‘Opposition partly responsible for the mess in Zimbabwe’ – Prof. Jothan Moyo

Jonathan Moyo

The political opposition in Zimbabwe, particularly the MDC, is stuck in the middle: between making news headlines and making reform headways.

This is not new.

Being stuck between making news headlines and making reform headways, has been the bane of opposition politics in Zimbabwe as far back as one cares to remember.

By “making news headlines”, I mean engaging in fleeting issues to politick and pander to the gallery of popular sentiments and political slogans of the day, which are bereft of constitutional or political reforms.

And by “making reform headways”, I mean taking concrete steps to exploit historic moments that, fortuitous circumstance, throw up opportunities that have the potential for major constitutional and political reforms.

Looking back, and because of its preoccupation with news headlines over reform headways, the political opposition in Zimbabwe has squandered historic opportunities that could have led to real constitutional or political change in the country.

The best way to understand this is by re-examining and unpacking Zimbabwe’s constitutional and political history, not as it happened but, as it could have happened; given the objective conditions and structural dynamics that were at play at the material time.

In doing this, and as will be clear in the discussion, I should point out upfront that my analysis is not oblivious to state brutality and repression in Zimbabwe, and its impact on opposition politics in the country.

In any event, the opposition exists to deal with state brutality and repression and, in fact, the opportunities for major reform headways squandered by the opposition emerged as responses to state brutality and repression.

When the MDC was formed in 1999, its centre pivot was a clarion call for constitutional and political reforms; and hence its payoff line was, as it still is, Chinja Maitiro, Maitiro Chinja or Guqula Izenzo, Izenzo Guqula.

Pivotal to this call was the realisation that Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 came without democracy.

The country was an independent, but undemocratic state.

This situation was akin to what obtained in South Africa when it was seen as an independent but undemocratic country until 1994, when it attained democracy.

In a nutshell, the MDC’s challenge to Zanu-PF was to democratise Zimbabwe’s Independence.

Following its assumption of power in 1980, Zanu-PF preoccupied itself with the concept of “consolidation” of state power to ostensibly “maximise on the gains of the liberation struggle to redress colonial imbalances, particularly to reclaim the people’s land rights and to economically empower the black indigenous population and resist neo-colonialism and imperialism”.

Over the years, Zanu-PF has invariably seen reform or change as a counterrevolutionary and reactionary agenda of opposition politics.

Informed and, in fact, misinformed by this view, Zanu-PF has committed itself to the pursuit of monopoly politics, initially through the introduction of a legislated one-party state.

In the circumstances, the concept of “consolidation” of state power has defined Zanu-PF politics and informed the party’s commissariat propaganda since 1980.

Zanu-PF has pursued this consolidation through a triple strategy based on three repressive thrusts:

lThe extension and retention of the 15-year-old Rhodesian state of emergency, whose effect was to give Zanu-PF arbitrary powers with the consequence of suspending the Bill of Rights; thereby rendering Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, and in particular the armed liberation struggle, historically hollow.

lThe Gukurahundi campaign which politically targeted Joshua Nkomo, Zapu and the Ndebeles.

lConstitutional amendments to the Lancaster Constitution through the Executive Presidency and the unicameral Parliament intended to facilitate a legislated one-party.

Three original sins of the MDC’s reform challenges to Zanu-PF

Although in its name, logo, ideology and political programme the MDC was formed as a reform party, in direct opposition to Zanu-PF’s antireform agenda to consolidate independence without democracy, three original sins defined the opposition party’s reform challenge to Zanu-PF.

The first original sin of the MDC is that its reform platform was not informed by the structural consequences of Zanu-PF’s retention and extension of the Rhodesian state of emergency in 1980 which remained in force until 1990.

If there is one thing that exposed Zanu-PF’s purported radicalism in 1980 as a total and unmitigated farce, it was the party’s retention and extension of the Rhodesian state of emergency.

Zimbabwe’s armed liberation struggle was specifically triggered by that state of emergency.

Notably, the raft of measures used by Zanu-PF under the state of emergency included detention without trial of political opponents, especially Zapu leaders or members, as well as alleged dissidents and other subversives.

From a reform point of view, the extension and retention of the Rhodesian state of emergency by Zanu-PF included arbitrary intervention in labour disputes, price controls and the seizure of property owned by alleged “enemies of the state” particularly, but not only, Zapu and Zipra.

The second original sin of the MDC is that its reform agenda was not informed by the structural impact of Gukurahundi on the Zimbabwean body politic.

