Conventional wisdom is the generally accepted belief, opinion, judgment, or prediction about a particular matter.
The term is usually used in a neutral sense. Of course, it can be way of the mark and it may itself be the subject of legends.
For example, it is widely believed that conventional wisdom prior to Christopher Columbus held that the world was flat, when in actuality scholars had long accepted that the earth is a sphere.
Veteran politician and Zanu PF founder member Enos Nkala, who has since ditched the party, was this week quoted in the Southern Edition of NewsDay as saying:
(MDC-T leader Morgan) Tsvangirai will win against (President Robert) Mugabe no matter what people say about him. Hate him, insult him, but he is the only person who has the potential to win the election if it is done in a free and fair manner.”
Voters are intuitive. They know who will serve them well at a particular point in time and when to discard or jettison leaders.
But, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. By that reckoning, by the time we get to the next general elections in this country next year or in 2013, it would have been an eternity.
Predicting the political landscape by that time has also been complicated by the accelerated upheavals of recent weeks, as both the main protagonists — Zanu PF and MDC-T — have been rocked by WikiLeaks disclosures of backstabbing of party leadership.
This could change the political landscape dramatically. In Zanu PF, there could be a lull before the storm as Mugabe is yet to show his hand, having vowed — indirectly through his trusted lieutenants — that there is going to be a night of the long knives, a purge.
On the other hand, some disgruntled MDC-T officials are using the contents of the cables to get rid of their rivals who got the upper hand at the party congress earlier this year.
To them, it’s the opportune time to finish the unfinished business of the congress. Furthermore, MDC-T leader Tsvangirai could have pulled a rug from under him by unwisely disclosing in his biography, titled At the Deep End, that MDC-T had reached rural voters in Matabeleland by using a non-governmental organisation, the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (Orap), as a conduit. This again brings into question Tsvangirai’s judgment despite his effectiveness as a rallying force.
This was not politically astute because, as the law stands, that is clearly illegal. Zanu PF, ever eager to use legality to gain advantage — who could blame them? — with the whole State machinery at its disposal, could well take drastic action against the MDC-T and scuttle its operations. Tsvangirai should have learnt this from 2008 when Zanu PF sealed off the rural areas and, according to documented evidence, cowed and brutalised voters, leaving the field for Mugabe alone to gallop to a “win”. We are still saddled with that tragic farce.
Furthermore, the MDC-T has to examine its leadership ranks at all levels. While some people may be effective mobilisers in their small communities, it does not follow that they will be effective leaders at a higher level.
A person who emerges as a leader in one situation may not necessarily succeed in another situation. Some of them have been unmitigated failures, especially at local government level, and murmurings are beginning to be heard.
While unemployment and other economic indicators are still sitting negatively high, there have been significant turnarounds in some critical areas since February 2009 when the inclusive government was instituted and some of this could rub off Zanu PF.
So there are many, many variables which could intervene, including a mixture of Zanu PF’s wiliness and ruthlessness which instantly reconfigured the presidential election runoff. So, with this in mind, it’s hard to predict the political landscape of 2012 or beyond.
Nevertheless, going by the state of affairs of our politics, conventional wisdom could still prevail.
Voting patterns of the past decade show that long-suffering Zimbabwe, including rural folk, now see a broader picture as opposed to narrow interests. They have seen that a fragmented opposition won’t take them far in these times.
The politics has gradually shaped into a two-party affair, pitting Zanu PF against the MDC-T. The polarisation of politics in Zimbabwe has spawned an either-or syndrome.
It is an inevitable development in a highly polarised society. This has been the situation since the days of nationalism and after independence when the real contest was between Zanu and Zapu, of course, with Zapu facing more or less the same engineered disadvantages as the MDC-T. In such a situation, a centrist position will not carry the day. Other parties are considered “also-rans” making up the field in a two-horse race.
That’s a practical and proven fact. We cannot deal with politics as some abstract academic concept. Functional political parties are far from mutual admiration societies.
Having said that, the MDC-T can win by default because their opponents have virtually become unelectable. Said Nkala: “Zanu PF must throw away Mugabe if it wants to survive the next elections.” The endless, relentless, self-aggrandising partisan blather is self-defeating, driving people further and further from Zanu PF.
Look at Zambia — the country is now into its third ruling party. So it’s well possible that the MDC-T will be the second ruling party in Zimbabwe and Zanu PF could make a return if it reforms and moves with the times — or there could be a new player altogether of disgruntled offshoots from both parties as happened in Zambia.
Yes, almost everything has gone worse under Zanu PF, so for some in the MDC-T, the election is theirs to wrap up, but they still need to convince enough voters that they can do a better job for them.
So, victory cannot be said to be certain despite conventional wisdom because if a week is a long time in politics, what more of a month — such as this eventful month — or even a year?
So, promising as it looks, it’s not yet slam dunk for MDC-T.