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Editor’s Memo

Let’s see you rise to the occasion

By Vincent Kahiya

THE last time I wrote in this column about what I perceived to be the shortcomings of the opposition MDC, the response from the party’s spokesmen and symp

athisers was quick and brutal. “What is the business of the Zimbabwe Independent criticising President Morgan Tsvangirai?” they wanted to know.

I was pilloried and called names by people who took our criticism of Tsvangirai as a deliberate ploy to undermine their leader and prop up a faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

The criticism however failed to respond to my concerns then: whether the opposition was providing any leadership to the people and what the plan was beyond rhetoric and sloganeering.

The question remains largely unanswered today. I believe politicians in both factions of the MDC still have a lot to do to remove the fear I have that there are many among them who do not understand the elementary tenet that the opposition is there to hold the state accountable for its actions.

The tragedy of Zimbabwe stems largely from the fact that political leaders in the ruling party have failed to provide direction to the country. In an environment where a sitting government has become synonymous with failure — like our own — it is incumbent on the opposition to keep a close eye or ear on what the public is saying, needs and wants.

This is the nourishment an alert opposition requires for sustenance because in most instances, problems are caused by the government not delivering.

The already bad situation can degenerate further when an opposition fails to articulate national problems and provide alternative leadership from the elementary through to national level.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general in Tsvangirai’s faction, captured this major handicap to the opposition movement in his interview with SW Radio earlier this month.

He spoke frankly about the party’s docility when government rendered thousands homeless under Operation Murambatsvina in May last year.

“We failed to provide the leadership to the huge fear or frustration that was there and I think that leadership was critical,” he said. “And, because we failed to provide that leadership, we began to eat into ourselves and the 12th October split was the inevitable result of that.”

His counterpart in the Mutambara faction weighed in with this observation: “You cannot participate in a match when in fact you are hospitalised and you are sick. And, this is what was happening, in my view, to the MDC during the time of Operation Murambatsvina”.

I do not believe that the party has been discharged from the infirmary. It is still not ready to participate in the match despite calls for civil disobedience to force President Mugabe to the negotiating table.

The crude central bank Project Sunrise has once again posed questions of the opposition’s ability to interrogate government’s actions and hold the state accountable to the public.

For three weeks the confusion, inconvenience and misery caused by the project smacked of a country crying out for leadership which was not available from the government which resorted to threats and coercion to ensure its plan succeeded. Both factions of the MDC failed to heed the call to duty and highlight the human rights abuses by the state in the execution of the military-style operation.

Until Monday when the operation ended, the only really strong statement against Project Sunrise had come from the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), a professional body not necessarily seeking political capital.

The same issues contained in the LSZ statement could have had greater impact if they had been carried on a political omnibus to rural people who are still stuck with the old notes and who suffered more abuse due to ignorance.

The relevance of an opposition becomes apparent in its ability to shine the spotlight on serious political issues and have them resolved quickly. The opposition was also found wanting by failing to propose alternatives to what the state had proffered so that the public get the benefit of political debate.

Tsvangirai was in Matabeleland last weekend to, among other issues, discuss the current economic crisis and to assess national preparedness in the Save Our Country Campaign to push President Mugabe “to accept the people’s demand for a new constitution, free and fair elections, stabilisation and reconstruction …”

A statement from the party this week said “the people are raring to dislodge the dictatorship”.

Let’s see leaders rise to the occasion.

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