By Pedzisai Ruhanya
ONE of the greatest strengths of opposition political groups in democratic struggles in any given society is the adherence to norms and values gover
ning a civilised and democratic society in order to position themselves as an antithesis to autocratic rule such as the one in Zimbabwe.
In this regard, opposition political parties gain credibility by conducting their business on the highest plane of dignity.
They do so through complying with their constitutions, rules and regulations, respecting their structures, shunning corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and observing the rule of law, among other issues related to democratic governance.
It is through democratic norm compliance and continuous insistence on following laid down procedures in the governance of their party affairs that opposition groups gain credibility as alternatives to corrupt, abusive and norm-violating regimes such as the one governing the affairs of Zimbabwe.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in this instance the one led by Morgan Tsvangirai, is failing by a very wide margin to operate in a procedural manner in the running of its affairs.
The dissolution of the national executive of the Women’s Assembly of this faction and the manner in which the group endorsed Constitutional Amendment Number 18 as part of its negotiations with Zanu PF under the talks being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki were unprocedural.
Such tendency by an opposition political party that seeks to govern and has the potential to do so needs to be interrogated and criticised because they fall outside the premise of democratic norms which the party says it stands for.
Firstly, my understanding is that the Women’s Assembly of the MDC was dissolved by a subcommittee without the recommendation of the national council of that party. Why the subcommittee and not the national council made the decision points to an illicit decision by the opposition political party.
A party such as the MDC which has done some tremendous work in the democratisation process in Zimbabwe should be ashamed to find itself in such a situation. It is shameful in that what the Tsvangirai group did is not different from what Zanu PF does in the administration of the affairs of this country.
The decision by this faction is similar to what Mugabe did in 2004 when he forced the politburo of that party and not the congress to choose the vice-president of the ruling party. This saw the elevation of Joice Mujuru to the post of vice-president of the party and consequently of the country in total violation of the party constitution. The congress that followed was academic. Those who were campaigning for their preferred candidates were hounded out of the party and this saw the expulsion of six provincial chairpersons for attempting to respect the party’s constitution.
My understanding and the expectations of Zimbabweans is to see a different culture of doing things by the opposition in order that this country returns to democratic legitimacy. However, the MDC seems to think that there is nothing wrong in the manner that Mugabe governs the country. Breaking party rules is becoming an ingredient of opposition administration in Zimbabwe.
What is more worrying is that like in Zanu PF, the MDC in the case of the dissolution of the Lucia Matibenga-led Women’s Assembly there is a group of unelected officials who use their closeness to Tsvangirai to abuse party processes and violate laid down procedures.
This group in the case of the Women’s Assembly is led by Ian Makone who lost to Tendai Biti during their congress in March 2006 when he attempted to be the secretary-general of the faction. Having lost the elections, Makone was appointed by Tsvangirai to the post of director of elections.
Makone’s wife Theresa is a very close ally to the party president’s family and following the unconstitutional dissolution of Matibenga’s executive Theresa is campaigning to take over the leadership. Not that there is anything wrong for her to do that but why should she attempt to be a beneficiary of an unlawful process? To make matters worse, there are allegations that she had a hand in the dissolution of that body outside the provisions of the MDC constitution using financial power.
The MDC has also failed to give the reasons for the unconstitutional dissolution. If the Matibenga-led executive had flouted party rules and regulations or was incompetent, why is the whole executive being allowed to contest to retain their posts?
If there are no adequate reasons for the dissolution of the Women’s Assembly, there is something wrong with the month of October given that the greatest crisis to face the opposition party was in October 2005. If that is the case then surely the MDC should exorcise itself from the “ghost of October”.
There has been talk that there is a group of unelected officials who misled Tsvangirai to disregard party processes and Makone has been mentioned on several occasions. The current saga seems to suggest that indeed Makone has a very strong influence on Tsvangirai but the question remains whether the influence benefits the party or may lead to its collapse in the long-run.
The other procedural matter is how the MDC led by Tsvangirai endorsed Constitutional Amendment Number 18. I am not going to deal with the merits or demerits of the constitutional amendment because for me that is the most notorious way of a constitution-making process. Parliament is not the platform to write a national constitution in a democratic society.
In this matter the Tsvangirai group never held either an executive or national council meeting where members could debate and make a collective decision on such a crucial matter. How that decision became binding on the MDC is a matter of speculation. It boggles the mind to understand the difficulty in following such simple procedures in the administration of the party. In the event that members of the party question the decision and accuse the leadership of violating party protocols and rules, it puts the party leadership in a very questionable position of its commitment to observe democratic values.
There seems to be a group in the MDC which is aligned to Tsvangirai which thinks that taking unilateral decisions that violate party rules is a show of strong leadership.
This group does so knowing well that its illicit will can only prevail by circumventing party protocol and avoiding democratic structures of the party. The challenge lies squarely on Tsvangirai. What is happening in the MDC that he leads is a litmus test of his ability to administer the affairs of his party in a transparent and accountable manner with due respect to the operating framework of that organisation. When things go well or bad people will remember Tsvangirai as the MDC leader. For instance how many people can remember the Minister of Finance or Justice during Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule in Zaire?
Zimbabwe is currently facing a serious crisis of governance and legitimacy as a result of disputed elections, disrespect of the rule of law, human rights violations and corruption among other things. If one looks at the genesis of these problems, it’s not difficult to locate them in the political party currently in power, Zanu PF.
The culture of impunity associated with Zanu PF rule has been transferred to the state and replicated in all the security apparatus in the country. Zanu PF’s disdain for the rule of law and its unquenchable thirst for power by any means necessary even through murder and violence has been transferred to the state.
What people in opposition political parties, Tsvangirai included, need to appreciate is that Zimbabwe critically needs a regime change which implies a change in governance and not necessarily a change in government.
* Pedzisai Ruhanya is a human rights researcher