OPINION: What is the role and state of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe?
By Wellington Muzengeza
Zimbabwe since 1980 has always had active and vibrant opposition political movements although the playing field has always been the same depending on one’s perspective. The following have been significant opposition players at one point or another.
1. PF ZAPU under Joshua Nkomo – since 1960/1
2. FORUM Party under Enoch Dumbutshena – early 1990s
3. Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) under Edgar Tekere – 1988
4. Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD) under Kempton Makamure and Margaret Dongo – mid 1990s
5. Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai – since 1999
6. Other MDC formations under Thokozani Khupe, Welshman Ncube, Douglas Mwonzora, Tendai Biti and others
7. ZANU Ndonga under Ndabaningi Sithole later Wilson Khumbula – since 1977
8. UANC under Abel Muzorewa- since 1972/73
9. MDC Alliance under Nelson Chamisa
NB: This list is not in order of existence or importance
What is the role of opposition in politics?
The primary role is to create a veritable system of checks and balances targeted on the government of the day, making sure that the government is held accountable to the public. In the process the opposition has a duty to its stakeholders (i.e supporters and non-supporters alike) to uphold their best interests.
Where the opposition is also in government like in the case of the MDC Alliance and the MDC T today i.e has sitting parliamentarians, councillors and other government related players and stakeholders. It must understand and know that they have a fiduciary obligation to citizens which is almost akin to that of the ruling government.
In a scenario like this, who holds the opposition in check? Do the opposition players have enough literacy and maturity to understand this direct constitutional obligation they have to Zimbabwean citizens?
That opposition in politics is primarily hitched on ideological differences is a given but the common denominator remains the country that bonds both government and opposition players equally to the citizens of the country in question.
The MDC Alliance under Nelson Chamisa seems to court a significantly popular vote in the last elections judging by the number of MPs, councillors and Mayors that are under their party umbrella, but do they understand their direct obligations to their constituents, supporters and Zimbabwean citizens in general?
The “opposition to the opposition” phenomenon
There is an emerging trend of a crop of opposition parties and activists who seem to exist primarily as the opposition to the MDC Alliance. Judging by the character of these “opposition forces” by policy makeup and action programmes, one can easily be swayed to conclude that they exist as allied partners to the ruling ZANU PF party. Examples of these ‘poison chalice’ opposition leaders abound like:
1. LEAD as led by Linda Masarira
2. MDC T as led by Douglas Mwonzora
3. NCA under Lovemore Madhuku
4. Former MDC T leader Thokozani Khupe
This developing trend, I speculate could be the outcome of a ZANU PF funded agenda to control the agenda of opposition politics in Zimbabwe by the use of state affiliated institutions like the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Military Intelligence (MI), The Ministry of Information and other related state funded institutions. A ‘handled’, controlled and reigned in ‘fake’ opposition system is easy to manipulate through insincere all-political parties dialogue platforms like POLAD.
Contrariwise, it seems that opposition forces are also being funded, influenced and largely controlled policy wise by external forces opposed to ZANU PF policies like the US Embassy and EU delegation in Harare. Evidence of their subliminal hand is observed through their overt support for well-known antigovernment or anti ZANU PF activists, Hopewell Chin’ono being the most prominent particularly since early 2021.
The NGO and Civic Rights movements have always been clear about their sentiments and feeling towards ZANU PF, its policies and human rights in general as observed by the way they channel funds through OSISA, USAID and other western agencies.
Having said this, at this point I doubt that there is any sincere opposition force in Zimbabwe that is not being ‘handled’ either by external forces from Western Europe or by internal forces in ZANU PF powered by state funded institutions that ZANU PF as the ruling party naturally controls.
Are opposition political parties endangered species in Zimbabwe?
I would say yes after a simple historical trajectory analysis of the major ones since 1980. In Zimbabwe, it seems that all the major opposition political players have succumbed to various machinations of the ruling ZANU PF party which appears to understand and treat opposition, critical and dissenting voices in the civic sectors, journalists and ordinary citizens alike as arch enemies at every turn regardless of the moral high ground the opposition and their related associations may have on certain national issues. I will illustrate this with specific cases below.
PF ZAPU was vanquished in the late 1980s culminating in an uneasy unity accord in 1987 under a cloud of civil unrest, plans for a one party state and a general political mistrust between the parties to the accord.
ZANU Ndonga essentially died with its leader Ndabaningi Sithole who through various shenanigans, some of his own making lost political clout and died an obscure man in Philadelphia, USA without any recognition at home despite his pioneering contribution in our fight against colonialism.
The political detentions of PF ZAPU’s Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa in the 1980s The flight of Joshua Nkomo to Britain during the same period The descent into political obscurity of liberation struggle players like Michael Mawema, Henry, Hamadziripi, Leonard Nyemba, Mordecai Hamutyinei, Wilfred Mhanda and others because of their differing views to those in ZANU PF during and after the struggle.
