The People’s Movement: A call for leadership

When William Shakespeare from the play Julius Caesar meets his “most foul and unnatural” demise at the hands of power-hungry jackals, while accepting his fate, Caesar appears more shocked that his friend Brutus is part of the conspiracy in his demise and he retorts, more in surprise, “Et tu Brute?”, which literally means “Even you Brutus?” Such is the allure of power that even the most honourable of them may surprise you.

By Munyaradzi N Ziburawa

Events in MDC-T, the biggest opposition party in the land, in the past week have left many asking “Et tu Brute?” following the playing out of factions rooting for vice-presidents Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri at a critical moment in the Zimbabwean body politic. As we speak, MDC-T has in fact two acting presidents — a scenario which some Twimbos felt was inspired by Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, who swore himself recently as that country’s other President. Uhuru Kenyatta is the other having trounced Odinga in a disputed election. At least the two Kenya “Presidents” are from different parties.

In a previous issue of NewsDay January 23, 2018, I alluded to the need for leading opposition figures to show leadership by offering a serious, alternative viable political and economic narrative in this year of critical national decisions. When Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantino Chiwenga intervened in the ruling Zanu PF party politics, he observed that events in Zanu PF transcended the party and, as such, instability in the party was by extension instability in the nation. Using similar logic, events in the biggest opposition party are issues of interest not only to the opposition party, but to the entire nation and all pro-democracy forces. Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa is on record observing that he has benefited immensely from the opposition. The role of the MDC-T in shaping the development trajectory of this great nation cannot be underestimated.

The formation of MDC-T has its roots in the proletariat struggle for better terms of engagement with the comprador bourgeoisie and the nationalist state. Who forgets the popular Wednesday mass stayaway of the late 1990s, forcing then President Robert Mugabe to challenge then Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Gibson Sibanda to the political front, and, indeed, when then ZCTU secretary-general Morgan Tsvangirai declared “tovuyako”, he was echoing the sentiments of the workers espoused by the Working People’s Convention, which had observed that the workers’ problems had transcended the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and now required a political solution.

Labour in Zimbabwe, just like what the Congress of South African Trade Unions had done with the African National Congress in South Africa, entrusted the MDC-T with delivering on the social contract. Students, peasants and the downtrodden of society embraced and supported the MDC-T as a movement of hope. ‘Chinja maitiro, Maitiro chinja’ became the slogan of hope for everyone dissatisfied with incumbency. I remember well, in 1999, Tsvangirai came to address a rally at the then Zisco club in Redcliff, we travelled on foot with my former classmates for over 8km from Torwood. I was a Form 4 student then, with limited political consciousness, but excited at the prospect of seeing Tsvangirai for the first time live. The air was pregnant with expectation and hope; it was like waiting for the Messiah.

I remember well, the electric atmosphere when those double cabs arrived and the security details jumped off showing off their alertness in protecting the man of the moment, the prized people’s president. A man who had dared oppose Mugabe. I don’t remember the details of his speech, but I remember that he concluded by saying “Chinja maitiro ako Robert”. I remember the youthful Chamisa speaking, he was the youth leader then, and what my memory captured was that he said “Ndanzwa nekunetswa nemaCIO [Central Intelligence Organisation] achiti shinga mufanha nekuti ivowo masocks avo akabooka” (Then CIO operatives are even urging me to push on, because their lives are miserable as well).

I could not help admire this youthful eloquent young man. I also remember well the clamouring for Learnmore “Judah” Jongwe by the crowd who went into a frenzy shouting “Judah! Judah! Judah!”, after the crowd realised that Jongwe, the then party spokesperson, was not going to speak after all.

No one was allowed to speak after Tsvangirai had spoken and the gathering was promised Jongwe would speak some other time. Whether there was another time, I don’t know, but for me, it was my last sight of that charismatic young lawyer. After that, the rest is history, sad history. May his dear soul rest in peace.

Thus, this was the wave of hope, excitement, expectation and promise that always characterised the MDC-T, in fact, for most Zimbabweans, the MDC-T has been more than a political party; it has been a movement, an idea, a people’s quest for freedom from the oppressive Zanu PF domination under Mugabe.

Similarly, Tsvangirai became that symbol of hope and resistance more of a biblical Moses entrusted with liberating the Egyptians from the bondage of Pharaoh. A common, simple but charismatic leader entrusted by time and fate to lead Zimbabweans into the Promised Land. Tsvangirai headed a complex team of intellectuals mainly lawyers, who provided the much-needed intellectual capital to guide the struggle as well as vibrant and energetic former student leaders who had the requisite zeal and energy to confront Zanu PF head-on; who would forget the images of Job “Wiwa” Sikhala in leg irons alongside Tafadzwa Musekiwa? Veteran trade unionists as well as white liberals found a place in Tsvangirai’s team. The MDC became an epitome of hope entrusted with delivering on the collective dream of the people for a better Zimbabwe.