Zanu-PF securocrats, led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who saw himself as their political leader and future President of Zimbabwe right from the beginning in 1980, sought to build a Gukurahundi state in the country in which state security trumped state politics.

If the MDC had factored this right from its formation, it would not have supported Mnangagwa’s November 2017 military coup.

The third original sin of the MDC is that its pro-reform politics is not structurally informed by the historic need to dismantle Zanu-PF’s executive presidency and unicameral legislature; both designed to ensure a de facto oneparty state in Zimbabwe.

The MDC committed the three original sins outlined above, because it did not have a theory of the case for constitutional and political reforms that responded to state repression rooted in the application of the Rhodesian state of emergency from 1980 to 1990, the Gukurahundi campaign from 1980 to 1987 and the introduction of the executive presidency and the unicameral legislature in 1987 and 1989, respectively.

Instead, soon after its formation in 1999, the MDC used the language of and propaganda for reform to make news headlines as part of the competition for power; at the expense of making reform headways.

In this regard, a particularly sexy and infectious news headline was the “Mugabe must go” mantra dramatised by Morgan Tsvangirai’s famous challenge to Mugabe in 2000 in which he charged:

“What we would like to tell Mugabe today is that please go peacefully, and if you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently.”

In making this famous news headline, Tsvangirai gave the MDC, and indeed the political opposition writ large, a reform mantra that defined the MDC’s heyday; a mantra that ultimately became the mobilisational centrepiece of the November 2017 military coup.

While the “Mugabe must go” mantra was sensational and news grabbing, it did not have any constitutional or political reform content.

As was seen with the November 2017 military coup, Mugabe went, but the undemocratic political, institutional and paralegal edifice that Zanu-PF built remained intact.
Mugabe’s departure was a major news headline with zero reform headway.

Four squandered reform headways

Since 1987, the political opposition in Zimbabwe has squandered four historic opportunities for major constitutional and political reform-headways, in favour of making news headlines.

One of these opportunities was squandered by Zapu in 1987, and the other three were squandered by the MDC in 2000, 2008 and 2017.

The 1987 Unity Accord

The Unity Accord was the first historic opportunity to dismantle the structural consequences of Zanu-PF’s triple strategy of consolidating its power through the retention and extension of the Rhodesian state of emergency, the Gukurahundi campaign and the constitutional amendments to introduce the executive presidency and a unicameral legislature to pave the way for a one-party state.

It was a historic mistake for Zapu to agree with Zanu “to seek to establish a one-party state in Zimbabwe” and “to establish a socialist society in Zimbabwe on the guidance of Marxist-Leninist principles”.

There have been various unconvincing arguments that Joshua Nkomo and Zapu had no option, but to agree to the Unity Accord to stop the Gukurahundi bloodshed.

This is not true.

By December 1987, some 20 000 Zimbabweans had been massacred in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands provinces; with millions more maimed, orphaned, internally displaced or refugeed outside Zimbabwe.

These atrocities were becoming an international crisis.

Also, in December 1987, the geopolitical situation in the region and globally was decidedly and rapidly changing against the kind of one-party state rule which Zanu-PF sought through the Unity Accord.

It is Zanu-PF, not Zapu, that should have been, and indeed was, desperate for the Unity Accord.

By signing the Unity Accord, Zapu squandered a historic headway-opportunity for constitutional and political reforms.

The 2000 draft constitution

The first major reform headway squandered by the MDC was its irrational opposition to the Constitutional Commission’s draft constitution in 2000.

Under the “Mugabe must go” mantra whose popularity was then spreading like a veld fire, a news-grabbing propaganda line was advanced that the 2000 draft constitution entrenched Mugabe’s rule.

The historic provisions that sought to dismantle the executive presidency by splitting executive authority between the president, the prime minister and the cabinet were ignored, as were provisions that gave the Senate confirmation power for cabinet appointments; along with progressive provisions in the Bill of Rights, which included the right to sexual orientation.

In the circumstances, news headlines based on propaganda and outright lies were made, with the support of influential Western countries, especially in the Commonwealth, led by Britain and the US.

The 2000 draft constitution, which Zanu-PF did not support and did not campaign for through its structures, was defeated in a referendum.

Mugabe, who did not care for the draft constitution that was rejected in a referendum, did not go.

A real opportunity for historic constitutional and political reforms was lost.

The 2008 parliamentary win by the opposition

In the 2008 harmonised general election, the MDC-T won 100 parliamentary seats, while the MDCM won 10, giving the two MDC formations control of 110 seats out of the total of 210, a clear majority of 10.

