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‘Rebranding for MDC Alliance is no longer an academic question but political reality’

By Blessing Taona Denhere 

The legend has it that prehistoric dinosaurs went extinct because they ignored and failed to evolve and change in line with evolving environmental challenges and ever-changing climatic conditions.

Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe
Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe

Accordingly, in the competitive ecosystem of corporate world and business consumerism (re)branding  and remaining competitively relevant is an essential component and remaining on the cutting edge and one step ahead of your competitors is an unwritten rule and guiding credo in the business world. However, the same concept and principle applies in the zero sums games of winners takes it all and eats it all world of politics or of realpolitik.

Where political parties periodically advertise and sell their political products to their customers and attempt to prise away potential customers from their competitors.

Thus, political parties and their leaders need to periodically reinvigorate and repackage their political parties in direct correlation to both internal and external contradictions and contestations. This phenomena of political (re)branding can found expression in both liberal progressive mature democracy and also in equally illiberal hybrid competitive authoritarian pseudo democracy.

For instance, the old British Labour Party after having spent the greater part of 1980s and the first half of 1990s stuck in the quicksands of political wilderness at the hands of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major led Conservative Party.

As a matter of political survival and dismantle the Conservative hegemony, the Labour Party rebranded and repackage itself as the New Labour Party, led by young, exuberant, and charismatic Tony Blair.

Furthermore, on the southern side of the Limpopo river the then National Party which was the hitherto natural home of fascist right-wing nativist apartheid politics. Nonetheless on the demise of apartheid and during the run up towards the inaugural post-apartheid democratic elections of April 1994 rebranded and repackaged itself as the New National Party.

In an effort to symbolically break from the dark past and bury its apartheid political umbilical cord in the political dustbins and simultaneously embrace a post-apartheid dispensation of rainbowism, multiculturism and colour-blind multiracialism.

This then brings us to the question which has increasingly gained currency over the few months, on whether the increasingly beleaguered the MDCA should rebrand, repackage itself and reinvigorate itself and chart a new political course. This argument had been largely informed because of the systematic manner in which the doctrine of Offensive Lawferism.

Which has been buttressed with callous and vengeful political gangsterism of ZANU PF government and spiteful political cannibalism of MDCT has been ruthlessly deployed with devastating effect to politically and organisationally emasculate and decimate the MDCA over the last six months.

Therefore, in order to fully disarticulate why for MDCA rebranding is now a matter of life and death issue. We need to first take a detour and retrace and contextualise the genealogy of intra MDC factionalism, splits and counter splints between the years 2005 and 2013. And why those particular episodes did not warrant or demand rebranding.

Secondly will analyse and unconstruct what will term as the diseconomies of toxicity of the bastardised brand of MDC. That is the unrestrained vindictive political cannibalism of MDCA at the hands of callous and spiteful state assisted MDCT had inventible led to desecration and defilement of a hitherto progressive opposition brand which now saddled with both judicial and electoral liabilities.

Lastly will argue why the MDCA must embark on a bottom up consultative and participatory rebranding outreach exercise with its key stakeholders, that is the ordinary voter and rank and file support base. Who have borne the brunt of the daylight electoral and parliamentary thievery at the hands of MDCT.

Genealogy of intra MDC factionalism and splits

The cancerous and self-destructive scourge of factionalism, splits and counter splits announced its destructive presence in opposition politics in 2005. The first factional split was necessitated by internal party contradictions and contestations with regards to whether to participate in November 2005 Senatorial elections. Inevitably to factions emerged, with one vehemently opposed to partaking in senatorial elections and with another equally adamant in favour of contesting the senatorial elections. The anti-senatorial election faction was aligned to Morgan Tsvangirai.

This faction had justifiably argued that senatorial elections where unnecessary drain and expenditure on the national fiscus and place a huge financial burden on an already struggling taxpayers. And the senatorial elections have predetermined outcome since they are coming on hardly six months after the disputed May 2005 Parliamentary elections. Which were plagued by irregularities and electoral malpractices.

The anti-senatorial had rationalised that it is better to boycott the elections and devote our attention towards fighting for political and electoral reforms. Furthermore, the anti-senatorial election faction had rightly gauged the mood of the opposition fanbase. Which was indifferent and apathetic towards holding of senatorial elections.

Especially against the backdrop of an aftermath inhumane political, socioeconomic and class cleansing exercise, the infamous Operation Murambatsvina. Which had dislocated the political and electoral strongholds of the then MDC. Coupled with the fact that the majority of the victims of Operation Murambatsvina were still licking their wounds and counting their socioeconomic loses and preoccupied with rebuilding their lives and sources of livelihoods. Hence there was no appetite for active political and election engagement on the part of the would-be MDC voters.

