MDC-T in dilemma over candidates

WHILE pondering the enormous task of winning souls in the Bible, Jesus bemoaned that there were only a few people to assist in this task.

Report by Herbert Moyo

“The harvest is plenty but the labourers are few,” he lamented.
In selecting candidates for the imminent, high-stakes general elections, the MDC-T seems to have no such worries, but a headache of a different variety.

Apparently, there are just too many candidates chasing too few posts up for grabs in the elections later this year.

You could describe it as a case of too many labourers for the harvest.

Last week, some MDC-T officials said the party faces a huge challenge in coming up with the right people to govern the country should it win elections as most aspiring candidates lack the requisite expertise and qualifications to lead.

The party officials said of the more than 4 000 applications received so far, only Masvingo province has suitably qualified people, while most serving MPs’ qualifications fell short of expectations.

They warned this was likely to force the party to look elsewhere — outside its structures — for people with craft literacy and craft competence to fill in government posts should the MDC-T win the next elections.

It is a worrisome scenario, officials said, that some prospective candidates list the Zimbabwe Junior Certificate (Form 2) as their highest qualification.

There is also a general lack of the right mix of age, qualifications and track record of performance, as most candidates with the right expertise and qualifications are too old while the young ones lack suitable credentials.

When the MDC was formed in 1999 against the background of a groundswell of disenchantment with Zanu PF’s repressive and failed rule, it faced the dilemma of finding educated and professionally qualified candidates to contest the 2000 and 2005 elections due to the high levels of violence and intimidation.

So dire was the situation that the fledgling party had to field green former students who had no working and professional experience such as the late Learnmore Jongwe, Job Sikhala and Tafadzwa Musekiwa to contest against veteran Zanu PF MPs as experienced professionals and intellectuals kept clear of politics, fearing losing their jobs and destroying their careers.

They preferred only to be associated with the party in what party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora called “unofficial capacities”.

Fast-forward to 2013 when the political environment has changed dramatically. There are now too many people — including those from the diaspora — keen to represent the party, amid claims that some want to reap where they did not sow or view politics as a way out of poverty or to good life, not an opportunity to offer public service.

Dividing opinion within and outside the MDC-T is whether the party should discard tried and tested MPs because of lack of qualifications and expertise in favour of johnnies-come-lately who, despite high qualifications, lack the experience and courage to endure the rough and tumble of local politics.

Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo is one of party veterans facing MDC-T purges.

“I built the party’s Bulawayo East structures from scratch, traversing the length and breadth of suburbs from Woodville to Burnside,” she once said. “I’m not aware of any attempt to remove anybody, especially tried and tested cadres as that would be akin to removing those with an institutional memory of the party in favour of newcomers.”

Daily News cartoonist and political satirist Tony Namate summed the feeling of party veterans when he said on Facebook: “The MDC-T says it is worried about the low qualifications of most of the aspiring parliamentary candidates, but when they were in the trenches no one was worried about their CVs.”

Former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell once said there was merit in allowing new blood, including those in the diaspora, to come into the party and assume leadership positions.

Dell stoked controversy following the release by WikiLeaks of secret US diplomatic cables in 2010 in which he made disparaging remarks about Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership qualities, describing him as “a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgement”. He suggested Zimbabwe’s future leaders were in the diaspora.

“The saving grace of the MDC is likely to be found in the diaspora,” he said.

Political analyst and convenor of the Southern African Political Economy Series Trust’s policy dialogue forum Ibbo Mandaza said while ditching the old party faithful would be “fatal” for any party, it is important to technocratise government by bringing in people who are competent.

“We have a serious problem where we have some people who win elections resoundingly and yet when appointed Minister of Transport, for instance, they have no clue on how to run the ministry,” said Mandaza.

Mandaza said Zimbabwe should have followed the Kenyan model during the constitution-making exercise where MPs remain in their constituencies, but technocrats are brought in from outside to run government ministries like chief executive officers.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute executive director Pedzisai Ruhanya said purges were not necessary.

“The technocrats they are talking about are needed to run government ministries and departments. Civil servants will guide the politicians,” said Ruhanya. “So in choosing party candidates, they should not confuse political leadership with technocrats needed for the civil service.”

Critics say given the need to balance party loyalty with competence in running government, the MDC-T runs the risk of alienating some of its loyal but less-educated members for educated newcomers, possibly with disastrous results.

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