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Tafi Mhaka: The ‘Zanufication’ of MDC is a big let down

By Tafi Mhaka

The simple act of casting my first vote for the MDC on 24 June 2000 at Avonlea Primary School in Harare went far beyond backing Trudy Stevenson’s maiden journey to parliament.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

I had a score to settle with Zanu-PF and my defiant vote manifested itself as the bow in my arrow.

As a teacher in Honde Valley, I had been threatened and labelled a “sell-out” for supporting the MDC.

So it was payback time.

Fired up and mad as hell, I stepped into the polling booth and voted for Stevenson.

The journey to a new Zimbabwe had begun, and my being immediately swelled with pride.

I went on to celebrate all day and night long, overwhelmed by the promising genesis of a new start.

However, down the line, everything went south.

Strained by the ‘Zanufication’ of the MDC, the party I supported slowly mutated into the wounded beast we vowed to slay in June 2000.

It grew in spluttering fits and starts, staggering from one unsettling shame to another, labouring to fulfil its potential. But I tried to be hopeful, supportive and wilfully oblivious to the party’s shortcomings.

Over the years, I did my very best to disregard the MDC’s divisive splits, to blame them on Zanu-PF and to dismiss them as possibly fundamental teething problems.

However, at some point, I just snapped.

I lost it.

Every new division had dealt a devastating blow to my previously unshakable belief that MDC leaders actually stood for revolutionary change.

I had had enough, and elected to rethink everything.

As much as I wanted to believe that all of our problems began and ended with Zanu-PF’s repressive obstinacy, I discovered that was really half the story.

The MDC’s democratic failings made up the remainder of a maddening, depressing Zimbabwean tale.

I still can’t forget the brutal machete attack on Stevenson in 2006 by MDC youths and unfounded accusations asserting that Welshman Ncube was a Zanu-PF agent, a project designed to destabilise the MDC.

And I can’t forget the insults every leadership contest and split generated in the public domain.

Sadly, the party has seemingly learned little from its past mistakes.

Its aggressive actions since the death of founding president Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018 have surprised, disgusted and infuriated me in equal measure.

Indeed, owing to his lacklustre democratic performance since February 2018, I refuse to praise or support MDC president Nelson Chamisa unreservedly.

To begin with, the violent attacks on former Vice-President Thokozani Khupe in 2018 were uncalled for and served to justify and further embed violence as a political instrument within MDC structures.

And if that were not enough, the verbal attacks aimed at former secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora in the run up to the MDC presidential election in May 2019, smack of the ghastly illiberalism Zanu-PF displays towards its adversaries.

Indeed, Tendai Biti describing Mwonzora as “Zanu-PF half-wit“ and “a nincompoop” is similar to Zanu-PF leaders branding Tsvangirai a “tea boy” and “ignoramus”.

What’s more, after tweeting a picture of Tsvangirai on social media and calling for party unity, the MDC last week cautioned Mwonzora.

He stands accused of discussing “party business” on social media and received a “final warning” for his troubles.

And to compound his dilemmas, Mwonzora is probably one of the alleged “sell-outs” Chamisa is reportedly keen to flush out and expel.

This is terrible.

The MDC’s shameless pettiness and slanderous political witch-hunts reek of Zanu-PF’s senseless zeal.

After a solid, promising start, why has the MDC travelled down this dangerous, old and discredited path?

Why is it becoming a desperately tragic caricature of Zanu-PF?

One of the major reasons why Zimbabwe is afflicted with so many seemingly insurmountable problems is the suppression of robust debate in Zanu-PF.

Just last week, the ruling party expelled former youth league leader Godfrey Tsenengamu for “intransigence and continued disparaging of senior party members”.

In reality, Zanu-PF expelled Tsenengamu for speaking his mind on corruption and publicly shaming some inept and ostensibly corrupt party leaders.

Should the MDC expel Mwonzora, it would be following Zanu-PF’s lead on stifling freedom of speech. And if it did do so, what would this say about the MDC’s responsibility towards promoting democracy?

Instead, it must lead by example and promote insightful conversations on traditional and online platforms, as internal observations and criticism will only strengthen, not weaken, the party.

Besides, is it somewhat criminal to sensibly evaluate the MDC’s current trajectory?

If the MDC is truly different from Zanu-PF, it must act like it and allow its senior members to freely express divergent perspectives.

Pretending party leaders, policies and actions are beyond reproach or analysis is incredibly absurd, despotic and most backward.

As Zanu moves to stifle dissent and subdue and expel independent-minded party members, the MDC must do the opposite.

It must welcome a chorus of probing debate and criticism of serious matters and faltering leaders from all quarters.

And as Zanu-PF seemingly obstructs challenges to Mnangagwa’s presidency, the MDC must invite all and sundry to challenge Chamisa and ensure that he steps down after two terms as party president.

Indeed, I am ashamed by the incessant sycophantic approval lavished on MDC leaders by senior members and commentators alike.

Instead of disregarding the MDC’s failures, let us highlight them, criticise and demand transparency at all times.

And instead of seeking to endlessly and senselessly praise the MDC leadership, let us make our votes truly count and endeavour to promote peace, answerability and a progressive democracy.

That really is the MDC’s reason for existence.

Not the Zanu-PF nonsense it is buckling under.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel,
Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.