Is the MDC burying its head in the sand?
By Karsten Noko
The piece by former Zanu PF elections strategist Jonathan Moyo chronicling the missed opportunities by the opposition in Zimbabwe’s political history has once again raised debate on the state of opposition politics in Zimbabwe.
The piece makes for a compelling case that should not escape the attention of anyone who has an interest in party politics and how this relates to the wider question of strengthening democracy in Zimbabwe.
For the opposition, they would do well to consider the ideas and the rationale and ask themselves some difficult questions too.
That 2020 has been difficult for Zimbabwean politics and especially the main opposition political party in Zimbabwe is as clear as day.
The Supreme Court judgement dealt a knock-out blow to the steam the MDC had gathered ahead of the last election.
It would appear that the MDC has been unable to react and today, the party stands as a mere shadow of its former self.
Attempts to look back at the political history of Zimbabwe are fraught with difficulties because of the polarising nature of the debates that often take place.
While some people want to emphasise the brutality of the ruling party, all the way since Mgagao, and make the claim that because of the violent nature of how it deals with opposition, internally and externally, the MDC should be pardoned for its lacklustre performance.
Others, on the other hand, think that the MDC should still rise above all this just like how liberation movements inspired the masses to use all the tools in the basket to bring independence from repressive and violent colonial administrations.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
It is true that there is a context within which political opposition functions in Zimbabwe, but it is also true that we should expect more from the MDC and other parties, otherwise why bother to contest in the first place if the stakes are so tilted against them?
After all, the goal and objective of any political opposition is to capture political power.
When one scans the terrain of opposition parties in Africa, one can’t help but compare the MDC and its leadership to what others in their position are doing across the continent.
There has been — perhaps rightly so — a hesitancy to compare the MDC with what the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) under the leadership of Julius Malema has been doing in South Africa in its space as an opposition party.
It is true that South Africa has more democratic space, and more functional institutions than many countries in the continent.
And yet that does not take away from the tactical and political leadership that the EFF has been able to display.
Their ability to set the agenda and organise their branches has been a marvel to watch.
What stops MDC from being able to do this? Especially because they have done it before!
In Uganda, Bobi Wine has been able to capture the imagination of the masses.
He has been able, under similar circumstances as Zimbabwe, with political detentions, media gags, and police brutality, to organise a formidable opposition that is a giving wily-and-cunning Museveni many sleepless nights as he tries to hold onto power for the umpteenth time.
How is it that the biggest opposition in Zimbabwe is not able to capture the imagination of the people?
This failure is turning the MDC into an election-cycle political party, and getting them even further away from the daily realities of the citizens.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened an already hostile socio-economic environment for many of the country’s citizens.
Civil servants, from doctors to nurses and teachers, have been engaged in protracted wage negotiations with their employers which have failed to lead to an improvement in their purchasing power.
Hospitals are still without basic drugs and PPE for frontline medical staff.
Schools are without water and sanitation facilities that meet the needs of the students and teachers.
How is it that a party that was formed as the vanguard of the working class today fails to turn all these grievances into political action and put pressure on the ruling party?
How is it acceptable, for the over two million people who voted for Nelson Chamisa and the MDC, that they seem to accept that the ruling party and its handlers will loot the country dry?
The July 31 protest movement will probably be one of the most notable political events of the year in Zimbabwe’s domestic politics. Organised by a politician who was relatively unknown on the national stage, the protests served to expose how panicky the ruling party is.
A campaign, largely organised on social media, forced the state into overdrive and saw the streets of the major cities almost empty, save for the police and military sent to crack down on the population.
What boggles the mind is how a political party, supposedly with branches and party structures across the country, fails to, at the bare minimum, emulate something like this through political organisation.
The above reflection is worsened by the fact that in the lead-up to the protests, the MDC was conspicuous by its silence and inaction.
The country, and indeed the world, woke up to the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter when political activists and other citizens came into the crosshairs of the state security apparatus.
The photos of 22-year-old Tawanda Muchehiwa, a Midlands State University student — apparently himself not even a member of the political opposition— made the headlines after he was abducted and battered and yet this was not turned into political action.
Instead, one of the MDC’s own was fingered in the dastardly act of torture against Muchehiwa.
It was only after four months of hide-and-seek that the MDC finally expelled Tendai Masotsha.
Is it then surprising if people ask about the political tactics and strategy or lack thereof of the MDC?
It would indeed appear that the MDC never fails to miss an opportunity.
As of today, the citizens hardly know what the political programme of the MDC is.
They seem to have gone on mute, still licking the wounds of the political outmanoeuvres they have suffered at the hands of the ruling party.
How long do they plan to roll over and play dead for?
Should we be waiting until the next election and then start campaigning a few months ahead of the elections — only to cry foul when the ruling party yet again rigs the elections?
I will apologise if I appear rather uncharitable to the MDC, but after garnering over two million votes in the last election, then maybe the critique is well-deserved.
The MDC today remains, after 20 years of existence, the only practical hope for removal of the former liberation party that has turned into a ruling party gone amok and devouring its own.
The MDC must realise and accept that leadership is uncomfortable.
In his eulogy of ANC stalwart Makhenkesi Stofile in 2016, Sipho Pityana quoted the prognosis by Stofile on what has gone wrong with the ANC. “Ukufa kusembizeni, maqhabane!” [Do not look for external sources to identify a problem within]” he had concluded.
Without a culture of open debate and honest reflection, there is little hope that much-needed introspection can take place.
Karsten Noko is a lawyer and LLM student working in civil society. The Standard