-year term in office. To compound its devastating electoral losses in 2018, the party’s lost three parliamentary by-elections this year, and Zanu-PF appears mighty strong and unbeatable.

As things stand, it’s hard to imagine the MDC-A winning the 2023 elections, not if the infrastructure supporting Zanu-PF remains solid and not while the MDC-A pursues an erratic, feeble and fairly academic approach to confronting an authoritarian government.

All things being equal, the MDC-A would obliterate Zanu-PF at the polls. But they aren’t. So, the MDC-A must pick away at Zanu-PF’s discriminating structural advantages, consistently. While it can’t stop Zanu-PF from buying votes, the MDC-A must work to nullify the state media’s bias and propaganda.

Why, after all of these deflating electoral losses, hasn’t the MDC-A seen it fit to organise mass demonstrations against the government’s continued abuse of publicly owned media platforms? Surely, the MDC-A understands the government media’s powerful role in criminalising it, questioning the party’s objectives and swaying political opinions in Zanu-PF strongholds?

Looking on from Johannesburg, it’s not clear why the MDC-A is reluctant to organise regular and spontaneous protests. A demonstration now and again, to be honest, won’t cut it. But, maybe the seriousness of the situation in Zimbabwe is severely overstated by the MDC-A, and everything’s not really that bad?

Or, maybe those of us residing in Johannesburg don’t really understand the MDC-A’s mysterious plan to become Zimbabwe’s ruling party? The MDC-A appears to believe something ‘big’ might happen all of a sudden and force Zanu-PF’s hand. However, the MDC-A must in fact mobilise dissent, be proactive and tremendously reactive to extreme, urgent situations.

Beyond having the means to galvanise people’s frustrations to secure meaningful democratic concessions from a tenacious government, regrettably, the MDC-A has very little real power to influence Zanu-PF. After Dr Peter Magombeyi went missing, for example, MDC-A leaders rightfully vented their anger and frustration at his woeful, illegal abduction on social media.

Yet, why didn’t the party organise countrywide demonstrations calling for his return and an abrupt end to extrajudicial abductions and state-sanctioned torture? Better yet, why hasn’t the MDC-A mobilised thousands of enraged demonstrators to strike hard at the government’s contempt for liberal freedoms and human rights?

Today, while everyone’s rallying behind Dr Magombeyi’s right to seek urgent medical attention in Johannesburg, the MDC-A’s leadership’s been reduced to providing running commentary to this man’s terrible ordeal. It should, undeniably, be doing much more than that.

Zimbabwe hasn’t witnessed a massive, disruptive campaign to position human rights and reforms at the centre of governance. As a mass exodus of deprived, frustrated and unemployed youths from Zimbabwe to South Africa endures, the MDC-A must embrace a substantial change in political strategy and execution.

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