Editor’s Memo: Tsvangirai’s Halfway House

WHAT is a spaghetti mix?

It is the description MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai gave to the nascent Movement for Democratic Change in 2000.

He said in an interview with journalist and academic Patrick Bond: “We are social democrats. The MDC can never be pure, ideologically, because of our broad orientation. Besides, social democracy is a halfway house, a spaghetti mix. In our case, the main characteristic is that we are driven by working class interests, with the poor having more space to play a role than they do now. But one of the components is an element of participation by business, which is just not able to develop under present conditions.”

Here Tsvangirai did not just liken his movement to that pasta dish from the tin, but also used another allegory –– a halfway house –– to describe his party. 

Ordinarily, the purpose of a halfway house is to allow people to begin the process of reintegration with society, while still providing monitoring and support; this is generally believed to reduce the risk of recidivism or relapse when compared to a release directly into society.

Some halfway houses are meant solely for reintegration of persons, who have been recently released from prison, but many are recovery houses or “sober” houses where residents are asked to remain sober and comply with a recovery programme.

In some instances a halfway house usually refers to a place where people with mental disorders, victims of child abuse, orphans or teenage runaways can stay.

Perhaps a more apt illustration of the MDC today than the spaghetti mix which by now is way past its “best before” date!

A decade after its formation, not much appears to have changed in terms of the MDC’s composition and focus.

It has remained a potpourri of competing interests which recently manifested in the appointment of cabinet and deputy ministers.

The end result was a mélange of labour, big business, farmers, civic society, youths, the Matabeleland lobby and lawyers.

They have all come together in Tsvangirai’s “halfway house” to sober up and lead the process of change, albeit with no clear political ideology to direct their intentions.

Secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti at a party function last week confirmed the obvious.

He said the MDC was not a political party but a movement and it remained as such.

This, I believe, worked when the party was in opposition because the guiding light then was the raw hatred of Mugabe and the ruling establishment.

But as part of a unity government, the MDC requires an identity that sets it apart from the Zanu PF project that on paper preaches pro-poor policies yet in essence has created a super rich aristocracy.

The party identity is crucial today. What is the MDC? A labour party?

Is it pro-capital or is it a people’s party ready to deliver free education and health? (We have not forgotten Tsvangirai’s promise at Sakubva Stadium last year of free education for all).

The MDC would like to be seen as a modern, moderate reformist entity, capable of restoring investor confidence while at the same time satisfying the poor.

The danger is for the MDC to repeat the dismal experience of Zambia where Frederick Chiluba’s multi-formed alliance won an election in 1991 and quickly applied neo-liberal economic policy with even worse results than his predecessor.

Chiluba had full control of government and Tsvangirai does not, although he has been entrusted with the tool box to fix our problems. In doing so, he runs the risk of being forced to implement an unfocused project dictated by the conflicting interests in the “halfway house”.

There is going to be enormous pressure from those holding the purse to force reform. For example, we are keen to know what the MDC’s position is on funding from the World Bank.

In the Patrick Bond interview alluded to earlier Tsvangirai had this to say about the international financiers: “They have put us into a serious debt trap. We may have to negotiate with the IMF to get out of that.

What is important, down the line, is for Zimbabwe to work itself out of the IMF and World Bank’s grip. In the short–term, we have to distinguish between financial support that serves Mugabe versus that which serves the country.”

That distinction today could be a bit blurred.

Tsvangirai would like any assistance that would strengthen the position of the MDC in the unity government while weakening Mugabe’s resolve to rehabilitate his Zanu PF.

To be really cynical, how will the MDC respond to dictates of the World Bank to cut social spending in health, education and farm subsidies?

Will the MDC be amenable to reducing the size of the civil service? How will its government spread the dollar so that it satisfies capital and expensive social programmes? A sobering thought for the inmates in the halfway house.

BY VINCENT KAHIYA

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