Revisit founding principles or perish

By Phillip Pasirayi

TAKURA Zhangazha wrote an incisive piece entitled, “MDC: looking beyond leadership crisis”, (The Standard, October 21).



s-serif”>In his analysis of the political developments in the MDC, Zhangazha argues that the differences on whether the party must, or must not, participate in the senate elections are symptomatic of a serious departure by the leadership from the party’s founding principles and what he calls the creeping in of “political elitism” that feeds on patron-client networks.


Zhangazha argues: “Elitism has the tendency to emerge in a period where a party or an organisation becomes too comfortable with itself, and negates the principles upon which it was founded.


Morgan Tsvangirai gravely erred in allowing this sort of elitism to creep in, where a system of patronage about who participates in parliament or not becomes the order of the day. Or alternatively, where the “top six” begin to behave as though they were a Zanu PF presidium and in the process battle for control of as elite an organ as the National Council as if that is what the party was formed for.


There can be no analysis that surpasses the one the writer shares with us in trying to understand why over the years the MDC and its leadership have behaved in the manner they did. If the opposition party was still as consultative and as inclusive as it was from the onset, there was not going to be any problems such as the petty differences that its leadership shows at the moment.


Although I have argued in previous instalments that differences and the essence of democratic discourse, especially in a big political party like the MDC are necessary, the way the MDC leadership is behaving is amateurish and to the best of my understanding, retrogressive.


The behaviour of the MDC so-called “Top Six” is no different from the way the Zanu PF politburo behaves. But the problem can be traced back to the MDC president who has forgotten the reason why the party was formed and has himself become too bureaucratic and elitist in his approaches and strategies.


The MDC is a civil society initiative, formed by the leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the National Constitutional Assembly and the Zimbabwe National Students Union in consultation with the people of Zimbabwe.


Prior to its formation, teams were dispatched to the provinces, including areas such as Binga, Lupane, Tsholotsho, Mudzi, Nyazura, Chimanimani and Rutenga to consult with the people of Zimbabwe to speak on the Zimbabwe they want.


The template that was used in the consultation exercise had three questions: What is the current economic and political situation in Zimbabwe? What are the remedies to the situation? And how should the situation be resolved?


The process culminated in the production of a voluminous document – the “raw data”, that was used by the delegates at the All Working Peoples National Convention held under the theme “An Agenda for Action” in February 1999. It is this convention which gave birth to a political movement that we call the MDC today.


It is this history that we can use to explain why things have turned out the way they have in the main opposition party. The point that Zhangazha raises about political elitism in the MDC which is fashioned out in a manner reminiscent of Zanu PF politics is responsible for the cracks that are emerging in the opposition party.


Some of the most vocal members of the MDC who are creating confusion may need to be lectured on how the party was formed as some of them had been active in opposition politics and flirted with parties like the ruling Zanu PF, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement and the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD) where they failed to make an impact.


The late Learnmore Jongwe was sent to the University of Zimbabwe by Tsvangirai to talk to some of his lecturers in the Law School and other academics to come and join the party. Needles to say some of these former lecturers were used by the Zanu PF regime to silence and punish vocal student leaders who were opposed to the government.


The argument was that there was need to have a blend of activists and academics in the new party that was dominated by the ZCTU, Zinasu and the NCA.


Various emissaries were sent to talk to other bodies and constituent groups that had not been part of the initial processes that led to the formation of the MDC. Taking a cursory look at the MDC politics today, they resemble a completely divided movement, with the divisions taking tribal, regional and ideological lines.


We have heard talk about the existence of a faction of academics in the MDC – a faction said to be dovish in its approach to political challenges. It has been said that this group favours the courts and dialogue as opposed to street protests to resolve political disputes.


It has been claimed that Welshman Ncube, Innocent Gonese, Paul Themba Nyathi, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and David Coltart are the most notable members of this faction. On the other hand, there exists another faction led by activists that include Tsvangirai, Nelson Chamisa, Lucia Matibenga and Isaac Matongo.


Whilst factions are inevitable in a political party as big as the MDC, it is safe to claim that the ruling party has a hand in the factions emerging in the MDC. It is inadequate to talk of a group calling itself academics even though some of its members have just a two-year college diploma.


What is evident is that some MDC leaders have played squarely into the hands of Zanu PF intelligence functionaries by trying to be legalistic or academic as opposed to being revolutionary in their conduct. This is the reading that we get from the differences that ensued as a result of the impending senate election.


The MDC leader has left it too late to deal with these problems – some being of his own creation. There are reports of other people having been catapulted to top positions in the party through the help of Tsvangirai. In previous elections there have been reports of candidates being imposed by Tsvangirai and Matongo on the electorate.


After the death of Jongwe, there were efforts to bar Chamisa from standing as a candidate in Kuwadzana because the seat had been reserved for Murisi Zvizwai, himself a late-comer in the MDC politics but a close confidant of the MDC leader. Had it not been for a front page story in The Daily News that pre-empted Tsvangirai’s move, Chamisa would not be the legislator for Kuwadzana today.


Because of the persistence of patron-clientilism in the rank and file of the MDC, some current MPs have bought their way into parliament through sending birthday presents either to Tsvangirai or his wife Susan. Is not surprising that some of the people who are claiming that Tsvangirai is undemocratic are the very people who were handpicked by the same man and now hold influential positions in the party even without the approval of the party membership at the grassroots.


In all this process, some genuine founding fathers of the MDC have suffered because they either have no money to buy presents for their president or have no posh cars to drive the leader to meetings. Many people have suffered in this patronage system that the MDC leader has perpetuated.


When all the dust has settled, it is imperative that Tsvangirai reflects on the reason why the MDC was founded and why some of the founding fathers are now taking a back stage in the party. Names that immediately come to mind include one Mudhara Makuyana, known for his loyalty to the party since its inception but who was elbowed out of the race in Mbare during the March parliamentary polls because Gift Chimanikire, the deputy secretary-general who had lost in Mazowe in previous elections now wanted an easy ride.


The same happened in Mabvuku where many young and vibrant party activists were barred from contesting on behalf of the MDC because Timothy Mubhawu, who was at that time the chairman for Manicaland was in the race. The youths were warned against fighting Mubhawu because he had the blessing of Tsvangirai and both come from Buhera.


Unless the MDC reflects on its past mistakes and reverts to being a revolutionary party founded on the basis of entrenching social welfarism, then its future as an alternative party to Zanu PF is doomed.


* Phillip Pasirayi is a human rights activist and can be contacted on p.pasirayi@lancaster.ac.uk.

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