THE fever that gripped the gathering at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield on Sunday, March 3 2002 left many people with a feeling that change was indeed on the doorstep and that Zanu PF’s ironfisted
hegemony was almost over.
Raising red cards and blowing whistles, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters jubilantly sang the lyrics, “Vana venyu varamba kudzokera Egypt kuna Robert (Your children have refused to go back to Mugabe’s rule in Egypt)” as the opposition party’s president Morgan Tsvangirai ar-rived to a rapturous applause.
“Rwendo rwuno hazvikoni (this time we won’t fail),” declared an invigorated Tsvangirai during his address to trigger wild whistling and chanting of MDC slogans from the 15 000-strong crowd.
Tsvangirai was only a week away from taking on Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe in a landmark presidential ballot.
The MDC had in June 2000 – then only nine months old – put up a commendable challenge to Zanu PF supremacy in local politics, winning 57 seats against 63 in the parliamentary election. The opposition said it was denied outright victory by a combination of factors all beyond its control such as rigging, unfair electoral laws and the unparalleled violence visited upon its supporters in rural areas where it was denied access.
But with the crisis deepening the MDC grew in stature both at home and abroad. Tsvangirai looked set to dislodge Mugabe from his throne in 2002 despite a massive propaganda onslaught in the state media. The party was also enjoying huge support from the overtaxed urban electorate and there was unprecedented international goodwill. Victory looked certain.
But everyone seems to have underestimated Mugabe’s survival instinct. The former guerilla leader retreated to his planning room and successfully schemed to retain the presidency against all odds. That victory is still the subject of a court challenge.
But daggers are drawn once again as the two parties get ready for a second duel in next year’s parliamentary election. Zanu PF hopes to launch its battle plan by consolidating its rural control and moving into urban areas. On the other hand the MDC will be hoping to fan out into rural constituencies from its urban stronghold to add to its current haul of 54 seats.
“The democratic process we started in 2000 will be completed at the next parliamentary and presidential elections when we will increase our majority in parliament and assume total control,” Tsvangirai told a public seminar in Harare on Monday.
He was responding to passionate concerns which have dominated the public domain of late about the MDC seeming to have slipped into a coma while Zanu PF molests the nation unchallenged.
An increase in state-sponsored violence, a plethora of amendments to legislation in addition to the promulgation of new laws have been Mugabe’s main weapons to strike at voices of dissent. And the veteran politician seems to be winning the day so far. He is sharpening his spears for next year whilst the opposition and civil society appear to be mesmerised at best and totally confused at worst about what they should be doing to prepare for the contest.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) still believes the solution lies in having a new constitution first and foremost.
“A democratic constitution leads to free and fair elections,” said NCA chairman, Lovemore Madhuku. “We can’t go to elections under the current conditions which give Zanu PF an unfair advantage. The way forward is street demonstrations until Mugabe succumbs. Why can’t we fill the streets and debate the issues later?”
The MDC faces a serious dilemma of whether or not to participate in elections under the current flawed electoral system. The MDC believes it should push for amendments to electoral laws to create minimum requirements for a free and fair election. Then a new government, of the MDC presumably, would debate a new constitution as a matter of urgency, analysts say.
“A people-driven con-stitution can only come about when there is freedom and no restrictions put up by Posa and Aippa,” Tsvangirai said. “We are demanding minimal electoral amendments for free and fair elections and then work on a new constitution under a new democratic government.”
Pinile Zamuchiya, president of the Zimbabwe Students Union (Zinasu), believes the solution lies in a united front.
“We should create a united front of all democratic forces and mobilise to challenge the regime through mass action. The regime will not give us power on a silver platter,” Zamuchiya said.
Raymond Majongwe of the Progressive Teachers Union also believes in engaging Mugabe on the streets.
“Talks? Whattalks, to whom andabout what?” Majongwe wondered. “Whoever is go-ing to contest elections must convince us that they are going to win elections. If they are going to lose they better not take part because they legitimise an illegitimate process.”
Shepherd Murombo of Harare blamed the MDC.
“You (MDC) seem to have surrendered. Where are you? We are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd,” said Murombo.
But Tsvangirai defended his party’s record.
“I don’t believe that the MDC has been complacent or docile. We engaged in two mass actions last year. For the first time internationally, we succeeded in shutting down the country for five days,” he said in response to such criticism.
But the chances of Zanu PF acceding to demands for electoral reform are remote and that puts the opposition in an invidious position – whether to contest the polls or not.
Four years since a seemingly sharp wind of change aroused the nation, the “children” have remained stuck in Egypt under Pharaoh’s heavy yoke.