This was historic, as it marked the first time since independence in 1980 that Zanu-PF had lost the control of Parliament, meaning that legislative power to make laws, especially the power to pass a budget, would be fully in the hands of the MDC.

Instead of assuming this power in order to use it to push through fundamental legislative changes, such as electoral and political reforms, the MDC formations squandered the opportunity for a major reform headway in favour of news headlines by opting to negotiate the false promise of sharing executive power with Zanu-PF in the 2009 GNU.

In the end, the MDC formations did not share any executive power with Zanu-PF; Morgan Tsvangirai was tricked into believing that, as Prime Minister, he would be deputy chair of Cabinet and chair of the Council of Ministers; only to rudely discover that Mugabe’s Vice-Presidents would chair cabinet in his absence; and that Zanu-PF ministers would effectively boycott the Council of Ministers to render it superfluous.

But critically, Zanu-PF got the two MDC formations to effectively give up their control of Parliament by agreeing to setting up a joint caucus with Zanu-PF.

The most important rule of the caucus was that no party would bring any legislation to Parliament without first having it passed by the joint caucus.

News headlines were grabbed, but a historic opportunity for major reform headway was lost.

The November 2017 military coup

Buoyed by the support of the same Western countries that funded the rejection of the draft constitution in 2000, this time surprisingly joined by China and some African countries like South Africa, the euphoric embrace of the November 2017 military coup by leading lights of the Movement for Democratic Change was as telling as it was most unfortunate.

David Coltart described it as “the coolest coup in the world”; while Nelson Chamisa said “it was not a coup, but a miracle”.

Other opposition and civil society leaders astonishingly characterised November 18, 2017, the day of the “Mugabe must go” march, as Zimbabwe’s “Freedom Day”.

From the point of view of making reform headways, the support of the November military coup by the opposition was disastrous.

It was a breathtaking betrayal of democratic reform.

This is partly because the coup created a major reform opportunity which, after Mugabe’s ouster, the opposition could have used by standing by and for the 2013 constitution; demanding that the military should remain at the barracks; using the streets to insist that Zanu-PF should follow Mugabe and go; and insisting on a National Transitional Authority (NTA), in defence of the 2013 constitution to return the country to constitutionalism.


An opposition reform agenda in Zimbabwe requires a theory of the case which, in my view, should be based on a thorough interrogation of the historical legacy of Zanu-PF’s pursuit of its agenda to consolidate its power, through its triple strategy outlined earlier in this presentation.

As things stand, the political opposition in Zimbabwe is preoccupied with opposing itself, especially in the aftermath of the dubious Supreme Court judgement that incredibly ordered the leading MDC formations to go back to 2014 party structures, as they were under Tsvangirai; and the outrageous recalls of MDC-A MPs and councillors, ostensibly done in light of the Supreme Court judgement, to the detriment of the right to vote.

Going forward, opposition political gladiators and pundits should understand that political inaction and silence are not political programmes.

They should take another look at Zanu-PF; ignore the factions and unpack the party’s silent majority who did not back the November 2017 military coup; supported Mugabe and did not understand where the coup came from and have not forgiven Mnangagwa for the coup and they will never forgive him for it.

This silent majority is proMugabe, and a significant part of it, especially in the Mashonaland provinces, voted for Chamisa in the 2018 presidential election, but they did not vote for the MDC-A in the parliamentary elections.

This Zanu-PF silent majority is politically bewildered, scattered and homeless.

As a way forward, I see an opportunity for, and the possibility of, a major reform alignment in Zimbabwe which, drawing from the lessons of the squandered major reform headways in the past, could tap into the silent majority in Zanu-PF under the banner of pursuing what is best described as the “Mugabe/Tsvangirai Reform Consensus”, which has three major reform headways that were achieved by the two late leaders, whom I believe found each other between 2009 and 2013 on Zimbabwe’s unresolved legacy issues, namely:

The new 2013 constitution, which is without doubt a Tsvangirai legacy; ultimately embraced by Mugabe.

The land redistribution programme, a Mugabe legacy; ultimately embraced by Tsvangirai.

Youth empowerment, a shared Mugabe/Tsvangirai legacy; supported by Zimbabwe’s younger generation across the political divide.

No country within Zimbabwe’s neighbourhood has experienced major constitutional and political reform-headway without a meeting of minds across the political divide.

It did not happen in Zambia, Malawi or Kenya. It will not happen in Zimbabwe.

This paper titled News headlines over reform headaways: The bane of opposition politics was presented by former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo at a Sapes Policy Dialogue Zoom meetings series on December 10.

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