*The treason trials of Ndabaningi Sithole in the mid-1990s
*The treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai in the early 2000s as triggered by the dubious Ari Ben Menashe
*The shooting in Gweru of Patrick Kombai of ZUM in 1990,
*The forced flight of Margaret Dongo of ZUD into exile in the early 2000s leading to the demise of that promising party,
*The withdrawal of Abel Muzorewa’s candidacy from the 1995 election and his subsequent return to voluntary exile in the USA sealed the fate of the UANC as a political movement etc.
The “only liberation war heroes can rule Zimbabwe” unwritten code
It is a hazard to participate in opposition politics in a country where only those with a history of participating in the liberation struggle under the auspices of the “right” faction appear to have a monopoly on power, legitimacy and a right to participate without question. The question then is;
1. What is the future of ruling politics Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the natural demise of the so-called rightful heirs or royalty to the leadership of Zimbabwe?
2. Are these political ‘royals’ socialising the youth enough in their ideologies to sustain their hold on power in perpetuity?
3. Is their political model good for the future of politics in Zimbabwe?
One thing is for sure, this belief and system is not sustainable. One would understand reason and logic to dictate that citizenship and patriotism and a call to serve one’s country should be enough credentials for one to lead their country, of course through the ballot and appropriate democratic processes.
Unfair access to information and ruling party strongholds
In a country where the bulk of the electorate is located in the traditional rural areas that widely get information through analogue radio and television services, it is extremely difficult to play opposition politics when the ruling party and government has a monopoly on those mediums.
Freedoms of speech, expression and association are effectively compromised.
The continued disruption of political operating working space for Nelson Chamisa’s MDC Alliance as recently as October 2021 is a prime example of how spatial political access is controlled by those in power to hinder access to ruling party strongholds.
When one concludes that it is not easy to be an opposition politician in Zimbabwe based on these cases, I am sure they would not be far off in exclaiming that the opposition politician is an endangered species in our country.
Why an EFF and DA style opposition is not possible in Zimbabwe today?
I have heard from time to time colleagues express their belief that Zimbabwe lacks the type and form of opposition that is effective and ‘disruptive’ as that exhibited by the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) of South Africa.
The EFF, characteristically is an offshoot of the ANC, almost all its leaders and protagonists are erstwhile members or leaders in the ANC. Their ideologies are largely those of the ANC where their roots are steeped and they basically understand the beast and its nature as they deal with it.”Ndedzemudanga”.
Consequently, the EFF is not viewed by the ANC as an externally controlled and funded neo imperialist force as movements like the MDC are viewed by ZANU PF in Zimbabwe.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa, on the other hand has roots that are steeped in the moderate values of Helen Suzman and a cocktail of hard-line Afrikaner interests who basically are there to protect white interests unapologetically. In a mature democracy and level political playing field, values are laden, self- interest is paramount as is tolerance, but in Zimbabwe are both the ruling party and opposition forces that mature to operate with that level and magnitude of political tolerance?
These two ideologically diverse groups are only able to operate freely in South Africa because of their solid and temper proof constitution, political maturity in the ANC and a responsibility to the citizens regardless of their divergent persuasions.
The ruling party in Zimbabwe appears to be intolerant to any views other than their own. As long as anyone espouses values, visions, associations or alliances with anyone or anything that they are not agreeable with or to, they are labelled as sell-outs, unpatriotic, traitors counter-revolutionaries or enemies of the state.
Lack of tolerance in Zimbabwe by the ruling party is the main reason why opposition parties are failing to operate effectively. Is the main opposition party MDC Alliance effective?
In the classic opposition politics sense, I would say yes and no at the same time. Yes in the sense that since 1999, the MDC under Tsvangirai has built a formidable opposition movement that resonated particularly in the formative 10 years with the aspirations of their supporters in the labour movement and the electorate in general for a regime change agenda, however I think that once the regime change agenda failed to achieve the intended results after 10 years of the MDC’s existence, the party lost focus and touch with the aspirations of their initial electoral backers.
They also failed to take from the book of successful opposition parties in SADC like the DA and the EFF which lured young voters and practice confrontational politics using formal and constitutional methods, highlighting corruption, misrule and irresponsible leadership ad nauseam, ad infinitum.
Instead, the MDC has largely focused on persons and characters in their movement rather than issues at stake which are “largely” a product of the misrule, corruption and failures of the ruling party.
The MDC in my view lost the eye on the ball. “Vakasiya muriwo vakati takarasima nemasakatire”.
It is my view that if Zimbabwean citizens have to move forward, they need to shift their mindsets towards new ways of dealing with and viewing issues of their governance. A total mind shift towards accepting that the good governance of Zimbabwe is every person’s responsibility is required ASAP if Zimbabweans are to enjoy the potential that their country has to offer. The beginning of this process is by building literacy and capacity for objective and value free analysis amongst all Zimbabweans.
Wellington Muzengeza is a Development Practitioner, Public Relations Consultant and Social Justice Activist. He is also the director of African Mindshift Trust. You can reach him on [email protected]