AS ZIMBABWE’S political and economic crises continue to deepen, analysts have delivered a damning assessment of the country’s opposition.
Speaking during a virtual meeting that was organised by SAPES Trust last week to discuss South Africa’s role in Zimbabwe’s ongoing crises, the analysts said the local opposition was too weak and disorganised to give President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF a real run for their money.
In addition, they also criticised the Zim opposition for its tendency to just bank on the international community in the ongoing quest to end the country’s long-standing political and economic crises.
At the same time, they also said the senseless bloodletting that is ravaging the MDC is currently making it difficult for the country’s main opposition party to get meaningful outside help.
All this comes as Thokozani Khupe and Nelson Chamisa are involved in a fierce tussle for the control of the MDC – which has been weakened severely by its relentless internal fights ever since the death of its late founding father, Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his valiant battle against colon cancer in February 2018.
British academic and international affairs expert, Nicole Beardsworth, as well as respected South African journalist Mathatha Tsedu, were among those who said Zimbabwe lacked a formidable opposition to push for local change.
“We have had a discussion about how South Africa’s bias towards the ruling Zanu-PF has failed Zimbabwe, but I believe the most critical element that is lacking in the country is that of a strong political opposition to advocate for change and push the ruling elite into dialogue.
“There is this notion of wanting to wait, believing that only the international community can help in ending Zimbabwe’s woes, but I believe that the ultimate solution lies within Zimbabweans themselves.
“The opposition by now should be in a position to influence real democratic change and force the government into an inclusive dialogue.
“This is not just dialogue for the sake of getting into power and looting State resources, but dialogue to see genuine reforms being made to take the country forward,” Beardsworth told the meeting.
The post-doctoral researcher – who has conducted extensive studies on why opposition coalitions have failed in Zimbabwe, among other things – also said instead of being consumed by internal fights, the opposition needed to come up with strategies to force the government to introduce needed reforms.
“When you see opposition political parties quarrelling amongst each other, that is a sign of weak opposition and there is no way they will be able to force the ruling party to the negotiating table if they are not speaking with one voice.
“So far, we have seen Jacob Ngarivhume (Transform Zimbabwe leader) being vocal about the July 31 demonstrations and he has been arrested for that.
“However, he is not one of the major opposition actors and we need bigger opposition leaders to put pressure on the government until it gives in.
“We also need an active citizenry to pile pressure on the government,” Beardsworth said further.
“This is because as the situation is right now, how can South Africa or the international community intervene and put pressure on the government when opposition leaders and the citizens are relaxed?
“People should do something, including protesting, taking to the streets and calling for change and dialogue.
“That will be the pressure point needed by the international community to then intervene and add more pressure on Zanu-PF. Currently, Zimbabwe has no point of pressure,” Beardsworth also said.
She said rather damningly, that the government was being let off the hook on a number of constitutional violations “because of a weak opposition and citizenry”.
“The government claims to be implementing reforms, but on the ground nothing substantial is being done.
“We see constitutional amendments being conducted, attempts to reform repressive laws by replacing them with more repressive laws … After implementing such reforms the government then claims that it is doing all it can to improve the democratic space when the reality is contrary to that,” Beardsworth added.
All this comes as Khupe and Chamisa have been involved in an ugly brawl for the control of the party ever since Tsvangirai died.
The fights took a turn for the worse after the Supreme Court recently upheld an earlier High Court ruling, which had nullified Chamisa’s hotly-disputed ascendancy to the helm of the MDC following Tsvangirai’s death.
The factional wars escalated even further after Khupe seized the party’s iconic Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House – allegedly with the assistance of State security forces.
In addition, Khupe has also recalled 21 MPs and senators from Parliament, as she has flexed her muscles in the mindless infighting.
Tsedu, a veteran journalist and acting executive director of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), told the same meeting that the continuing turmoil in the MDC made it difficult for international players to help them in forcing the government to engage in dialogue.
“South Africa has always intervened when it comes to Zimbabwe’s political and economic issues, and whether or not that intervention has been successful is another matter.
“There are also internal dynamics between the opposition in Zimbabwe, within the MDC in particular, and how it is responding to things and fracturing as well.
“So when people say that the South African government did not meet with the MDC, the question becomes which MDC?”
“Because at any given time you have either two or three or more versions of the party,” Tsedu said.
“So even the ruling Zanu-PF cannot take a fractured opposition seriously when it comes to the issues of dialogue,” he added.
Human rights activist Elinor Sisulu said Zimbabweans were traumatised people who had been subjected to massive violations over the years, which hindered them from being an active citizenry.
“The main thing that is keeping Zimbabweans down is a history of rights violations including abductions, torture, the fiscal madness and arbitrary arrests.
“South Africa and the whole Sadc region need to adopt a human rights-based approach and speak out against violations.
“This can strengthen Zimbabweans who fear the military and police brutality that they are subjected to when they take to the streets to express dissent,” Sisulu told the same meeting.
This comes as Zimbabwe is in the vice grip of a huge economic crisis, its worst in a decade, which has stirred anger and anxiety among long-suffering ordinary people.
As the country’s rot worsens, pro-democracy and pressure groups have lined-up anti-government protests on Friday, in a bid to force Mnangagwa and his government to address the debilitating myriad crises.
Meanwhile, several high-profile people and groups have been calling for Mnangagwa to end his long-drawn feud with Chamisa, in the country’s interest.
Both Chamisa and Mnangagwa have previously said that they were interested in dialogue, although nothing concrete has happened – primarily because of differences over the form and platform on which the talks should take place.
On his part, Mnangagwa has been consistent that any talks with Chamisa should be held under the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) – where he regularly holds meetings with fringe opposition leaders.
Chamisa himself has repeatedly ruled out joining Polad – demanding instead direct dialogue with Mnangagwa.
At one time, both men appeared ready to finally end their brawling when former South African leader Thabo Mbeki held talks with them last year, over the country’s worsening economic rot.
Mbeki – who helped to broker the stability-inducing 2008 government of national unity between opposition giant Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe, who are both late – was in the country in December last year, to try and nudge Mnangagwa and Chamisa to hold direct talks.