There is no opposition in Zim politics

When the incumbent's survival strategy of co-option and the institutional weakness of the opposition mate in the dark, a Sengezo Tshabangu is born.

AT some point, the political elite must drop all pretences of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. Any conscious reader of politics would easily conclude that opposition in Zimbabwe politics is dead – for now.

The expression of this reality must not be interpreted as fatalism but rather a sober acknowledgment that things have gone wrong in the opposition. So terribly wrong that nothing can be salvaged from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) carrion that different factions are perking clean.

Accepting that is the first step towards rethinking and rekindling opposition politics. It is no use to stubbornly continue to fan the dying ambers of CCC and pretend that it is still a political party – if it ever was one! It is no use buying a better whip to flog a dead horse.

Idiocy by committee

I will not belabour you dear reader with a history lesson of how the opposition arrived at its winter. It was not so long ago when signs of trouble began showing and still more recent when Sengezo Tshabangu, the self-styled CCC interim-secretary general did a clumsy hatchet job recalling legitimately elected representatives soon after the 2023 elections.

Consequently, the CCC imploded into several boondoggle committees. Each claiming to be the legitimate one deserving of the windfall of political party funding. It is idiocy by committee in that camp. But then as Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked: “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap”.

My submission today focuses on unpacking my proposition that there is no opposition in Zimbabwe’s politics at the moment and what should be done about that. But before I get there, let me for once share my brief analysis of Tshabangu. I have never found it worth my time and intellect to discuss the chap. I only find it necessary now as a political obituary for the proverbial fence-post tortoise whose sell-by date is beckoning, only extended by the fact that there is no competent opposition at the moment.

The fence-post tortoise

Tshabangu is the personification of a fence-post tortoise. As the anecdote goes, if you find a tortoise perched on a fence post, you know that it did not get there by itself.

You also know that it cannot get down on its own. And it has been elevated to a position it would never have attained in its lifetime.

Most significantly, it has been elevated beyond its ability to function.

It does not know what to do next! The act of elevating it to that position is as cruel as leaving it there.

To understand how our tortoise materialised, one has to understand that the ruling elites’ primary concern is self- preservation. As such one of the survival strategies for incumbents is often to attempt to co-opt select opposition party leaders to remain in power.

As political scientist Berker Kavasoglu argues opposition parties with high mobilisational capacity and those that devolve internal decision-making authority from the party leadership to lower cadres are less likely to be co-opted.

That was not the case with CCC on the second indicator. When the incumbent's survival strategy of co-option and the institutional weakness of the opposition mate in the dark, a Sengezo Tshabangu is born.

There is no opposition party

Regardless of his impending and predictable political fate, there is no opposition in Zimbabwe at the moment as a direct result of his puppet duties.

The existence of a political party is evident in its form (organisational structure), its content (ideology, political programme, and policy propositions), its action (mobilising, organising, and building agency), and its brand visibility (political communication).

For an opposition political party, its relevance is anchored on its ability to check the excesses of the governing party, hold the executive to account, keep a competitive posture, contest the political space, and present itself as an alternative to the governing party.

By all counts, the current opposition ranks poorly rendering it a lame duck. No offense to the duck. The ruling party is running riot with taxation regimes, new currencies, ‘diplomatic breakthrough’ etc and there is only a murmur here and a murmur there from the opposition.

The populace is facing vulnerability with arguably the worst hunger in decades stoking communities across the country not to mention poor service delivery.

And the opposition is silent. Its domain of urban councils has become silos of lone voices from Mayors contending with the harsh socio-economic and political realities of running municipalities. There is no support or solidarity from the opposition body politic.

One may argue that the opposition MPs in parliament count. Well in the current scheme of things they do not. First, because parliament is just a rubber stamp anyway.

Secondly their dwindling numbers coupled with their many factional divisions make them ineffective. Thirdly, they are all one wrong step away from a recall by Tshabangu.

And lastly, the majority are in there as a source of livelihood. They are comfortable to the extent that they enjoy benefits extracted from their membership of the house and the material trinkets that come with the office.

So, no they do not count right now. My elders caution that, ‘bala n’ombe dzikule whube ubalilanya nemakukuta’ (by counting cows that are in a faraway place one risks counting the hides of dead ones too) That is how helpless the situation has become. Sadly.

The political space is uncontested

Zanu PF and its government are running amok setting the agenda, controlling and shaping public narratives, and straddling the uncontested political communication space.

All we hear from so-called opposition mandarins are juvenile protests about which interim committee is legitimate.

Beyond the opposition political party, the broader oppositional space usually occupied by social movements, trade unions, and civil society has also been ceded.

Disconnected, demobilised, some co-opted, and most facing internal challenges these actors are fighting more for survival than to expand the oppositional space and shape the discourse.

The oppositional space has a yawning vacuum at the moment.

The depoliticisation and demobilisation of civil society and labour is a result of a myriad of intersecting factors which I will delve deeply into in my next instalment.

Some of these are internal weaknesses and self-inflicted wounds while some are a result of the increasingly difficult operational environment.

These include the monetisation of civil society, dwindling donor funding, high levels of unemployment, internal governance, and operational weakness, brain-drain, co-option of civil society leaders into mainstream politics, lack of a clear rallying agenda, and the repressive laws that constrict the civic space.

The sober view

No matter which scenario one plays and from whichever angle, the opposition in Zimbabwe is dying. Albeit painfully slow. It is self-asphyxiating and cannot help itself.

As one writes the eulogy of the current opposition, one must be alive to the reality that the vacuum will not be there for long.

Another opposition will emerge and occupy the space and time within the political arena.

This is made more so imminent by the reality that Zimbabwe is at a political crossroads, where three phenomena converge and create a political moment in which a new opposition political movement can emerge.

The first phenomenon is the persistence of old societal problems converging with multiple emerging ones. The second is the inadequacy of current political actors, both institutional and generational in the ruling party and opposition.

The third is the emergence of a new generation that is taking over and dominating the public discourse and is set to remain in the space for the next few decades while the older generation recedes.

These coalesce and create conditions for the next wave of political contest from the progressive forces. It was first Aristotle and later Spinoza, who observed that nature abhors a vacuum and will strive to fill it.

Whether the political movement that emerges will learn from pitfalls of the past, unlearn some unhealthy proclivities, and relearn new approaches or it will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes is yet to be seen. As the adage goes, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it!’

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.

  • Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter — @NtandoDumani.


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