Candid Comment Joram Nyathi
IF a crowd is what was needed, they had it. They came from all over the country. In all shapes and sizes, and every imaginable regalia. Quite rightly, the organisers of the congress of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare mus
t have felt pleased with themselves.
Fifteen thousand is a huge crowd and the City Sports Centre is a small venue. Even the hostile state media that often wants to understate the figures at Tsvangirai’s rallies this time put the number at 14 000.
The Arthur Mutambara faction which held its congress in Bulawayo three weeks ago attracted a third of Tsvangirai’s. The cynics who reported on the congress were more interested in the shortage of food and accommodation. And of course the sustained attacks on the robotics professor. My verdict on both congresses is that there were no earthquakes.
Both sides retained the names we already knew, rededicated themselves to fight President Mugabe and change the Zanu PF culture — same old stuff.
But if the leaders of the two factions know what needs to be done and are committed to the future of this nation, they should seek more common ground. If their aim is the same then they should be able to rally their supporters towards this common goal.
In classical definition, they say my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Nothing strengthens the hand of the enemy more than two brothers fighting each other. So long as both factions remain determined to fight each other, they should know they are providing ammunition to the enemy.
Instead of splitting the vote because they cannot agree on leadership issues, their aim should be to lure more supporters from Zanu PF by demonstrating that they have better ideas and are very different from it in terms of their democratic culture.
A starting point in this regard is recognition by both factions that they are the left and the right hand of the same body. So long as they share the same target and aims, there should be no conflict. So far it has been a matter of using different forms of rhetoric. None can claim to be more determined than the other to change the status quo.
The complementarity should come from sharing the bigger picture of what we want Zimbabwe to be, not necessarily who should be the leader.
Instead, there has been undue emphasis on the superficial “village vs ivory tower” dichotomy. Its basis is that Tsvangirai has more support in rural areas and is closer to the people. This support has never been demonstrated in an election. What is evident is his impact among the urban poor for the simple reason that he appeals to their immediate requirements — the so-called bread and butter issues. All this is fine but too short-term.
On the other hand you have the ivory-towerists — the more educated Bulawayo faction — who are accused of being out of touch with the people and therefore cannot command sufficient votes. They talk about foreign policy and the constitution and human rights. (Ironically, Zanu PF derided the same issues when it decided instead to put emphasis on the land because the MDC was seen as trying to advance alien concepts.)
The ivory tower dwellers are said to appeal to intellectuals and the rich. In reality both factions are tapping from the same source — all the urban dwellers who have been pauperised by Zanu’s PF misrule.
I was therefore impressed that Tsvangirai’s camp has in a way sought accommodation with NCA leader Lovemore Madhuku. While he may not be a charismatic leader, he has shown enormous courage and consistency in his fight for a new constitution. Tsvangirai is therefore aware of the sizeable constituency he commands in the civic society movement.
What is therefore vital is that while Tsvangirai is able to appeal to the short-term demands of a hungry population, the Mutambara camp can fortify those same needs by proposing long-term policies that ensure we don’t get lost again.
Alex Magaisa poignantly observed recently that a leader has to look further than the short-term wants of voters.
Failing to do so leads into the Zanu PF cul de sac — lack of policy initiatives to turn around the economy. Even its electoral majority sounds hollow. What next after land reform? Which is where the opposition has been patently paralysed as well — what after congress?
The election of a leader should not be seen as a mere endorsement but as a challenge. People are stuck in a quagmire and look to the leaders for a way forward. None of the two factions can win the contest against Zanu PF on its own — even under a new constitution. A level playing field benefits all. It doesn’t matter how many people attended the congress, without unity of purpose we are stuck in the same rut.
And Zanu PF is doing its uttermost to accentuate artificial divisions in the opposition to weaken it. But the factions need each other’s capacities and abilities more than they need the sympathy of Zanu PF. They should rise to this challenge and put their differences aside. The nation’s interests should come first.