BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Just imagine that Zanu PF had succeeded in establishing a one-party state as it had initially wanted, after drinking too much off the communist-socialist mug.
Well, the scenario wouldn’t be fit for those of a nervous disposition. With the way those in power easily get hungry, there wouldn’t be a single morsel left for anyone else by now.
Scrawny citizen-slaves would be busy 24/7 demolishing the doors at government buildings to enable the ever-bloating eaters to get in and out. Not that the buildings would matter too much. Because, you see, no bureaucrat would care to work. Just coming in and out as an excuse to earn salaries, allowances and big cars.
Hospitals, schools, public service offices, they would all be dead by now, very dead. No roads, no dams, no banks, no money. Nothing.
Why? Because there wouldn’t be anyone to bring the eaters to account. That is why the opposition is very important for democracy and development.
The political opposition is good for a number of things. It serves — or is supposed to serve — the role of questioning government decisions, actions, non-actions and what not. This way, it acts as a watchdog, bringing incumbent power to account.
The opposition is useful for offering constructive criticism of government policies, programmes, plans and laws. It can ensure adherence to the constitution and the laws of the country by the executive, judiciary, legislature, citizens and all the like.
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It carries the voice of the marginalised, neglected and forgotten in the ideal democratic dispensation. Its mandate also includes making progressive laws in consultation with the citizenry and the various constituencies it represents.
The bottom line is, the political opposition brings diversity and pluralism that are necessary for democracy and good governance.
Just try to think where we would now be if various interest groups had not come together in late 1999 to form the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The signs were already there. The ruling elite was skating towards autocracy and authoritarianism. Dictatorship, to put it in one word.
Remember what the government of Robert Mugabe did in 1998? They sent soldiers to fight in a remote war in the DRC there without caring to talk to anyone who mattered, parliament included. The results were stinging. We ended up spending some cool US$3 million a day to fight in a war where a few elites ate millions through Cosleg, the company they formed precisely to loot from the DRC. And the economy went anaemic.
Tens of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters were coming back home in body bags every week, so the story goes. They were fighting a war they never got to understand or benefit from.
And corruption was already running on steroids. Remember, about a decade before the formation of the MDC, the Willowgate scandal when ministers and senior government officials looted a public car scheme. Then, earlier in the 80s, the Paweni grain scandal, the Ziscosteel blast furnace rip-off (1987), the Air Zimbabwe Fokker plane haul worth US$100 million (1987) and the NRZ housing loot (1988).
There was the ZRP Santana scandal in 1989, followed by the one relating to the war veterans’ compensation fund (1994), GMB grain supply (1995), the VIP housing scheme (1996), the now defunct Roger Boka-owned United Merchant Bank (1998) and Noczim (1999), among others.
Tyranny was growing, too, as intolerance of dissenting voices rose. For example, Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto, working for The Standard then, were arrested, detained and severely tortured for reporting a foiled coup. If they were not beating you blue-to-black, they were using colonial laws to strangle you.
Ummm, this is not to say the formation of the MDC stopped the rollercoaster, no. In fact, the impunity and crassness of bad governance and human rights abuses increased after the formation of the party, the first one since independence to give Zanu PF a good running for its money. But the MDC was so robust in its role as a political watchdog, we would have been in hell by now.
The naughty ones say the formation of the MDC is what brought an increase in human rights abuses as Zanu PF struggled for survival. Nonsense. Was it the MDC that was beating and killing critics of government? Was it the MDC that was forcing government officials to fix mega-million tenders and adopt the wrong policies? Was there no better way for Zanu PF to survive without killing people?
Sadly though, the fragmentation of the opposition — typified by the fights and splits we have seen in the MDC of late — is killing whatever little democracy was left in Zimbabwe, literally speaking.
The MDC, as the face of the opposition in Zimbabwe, has experienced significant internal fights since 2004. First, it was intra-party violence. Then, in 2005, one of its most prominent founders, Welshman Ncube, split away to lead a splinter following acute differences over whether or not to participate in the re-installed senate. Morgan Tsvangirai, the late party leader, was mainly to blame for this. He imposed his position on others, insisting that his party must not be part of the new senate despite a majority vote to the contrary. In other words, he acted like a dictator.
But you must give it to Tsvangirai. He managed to keep the centre in place and the MDC survived the relatively mild knock from the Ncube split.
