The MDC is at the crossroads, probably of a never-seen-before nature since its formation in 1999.
On May 5 2020, Parliament recalled four of the MDC Alliance’s MPs. This was a major step by acting MDC-T leader Thokozani Khupe in the convoluted implementation of the Supreme Court judgment which controversially restored her as the legitimate acting president of the party. With the recalling of the four MPs, who are evidently key leaders in the party and Parliament, a significant part of the ground has been cut from under the feet of the MDC Alliance. Khupe has sent the message that more and more ground will be cut. The intention is primarily to make MDC Alliance MPs believe that their party is standing on ground which is giving way. The occult hand of the State is visible.
Khupe has the State machinery on her side. She is suddenly the kingmaker. With the ”machete to recall” in her hands, she can rampage through Parliament, recalling MDC parliamentarians who are unwilling to join her side of the divide.
I attempt to answer four questions. The first question is: Where should the MDC Alliance go from here? The party can choose to take the fight to the courts. But this will be clearly a fruitless endeavour. But one advantage of doing so is that the partiality of the court and the Zanu PF hand can be exposed further. But again, is this helpful? Zanu PF has been ”superfluously exposed”.
Besides, the party has exposed itself in equal measure, many times recklessly and arrogantly, believing that its ”right to rule” drives not from the people, but its contribution to the liberation struggle and its ownership and control of the storehouses of violent repression. It is not the exposure that matters, but the consequences which arise from it. As long as Zanu PF believes that no serious consequences will ever arise from the exposure, then the exposure is of limited importance for the opposition. It will also appear oxymoronic for the opposition to accuse the courts of dispensing ”corona justice”, but approach the same to seek rarefied justice. It is clear that the MDC Alliance’s first and last line of defence are the people. It, therefore, has to take the battle to the people. They are the ultimate custodians of the struggle.
If the people are so fundamental to the struggle, the party should not take them for granted anymore. The painful observation I have made is this: the supporters of the MDC are willing to lose their livestock and livelihoods; to be denied food and other forms of assistance; to have their homes torched; to have their eyes gouged out and their limbs hacked and to be flogged or shot dead on the streets, all for what they believe is a long and tortuous fight for the greater and inclusive good. If they are faced with the reality of choosing between their goats or the common good, they certainly pick the common good. But MDC leaders are largely on the other side of the spectrum. They are obsessed with feathering their own nests, hiding behind the smokescreen of democratic struggle. If their power ambitions get to a dead end, they can turn against the party, wielding a ruthless machete. And this is not only limited to the so-called rebels or sell-outs.
The MDC Alliance MPs have the space to make personal decisions. There are two paths in front of them: to join Khupe’s MDC or to remain in the alliance tent. The main incentive to join Khupe would be to maintain their parliamentary seats. But in the long term, their political fortunes will fizzle out. However, they can start to benefit from association with Zanu PF. On the other hand, remaining in the MDC Alliance may temporarily cost them their parliamentary seats. But they can resign en masse, contest by-elections and win all or the majority of the seats. This is the best path to take and it needs to be taken immediately because it quickly disempowers Khupe. The more the party delays, the more its MPs are tempted to vacillate between two contesting opinions as Khupe wields the ”machete to recall”. But the MDC Alliance MPs need to understand that a parliamentary seat is not more important than the common good which the party claims to fight for. Where one cannot take both, it is better to pick the common good and let the parliamentary seat go. This is a lesson from the party’s battle-hardened supporters. Whichever path they choose to take, it is good to put principles ahead of expediency. Hard and selfless decisions have to be made.
At this point, the MDC Alliance also needs to do three fundamental things. First, it needs to lay claim to the furtherance of the ideals of the liberation struggle. It should enunciate the values of the liberation struggle and how Zanu PF has desecrated them. In doing so, it attracts disgruntled people from Zanu PF who believe or can be convinced that the party has taken a permanent detour from the ideals of the liberation struggle. It also helps it to show that it is a party which is rooted in the aspirations and needs of the people of Zimbabwe, historical, contemporary and in future.
It is not enough to claim that it is a party of the future without linking the future to the past. It has to be a seamless thread of the past, present and future. Second, it should focus on delivering pointable pockets of change and progress. This will prove its commitment and capability to deliver a “new Zimbabwe”.
Third, it needs to create a warm relationship with the security sector, especially considering that it is now clear that the party should use unconventional tools.
This is a difficult task indeed, given the status of relations between the two. But vitriolic attacks on the security sector are unhelpful. To navigate this, the MDC needs develop a convenient but painful narrative that the security sector is professional, but it is only being manipulated by Zanu PF. This is one way of weakening the party-state conflation.
The second question is ‘what should the MDC learn from this storm?’ The MDC has peddled the scapegoating narrative that this storm is a result of infiltration by Zanu PF. This is not true. The brutal truth is that greediness by MDC leadership is at the centre of this storm. One does not need to be infiltrated to be greed. But a greed MDC leader is a candidate for infiltration. The better part of the party’s leadership is greed. They are in the party not because of concern for the greater good, but because their power ambitions have not yet hit the rock, or they believe that they still have another day to fight. The party must be irrevocably committed to its principles.
The third question is ‘will Zanu PF benefit from this fight?’ For Zanu PF, the intention is to weaken the MDC Alliance. It wants to see the Khupe-led MDC as the official opposition. It wants an opposition which is complaint. Khupe is already part of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD). If Khupe’s MDC emerges as the biggest opposition, this will inject some meaning in POLAD. Zanu PF will claim that the biggest opposition party is part of the dialogue. It will use this to undermine the MDC Alliance’s position that Mnangagwa is an illegitimate president. Whichever way, Zanu PF is not going to win. Even if it were to ‘win’, the victory will be a pyrrhic victory. It is clearly unlikely that Khupe’s party will emerge as the biggest opposition. In fact, a storm is already raging as the party goes towards the extraordinary congress. The MDC Alliance will harden its position that Mnangagwa is illegitimate. The sanctions regime will remain in place. In his press statement, Tendai Biti said that the MDC Alliance has given peace and dialogue enough chance. If it decides to take the boldest step, the MDC Alliance may cut all lines of engagement and rely on protests, stay aways and diplomatic offensives. The state will respond with brutal repression. The crisis will deepen and Zimbabwe will be back to the international spotlight, all for wrong reasons.
The final question is ‘what about Zimbabwe?’ What is important in this fight is neither the fate of Zanu PF nor the opposition, but of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was troubled by a long-standing governance pandemic before the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic. These two pandemics will deal a deathblow to the economy. The finance minister has already made a distress call to international financial institutions. The answer will certainly not be affirmative. It is no longer time for the people of Zimbabwe to leave the fate of the country to the belligerent MDC and Zanu PF parties. Posterity will judge us harshly for allowing ourselves to be under the tutelage of ‘kakistocracy’ for close to half a century. The responsibility to rescue Zimbabwe from the jaws and claws of ‘kakistocracy’ rests on the shoulders of the Wananchi. For the umpteenth time, let me leave these two quotations here, whatever their import: ‘Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them’ (Assata Shakur). ‘Dictators and authoritarian regimes are not easily removed from office through democratic means’ (John Makumbe).
Moses Tofa is a holder of a PhD in political studies from the University of Johannesburg and a PhD in peace studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He can be contacted email@example.com. He writes here in his personal capacity.