Guest column: Paul Kaseke
One of the most fascinating things that I have observed about most (not all) Zimbabweans is our focus span or rather our lack of it. This is perhaps why it has been easy for Zanu PF to get away with its shenanigans for this long. We quickly forget what the majors are and focus on the minors. When we do focus on the majors, we easily get distracted by irrelevant things that serve no purpose in the bigger scheme of things or that are meant to ensure that we forget to hold the correct people accountable.
The oldest trick in politics is divide and rule and this was perfected under former President Robert Mugabe’s administration. The current dispensation continues to play the divisive games to diffuse anger and cause more division.
Naturally, the first serious target of any divisive tactics will be the main opposition, since it holds a significant command of influence in the country. That the Constitutional Court declared President Emmerson Mnangagwa the legitimate leader does not change the fact that, according to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s own revised figures, the MDC Alliance is a serious force on its own.
It may not have been enough to secure the highest office, according to those results, but it does not change the significance of the support the MDC holds. That being said, Zanu PF would be foolish to ignore this. This is why as history repeats itself, the ruling party through its many mouthpieces, including some media houses, will seek to divide the opposition and if the opposition is not awake to this reality, the divide and rule tactic will once again win.
It is common knowledge that the MDC is due for a congress this year and positions, including the party’s top positions, are up for grabs. Strangely enough, there is more noise coming from the ruling party’s supporters about the opposition party’s congress, but even more bizarrely, there is a deliberate choice of candidates from the same quarters.
The common theme among ruling party supporters is that they would prefer current secretary-general, Senator Douglas Mwonzora to assume the presidency over Nelson Chamisa, citing his maturity and stability as reasons for this. This, of course, has drawn fierce criticism from pro-Chamisa supporters and has essentially created two camps in the party — one supporting Mwonzora and the other, Chamisa. The problem, however, is that it is not a Zanu PF congress, it is an MDC matter, so one should ask what is the motive behind all this?
The game plan seems to be to pit the two against each other and cause divisions before the congress that will produce a bitterly contested process, which will leave the party weakened. This will work out in this way: By endorsing a candidate, the ruling party is effectively creating the impression that it would rather contest X, but then again the logical implication is that they would choose a candidate they either have control over or believe they can win comfortably against. As the logic goes, this is the kiss of death that reveals that the preferred candidate is working for the ruling party. This is the kind of logic that prompted Mnangagwa to hastily put together a video for circulation on social media when Mugabe endorsed Chamisa before the 2018 election.
The conspiracy that the preferred candidate has to be in bed with the ruling party does not necessarily have to be true, but that’s the point — that is what they would want us to believe. The power of this kiss of death is not the truth underlying the theories, but the impression it will create even if it is a mirage. The intended aim of the kiss of death in this case would seem to be to weaken the MDC. A weakened MDC is, of course, a blessing to Zanu PF, because the party will govern unchallenged and sail through its raft of intended legislative enactments with little opposition from its biggest challenge, the MDC. A weakened MDC is, however, a threat to democracy, which is why it must be left to pursue its democratic processes internally and encouraged to rally behind whoever wins.
A united opposition is better placed to challenge the autocracy and mediocrity of the ruling party. Any healthy democracy is strengthened by the existence of a robust, united and strengthened opposition. Readers will recall that between 2013 and 2018 the opposition was not united and spent most of its time pursuing internal power struggles, which weakened it immensely, thus allowing the ruling party to continue with its own agenda. History could repeat itself if the MDC plays to the tune of the music played by the ruling party. They particularly want the contest to become bitter not because it creates enemies out of the candidates, but rather it creates enemies out of the supporters.
The ultimate aim of this sudden interest in MDC internal affairs is not to create enmity between Chamisa and Mwonzora and I doubt they would fall for this, since both are experienced and seasoned politicians. The ultimate target and aim are the supporters. No party can survive when its leaders are divided, but no party can exist with divided supporters. The word of caution to the MDC is simple: The ruling party may have changed party leaders, but it is still the same cunning, deceitful, tactful and divisive party that would love to remain in power at all costs.
Moving away from the MDC, Zimbabweans in general must be weary of this very same tactic. We must always remember that government itself will often divert our attention from major things so as to avoid drawing attention to its failures. The so-called Queen Bee saga comes to the top of my mind. These conspiracies have the effect of removing the target of attention to the wrong and in this specific case, non-existent people. It’s almost comical that a significant number of people believed that corrupt officials have looted and acted under the dictates of a terrifying business man, who very few people knew of before the revelations that later turned out to be false. Again, the focus was diverted from government failure and directed elsewhere.
The same diversion has seen us see politics as an either Zanu PF or MDC narrative, with no space for in-between choices or views. It’s either “us or them”; government or opposition, MDC or Zanu PF. But that’s not where the problem is. One can, for example, choose to remain non-partisan, but support an MDC policy or view and similarly criticise the same party’s position on another matter without them being anti-MDC or pro-Zanu PF. It should also be plausible that an MDC supporter or Zanu PF supporter can support the views of the other party where it is best for the country without degenerating into a range of attacks and insults.
The divisive legacy of the ruling party has left us attacking each other rather than focussing on the mess that the country is in and how we can collectively rebuild the country. Social media finds itself heavily divided between the “varakashi” and the “Nerrorists”, but the reality is that we are being played to fight against each other when we should be challenging government to act in the best interests of all Zimbabweans. Do we not all want to have a prosperous country, functional health system, abundance of goods in shops with the means to purchase them? Do we not all want to have a country we can be proud of? Focus, Zimbabwe, we need focus.
We are not each other’s enemies and we should certainly stop majoring on minor things and start concentrating on the bigger goal — Zimbabwe. It matters not where you put your X in the 2018 election, we all deserve a better Zimbabwe and we can only get there by focusing on what matters, uniting ourselves as citizens to hold government accountable at all levels.
Our legislators should also be held to account. We should ask what the are doing for our various constituencies and if they are not performing, we must name and shame them and ensure we put pressure on their parties to rein them in.
These artificial divisions created by the vehicle of politics and exploited by government should never make us forget that at the end of the day, we share the same flag and call Zimbabwe home. That is bigger than everything else and that is where the focus should be. If we focus on the wrong things and ignore the majors, then our beloved government will continue to use us to fight each other, while they alone enjoy the fruits of our country …just saying!
Paul Kaseke is a legal advisor, commentator, policy analyst and former law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as senior managing partner and current group chair of AfriConsult firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @paulkasekesnr.