Things got really nasty, sadly, when he passed on in early 2018. Again, Tsvangirai was mainly to blame. He failed to manage his succession. He had unprocedurally appointed two extra vice presidents — Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri — to add up with Thokozani Khupe.
So, when he passed on, the hawks went hunting. As people were still mourning Tsvangirai, Chamisa mobilised his loyalists and he was declared acting president. That didn’t go down well with Khupe and Mudzuri, together with the likes of Douglas Mwonzora.
With the elections beckoning, the party split into MDC-T and MDC-A, Khupe leading the former and Chamisa the other. The fights for party ownership and power then went to the courts in 2020. The law ordered everyone back to 2014 when Khupe was the deputy president. The courts said Chamisa had no legitimacy to lead the MDC, so there must be a congress based on the 2014 structures. Mwonzora won and MDC-A did not take part in the elections, insisting they were a new and separate party.
That set the stage for the debilitating recalls of MPs and councillors, which the Mwonzora outfit claimed it no longer recognised.
There will be by-elections in March to fill in the vacancies that came with the recalls. But, as we await what will come out of the by-elections, what’s clear is that the MDC fights have brought with them serious and possibly irreparable damages.
The first victim of the fights is the electorate. If the MDC factions were united, that party would, talking about local voters, have more than three million followers. Most possibly far higher than this. But then, what’s happening is that the fights are battles for personal gain.
The MDC-T, which Mwonzora leads, is not concerned about the people. If it’s interested in its followers, that’s because it wants to use them to settle scores with the Chamisa outfit and reap some material gains out of it. It’s all about self-preservation. Mwonzora won’t forgive Chamisa for frustrating his ambitions when they were still together.
That doesn’t imply Chamisa is a saint in this scheme of things. He is also fighting for political self-preservation. While he has broken clean to form the Convergence for Citizen Coalition—oops, Citizens Coalition for Change —there is no doubt that his campaign from the recent “rebirth” is a personal campaign. You see that from the symbol, a single finger. Chamisa Chete Chete (Chamisa Only). You see how everything winds up on him. It’s not surprising, then, that you see thousands of people celebrating his face and the yellow colour. Nothing about party ideology. Just the usual and pretty tiring “Zanu PF must go” tagline.
This is the sad thing that happens when political campaigns and strategies focus almost exclusively on personalities and self-interest. As Mwonzora and Chamisa fight for the political podium, no-one is addressing the issues that are seriously affecting the people. No-one has even bothered to produce a convincing manifesto ahead of the March by-election. Its’ all about, heh vote me, heh vote for change. Which is this thing called change now? No-one is coming out clear. It’s all about individual power.
Since the political power fights went to the courts in 2020, no-one is talking about electoral, media, security sector and other reforms. They just don’t have the time for what matters. Yet we are going to have major elections in 2023. Nothing will change when we get there. The only guarantee you have is the usual, predictable whimpering about electoral fraud, what, what. How can we not have electoral theft when no-one is fighting for reforms but personal power?
Then you have the recalls. For close to two years now, the opposition has been severely depleted in parliament, simply because the Mwonzora party wants to prove a point to Chamisa and others. It was bad enough that the opposition had a small presence in parliament after the 2018 elections. But with the recalls, no-one is fighting for the multi-million constituency that the opposition must claim.
No surprise, therefore, that the only significant laws that have been passed in parliament in the past two years mainly favour the ruling elite rather than the people. And no surprise, too, that the executive has usurped the power of parliament by passing subsidiary laws that must be running into their millions by now. Statutory instruments that, you guessed right, mainly serve the interests of those in power.
Take it or dump it, the opposition is now discredited. People, save for the die-hards and those that stand to benefit, no longer have faith in the opposition. Never mind the crowds that you are bound to see prancing about. This is likely to tell next year when we go to the polls. A fatigued and disillusioned electorate naturally loses interest in voting.
All these fights are playing into Zanu PF’s hands. It won’t feel the pressure of having to reform itself out of power. It has seized on the dearth in service delivery in opposition-controlled councils and seems bent on moulding itself into a saviour on that basis. And it is likely to capitalise on the confusion in the opposition to establish a more-or-less unilateral coalition government. With Mwonzora around, that’s not a long haul.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org