THE news in the past few days was dominated by the alleged assault of MDC-T deputy president, Thokozani Khupe, as the opposition party once again displayed a stunning propensity to shoot itself in the foot.
Candour: NQABA MATSHAZI
Whatever Khupe’s crime, the use and the scale of violence employed by the MDC-T youth was unacceptable, but highlights a problem that the opposition party has either been unable to deal with or is totally unwilling to, as it views coercion and violence as useful tools particularly in the run-up to elections.
We have concentrated on Zanu PF violence for years – and rightfully so – but there is a streak of violence within the MDC-T that we have been willing to ignore either because it was prudent or politically correct to do so.
However, if we are to be genuine about our politics, violence by any party should be condemned strongly and we should shout on rooftops to stop this barbarism.
A question some people have asked is that: If MDC-T can deploy violence so effectively when it is not in power, what will happen when it assumes power and controls the State security apparatus?
One of the most reprehensible things about the weekend skirmishes is that a senior member of the MDC-T appeared to gloat, as if to say Khupe deserved it because she was derailing the party’s project.
But if MDC-T were to find itself in power one day, they will meet many more dissenters and if they were to take this mentality, then lo and behold, we have all the reason to fear for their future political enemies.
To his credit, the senior official apologised and a few days later he was suspended by party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
This was strong and decisive action from Tsvangirai, but it does not end there and we need to see justice being served, as this could be window dressing.
Why I am saying this is because we have been here before, where Tsvangirai seemed to act decisively on violence, but then immediately changed his mind and unilaterally lifted the suspensions of those who had been expelled without even as little as a rap on their fingers.
In 2005, when the then united MDC split, one of the issues at the heart of discontentment was the way the party hierarchy was quick to resort to violence each time they felt their power was threatened or when a decision did not go their way.
Harvest House, the party’s headquarters, literally became a no-go area for people who were seen to be opposing Tsvangirai, with party leaders often made to say that they were not eyeing the presidency, lest violence be visited upon them.
For example, Frank Chamunorwa was allegedly abducted and assaulted, while the party’s then director of security, Peter Guhu also had a vicious encounter with the marauding youth.
This precipitated mayhem within the party, as there were several incidents where many people were allegedly assaulted by known youth assembly members, but who were not punished in any way.
This opened the door for impunity and maybe those that descended on Khupe felt there was precedence and they would get away with just a little telling off.
That is the problem with impunity, it opens the door for abuse and contempt for leaders, as perpetrators think they can get away with anything based on the patronage of whoever is senior then.
You do not have to take my word for it, this is all contained in an internal report, drawn up by a committee comprising then senior party leaders, Giles Mutsekwa, Moses Mzila Ndlovu and (the now late) Tichaona Mudzingwa, which interviewed those implicated in the violence and the alleged victims.
Initially, all those implicated in the violence were expelled from the party, but not before long, Tsvangirai hired them as members of his personal security team and that entrenched a culture of impunity.
After the 2005 violence, Innocent Gonese spoke words of wisdom, which I feel MDC-T ought to revisit, as they seek to reaffirm their commitment to non-violence.
Former Education minister David Coltart, in his memoirs, says Gonese said the party’s “commitment to non-violence (had) earned us deep respect” but the attempted murder of Guhu and the 2005 violence had “seriously undermined (our) credibility”.
“If we did not ‘send out a clear and unequivocal message that violence (would) not be tolerated’, we would ‘reduce the standing of the MDC to that of Zanu PF’,” Coltart wrote, quoting Gonese in parts and those words stand true to this day.
The party’s former deputy secretary for welfare, Kerry Kay, in a 2011 memo also wrote articulately about the history of violence in the party, which was ignored because senior party members were implicated.
By engaging in violence, the lines differentiating MDC-T from Zanu PF are increasingly becoming blurred and this could have disastrous consequences for the opposition party.
Thus, I argue that the violence at the MDC-T Bulawayo offices was not a one-off event, but rather part of a systemic culture that long took root in the party, which can be triggered at any time to deal with suspected dissenters.
MDC-T allowed that culture to fester and it has grown a life of its own.
It might be easy to say Tsvangirai did not order those youths to do that, but some may have felt duty-bound to resort to violence in his name because it has been done before and the perpetrators were left to go scot-free.
In that same vein, it would not be remiss to tell MDC-T to tell its youth members to get rid of those ridiculous military-like uniforms they seem to like these days, as these innately exude violence and are no different from those absurd ones worn by green bombers.
Those fatigues heighten fear in their appearance, as the first thought would be that they are a militia and militias are never associated with kindness and peace.
An important point about our future is that we strive that it is better than our present and that is the approach we take to politics; that ideally, those hoping to take over from the ruling party should represent an improvement to our present.
In this regard, opposition parties often find themselves under microscopic scrutiny, as the idea is that they should offer better prospects, otherwise there is no point in bothering about them or let alone voting for them.
In the Zimbabwean situation, MDC-T is the biggest opposition party and it will find itself under increasing scrutiny with elections coming in 12 months or so.
This is not a time for the party to deflect and blame Zanu PF or the Central Intelligence Organisation, but rather to introspect and nip these streaks of violence in the bud.