Develop me: When opposition politics is infected with autoimmunity

Being in opposition politics and having faith in those around you has not been easy.

THE term “autoimmune disease” refers to a condition whereby the body attacks normal cells by mistake because its natural defence system is unable to distinguish between foreign and body cells.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases which affect a wide range of body parts. Autoimmune disease symptoms can differ greatly, mostly depending on the body part affected and the type of disease. The symptoms are frequently varied, transient and range in severity from mild to severe.

Certain autoimmune diseases, however, might exhibit more specific symptoms. The kind and severity of an autoimmune disease determine the treatment option. The main goals of therapeutic approaches are to control symptoms, lower immune system activity, and preserve the body’s defences against illnesses.

That sounds more like the current situation in Zimbabwe’s opposition politics. Our society’s lack of trust, paranoia, as well as destructive ambition premised on selfishness, are among the elements the ruling party has successfully ingrained in the past four decades.

The greatest danger to opposition politics starting in the early 1980s was infiltration, which bred suspicion and fear among those meant to stand together against the ruling party.Opposition leaders like Edgar Tekere, Ndabaningi Sithole, Margaret Dongo and others who challenged the ruling party were ultimately brought down by this mistrust.Being in opposition politics and having faith in those around you has not been easy.

Fear and suspicion that someone within the ranks of opposition parties is an implant spying on them have always defined opposition politics. While to a considerable extent, this has been true it should not deter people from pursuing the bigger picture.There will always be spies in any political arena because it is the nature of politics.

The labour-backed movement which morphed into the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 was, perhaps, one of the most infiltrated political projects, and yet its growth and political impact were not impeded by elements that attempted to derail the change project. 

Its resounding success in the 2000 constitutional referendum and the stolen presidential elections of 2002 are testimony of what political determination can overcome against trivial challenges such as political infiltration.

The ruling party obviously took note of these lessons. Actually, a great deal of them. Understanding the fundamentals of human nature and interests was one of the lessons. Human behaviours are generally driven by interests that are personal, familial, communal and lastly societal. 

Individuals are probably more likely to prioritise their own interests over those of their families, communities and country. Satisfying personal interests takes precedence over wider interests in a chaotic environment such as the one obtaining in Zimbabwe.

Once more, satisfying one’s interests is sold to the highest bidder in a nation as troubled as ours. This implies that the highest political bidder will be served by anyone who can provide something to further personal interests. 

From 2005, when the MDC experienced its first split, which opened the door for numerous subsequent splits, the same opposition group has resorted to changing names. That formula became the narrative of Zimbabwe’s opposition politics.

The main factors influencing opposition politics today are mistrust, paranoia, self-interest and destructive ambition. Meanwhile, the ruling party is enjoying its most comfortable season since the political waves of 2000 to 2008. 

The comfort stems from years of investment into these factors that became apparent as a political immune disease that affected opposition groups to a the point that the ruling party was no longer directly to blame for opposition party instability.

In many respects, the major opposition party exhibits symptoms of political autoimmunity. In what he claimed to be strategic ambiguity, Citizens Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa resisted pressure to create a structure based on a constitution.

He claims in public that the goal is to confuse adversaries and avoid infiltration and yet centralisation of power is the goal.Like any new idea, it appeared to be working in the beginning, but autocracies are typified by the progressive marginalisation of potential threats. Job Sikala is paying the ultimate price.

Strategic ambiguity is precisely that — ambiguous, malleable and permeable. Characters such as CCC self-proclaimed secretary-gerenal Sengezo Tshabangu were able to capitalise on this ambiguity by recalling several elected Members of Parliament as well as councillors in certain urban areas. 

Some narrow-minded analysts accused Tshabangu of selling out, failing to see that it was Chamisa’s strategic ambiguity that initially made his party vulnerable to political autoimmunity and manipulation.

Meanwhile, Chamisa’s party adherents fail to recognise his political weakness. Rather than holding Chamisa accountable for leaving the political door open, they place the blame on those who entered their constituencies and stole their seats.

As if this was not enough symptom of political autoimmunity, the latest reports indicate that Chamisa has reportedly fired Jacob Mafume, the Mayor of Harare and other councillors across the country for allegedly aligning themselves with Tshabangu.

So, because Tshabangu recalled his party’s elected members, he too must use the same method. What suffers is opposition politics as its ability to influence decisions dissipates. The people who voted for the opposition party are the biggest losers.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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