God of chaos strikes at Zim opposition parties
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Any fair observer of Zimbabwe’s politics would be forgiven for concluding that the country’s opposition political parties are eternally cursed judging by their propensity to self-destruct and fragment into numerous entities much to the chagrin of their ardent followers.
It is as if ZANU-PF leader President Mugabe possesses a magic wand so powerful to cause chaos and confusion within the opposition circles ahead of any crucial elections.
Indeed, it is as if the Greek mythical god of chaos, Eris, finds it a favourite pastime to always strike at Zimbabwe’s opposition whenever attempts to coalesce gather momentum.
Eris is the Greek god of chaos, strife and discord who was the daughter of Zeus and Hera. She is said to have played a role in the events that led to the Trojan War.
Something similar to a Trojan War is unfolding in Zimbabwe’s opposition political circles where instead of the much touted one grand coalition to challenge President Mugabe, the country now has three alliances all claiming to be the real deal in dislodging ZANU-PF from power.
The tragic-comedy afflicting the opposition is relentless and this has prompted some ardent opposition lieutenants to call for an end of the circus. But no one seems to be heeding the call. The race is on, and inflated egos are flaring up resulting in very ugly exchanges.
But for one to understand the seemingly unending balderdash, one needs to go a step backwards and retrace the emergence of the MDC as a potent opposition political party in 1999.
At its inception, the MDC was a huge tent attracting in its ranks, students, workers, academics, businesspeople and white commercial farmers. Its foundational ethos were hazy and its ideological framework remained unpronounced.
The groundswell for the MDC formation was the economic malaise that had set in due to structural economic adjustments introduced by government towards the end of the millennium. These structural adjustments, though well intentioned, led to loss of jobs, depressed industrial performance and a rise in inflation.
Within that political milieu, Morgan Tsvangirai emerged as the symbol of Zimbabwe’s opposition politics. A former trade unionist, Tsvangirai together with the late Gibson Sibanda (a former president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) were instrumental in the formation of the MDC.
It was clear even at that time that something was not right. The party’s major funders were white commercial farmers and some Western nations with the Westminster Foundation publicly pouring huge sums of money into the then National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) in which Tsvangirai was its inaugural chairperson.
Spurred by the success of the “No” vote in the referendum held in February 2000 on whether to adopt a new national constitution, the MDC felt that the time was ripe for an opposition party to challenge ZANU-PF’s grip on power. And for sure, they almost caused a major upset in the 2000 parliamentary elections scoring 1, 171,051 votes against Zanu-PF’s 1,212,302. The party had 57 parliamentary seats compared to ZANU’s 62 seats, besides being novices.
It was a rude awakening for the revolutionary party, which immediately galvanised its support base to rally behind President Mugabe in the 9-11 March 2002 Presidential election. President Mugabe polled 1, 685,212 against Tsvangirai’s 1,258, 401 representing 56.2 percent and 42.0 percent respectively.
ZANU-PF was to turn the tables in the 2005 parliamentary elections when it won an increased majority against the opposition MDC. It won 78 seats to the MDC’s 41, with one independent. What this meant was that ZANU-PF had polled 60 percent of the vote, an increase of 11 percent over the 2000 results. The MDC vote fell by 9 percent. As a result of the election, ZANU-PF had a two-thirds majority in the legislature, allowing the government to change the constitution. After failing to dislodge Mugabe from power, individual interests that for long had been camouflaged by a common disdain for ZANU-PF started manifesting themselves in the form of intra-party violence perpetrated by youths against senior party members. Things came to a heady in 2005 when Tsvangirai went against a majority decision to participate in Senate elections.
The disagreement over the participation led to a split with a group that was supporting participating in the elections to the Senate, when the upper house of parliament was re-introduced (pro-senate) led by Gibson Sibanda (the vice president) having more members in parliament than the anti-senate group. After the Senate elections, the MDC split into two groups, one led by Tsvangirai and another led by Sibanda with the support of Ncube, Gift Chimanikire and then spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi.
