Politics in Africa is often about winning power, retaining such power and having access to resources.
Column with Rashweat Mukundu
The retention of power is often done at the expense of our classic understanding of democracy; that is, people choose leaders and that such leaders serve people.
In Zimbabwe, as in other parts of Africa, retaining that power is a serious business, if not the sole business, of political parties, many set up simply to win elections and go into hibernation thereafter.
Elections are won by all means necessary. And election manifestos are not worth the paper they are printed on. Government policies, as we will see in Zimbabwe in the next five years, are simply aimed at winning again in 2018.
For this reason, parties such as Zanu PF will come up with populists policies that promise this and that only to either completely forget, do some surface scratching after elections or remember just before elections.
As in Zimbabwe, elections are a ritual performed at intervals to legitimise those in power. It is for this reason that in many African countries, Zimbabwe included, elections are a zero sum game, often accompanied by violence and sometimes lead to civil wars.
It is with this understanding that the MDC-T must have participated in the July 31 election. For reasons best known to it, the MDC-T was reported in the State media to have played a role in supervising the preparations of this election.
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Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was reportedly the principals’ point-person in preparations for elections.
The outcome of the July 31 elections and the subsequent fallout among the Government of National Unity (GNU) parties, may inform us that Tsvangirai did not do so much supervision or oversee any of the key issues in this election.
The MDC-T leadership on a number of occasions expressed confidence of victory. While many remained sceptical on the preparations for the July 31 poll, this scepticism was smothered over by the confidence the MDC-T leadership exuded.
I passed through “Freedom Square” to check on the MDC-T “Crossover” rally and was impressed by the high numbers, but still shocked by the lack of discipline among the MDC-T supporters as well as what appeared to be a non-voting huge grouping, that was more interested in entertainment than serious national politics.
I did not get a sense that many in the sea of reds knew exactly what this means. This, coupled with the MDC-T participation in “preparations” for this election, is the reason why I say the MDC-T must accept defeat and move on.
I say so because winning elections in conditions described above, means and entails serious planning, political activism on the part of the underdog to unsettle an entrenched political party, moreso in the era of the Marange diamonds where patronage money is flying all over.
It was not in the interests of Zanu PF to sign off anything that would remove them from power. Despite all pronouncements, Zanu PF — like many other dominant political parties in Africa — are not democrats.
They are nationalists’ parties that captured power and are determined to retain it at all costs.
In the period of the GNU, it was clear that Zanu PF did not have respect for the MDC-T and the other MDC.
The message was all over that Zanu PF was only interested in being cleansed by the GNU and coming back stronger.
Zanu PF learned from its past mistakes, minimised the use of violence and intimidation, yet strengthened its control of the bodies that manage or influence elections.
Had this game been noted earlier by the MDC-T, then this should have been the battleground of election reforms right from the word go. While Zanu PF remained politically active, the MDC-T was absorbed in attempting to run the government.
Even in attempting to make the GNU work, the MDC-T failed to reap the political benefits on this front.
It was at this time when the MDC-T was worried about financing education, health etc, that Zanu PF and the Registrar-General were busy registering people and manipulating the voters’ roll.
At the time that the MDC-T was distracted by as many things, Zanu PF, through war vets leader Jabulani Sibanda, was wreaking havoc in Manicaland and Masvingo.
Zanu PF did not only go in with hard power, violence and intimidation, but many other promises that shifted political views and allegiances.
So while Zanu PF was politically focused regardless of the methods, the MDC-T somewhat had an arriviste mentality. It is for this reason that the MDC-T needs to retrace its path to 2008, see how its leadership has performed, review how its leaders in government performed.
This can only happen if the MDC-T accepts defeat. Accepting defeat is not accepting the electoral cheating; it is simply saying electoral victory is what the MDC-T has to make and is not given. Zanu PF is not going to hand over the governance of the country to the MDC-T on a silver platter.
It is up to the MDC-T to retrace where the rain began to beat them, and this could be at a time when the party thought all was well in the GNU.
The MDC-T is known sometimes for engaging in debilitating internal fights, while Zanu PF watches from the sidelines.
Some of these fights are fanned by Zanu PF though abuse of the State security agents. This, however, does not take away the point that it is ultimately up to the MDC-T to devise a power-winning game.
The Zanu PF victory remains fragile, hence the never-ending stories in the State media defending the victory.
Zanu PF remains divided and the people will still be dissatisfied after five years. There is a whole political world for the MDC-T to explore if they so wish.
The starting point is to accept that the party lost. Secondly, who still has the energy to continue.
And, thirdly, what message, what vision of Zimbabwe will the party talk about.
The voter of 2008 will no longer be the voter of 2018 and the Zanu PF of today won’t be the same in 2018.