However, the pro senatorial election faction coalesced around prominent opposition political figures such as the late Gibson Sibanda, Prof Welshmen Ncube, the late Ambassador Trudy Stevenson as well as David Coltart. They argued that MDC was formed to politically and electorally challenge ZANU PF political and electoral hegemony. Therefore, MDC must claim its democratic and electoral space within every contested electoral and political ecosystem.

Thus, must not freely cede democratic space to ZANU PF. Accordingly, senatorial elections are a fair game for MDC to contest. Needless, to say that the extreme polarity of both factions ideological positions around the issue surrounding whether to participate or not the senatorial elections, automatically made it difficult for both factions to find a middle of the road approach give and take compromise position. Thus, the split became an unavoidable political reality.

Thus, 2005 witnessed the emerging of MDC(T)svangirai and MDC(M)utambara, after Arthur Mutambara was plucked from political wilderness to become the figurehead of the pro senate faction of MDC. However, the political divorce was also punctuated with acrimony and violence. Which resulted in some senior MDC legislator in pro senate faction such as the late Ambassador Trudy Stevenson being brutally battered by the alleged members of the now MDCT.

Unfortunately, this propensity to end and settle intra party factional dispute with violence became a template that was to be deployed with more ruthlessness streak in other successive intra factional splits in the MDCT.

The second wave of intra party split that befell the MDCT occurred on the aftermath of the shocking electoral drubbing of MDCT at the harmonised July 2013 general elections by a rejuvenated ZANU PF. A hitherto beleaguered ZANUPF which was given a second bite of the cherry during the 5-year peacocracy of the Government of National Unity.

Had opportunistically and Machiavellian used the 5 year period of modest socioeconomic improvement to reinvigorate and reinvent itself  and contest the July 2013 election as a cohesive well-oiled and well drilled political juggernaut scaffolded by its grassroots centred signature political campaign strategy of bhora mugedhi and its radical socioeconomic blue print of Indigenisation. Notwithstanding, the uneven electoral landscape and media ecosystem.

Coupled with a compromised and fraudulent voters rolls. Nonetheless the young and ambitious Turks within MDCT, such as Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma and etc felt that Tsvangirai had run a very poor, lacklustre and uninspiring electoral campaign.

They rightly felt that Tsvangirai will never reach the political pinnacle and electoral zenith of his unprecedented first round presidential electoral victory of March 2003. Therefore, Tsvangirai having failed on three successive electoral circle to wrestle power from Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF, Consequently the young Turks like Biti and Mangoma felt a change of political guard was necessary.

Regrettably violence was unleashed on both Biti and Mangoma for daring to instigate internal party leadership renewal and were subsequently declared persona nan grata. As result the second political divorce was completed Both Biti and Mangoma went on to form their political formation known as People Democratic Party and Coalition of Democrats respectively.

However, it was this failure by the MDCT and particularly Tsvangirai to clearly institutionalise and constitutionalise an amicable leadership succession plan, that went on to spawn the current blowbacks which are profusely politically and parliamentary haemorrhaging the MDCA.

However, what instructive from these first two intra party splits is the fact that; The three political offshoots of the main MDC(T). That is the PDP, MDC Mutambara which later became MDC Ncube and the Coalition of Democrats, they significantly went on to independently carve out they are own political territory in the opposition political forests. And objectively portrayed themselves as genuine political parties that offer alternative politics against both the MDCT and ZANUPF.

This was further demonstrated by the party paraphernalia and party colours adopted by these three protagonists. Which were distinctively dissimilar to that of MDC(T). Especially MDC Ncube despite having an open palm symbol similar to that of MDC(T), nonetheless it went out of its way and adopt green colour rather than red colour as its party colours.

Furthermore, both PDP and MDC Ncube identified an autocratic ZANU PF government as the common enemy and neither of the two parties avail themselves as the willing trojan horse for destabilisation of the main opposition the MDC(T). This explain why both Biti and Welshman Ncube were unconditionally embraced by both the top hierarchy and rank and file of the democratic movement as the prodigal sons of democratic movement when they re-joined the MDCA in 2018.

The Diseconomies of the toxified MDC brand

However, the February 2018 intra MDC(T) split which came on the aftermath of the death of Morgan Tsvangirai, is fundamentally different from the intra party splits of 2005 and 2013. In the sense that it spawned from the vanquished faction, that is the Thokozani Khupe led MDCT are vindictive, spiteful and callous arch nemesis.

Who in their clouded and myopic hatred of the MDCA availed themselves as the readymade trojan horse for authoritarian restoration and autocratic consolidation project for the despotic ZANU PF led government. Accordingly, the past six months witnessed an unprecedented electoral and parliamentary dislocation of the MDCA representative in the House of Assembly and local councillors.