The collective voice of dissent against the incumbent Mugabe’s regime and aspiration expressed itself first in the popular “No vote” to the constitutional referendum of 1999 in which the people rejected Constitutional Commission, which led to drafting of the proposed Constitution. This collective dissent and vote of confidence in the MDC-T resulted in the deflowering of Zanu PF in 2000 when its hegemony in Parliament was diluted by 57 seats that went to the MDC.

One respected academic Brian Raftopolous (2000) notes that Zanu PF’s reaction to this threat to its hegemony was “to revise the notion of land, State and nation” resulting in more authoritative and repressive measures such as the controversial land reform and the enactment of retrogressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Public Order and Security Act, among other totalitarian measures. In pursuit of the “chinja maitiro” idea a lot of suffering ensued.

The thuggery, violence and intimidation that characterised all successive elections is well documented and remembered not as a mere narrative in books (but) rather as a lived experience of the Zimbabwean people who bear the scars in various forms. Who will forget the battle for Bikita West constituency? The houses that were burnt, the nights spent in the mountains as villagers sought refuge from the reign of terror. Who will forget the short sleeves of 2008?

Even the recent images of the woman from Chitungwiza with her red skirt being battered by the merciless baton stick wielding police officers? All in pursuit of an idea! A vision entrusted to mortals and epitomised by Brand Tsvangirai. The sacrifice is too much to be expressed in the finite letters of the alphabet. All reflecting, the people’s resolve for a better Zimbabwe!
To this end, the MDC-T is an idea, it’s a quest for freedom, it’s the people’s hope. It’s bigger than individuals. It’s an idea born from the lived struggles of the masses. Those entrusted with the people’s vision should understand and get this right. History is replete with leaders who made a mistake of thinking they had outgrown the people’s vision and all learnt one hard lesson that the people will always prevail over individuals.

The late Zanu leader Ndabaningi Sithole and United African National Congress’s Abel Muzorewa during the liberation struggle learnt the hard way, that the people’s idea cannot be stolen. Even in the recent history of the MDC-T, cases in point include one Munyaradzi Gwisai’s experiment in Highfields, Harare, as well as Welshman Ncube’s Arthur Mutambara experiment.

Mugabe had the most unnatural exit from the ruling party which he had led for nearly 40 years. Leaders in MDC should be mature enough to appreciate that leadership of the people’s movement is a privilege thrust upon them by fate and time. They hold no extraordinary qualifications from Mars or some other planet to lead the people’s movement.
The people can always reinvent themselves and reorganise. While it’s a fact that Tsvangirai is unwell and as such may be not in the best of positions to make the best of decisions. His health remains a concern for all. We wish him a speedy recovery.

There is, however, need for Mudzuri, Chamisa, Khupe and secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora to exercise astute leadership. The three leaders should put on their humility jackets and get to a roundtable to sort out their petty differences as a matter of urgency mindful of the fact that the real stockholders of the party are watching and will not hesitate to relegate them to the dustbin of history.

The MDC-T has the highest concentration of legal minds and as such needs no schooling in procedures and processes. The people simply expect better and will not hesitate to realise their dream by their own innovations.

Indeed, MDC-T has been in government and if such petty confusion abound, progressive Zimbabweans would wonder, should such leadership be entrusted with the people’s idea? If such lack of strategic foresight and childish ambitions could be displayed on the eve of the election, what more strategic blunders await the people’s movement?

That said, there is sufficient “craft literacy’’ and “craft competence’ within the movement to deal with these challenges. No mediation is even necessary, the protagonists are not indispensable. They just have to be humble and a moment of reflection resulting in a net return to the values of the people’s movement noting the contribution of “MT” or “Save” without abusing his current unfortunate state. Failure of which the people will reclaim their movement, reorganise and relegate some individuals to the dustbin of history. The peoples dream can never be a nightmare.

Viva Zimbabwe!

Munyaradzi Ziburawa writes in his own capacity

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1 Comment

  1. Beautiful and poignant piece, reminded me of where and how far we have come as a generation still fighting for our place and right to lead, indeed each generation has its own wars to fight, ours is a fight to take this country to greater heights zvekutonyadzisa varikuti rambira

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