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Politician or legal technician?


THE MDC-T factions have become poison to each other. Any efforts to bring them together are bound to fail because their differences are just too deep, too wide, too fundamental — and too personal.


There have been vicious back-and-forth attacks. They have reached the point of no return with court battle after court battle. One has to be living in a cave not to see this.

The fight for the soul of the party is becoming increasingly a no-contest, one-sided affair. Again, one has to be living in a cave not to see this.

The Tendai Biti faction appears to be floundering on its own, going by a report in a local weekly last Thursday based on inside sources with the headline Biti’s party on shaky ground, to the effect that several members of the MDC-T Team, as the Biti faction has branded itself, had unsuccessfully made overtures to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai to be re-admitted; and its most public faces, Biti and Elton Mangoma, are already at loggerheads over leadership, with Biti’s “foul mouth” featuring prominently.

This is really not surprising going by the pair’s strong-headedness, where level-headedness would do.

Not to be misunderstood, I do not ignore the vast mistakes made by the MDC-T, but it is dishonest and deceitful to blame this solely and utterly on Tsvangirai. That goes against elementary logic. That the MDC-T factions were working against each other when they were supposed to be in it together before last year’s general election is now manifestly evident and this could have sealed their electoral defeat.

Furthermore, it is known that the ruling party has spent the last 15 years trying to delegitimise the MDC through attempts to trick it into treason and other plots. Again, the opposition has been ridiculed for raising issues of violations of rights and calling for reform, but some of these grievances will one day be law.

The MDC has helped redefine Zimbabwean politics.

There have been successes and setbacks. The value of a strong opposition, whoever it is, cannot be over-emphasised especially now in the face of an entrenched corrupt system. The heightened and accelerated pace of economic reform to deliver tangibles to the people is clearly to avoid the close shave of 2008 when Zanu PF clung to power by the fingernails.

The MDC-T split has also brought to the fore the “credentialistic disease” which has become commonplace in Zimbabwe with every other minister and top official now a Dr Somebody. Credentialism is the over-emphasis on credentials, especially academic degrees, when hiring staff or assigning social status.

According to last week’s report, the Biti camp’s problems also stem from pinning their hopes on the background of Jacob Mafume, their spokesperson, “with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition previously and [his] established. . . vast network with close links to the donor community”. In other words, he was supposed to deliver the funds.

The other strong credential was Mafume’s view of himself as a brilliant lawyer and, therefore, it would be no contest against Tsvangirai’s “bush lawyers” (as Mafume himself put it) in the legal fight for control of the MDC-T.

To them, it a was dead cert that Mafume would deliver. I don’t know who has a higher qualification between them, but that could be the reason why Mafume has been labelling MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora “a bush lawyer”.

But if that were really the case, would the High Court have nullified the purported suspension and stopped the disciplinary hearing of Tsvangirai?

Would the magistrates’ court have acquitted the nine MDC-T activists accused of assaulting Mangoma? And with Mwonzora representing the respondents and accused in both cases? Well, Mafume has neither delivered the funds nor the legal victories.

Credentialism has been used to bully others or to dodge questioning about corruption: “I fought for the country and you did not.” That is why politicians tainted with corruption are still firmly secure in office and protect their cohorts and lackeys in State-owned firms and parastatals.

“While credentials do serve as a valuable rule of thumb for figuring out what a person should know, such rank-pulling tends to ignore that what’s important is not the diploma [or degree], but the knowledge that it represents, and the credential can backfire horribly if the person in question does not have the standards of knowledge or professionalism that those credentials represent.” (Wikipedia)

They ought to view the average person as an intelligent and discerning being. That some people are intelligent without being necessarily highly educated and vice versa. Indeed, you can be overeducated in law or medicine, but still be underskilled in politics. You cannot use netball skills in football.

“As a politician, no court, no legal process will serve you politically. Politics is about activism, not legal processes. Politicians need to know that politics is played in the public arena, not in the court,” says local political analyst Alois Masepe.

With such a one-track mind, you fail to see the bigger picture. You think around nothing else, but one topic. And there are limits even when you are playing dirty.

According to Masepe, in the game of politics, it is the voters who matter most.

“In mass politics, court cases, elitism, democratic idioms do not count. What counts is the feelings of the people.”

It’s also about making painful, but intelligent compromises. Driven to the edge, Nelson Mandela, a lawyer by profession, used violence as a tactic, not principle.

When you are obsessed with credentials, you become too mechanistic, reducing yourself to a mere legal technician. This is myopic, narrow-minded and, ultimately, self-destructive.

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