This historical electoral grand heist is undergirded by a ruthless streak of  Offensive Lawfareism Which gives the veneer of (i)legalities and constitutionalism to the charade of Parliamentary recalls of MDCA legislators by the MDCT and subsequent replacement of MDCA legislators by MDCT legislators in the House of Assembly. Therefore, it is undoubtable that the judicially constructed and state assisted(zanufied) MDCT has conspired to bastardise and toxify the MDC brand. Such that it has become political liability and a parliamentary loss-making political brand for MDCA.

That is, by continually holding on to the MDC brand, the MDCA have unwittingly allowed themselves to be pigeonholed and became sitting ducks for political and parliamentary annihilation by their arch nemesis MDCT.

This daylight electoral and parliamentary robbery spearheaded by MDCT has the unintended consequences of creating fatalism and apathy within the rank and file support base of MDCA voters. Who in future will question whether the sacrifice is worth it of standing in the voting queue and vote for an MDCA candidate who unfortunately and predictable in six months down the lined will be recalled and replaced by a candidate from a rival political party.

Therefore, in the grand scheme of things we are witnessing the political brinkmanship of competitive authoritarianism at play. That it is the end goal of ZANU PF despotic regime to create self-doubts in the minds of an average MDCA voter and apathy in traditional strongholds of MDCA. Thereby create a possibility of ZANU PF electoral candidates ghosting through in the middle and win in hitherto MDCA strongholds

Rebrand or Perish

It is against this backdrop that the MDCA needs to realise that it cannot afford a business as usual approach and continue looking through the rear-view mirror of sentimentalism attached to the acronym MDC. Whilst the MDCA vehicle is simultaneously being pushed down the cliff edge of political oblivion and parliamentary annihilation by their judicially sponsored ach nemesis, the MDCT.

Accordingly, with a bombshell announcement today by the MDCT Chairman Morgen Komichi that MDCT has been rechristened as the MDCA. And that its candidates will file their nomination paper for the 5th December 2020 by elections with nomination court on the 9th of October 2020 as MDCA candidates. This is a clear indication that MDCT is clearly engaged in a long out drawn war of attrition with the MDCA. With the MDCT ultimate objective being to see the complete decimation of MDCA as political entity.

Therefore, in line with the way the MDCT is not relenting in opportunistically shifting political goalposts and creating legal and political minefields in the MDCA pathway at every single opportunity. Coupled with the manner the electoral and judicial institutions have ring fenced against MDCA. Therefore, it is abundantly clear that rebranding is no longer a mere academic question but a political reality for MDCA.

This latest unsurprising latest frontal attack on MDCA announced by Morgan Komichi should be the straw that broke Camel`s back and spur MDCA into serious soul searching and look seriously at the merits of rebranding their political entity. Such that, they do not continue to be on the receiving end of the political destructive blows thrown their way by an unrelenting and malevolent MDCT.

However, MDCA have nothing to lose but everything to gain if it decides to rebrand. Because politics in Zimbabwe is not policy driven but rather personality driven. That is, we have an institutionalized culture of cult of personality. Despite having MDCA having their backs against the wall over the past six months.

Nonetheless, in the court of public opinion most senior MDCA personnel especially Chamisa are still winning the battle of hearts and minds and are still perceived as the genuine political vessels that carry the hopes and aspirations of the opposition constituency.

Therefore, there is greater likely that the multitude of MDCA supporter will flock to their new rebranded political home. However, I would suggest that the MDCA should carry out a bottom up consultative participatory outreach rebranding process with their rank and file supporters.

And involves them in the rebranding process and made engaged in the naming process, such that they feel that the political brand belongs to them the ordinary supporters not the elites or the top hierarchy.

A week is a long time in politics, therefore the silver lining in MDCA dark clouds is that they have more than two years to publicise, market and promote their new brand before the 2023 harmonised general elections.

Conclusion

With the bombshell announcement today by Morgan Komichi that MDCT will be politically and electorally repackaged and rebranded as the MDCA. Consequently, for the Nelson Chamisa led MDCA the die has been cast and it is no longer a question of if we rebrand but rather when we rebrand. This then demands a clearly thought out sound strategy of rebranding MDCA and the rebranding exercise and plan must be comprehensive and inclusive.

That is the ordinary supporters and members of MDCA must have greater input into how their rebranded new look political home should look like. Furthermore, MDCA has expended too much energies and resources in legal battles against a Judicially favoured and State backed MDCT, therefore it cannot afford to be drawn into another long drawn out legal tussle with the MDCT over the naming rights.

Of which the MDCA can have the discretion of circumventing the legal route and apply a political solution to a political problem by mere rebranding their new political entity. MDCA must have the serenity to accept things it cannot change, courage to change the things it can and the political wisdom to know the difference.

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