THE MDC-T might not have literally painted Bulawayo red during its 13th anniversary celebrations last Saturday as national organising secretary Nelson Chamisa had promised, but White City Stadium was a sea of red as the party supporters thronged the venue to capacity – signalling the party still has a strong presence on the ground ahead of crucial elections next year.
Report by Herbert Moyo
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party held its celebrations against a backdrop of public opinion poll surveys which seemed to indicate its declining popularity compared to main rival Zanu PF which is regaining lost ground. Instead of being seen as an occasion to reminisce and ruminate over its short but dramatic victory, the anniversary was widely viewed as a test of MDC-T’s popularity and appeal to the electorate which will be assessing who to vote for in the next elections.
Although the recent Freedom House survey said MDC-T had lost its support from 38% to 19%, while Zanu PF gained from 17% to 31%, it also indicated that 47% of the voters were undecided. This is huge pond from which both parties, among other small players, would be trying to fish from to enhance their fortunes.
MDC-T pulled out all the stops to demonstrate it still had a firm grip on the electorate. The party claims 30 000 of its supporters squeezed into the 10 000-seater venue as marshals were forced to allow supporters onto the pitch and athletics track which had initially been reserved for party bosses and other invited dignitaries.
Representatives of civil society organisations were also in attendance along with the surprise appearance of outspoken former party legislator Munyaradzi Gwisai and Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe, who joined the chanting of party slogans as well as songs denouncing Zanu PF, showing Tvangirai and his party could be closing ranks with long standing allies who of late seemed to be drifting away due to tensions between the MDC-T leaders and civil society organisations.
But the question remains: Does the return of MDC-T’s “prodigal sons” indicate a closing of ranks between the party and its critical allies, or was it nothing more than a mere show of solidarity?
While MDC-T might still be a major force to reckon with and reaching out to its important allies ahead of elections, reality usually lies beneath appearances.
For all the extravagant pomp and fanfare in Bulawayo, the fact is the party is dogged by serious factionalism, in-fighting and divisions — ironically mostly in Bulawayo where the celebrations took place — which have damaged its reputation and weakened it significantly.
Besides, widespread allegations of corruption in MDC-T-run municipalities around the country have also besmirched the party image. Even though the MDC-T has acted by firing those implicated, this has not removed the impression the party is also as corrupt as Zanu PF.
There is also the issue of self-aggrandisement by MDC-T leaders who have joined the Zanu PF gravy train and in a short space of time have moved from humble beginnings to living large in big houses, with posh cars and businesses while their supporters remain trapped in poverty.
White City stadium was dominated by sleek luxury vehicles belonging to party leaders and the contrast and contradictions between the material conditions of the senior party officials and supporters could not have been more clearer and dramatic, especially after Tsvangirai recently moved into a US$3 million state residence which will eventually become his and held an extravagant wedding characterised by a storm of controversy triggered by a series of sex scandals.
Tsvangirai seemed acutely aware of that uncomfortable reality of a widening gap in the lives and wellbeing of MDC-T officials and their ordinary supporters.
“They might be having cars but that doesn’t mean that they are living well,” Tsvangirai said of his officials in his address.
However, some supporters interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent at the celebrations said Tsvangirai’s statement was meant to divert attention from the increasingly visible opulence of party leaders amid growing poverty among party supporters. Bulawayo, like much of the country, is enduring a punishing schedule of water and power cuts. The city is now almost a ghost town after a series of company closures and job loses.
Tsvangirai’s speech dealt with a range of issues, including the economy although he did not comprehensively focus on issues affecting Bulawayo such as water, de-industrialisation and devolution.
In his keynote address, Tsvangirai rolled out the MDC-T’s five guiding pillars which he said were aimed at transforming Zimbabwe into a newly-industrialised country. He said the major guiding principle is the issue of good governance in all sectors to ensure that there is consolidation of all pillars of the economy.
While the MDC-T faces a lot of problems, the party showed it is still very strong on the ground and could enter the elections as the frontrunner unless Zanu PF continues with revival. Although the MDC-T might officially decline in popularity ratings, Zanu PF still faces a huge credibility crisis given its disastrous record. President Robert Mugabe’s own personal record and circumstances are not helping matters.
National University of Science and Technology analyst Lawton Hikwa said the MDC-T was out of touch with ordinary people, especially after Water Affairs minister Samuel Sipepa-Nkomo ignored prevailing sentiments to wrest control of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) from civil society in the region and turning it into a government-driven process despite previous such failures.
“Sipepa-Nkomo is clearly out of touch with reality if he thinks government can deliver on Zambezi Water Project to Bulawayo,” said Hikwa. “They should have allowed the MZWP to carry on with the work it started.”
Speaking to the Independent after Tsvangirai’s address to pastors, Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) spokesperson Zechariah Mushawatu attacked the MDC-T for allegedly opposing student grants, while building a luxury mansion for Tsvangirai in an upmarket Harare suburb.
Mushawatu said the most remarkable thing about MDC’s 13 years of existence is “the manner in which it had managed to alienate three of the main organisations that were responsible for its formation, namely Zinasu, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly”.
“MDC officials don’t know the situation on the ground regarding students,” said Mushawatu.
“Their children are tucked away at some fancy colleges in some cosy part of the world,” he wrote in a document titled Little to celebrate for students as MDC marks 13th Anniversary.
Bulawayo Agenda director Thabani Nyoni said they recognised the MDC-T as a political alternative, but added “we also work with other political parties in the pro-democracy movement”.
Tsvangirai told his supporters his struggle to dislodge Zanu PF had entered its last stage, indicating his confidence was not been shaken by his party’s loss of popularity and his private life scandals.
“Our struggle has reached a point of no return. We are now in an irreversible national mood for change and total transformation,” said Tsvangirai.
“As we enter 2013, we must realise that the stakes are going to be high. Every day that goes by is a day closer to the next election. However, our quest is not just for an election for an election’s sake. We seek total transformation and no sector shall escape from holistic scrutiny” he said
While the MDC-T and Tsvangirai could be going through testing times, they remain a major political force on the ground.