Can the MDC provide a lead?

MABVUKU and Tafara residents this week took to the streets to protest incessant water cuts by the inept authorities running Harare. On Sunday at the National Sports Stadium there were skirmishes after Harare soccer side Dynamos lost a third l

eague match on the trot.

If popular mass action was ever going to grip the capital, thirsty residents of Mabvuku and Tafara or angry Dynamos supporters should have provided the trigger. It didn’t happen because there has not been sufficient popular support for the water or football cause.

Discontent with Zanu PF’s suspected theft of the March 31 general election did not provoke a spontaneous mass uprising either.

Six weeks after Zanu PF was declared the winner, the opposition MDC, it was reported this week, are still brainstorming on the idea of mass action.

A meeting held by the party’s leaders, we hear, did not come up with a definite position on how popular discontent can be ratcheted up to drive people onto the streets.

There is definitely disenchantment with the present regime. The March election, other than handing President Mugabe a two-thirds majority, has not solved anything. In fact, the situation is degenerating fast, yet people are not massing on the streets.

The MDC would like to see the Zanu PF government under some form of popular pressure; something akin to the velvet revolution in Georgia.

But this requires leadership and the capacity to organise and direct. This is not apparent in the opposition set-up and the so-called broad alliance encompassing civic groups. The fact that the party is discussing mass action when the main impetus to trigger popular response — a stolen election — has evaporated, does not inspire confidence in the party’s ability to take the lead in raising public consciousness.

Any attempt to pressure Mugabe and Zanu PF should focus on the manifest shortcomings of the establishment.

The MDC should identify the chinks in Mugabe’s armour. But no, the opposition would like to use its most ineffectual weapon to tackle Zanu PF’s strongest front — repression. No amount of international condemnation and censure will stop Mugabe from unleashing the army and paramilitary police onto demonstrators in the high-density suburbs. Instruments for that exercise are available and honed to perform the task effectively.

The MDC, if it is indeed keen to use the confrontational route, has to perform better than it did in the past. Mass action in Zimbabwe has unfortunately taken the form of youths throwing stones at the police and running away.

The mass action of 1998 was hijacked by criminals who looted supermarkets for food, clothes, television sets and even beds.

Any popular demonstration of discontent should be cleansed of these actions which only give the police and the army justification to crush skulls. Compare this with the 1980s protests in South Africa where demonstrators linked arms and marched against the apartheid regime in a well-organised and disciplined way led by bishops and other notables. Can Zimbabweans achieve that level of commitment and discipline in expressing their displeasure with Mugabe if there is no strong leadership?

The planned March on State House — dubbed the final push — two years ago did not get very far. Repetition of that would be disastrous for the opposition as it exposed inherent weaknesses in its structures which are in great need of revamping and reorganisation so that the party remains relevant.

In politics the parties derive strength from the weaknesses of their opponents. A weak opposition movement in Zimbabwe will hand Zanu PF the opportunity to consolidate, sit back and do nothing.

The opposition, which is scheduled to hold its congress in the second half of this year, should start to think strategically about leadership renewal. This should not just be an exercise in shifting around personnel but putting together a team that can articulate the party’s position on key areas in-between elections.

Successful parties require people who can carry the vision of the leadership to the voter. That is partly the reason why British premier Tony Blair reappointed Gordon Brown as chancellor before the heat of the election campaign.

But for starters, the party requires vision. It needs to be more than just a government-in-waiting. Sometimes we sense a lack of cohesion in the party’s “Top Six’ and this reverberates through the party structures.

The era of a loose amalgam of students, trade unionists, civic activists, business owners, academics and eccentrics glued together by their distaste for Mugabe’s rule is over. There is an aching need for leadership on how the nation can move forward. Zanu PF evidently can’t provide that. Can the MDC?

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