The trouble with opposition politics


The nation continues to groan under the pangs of an awful decade-and-half economic haemorrhaging that has seen the country teetering on the brink of collapse.

guest column: LEARNMORE ZUZE

In the last 16 years, Zimbabwe, has seen its devoted sons and daughters trooping to foreign destinations in droves, as they seek to escape the jaws of poverty back home. The turn of the century became the proverbial nightmare for Zimbabweans as they came face-to-face with things they had known from a distance ravaging other countries.

Inflation, the fall of the Zimbabwean dollar and escalation of basic commodities prices meant a new way of living had to be found. Just about the same time, things began falling apart everywhere, with an apparently clueless Zanu PF looking on and blaming everything on sanctions. This, however, did little to pacify a rattled electorate, which in 2000, gave impetus to a new party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

The MDC wrote a piece of history by wresting 57 of the 120 constituencies from Zanu PF.

No opposition has repeated this feat in Zimbabwean history to date. The new party held great promise and most Zimbabweans, in this new dispensation, had found salvation.

There was however, no going back on the Zanu PF’s modus operandi in the face of growing dissent; thousands of opposition supporters in the rural areas were displaced and by the end of 2002, more than 200 opposition supporters were reported to have been killed in political violence. The opposition was led by a leader, who had proved his mettle in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) when he led successful protests against President Robert Mugabe’s government in 1999. MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai went on to square off with his nemesis, Mugabe, in 2002 and lost in a hotly disputed election.

However, credit could not be taken away from this new political force that had shaken the status quo. This new dispensation was, however, to suffer a major setback in 2005 when it split amidst growing tensions on participation in the 2005 senatorial elections. It is widely believed that the split was a reflection of problems that had been in the party for some time, but manipulated by State apparatchiks.

Tsvangirai had overturned the vote in favour of participating in the Zimbabwe senatorial elections, arguing that it was no use contesting an election, where the electoral field “breeds illegitimate outcomes and provides for predetermined results”. There was chaos, with the late former MDC deputy president, Gibson Sibanda summoning Tsvangirai to a hearing of the national disciplinary committee. At the end, the MDC split and this weakened the party to an extent, as the new formation went away with a significant chunk of the vote.

The vote that went away was all that was needed to avoid a run-off in the 2008 Presidential election won by Tsvangirai.

The events that subsequently followed after the first split indicated one thing that remains evident in opposition politics today: The unfortunate reality that stalwarts in the opposition cannot sustain support for a single leader long enough to witness change. When the MDC lost the first Presidential 2002 election, already there were murmurs that the leader had to be succeeded; a lot was thrown in Tsvangirai’s way by fellow comrades.

And, as some have rightly observed, the 2005 split was simply the culmination of some deep-seated revolt. It was bound to happen. The MDC formation that went away struggled with the prospect of appointing a befitting leader, ultimately settling for Arthur Mutambara. No sooner had they appointed him did they want him out.

The song was to continue, even those who remained behind in the Tsvangirai-led MDC-T could not appreciate the importance of throwing their weight behind one candidate, choosing instead to magnify his personal faults. A lot happened (politically) between 2005 and 2013; notably, the MDC won against Zanu PF in 2008, but a run-off had Zanu PF retaining power after a torrent of political violence swept across the country in June. However, the major highlight was in 2013 when the remaining comrades in the name of Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma tried to bell the cat, coming out in the open urging Tsvangirai to step down.

Again, opposition politics experienced a familiar script; the once formidable party, for the second time, was shaken and it split. Its former secretary-general and treasurer went away with a number of party cadres.

While this piece does not seek to back anyone, events that have taken place in the splinter formations in opposition politics over the years vindicate the view that it would have made solid sense to stand behind a single opposition leader regardless of differences.

Zimbabwean politics has not developed to a stage where a politician’s muddled personal life affects their popularity. There is no need of changing the coach at half-time.

Consequently, the painful results of these splits live with Zimbabweans today. The results of the political glitches have manifested in a Zanu PF hegemony.

Imagine an opposition united behind a single leader with Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti staying put. That some have come back to the MDC-T after years in splinter formations is quite a sad point in the opposition learning curve.
The political landscape could have long changed, where it not for the impatience to change leadership.

Sadly, this very familiar and yet sad script continues to play out even in the recent opposition fronted by Zimbabwe People First leader Joice Mujuru. Reportedly, Didymus Mutasa’s faction is scouting for a leader from the Diaspora. The opposition in Zimbabwe must master the art of backing one leader. This could be a factor in the prolonged suffering of Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe needs a single firm opposition leader.

For all its liabilities, Zanu PF has mastered this art too well. Of course, factions do exist within this old party yet, in their divisions, they call out one name for a presidential candidate.

The opposition must wake up from its slumber, otherwise 2018 will produce more of the same elections order.

Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: