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MDC in shambles: what is to be done?

Dumisani Muleya

IN 1902 — the year before the Bolshevik-Menshevik split over the political crisis in Russia — Lenin wrote the book What is to be done? criticising the legal approach to his country’s struggle for change.


n, who went on to lead Russia, said the approach was ineffective and had lost sight of the main objective of the struggle — the challenge for state power.

Although the situation in Russia then and current politics in Zimbabwe are very different in terms of dynamics, time and space, the one common denominator, if no other, is that Russia was then, as Zimbabwe is now, at a crossroads.

There is also a parallel in terms of the breakup of the forces for change.

One of the feuding factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai held its congress last weekend. Tsvangirai was re-elected for another five years.

This came shortly after the recent congress of the other MDC camp now led by Arthur Mutambara. The MDC split over last year’s controversial senate election although many agree the event was merely a trigger of other deep-seated differences within the party, most notably Tsvangirai’s autocratic leadership style.

The two congresses all but formalised the split of the MDC which nearly defeated the ruling Zanu PF in 2000. Tsvangirai put up an impressive showing in the 2002 presidential poll.

There is a widespread view that the MDC and Tsvangirai were cheated in both elections. The polls produced disputed results, which in turn created the prevailing political impasse that is at the heart of the economic crisis.

While the Tsvangirai camp’s congress was better organised and better attended than that of the Mutambara faction, the two leaders did not offer anything new.

Apart from blowing hot air, Tsvangirai and Mutambara failed to articulate new policy programmes and chart the way forward.

They gave the impression they were up to the task but their supporters expected new strategies for engaging the Mugabe regime. They wanted fresh ideas and effective strategic plans to deal with the situation in the short to medium term but only got more of the same: idle threats and unfocused promises.

Tsvangirai warned Mugabe of an impending “sustained cold season of peaceful democratic resistance”, whatever that means. 

During his own congress, Mutambara threatened to “outflank Mugabe’s regime in every area of political combat”. On Sunday he also warned at a rally in Bulawayo that his group would out-manoeuvre Zanu PF in the cutthroat political battlefield but didn’t say how he would go about it.

The two leaders could not even locate their factions on the ideological map. As it is, nobody knows what the two MDC camps stand for. While they claim that they are social democratic parties, their policies, which are largely influenced by a neo-liberal agenda, remain vague.

Tsvangirai is still clinging on to the MDC’s shallow Restart blueprint, which has found no realistic purchase in local business or the international community. The jury is still out on Mutambara who has promised a holistic, multivariable, mathematical economic model. Critics are sceptical but willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

While the opposition leaders are doing their best under extremely difficult conditions of repression and economic collapse, they are failing to break new ground in the struggle or show dynamism.

Tsvangirai was able to attract a huge gathering at his congress. It seemed he wanted to show he was more popular than his rival but congresses by definition require fairly small, manageable crowds to allow for rational discourse. They are not political rallies.

That is why Zanu PF, the ruling ANC in South Africa, parties in Britain or anywhere else for that matter, except in populist regimes, do not bring big crowds to congresses.

There is no way serious debate, planning and resolutions can take place among 15 000 people.
Zimbabwe’s ethnic politics have complicated the dynamics which do not allow for simplistic reading of politics on a single-variable basis.

While Tsvangirai was able to attract 15 000 delegates, the danger remains if the MDC fails to reunite, his faction will lose an important power base: the south-western region (Matabeleland and parts of Midlands) where the Mutambara camp is dominant.

Although the region is not decisive in electoral terms, proportionally it was the stronghold of a united MDC. The party was mainly entrenched in the south-western region, including parts of the Midlands, in urban areas and in Manicaland. It failed to break into mainstream Mashonaland and Masvingo, which are the decisive provinces.

This means Tsvangirai’s group will have to try to break into the northern provinces (Mashonaland region) where the MDC stumbled at the height of its popularity and could not win a single seat.

The MDC still remains unpopular in Mashonaland East, Central and West especially, where it has lost key areas — Kadoma and Chegutu — as recently as three weeks ago. It has also lost municipal polls in Chitungwiza and Bulawayo, showing it has been conceding strategic ground since the infighting surfaced.

The situation in Tsvangirai’s camp was not helped by the failure at the weekend to recruit credible high-profile leaders from Mashonaland and Matabeleland as part of a strategy to move into Matabeleland and Mashonaland to establish a serious grip.

The parachuting in of more officials from Tsvangirai’s Masvingo home region (although he is now physically located in Buhera in Manicaland due to a change of boundaries) will only fuel resentment in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Complaints that homeboy and village politics are taking root in both MDC factions are growing. But the situation appears more blatant in Tsvangirai’s faction.

The election of Tsvangirai  (president), Isaac Matongo (chairman), Elias Mudzuri (organising secretary), Nelson Chamisa (spokesman) and Lucia Matibenga (women’s chairperson)  — seen as members of the same ethnic group — compounds matters.

It has also been claimed by MDC insiders that secretary-general Tendai Biti originally comes from Masvingo. His deputy Tapiwa Mashakada hails from there.

There are also other senior members of the faction from the same region. These include William Bango (Tsvangirai’s spokesman), Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro (Tsvangirai’s advisor), Fidelis Mhashu, Innocent Gonese, Evelyn Masaiti and even their lawyers.

Mutambara’s faction’s failure to come up with a convincing balancing act might produce the same results: resistance to the MDC in Mashonaland. While other parts of the country matter, the original MDC’s woeful lack of support in Mashonaland and Masvingo under Tsvangirai guaranteed its defeat. The two factions are still weak on the ground in those regions.

It is clear if the MDC persists with narrow factional politics — which give a hostage to fortune to Zanu PF — it will remain firmly on the path towards self-destruction.

It is also evident without a broad united front — not just in the MDC but across a swathe of the political and civic society landscape — Zanu PF will remain in power by
The MDC break-up has left the opposition in a complete shambles and taken the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe five years backwards.

Against this background, Lenin’s question may still be relevant again today: what is to be done?

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