The observer commented “if you were to put two Zimbabweans on the moon and visited them the next day, you would find that they had formed three parties”. The remark was said in respect of splits and divisions bedevilling and weakening the liberation movement at the time. It seems the observation has become a pervasive jinx that has come back to hound and weaken the pro-democracy movement that is fighting against the militarised dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe.
In his book, Struggles Within the Struggle, Sithole details the fatal degeneration of the armed struggle into an internecine fight for power, control and leadership of the liberation movement with ethnicity being a key weapon for the political and military elites.
On reflection, this important book which has been read mainly through the ethnic ‘problematique’ with respect to the liberation struggle, critically sheds light on the kind of leadership Zimbabwe would have after Independence: selfish, tribal, parochial, narrow-minded and destructive. For these leaders Independence would mean power retention and self-enrichment at all costs.
Indeed, Independence came and the Zanu PF elites have accumulated immeasurable wealth by milking the country dry, making ordinary people poorer. The challenges the country is facing today are a matter of public record.
The spectre of the politics of splitting has hounded post-liberation Zimbabwe with a multiplicity of off-shoot parties which are poorly-organised, with no resources and at certain instances no constituencies.
Fast forward to a decade since the formation of the robust labour-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); more parties have come and gone. The MDC itself has split into the MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC-N led by Welshman Ncube, MDC-M, (Arthur Mutambara) and MDC-99 (Job Sikhala). Other new parties have also come up, for example Zapu-Dabengwa sprouting from Zapu-2000 and Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn.
The Politics of splitting have also affected the Zimbabwe National Students Union and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, to name just two critical social formations among others which are following the same course taken by political parties.
We don’t seek to interrogate the causes of this political practice but to point out that for political institutions and actors claiming to be fighting for democratic transformation and not just for the reform of the electoral system, access to power or patronage, these splits increase the costs of attaining the ultimate goal while postponing the realisation of democratic transformation. It also speaks volumes on the quality, interests, vision or lack of a broad vision on the side of all our leaders.
What is baffling is the failure of the pro-democracy movement to honestly own up to some of our national mistakes and to progress on the basis of addressing not merely the political authoritarian question but the broad issues in favour of a broad-based democracy anchored on the principles of tolerance of diversity, transparency, accountability and respect for human life and human rights.
There is no doubt that had former opposition parties united in 2008, collaborated closely with civil society and churches, Zanu PF would be history by now. Undoubtedly unity is important for itself, if not for electoral benefits from the numbers of potential voters pulled together, organisational capacity, skills and resources it draws together.
Just like the liberation movement which failed to unite several forces against the Smith regime in 1980, largely for selfish reasons, the pro-democracy movement remains weakened by divisions and suspicions which have derailed chances for even minimum collaboration. Accordingly, the political costs continue to accumulate and everyday democracy is postponed while human suffering exacerbates.
Acolytes and political hangers-on who by default find themselves in some privileged positions have escalated the political costs of the struggle for democracy by pitching against unity within their political formations. But leadership should be exercised to bear in convincing these and other sectors whose loyal sacrifice kept the struggle on course at certain critical points.
The benefits of pulling political and material resources, collective organisation, mobilisation and a broad-based movement against the weakened dictatorial resilience far outweigh any possibility of a single party beating Zanu PF at elections. Other than laying a strong foundation for a more democratic, broad- based society, it provides irrefutable capacity for building a critical mass, ready for action to defend the people‘s will against any possible military machinations.
Negotiations and pacts are no substitute for alternative strategising yet viable political alternatives can provide solid reinforcement for all forms of pacts. Ignore the daily acts of bravado publicly paraded by Zanu PF actors, there is clear uncertainty and anxiety within that party as old age and failing health continue to take its toll on President Robert Mugabe at a time when his party is failing to stitch together a viable succession strategy.
And can the pro-democracy leaders allow this despondence to spill into their camp? Ultimately the failure by all leaders in the pro-democracy camp to seize opportunities to salvage the country from this overdue crisis cannot be overlooked.
There is no doubt that the social base of all political parties in Zimbabwe has weakened in the past decade. While Zanu PF maintains an illusion of dominance in the rural Mashonaland areas, it has been losing the same voters to the MDC-T especially in Manicaland, Masvingo and parts of the Midlands in addition to its failure to retain Matabeleland.
The MDC-T is not assured of its dominance in urban areas as the shrinking urban electoral base seems to be increasingly fluid. Equally, the MDC-N cannot draw pride of legitimacy if it remains confined to isolated constituencies in one region. The influence of other political parties has been very minimal.
While a broad front has its challenges, its potential impact far outweighs the politically divided and at certain times conflicting efforts.
While the architects of the 2008 bloodless coup retained Mugabe as the head of state, they sure did not rig the elections for him but did so in self-interest. Indeed, the military remains the major threat to democracy in Zimbabwe. While Mugabe struggles with his health and age, they linger over any democratic electoral process.
This is not to say that Zimbabwe must be a one party state. We argue that democratisation has been slowed down by a culture of splitting, whatever the causes, and we blame everyone involved. But even more, we are confounded by the failure of leaders who share the same broad vision for a democratic Zimbabwe to at least collaborate to rid our country of dictatorship.
The trading of barbs continues to harm the integrity and public standing of the concerned leaders, while minimising the benefits they could accrue from negotiations, first around Global Political Agreement issues and in the inclusive government. As national leaders, pro-democratic leaders should strive to respect each other, positively reach out to citizens across the whole nation cutting across class, race and ethnicity.
Dethroning the Zanu PF dictatorship and the process to build a new government on the basis of new values will require the skills that the MDC-T or its side of government, or any other political party in the inclusive government does not currently have. Tsvangirai should seek to lead a broad-based movement that inspires all by its force of numbers, presence and skills so that finally Mugabe’s dictatorship is swept away.
Gideon Chitanga is a PhD Fellow (Politics and International Studies) Rhodes University. Article edited by Trust Matsilele, a Masters of Philosophy Journalism candidate, Stellenbosch University.