The pro-senate group had one more member in the House of Assembly at the time of the split but senior members of that group subsequently defected to the one led by Tsvangirai, including its Gift Chimanikire, Blessing Chebundo, Joel Gabuza and Samuel Sipepa Nkomo. The pro-senate group opted for academic and former student leader Arthur Mutambara to lead the party.
The split resulted in the birth of the MDC-T led by Tsvangirai and the MDC-M led by Mutambara and entered the government of national unity with ZANU-PF on February 2009 as separate entities with Tsvangiriai as Prime Minister and Thokhozani Khupe (MDC-T) and Mutambara (MDC-M) as the two deputy prime ministers.
The end of the GNU was also to usher in another split with MDC-T secretary general Tendai Biti and former Energy Minister in the GNU, Elton Mangoma, forming their own party. The two together with other senior party members accused Tsvangirai of a myriad of misdemeanours, among them intra-party violence, and formed the MDC Renewal Party.
So there were three MDCs – one led by Tsvangirai, another by Ncube (after falling out with Mutambara) and another led by Mangoma.
But the splits were not done. Soon Mangoma and Biti had a fallout with the former forming his own party on 3 June 2015 called the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ).
He accused Biti of courting expelled former ZANU-PF vice president Joice Mujuru who had also split from the Zimbabwe People First Party, which she founded with Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo (both former senior ZANU-PF members) to form her own entity called the National People’s Party when expelled members challenged ownership of the Zimbabwe People First name.
But there was a moment of renewed hope when all the splinter groups united under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA). A total of nine parties signed the document calling for electoral reform on December 2, 20015.
NERA was supposed to give birth to a grand coalition of all political parties, which would have one candidate to contest the 2018 presidential election against President Mugabe. But as has become the norm, there was fierce disagreements on the candidate to lead the grand coalition.
Just the mere attempt to coalesce as a grand alliance has led to further splits within the opposition circles. First, Tendai Biti was ousted by members of his own party for going into an alliance with MDC-T.
The members later handpicked Lucia Matibenga, (a woman with strong trade union roots) to lead the party, which went into an alliance with Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP).
Mujuru launched her coalition dubbed People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC) with three other parties ahead of the 2018 harmonised election. Her other partners are the splinter People’s Democratic Party led by Matibenga, Zimbabweans United for Democracy Party led by Farai Mbira and the Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment leader Gilbert Dzikiti.
The coalition is a direct counter to the MDC Alliance led by Tsvangirai which Mujuru and her partners refused to be part of over a litany of issues including its name.
Mujuru had earlier poured cold water on Tsvangirai’s capacity to lead the grand coalition after failing to dislodge Mugabe in successive elections since 1999. Others also felt that the cancer stricken Tsvangirai was too frail to lead a grand coalition.
Mangoma, who was once in MDC-T and was part of the MDC Renewal Team and later formed his own entity Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe, is also said to have shunned Tsvangirai and Mujuru. He together with other smaller parties have formed their own alliance called the Coalition of Democrats (CODE). The coalition has eight parties namely, Zapu, RDZ, Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe led by Barbara Nyagomo, Zimbabweans United for Democracy Party (Farai Mbira), African Democratic Party (Marceline Chikasha), Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (Simba Makoni) and ZimFirst (Maxwell Shumba). So in total, Zimbabwe has three political alliances and the soap opera is far from over. Who knows? We may end up with more coalitions coming ahead of next year’s harmonised elections.
Former Harare East MP Margaret Dongo and a fiery opposition figure dismissed the alliances as irresponsible. “I don’t see a plethora of coalitions as responsible expression of practice of freedom,” Dongo was recently quoted in the media.
Her views were echoed by independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa who said the plethora of alliances were indicative of “poor leadership and strategy”.
President Mugabe has previously described the coalitions as an amalgamation of zeros that do not amount to anything.
He may be right, the more the splinter parties there are, the more their votes are divided and the more likely that ZANU-PF and its leader Mugabe will be bestowed with a new mandate to rule for the next five years in next year’s harmonised plebiscite.