By Blessing-Miles Tendi
THAT Zanu PF would win the 2005 parliamentary election was a forgone conclusion. Zanu PF saw it coming. The electorate saw it coming. Civic groups saw it coming. The media saw it comi
ng. And, for all the posturing, even the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) saw it coming.
In fact, we all saw it coming because nobody could fail to see that the deck was unfairly stacked in Zanu PF’s favour. Zanu PF held all the key cards, the ace in the pack being Zimbabwe’s existing constitution which renders palpable electoral advantages to the ruling party.
What many of us did not see coming was that Zanu PF would secure a two-thirds majority in parliament. Zanu PF, and President Robert Mugabe in particular, was effervescent in his proclamations that obtaining a two-thirds majority was a must. It was an open secret that the party took the matter of winning a two- thirds majority seriously.
An open secret that the MDC seemed not to acutely consider. It was an open secret which, in hindsight, we all seemed not to take so seriously.
During the campaign, we were guilty, as Zimbabweans, of not taking Zanu PF’s increasingly authoritarian designs seriously, and leaving our human rights at the mercy of others. Zanu PF’s trusted and abominable political violence of old did not transpire this time, but the MDC still has legitimate grievances.
The high number of voters who were turned away at polling stations — because they were “improperly registered” — was a highly questionable irregularity. And the chaotic state of the voters’ roll meant that it was open to manipulation.
Nonetheless, the MDC’s failure to acknowledge the shortcomings of its 2005 campaign is dumbfounding. Zanu PF blames the “white neo-colonial Western world” for everything, while the MDC blames Zanu PF for everything. The art of naming and blaming the other, and never self, is a quality that marries Zanu PF and the MDC. It is an unholy marriage of convenience that is symptomatic of both sides’ inability to be self-critical — a refusal to be introspective.
Just as in the 2000 election, the MDC triumphed in the urban constituencies and was routed in the rural areas, five years on the opposition remains cocooned in the cities. And yet it goes without saying in Zimbabwean politics that if you cannot clinch the majority rural vote, you are doomed to political subordination.
The MDC may also have dithered for too long on the question of whether to run in the 2005 election or not. It entered the contest belatedly and, in the process, disillusioned and confounded some of its support base. There is also no doubt that the MDC’s final decision to contest served to alienate old allies such as the Lovemore Madhuku-led National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).
Furthermore, the MDC’s success in the Matabeleland province must be treated with scepticism. Generally, the Ndebele people despise Zanu PF for legitimate historical reasons and appear to vote for the MDC because of the absence of a potent alternative party. Anything but Zanu PF seems to be what the Ndebele people are resigned to.
This is not to say that the Ndebele people are tribalists. This is merely to say that it would be foolhardy to discount ethnicity as an influential aspect in Zimbabwean politics.
Jonathan Moyo’s victory in Tsholotsho as an independent candidate demonstrates that if there were noteworthy Ndebele politicians to emerge and form a credible Ndebele party, the Ndebele vote would cease to be a guarantee for the MDC.
During the campaign period, Mugabe maintained that the 2005 election would bury the MDC for good. That did not happen. But after last week’s heavy defeat, the alarm bells are certainly ringing for the MDC.
If the MDC does not take heed, Mugabe’s seemingly madcap declaration may eventually prove to be a very sane one. The MDC is, undoubtedly, in need of a major overhaul in terms of vision, image, stratagems and, perhaps, leadership. All of this can be done, and should be done.
At first glance, the growing chorus of voices calling for a “third force” in Zimbabwean politics seems valid, but, in spite of everything, premature.
The groundwork and able political actors for the emergence of a formidable third party are, at present, non-existent. There is no point having a “third force” for the sake of it.
What is simply needed is political rethinking and reconfiguration on the part of the MDC. The MDC must begin to actively engage Zanu PF on its fundamental tenets, especially history. It must realign itself with civic groups like the NCA and press for a national constitutional reform exercise by means of a broad-based mass movement. This, more than ever before, is a time for lobbying the grassroots and marching on the streets for a democratic constitution.
Brian Raftopoulos once made the point that “the lesson has to be learnt that politics is not out there for other people to engage in; that if people retreat into their personal and family lives, and ignore their loss of rights and liberties for long enough, then the realities of such repressive encroachments will follow them into their particular retreats”.
This is the mistake, we, as Zimbabweans, made last week. Only 40% of the electorate turned out to vote. Had the independent media not been so fixated with the sideshow that was and is Jonathan Moyo and focused more on rallying the electorate to come out on election day, a Zanu PF two-thirds majority might have been averted.
Had we, the electorate, turned out in droves, it would have been more difficult for the powers-that-be to rig the 2005 election.
We took Zanu PF’s bid to win a two-thirds majority lightly. With a two-thirds majority, Zanu PF can now amend the constitution whenever it pleases.
Zanu PF amended our constitution to suit its self-serving ends in the past.
There is no reason to believe that it will not continue to do the same today.
The starting premise to the 2005 election should have been to ensure that the MDC did not forfeit any of the 57 seats it won in the 2000 election, which would have effectively denied Zanu PF a two-thirds majority.
However, the MDC, the media, civil society and the electorate’s misplaced sense of impotence in the 2005 election meant 16 opposition seats were forfeited. This is what carried the day for Zanu PF.
We should have been out there casting our vote, even if the deck was unjustly stacked in Zanu PF’s favour. At the very least, we could have averted the two-thirds majority Zanu PF gained. Now we have to bear the brunt of a resurgent, confident and increasingly intolerant regime. We let ourselves down last week.
*Blessing-Miles Tendi is a freelance writer based in the UK.