If no one is behind you, you have loyalty problems


Political parties are broad churches. In the United States, the Democratic Party is highly liberal and colour-blind in the north whereas in large pockets of the south it is overtly and blatantly racist, segregationist and conservative, but what brings such diversity together is essentially working people’s rights (socio-economic justice) against big business.

Yes, there is indeed strength in numbers. A broad church is a party of the people, of ordinary people from all walks of life, reflecting the interests ranging from those of the economically disadvantaged, the powerful but shadowy lobbies to the ivory tower academics, and everyone left behind or disgusted by the political establishment’s pandering to the wealthy and inability to face the future. That’s why there is so much interest in it.

So it with most political parties in other realms, including Zimbabwe, where there is a potpourri of ideas coalescing around one or two main causes. Zanu PF brought nationalists together — from traditionalists, even tribalists, the working class, capitalists to professed Marxists — to fight white racist oppression.

And so it is with the original united MDC which brought together diverse interests — from the labour movement to big business, even racists and tribalists — to dislodge the new oppressive system of patronage which Zanu PF has entrenched to the detriment of the majority.

But among all these parties the underlying theme is loyalty to the cause. In the Southern Edition of NewsDay on Monday was the lead story headlined “Khumalo faces the boot”, pertaining to the likely or impending expulsion of Umzingwane MP Nomalanga Khumalo from the Welshman Ncube-led MDC.

Her crime? Making a public attack on the party leader and allegedly working in cahoots with the rival, bigger MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

This is the latest episode of infighting in this relatively infant party. Hardly had the dust settled after their congress in January which elected Ncube as party leader that the MDC was rocked by division, with Arthur Mutambara refusing to step aside.

Before that, the party had expelled four MPs on suspicion that they were working closely with Tsvangirai. Such squabbles have echoes of COPE in South Africa which has frittered its once-promising support base through internecine fights. Now more MPs are under suspicion and face censure from the party leadership.

Last week, Ncube described MPs in his faction as incompetent and accused them of working against the party, saying this was the reason why he had not appointed some of them to Cabinet. Khumalo shot back:

“I have been in Parliament since 2000. I am the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly and it surprises me to hear someone who was rejected by people saying I am incompetent. Who then is more incompetent – me or him?”

What could be driving people out of the MDC-N? The party must start by admitting that it faces grave problems. Why would the late MDC vice-president Gibson Sibanda’s family defect to Tsvangirai?

Let’s hit the nail on the head: there is a range of shortfalls within the party. Could it be, among other factors, the unsettling tone in MDC national organising secretary Qhubani Moyo’s statement:

“The people of Matabeleland have seen that since she (Khumalo) has been an MP for the past 10 years, she has not contributed anything towards the development of Matabeleland.

It is ironic that she CLAIMS to be a descendant of King Mzilikazi yet she is pushing the interests of other regions.”

Moyo, are you doubting her Khumalo bloodline? And if so, when did you start having doubts — 10 years ago or now that you have open political differences with her, as you allege, over her “pushing the interests of other regions”? Moyo, was Tsvangirai incorrect when he said your party had turned regional – like Inkatha in South Africa?

Of course, it is your democratic right to be regional, it’s not a crime, but it is limiting politically, severely limiting.

Maybe, the MDC doesn’t have national aspirations; maybe they haven’t set their sights that high.But political parties aren’t cults.

Parties that hang on to their ideological purity remain on the fringe or wither. If the MDC decides to be a hybrid of Inkatha and COPE, that’s a highly concentrated recipe for political oblivion.

In all these squabbles, the word “loyalty” has featured prominently and frequently.
What is loyalty? How do you get it? Is it earned, demanded, coerced, or built over time?

Some leaders feel they are entitled to the commitment and loyalty of party members. Why? Well, just because they are the leaders! It seems there is a thinly disguised notion that the leaders have all the answers and always know what is best.

While they would not admit it, the reality is that these leaders speak the word “democracy”, but act as if it doesn’t apply to anyone else except themselves.

Operating with this viewpoint, changes are announced, not discussed. Strategies are developed in the vacuum of high office, not with input from the general membership.

But the MPs are the first to be thrown under the bus when trouble appears on the horizon. There is hardly any “reciprocal commitment” here.

Leaders can take valuable lessons from companies which operate on the basis that business had to be earned. Like all customers have a choice as to where they place their business, the company has to earn that business.

Leaders must earn loyalty just as all companies must earn the business from customers. The onus is on the leaders to earn the loyalty, not the other way around.

People are under no obligation as to where they place their loyalty. It takes a lot to get people following you, and it takes even more to keep them loyal.

And just because you have earned loyalty doesn’t mean you automatically get to keep it – it’s unbelievably easy to wipe your accrued trust with careless actions and words.

You can be labelled untrustworthy with one poor decision and ruin a relationship in a matter of minutes. Loyalty is active. You don’t buy it, you don’t demand it — and you don’t assume it.

So, MDC leaders need to understand where loyalty comes from and how to develop it if they want to become leaders worth following because at this rate, the party could end up without a single MP – absolutely none.

Said a wise man: “If no one is behind you, you may have a loyalty problem.”