THE MDC Alliance is probably on its deathbed, suffering from a ‘sickness’ which threatens to take away its life, temporarily or permanently. The question is whether it will recover from “this sickness”. The “sickness” largely derives from greed and political expediency, particularly the manner in which the party handled its leadership issues.
The main issues are: the unconstitutional elevation of Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as deputy presidents; Morgan Tsvangirai’s continued hold on to power when it was clear that doing so was eroding his contribution to the struggle and that his health was in such a bad shape that would not allow him to continue; and the shrewd and politically strategic, but opaque manner in which Chamisa assumed the party presidency after Tsvangirai’s death. The bitter Thokozani Khupe limped away, but she is back with a fight which undoubtedly presents an existential threat to the party.
Zanu PF is brutally taking advantage of the rare opportunity to annihilate the MDC Alliance. As this drama unfolds, it is clear that the future of the MDC Alliance is now more in the hands of Zanu PF than it is in the hands of the MDC Alliance and its supporters. The only question is whether Zanu PF will go halfway or the full distance in seizing the opportunity to crush an opposition which has persistently remained a thorn in its flesh. I want to believe that a bitter Zanu PF, working with bitter MDC “rebels”, will definitely go the full distance. It is likely to utilise one of Robert Green’s 48 Laws of Power: “Crush your enemy totally”. Green warns that “more is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation. The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit”.
There are three decapitating steps which Zanu PF can take. First, it can use its majority advantage in Parliament to ‘delete’ the holding of by-elections from the electoral script. It is now clear that Khupe wields the machete to recall the majority of the parliamentarians who constitute the MDC Alliance. If by-elections are suspended, Khupe’s MDC-T will nominate the candidates who will fill the positions of the recalled or resigned parliamentarian. It means that MDC-T will become the main opposition party by virtue of the number of parliamentarians it will have. Zanu PF wants an official opposition which is pliant and does not pose an existential threat. Second, Zanu PF can use the Political Actors Dialogue to form a Government of National Unity [GNU]. It will take steps to give the GNU a veneer of inclusivity and credibility. One key step would be to include the church in the GNU. A ministry or some other arrangement which represents the interests of churches will be created. Land will be given to churches. There is no shortage of influential church leaders who are keen to be included in the GNU. Since the curse of the “new dispensation” arrived, some churches have been conducting “prayer meetings” which were attended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other senior Zanu PF leaders. These churches used this platform to make demands on the government.
Early this year, they used the “national day of prayer” to ask the government to provide them with land. Mnangagwa promised to instruct responsible government authorities to give churches State land for free. Other opportunistic leaders from civil society, the academia, and business sector will also be included in the GNU.
Zanu PF will implement bogus political reforms. The international community will not take the GNU seriously, but Sadc and the African Union will. Zanu PF will embark on a campaign for the lifting of sanctions, claiming that there is no more justification for maintaining them. Nonetheless, they will remain in place because those who imposed them are shrewd enough to see the hollowness of that envisaged GNU. But some superficial economic progress may be made under the GNU. Those who are weary of the antagonism between Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance may see the GNU as a reprieve.
Third, Zanu PF can take advantage of the October 2019 call by the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations for the country to take a Sabbath on all political contestations for a period of seven years to allow for the rebuilding of trust and confidence, reset our politics and chart a shared way forward towards a comprehensive economic recovery path in a non-competitive political environment.
It will claim that by establishing the GNU and taking the electoral Sabbath, it has listened to the voice of the people. It can even go as far as claiming that after the enforced resignation of former President Robert Mugabe, people wanted a GNU and a rest from elections but the conditions were not conducive. It will argue that elections causes polarisation, hence the need for the country to take a seven-year focus on economic reforms and national unity.
If Zanu PF decides to take these steps, the consequences will be dire for the MDC Alliance. There are many reasons to believe this. First, it will be difficult for the party to maintain internal cohesion, especially when it becomes clearer that Zanu PF intends to take these steps.
It will be difficult for MDC Alliance parliamentarians who can be recalled, especially those who do not have other meaningful sources of income, to imagine that they will be out of Parliament until 2028 or even beyond, when they may have another opportunity to contest again.
There is no guarantee that they will have this opportunity again after such a long time, let alone that they will win. It is naive to believe that they are in the party and Parliament solely to fight for the democratic transition of power. They are driven, in whole or in part, by the need to access the privileges which come with being a parliamentarian. The temptation to cross the floor cannot be easily discarded.
It is in the best interests of Zanu PF for some of the MDC Alliance parliamentarians to cross the floor and join MDC-T. This will enable it to promote the narratives that those who crossed the floor are law-compliant, that they understand the merits of the Supreme Court judgment and that it shows that the whole saga had to do with the failure of the MDC to uphold its own principles. Zanu PF will, therefore, present an assortment of baits to these parliamentarians.
But this will not be a benevolence-inspired act. Zanu PF will be using Green’s other law of power: ‘It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains then attack. You hold the cards’. Zanu PF does not want to be seen as involved in the shenanigans, but it clearly is. If you are an opposition cadre and you find yourself receiving positive coverage from State media, then you must certainly know that you have crossed to the wrong side of history.
Second, the MDC Alliance will not be able to contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa as tenaciously as it has been doing. Even if it decides to continue being represented in Parliament, it will be much weaker. The Parliament enables the opposition to access other areas of power and influence. It increases the circulation and visibility of the opposition on the political terrain. The MDC Alliance has already signalled that it will cut all forms of engagement and most probably focus on protests, stayaways and diplomatic offensives. These steps will definitely undermine the performance of Zanu PF, particularly on the economic front. But the major challenge is that the regime will respond with a brutal hand, making it difficult for the MDC Alliance to make use of these constitutional rights.
Third, Zanu PF is using State institutions to encircle the MDC Alliance.
The battle is being fought in the courts and Parliament, with a heavy involvement of the security sector and other government institutions.
It is, therefore, being fought from a terrain which is inherently unfavorable to the MDC Alliance. When an eagle fights a snake, it carries it into the sky. The eagle, being itself the ‘lord of the sky’ knows that the snake is less capable of fighting from the sky because it is not familiar with the territory. The poor snake may put a valiant fight to try and free itself from the unforgiving grip of the eagle, but the unfamiliar terrain will enormously disadvantage it. It will soon realise that it cannot fight any longer.
Fourth, by suspending by-elections and the 2023 elections, Zanu PF will isolate the MDC Alliance from its supporters. It knows that the party’s supporters are a decisive factor in this battle.
Now, imagine that they voted for their party during the 2018 elections, but they will be ‘represented’ by candidates from a party which they rejected. That Khupe was given the machete to recall parliamentarians who were voted under the ticket of the MDC Alliance is an unforgivable assault on the right of MDC supporters to elect representatives of their choice. It does not end there. They will have no opportunity to rectify this bizarre twist of events, either through by-elections or the elections which are constitutionally scheduled for 2023. They will be emasculated from all sides. They can only helplessly watch from the ground, wishing they had wings to fly, while their party is being ravaged by the eagle thousands of feet from above the sea level. The intention is to break them in body, mind and spirit. They are very resilient, but this will be a devastating blow. The psychological effect is that they will believe that their vote does not have a voice. Many of them may go to the post-GNU election, which will be quite distant, with a sense of desperation, distrust and disillusionment. The question is whether the MDC Alliance will recover from ‘this sickness’. I am not attempting to answer this question now. I am simply painting the picture of how life threatening ‘this sickness’ can become and what it may mean for the future of the MDC Alliance.
Moses Tofa holds a PhD in political studies from the University of Johannesburg and a PhD in peace studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He writes in his personal capacity. — email@example.com