The Road to Certain Obscurity: Zimbabwe opposition has the football fans mentality


It may be fair to observe that Zimbabwe is now desperate for dynamic governance, with a leadership that at least throws the rope to those being sucked into the ruinous economic vortex.  Zimbabweans should not hold their breath: all the signs are that those who should be steering the oxen have the cart stuck in a rut.

By Andrew Field

Clearly, many seek some form of change, but those who would aspire to make adjustment are flatfooted, divided and broken.

There seems to be much burying of heads in the sand of late, and certainly the opposition is struggling on a number of levels.  Herein lies Zimbabwe’s only hope for change, yet this is unlikely to be.  And in the absence of any such optimistic outcome there lies a dangerous and destructive paradigm of potential anarchy once the wheels eventually break off the cart.

A recent judicial intervention crushed the supposed MDC Alliance, a party that apparently is not a party, when it was upheld the Alliance was indeed not a party; the recent eviction of the ‘party’ from its Harvest House headquarters; and abductions that apparently were not abductions, of three female opposition activists, seem not to have stirred the viper.  Government party funding being mischievously directed to the Thokozani Khupe MDC clique, a non-entity really, has not helped.

There is much seething and gnashing of teeth, but not much walking the talk.  The reality is that the now atrophying opposition structure had this coming to them.   Support mustered is fraught with the football fan mentality of opposing teams. What would one expect in such a conniving and underhand environment where division and disunity are fodder for exploitation, at which the ruling party are masters?

Disciples of the ruling party may now be gleefully expectant of an almost systemic, if not organic, hegemony of power, the all-time favourite of Africa – one party state.  This is going to be very difficult to now upset or topple.   Perhaps unfairly, one might suggest that the opposition only have themselves to blame, although, plainly, ruling party agents provocateur, chicanery at the polls, a highly embedded partisan securocracy, not to mention a skewed playing field and too often brutal intimidation, murder, abduction and violence have played their role.

What went wrong?  In a nut shell, the lessons are not learned.  Political movements take time to evolve and must have as a base a credible and popular cause and support.   Unity of purpose, solitary in philosophy and effective mobilisation are key to its success, as the nationalist struggle against white minority rule, in this part of Africa, had taught them.   Popular rallies painting the horizon red, gave rise to assumption of popular support which just didn’t materialise at the poll.  The party needs to work a little harder.

Nationalism had its origins way back in the mid 1940s when the unsung father of Zimbabwean activism, Buhera born Benjamin Burombo, raised the labour unions to a new, more political level.  Joshua Nkomo was weaned in this way.  Burombo perhaps set the benchmark for his Buhera born kin, labour movement to political activist, distant to be successor, Morgan Tsvangirai, who indeed developed a sincere and popular cause, but to his chagrin found the movement was divided over petty tribal and illogical differences.

It got messy in 2005, after just six years, when Welshman Ncube split away from the principal (Tsvangirai run) party over differences concerning the contesting of a Senate Election, but some say filthy tribalism had a part.  Never the twain shall meet between those in the east and those in the west.   A then split opposition, MDC-T and MDC-N, contested both the 2008 election, when Tsvangirai nearly upstaged Robert Mugabe, forcing a Government of National Unity, and the subsequent 2013 election.

In the latter election Tsvangirai took a declining 34% of the Presidential vote and won 70 seats and Ncube almost walked away with virtually nothing.  The opposition decay had begun, the dominion of power was consolidated.  Many might say that the MDC died when Morgan Tsvangirai went to the grave in September 2013.  His deathbed appointment of an interim successor went against the grain of the party faithful, aspiring leadership, not to mention the apparently unauthorized nature of the succession.  They demanded a Congress which never came and boycotted the installation. Daggers were drawn and yet a further split has evolved.

Following the coup, which was apparently not a coup, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance was formed, bringing together, ostensibly, three of the splinter groups which evolved from the inaugural MDC, and four other miscellaneous political entities.  They failed too at the 2018 poll remonstrating very clearly that a divided opposition will always pave the way to ruling party victory.  It has taken three elections to learn, yet one may doubt the lesson is absorbed.

Perhaps, in retrospect, a trick has been missed.  Tsvangirai came to power on the back of the labour unions and he had a popular cause.  One might argue that he soon abandoned his labour union base, not so curiously, in favour of the richer white farming and business communities who were the source of funding.

Tsvangirai’s appointed successor is lawyer, Nelson Chamisa, who, ironically, attempted to litigate himself into power, contesting the 2018 election, when, for a few years, some will say, he was never legitimately and democratically elected to power at a Congress of his own party.  He ruled by appointment only, the legitimacy of which is questioned by some.

By then the MDC structure had no farmers or business to fund the party and they turned to non-governmental support, mostly originated in Western democracies.   The internecine squabbles continued though and Chamisa was apparently the architect of further division when he expelled lead party, and popular, personalities, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma.

Has the Zimbabwean opposition now simply run out of time?  Party faithful are simply too quick to blame MDC failure on vote rigging, while turning a blind eye to the systemic rot, division and, respectfully, weak, egotistic leadership.  It was going to take more than a flash in the pan election and a few popular rallies to beat the now military-economic elite.   The question surely needs asking, is Chamisa the right stuff?

Opposition politics needs robust, charismatic leadership, a strong movement with popular cause, deep rural and urban saturation and mobilisation of the masses, treading deep into ZANU-PF territory to upset the balance.  This cannot be achieved in the three months before an election!

The funeral for the MDC may not yet have taken place, and there is hope for resurrection perhaps, but those who choose to pursue this battle need to learn from their mistakes.  And God is not on their or any other side, so divine intervention is a nullity.  The clock is ticking and the timetable is short.  If not, Zimbabweans may well come to regret their choices over the last thirty years and find they now have no way out.