Candid Comment

The beginning or end of MDC politics?

By Joram Nyathi


I ARGUED recently that the problem with Zimbabwean politics is that ideas are rejected for who proposes them than for their substance. I didn’t kn

ow that confirmation of this observation would come in such a dramatic fashion, from senior officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


It all had to do with the MDC’s sudden volte-face on Constitutional Amendment Number 18 Bill. In explaining the decision, secretary-general in the Arthur Mutambara faction, Welshman Ncube, told parliament last week: “We believe that we cannot continue to conduct politics for the sake of politics. We believe that we must begin to conduct our politics in the service of the people, otherwise it is meaningless.”


Why would a political party with ambitions to form the next government conduct politics for its own sake? Why would a party with clear policies and alternative propositions to reverse the current economic slide engage in something meaningless while potential voters suffer? It would appear the overriding quest has always been to see the back of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, and hope that things will sort themselves out.


The MDC is not selling us usable policies for economic recovery or employment creation. Nor is it selling us a vision of a new Zimbabwe which should appeal even to the self-interest of those who now support Zanu PF. The result is self-evident. There is no people-content in opposition discourse despite calls for a people-driven constitution. It is classical protest politics sustained by people’s disenchantment with Zanu PF’s economic failures rather than an economic blueprint or political dispensation significantly different from Zanu PF’s politics of violence, corruption and patronage.


I believe the reason our political discourse is so shallow is because we focus on individual party leaders rather than look for sustainable party programmes. We have failed to learn anything from opposition parties in mature democracies in Europe and the United States where the party sells policies, not just a candidate. In Africa opposition means being negative about everything proposed by the sitting government and dreaming up the worst nightmares about the country for the media.


This leads logically to “politics for the sake of politics”. Which is to say the MDC has been engaged in this idle pursuit for the past eight years and is now beginning to sense signs of fatigue, frustration, cynicism and disenchantment among Zimbabweans who have watched with dismay as the party leadership lurched from one strategic blunder to another.


The result of such politics was summed up by another MDC official at the same event. Morgan Tsvangirai’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe, said the MDC emerged out of the current crisis because Zanu PF’s nationalist politics had become “exhausted”.


It is a telling phrase, except that the irony is lost on the speaker. Politics for its own sake is bound to get exhausted as has happened to the MDC’s. Meanwhile Zanu PF keeps on inventing new projects to retain power.


Now the MDC has decided to change, but gone to the other extreme to endorse Mugabe’s candidacy and an expanded senate next year when everybody expected them to persuade Zanu PF MPs to oppose both.


The implications of that haste decision are staggering. Mugabe has got everything he ever wanted, which he probably would not have got so easily from a Zanu PF special congress in December. The MDC has legally helped Mugabe resolve a succession conundrum he was finding hard to resolve politically in Zanu PF. It has also legitimised the constituency gerrymandering. Yet there is no evident benefit to the MDC, unless its leadership knows of an imminent supervening event which it wanted to preempt or to capitalise on.


Ncube said he had spent time with both Mutambara and Tsvangirai, where the latter is said to have observed that “there is no such thing as a risk-free political decision”. Again the irony begs for attention. This is more than an ordinary political risk. It is political suicide for the MDC, unless it has a secret deal with Mugabe’s chosen successor.


The only positive is that at least for the first time in eight years Zimbabweans are able to talk to themselves politically.


Then there is the contentious matter of the president appointing people to the senate. Ncube said this was now immaterial. “The person who wins the presidential race has the right to constitute the government of the day from the day of his or her election. Whereas when the elections were not synchronised, you could have a scenario where one political party could win a parliamentary election whilst the presidency is in the hands of another party,” Ncube told parliament.


This fortuitous conclusion is derived from an assumption which cannot be supported by logic. It reduces everything to Mugabe or Tsvangirai and cannot separate the party from its leadership and is easily amenable to charges of rigging when one party fails to win both parliament and the presidency.


The point it misses is that there are people who support Zanu PF programmes like the land reform and indigenisation but believe these have been mishandled under President Mugabe’s stewardship. Conversely, there are people who will vote for Tsvangirai to spite Mugabe, but it doesn’t follow that they will support all MDC candidates. The same applies to Zanu PF. It’s not a Tsvangirai and MDC or nothing proposition. The fallout with Save Zimbabwe Campaign may be a disaster for the MDC if not properly handled.


What happens if Tsvangirai gets 1 500 000 votes, President Mugabe 800 000, the MDC wins 60 seats and Zanu PF 120 seats? Can Tsvangirai form a functional government when it cannot pass a single law in parliament?


This is not casuistry. It simply doesn’t add up.