By Denford Magora
ALTHOUGH the MDC fight over the senate election is only a manifestation of deep-rooted ideological schizophrenia, it also represents the best chance for the party to overcome its moribund s
tatus and paralysis. The movement that was created and carried by momentum has been, for some time now, up the creek without a paddle. With the popular momentum gone, the party appeared lethargic, resigned and indeed unconcerned with daily woes. This almost single-minded focus on attaining power had left many supporters confused. Mass movement slogans such as “Mugabe must go now” etc have proved inadequate to galvanise the masses.
The palpable immediacy of the MDC agenda at its inception attracted hordes of supporters only because through this movement, they could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But that light has been receding ever since.
As Adolf Hitler (surprisingly) said just before he was elected Chancellor of Germany, a mass movement cannot sustain itself purely by being popular. “We must come to power soon, or we’ll win ourselves to death in elections,” he was reported as saying to Josef Goebels at the time.
Movements, it is true, succeed on the basis of creating an urgent need to correct matters before they slide further. The MDC did this very well at the beginning. But power has proved elusive. Three elections on, the party still has no power. Even its mayors are emasculated wantonly by Mugabe and his minions and all the opposition party does is grumble a bit.
The movement failed to keep the momentum going. Long-drawn out court battles and electoral challenges meant that the party all but deserted the streets and took the fight to air-conditioned lawyers’ offices and foreign presidents’ VIP lounges. Meetings, rallies and even mass communication slowed to a trickle. The agitation (vital for the success of a movement) degenerated into monosyllabic insults and sloganeering. Live-wire contact with the masses all but disappeared.
With it went any hope of convincing Zimbabweans of the immediacy of their crises and the pitiless inferno they would plunge into should they sit back and be apathetic.
Some of this was a consequence of flawed strategy. It is too common a mistake to confuse assumptions for facts. (Assuming, for instance, that Mugabe had enough of a conscience to resign when he saw that there was no fuel, food, foreign currency and even tissue paper in the country was one assumption which led Morgan Tsvangirai to claim that Mugabe would be gone within six months, and that was a couple of years back.) Some of it was oversight or laziness on the part of those charged with organising the party. The MDC ward and district structures at the moment, for instance, come nowhere near Zanu PF in terms of organisation. All this should have been evident to the party leadership and personnel should have been shifted or replaced. That the MDC leadership ignored this messy state of affairs in the organisation of the party is why the festering boil within the opposition party has now burst open.
The MDC would be wise to lance that boil now rather than try and cover it up with a bandage. The decline in the influence and visibility of the MDC to the masses happened on Tsvangirai’s watch. For too long, there appeared to be no vision or agenda within the party and its leadership.
When this was pointed out, the response was often a dismissive side-swipe to the critics. This only added to the view that the people’s problems were a side issue to the MDC leadership. The real issue to the leader of the party was the assumption of the presidency.
But the electorate does not forgive those who think that their personal ambitions are also the ambitions of the people. They are not. Admittedly, it is not as though Tsvangirai consciously chose to rally the nation purely around his assumption of power. It is tactics, actions and words that have formed this impression.
The psychology of the masses is such that they will always want proof of what benefit will accrue to them for backing one horse over the other. It is like mass gambling, where the gamblers weigh up the odds and, once convinced, will cheer their horse to the finish line, no matter what happens.
So, it is the leadership and leadership style of Tsvangirai that has put the MDC where it is today. It is he who has taken the decisions. If he does accept that, as leader, the buck stops with him, he should also take responsibility for the way the party has waned since is heyday. Having done so, the decent thing would be for him to admit that his leadership and strategies have failed to all intents and purposes. Hiding behind “collective leadership” is not leadership. Nor is imposing your flawed will on your party. Always blaming others is also not leadership. For, indeed, if you are forced down, you have no choice but to struggle up. It is no use bearing the burden and pointing to your tormentor every time someone asks what you are doing to free yourself.
This, then, is a golden opportunity for the MDC to reinvent itself. To reinvigorate its leadership. To give the party a new sense of direction, urgency and purpose. New blood it must be. The party, yes, is bigger than one person as are the hopes of millions upon millions. It must be do or die. The party must find the courage to wean itself off its hitherto ineffectual leader and to choose a new team. Only this will give the opposition a new sense of purpose.
So the sword must not be sheathed until Tsvangirai is axed. He should go. It is to be hoped that if this happens, Tsvangirai, like some leaders of the opposition in Britain who resign when they fail to win two elections in a row, will stay in the party and pledge his support for a new, more energetic, more focused and more strategically sound leader.
Indeed, he should stay on in the party and, should it attain power, be appointed to a senior cabinet position. If his heart is with the people, he will step aside and make room for a new broom.
Should he continue to be intransigent, on the other hand, those of us who have all along feared the making of another dictator will be vindicated. Then the party should dump him. They must not pay any attention to the usual suspects who have, in the past, fatuously claimed that the man has to be good and democratic because “he was the product of a democratic process”. Keep in mind that even Hitler, the worst dictator of all time, was elected democratically in the first instance.
It has to come to Tsvangirai being fired if he won’t resign because this really is the last chance saloon for the MDC.
The party will either be made or broken by how it ends this crisis and infighting. The only way to take the party forward is to remove Tsvangirai from the leadership. All that this debacle has revealed is the MDC leader’s failure to provide an alternative.
He has failed to present a strong enough case to even the majority of his executive team. That is why they voted for participation. He wants them to stay out of the polls but has not presented a credible case for alternative action. Had he done so and persuaded his team that his plan would bring the party closer to its goals than participation would, then the vote would have gone his way. I, like many other Zimbabweans, would rather Tsvangirai lead by persuasion rather than force and iron fist. We’ve had enough of “African strongmen”. What we need now are “men of reason” and “men of the people”. Tsvangirai is turning out to be neither of these. If anything, the evidence on the ground points to another Mugabe or Mobutu in the making. My way or the highway.
The party and the people, if they want to save the MDC, should turn around and tell the MDC leader exactly that: “Our way or the highway”.
* Denford Magora is a Harare-based advertising executive.