Candid Comment: The MDC could have done better

MY congratulations to the MDC-MT. It performed beyond my expectations, although I must record that I think even this was way below its potential. It did itself a lot of damage by going into the elections divided.

At least eight clear seats were lost as a result of the split. Still, Zanu PF’s hegemony on Zimbabwe’s political life has been broken, probably forever.
A few weeks ago, commenting on Simba Makoni’s entry into the presidential race, I wrote about the end of “hostage politics” in which Zanu PF and the MDC had carved for themselves “spheres of influence” among Zimbabweans. Zanu PF was a “rural party” while the MDC was “urban”, we were told. For that reason, each party had clear constituencies in which campaigning was almost a formality; it was preaching to the converted.
Makoni’s entry may not have had a “dramatic” impact on the outcome of the polls given the final tally, but it certainly generated a lot of debate — both negative and positive. It gave the campaign a fresh impetus, and additional propaganda material to the main protagonists, President Robert Mugabe and MDC-MT leader Morgan Tsvangirai. He might yet live to play a key role in the affairs of our nation.
The same can be said of Welshman Ncube who lost to Thokozani Khupe, given his crucial role in the inter-party talks between Zanu PF and the MDC. This is despite lies about the failure of Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts. Thanks to Mbeki, the dire pre-polls predictions of horror and calamity turned into a bogeyman. We may yet need his services in this delicate transition. Even ZEC exceeded everyone’s expectations because the chaos forecast at polling stations was no more than a mirage. By 12 noon ordinary Zimbabweans who wanted to vote for a better future had done so and there were no queues, turning election day into an anticlimax given the media hype. That is until counting of the votes started the following day and there was evidence of Mugabe losing.
This however does not distract from my point about an end to “hostage politics” especially given the inroads the MDC has made into Zanu PF’s “sphere of influence” in the rural areas. I have said in the past that so long as the MDC accepts this fallacy about Zanu PF’s rural “strongholds”, it will never win the elections.
I always found this simplistic allocation of spheres of influence both degrading and insulting. It gave the impression that we were a dual society between rural and urban, in which the former were enjoying a prosperous economy despite Zanu PF bondage while urbanites endured economic deprivation and were the only ones hankering for freedom. Yet the truth is that our urban and rural life are closely intertwined because of economic and social interdependency.
Two weeks ago I again stressed the need for a united front if the opposition hoped to win the March 29 elections. Personal egos triumphed over the national interest, with the focus more on Mugabe “rigging” the elections than on mobilising the electorate to go out and vote. The result was an agonisingly close finish — MDC-MT 99, Zanu PF 97, MDC 10, Jonathan Moyo 1.
Whatever reasons those in the know might have for this, my deduction is that the embarrassingly low voter turnout for the opposition in urban areas was a protest statement against the MDCs. In Matabeleland it was a virtual boycott, first because of the MDC leadership’s “refusal” to work together, secondly because of confusion over the “Makoni factor” — the problematic Zanu PF brand. But the apathy in Bulawayo was a microcosm of the whole country.
The biggest gain for MDC-MT is that it has become by far the most “national” party in terms of representation in all the country’s provinces. For the first time since its launch it has won seats in Mashonaland West, Central and East. It has won seats in all parts of Matabeleland, a feat Zanu PF failed to achieve even through the force of arms. It is an indication of the faith in and grave responsibility which the people of Zimbabwe have reposed on the MDC-MT leadership.
Still, under the current economic circumstances, the MDC could have done better. Zanu PF as a party did not have a strategic vision to turn around the economy. Government has invested a lot in farming equipment and implements, but these have been distributed as if they belonged to the party, engendering a lot of resentment in the country.
Moreover, the vagaries of weather were simply against Zanu PF. After an inordinately wet season between December and January suddenly February turned out to be one of the driest in recent years, ruining what was touted as the “mother of all agricultural seasons”. Lacking proper planning and adequate resources, Zanu PF was unable to import grain in large enough quantities to distribute to desperate, hungry villagers. City dwellers who often cover up government deficits found themselves so badly hit by inflation of over 165 000% they couldn’t spare anything for their relatives in rural areas.
President Mugabe’s vituperative campaign speeches against his rivals exposed a grave deficiency of a unifying spirit after years of national polarisation. Suggestions of a government of national unity were scoffed at. His threats against business were the final nail. In other words an outright Zanu PF and Mugabe win meant a defeat for the British and Americans but a continuation of the same — a prospect which scared everybody.
In a nutshell, the MDCs were fighting a foe lying prostrate and could easily have notched a clear majority as one. They still have a chance. Congratulations all the same for “A new beginning”.

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