That Zimbabwe is now in an election season is beyond doubt. Perhaps the dominant question among stakeholders and observers is the timing and environment of such elections.
Report by Itai Zimunya
Beyond these exogenous aspects of the coming elections, it is important to analyse the change processes between and within the dominant political parties in Zimbabwe.
Throughout its lifetime, the MDC-T has always campaigned on the “change” platform and Zanu PF, at least in the last decade, used the “land, empowerment and sovereignty” themes to anchor its campaign.
Will these political parties maintain their narratives into the next elections and will people’s choices be any different, all things being equal?
The slogan and manifesto of the MDC-T has always revolved around the change narrative, and it resonated with the people of Zimbabwe, hence the party’s victory in the March 2008 elections.
To many, it meant a change of governance — from dictatorship to democracy — while for others, especially the greedy among MDC-T leaders, change would simply give them an opportunity to replace their Zanu PF counterparts in the feeding trough.
For Zanu PF, the lessons of 2008 are clear, the liberation struggle narrative is now sterile, especially when confronted by a generation that celebrates independence, but being more concerned about the present and future, while they cringe at personality cults and hero-worshipping. Youths, especially those caught in a generation of upheavals and pressure, often glorify change — sometimes even when that change is retrogressive.
So will Zanu PF continue to try to repackage itself and use land, empowerment and sovereignty mantras during the next election campaigns? If it does, as surely it will, the next question is: will that find purchase in the popular imagination?
Since the MDC-T is now part of government, does it still have a moral high ground and space to claim monopoly over the change narrative and agenda?
It would appear MDC-T suffered from two administrative diseases: the paradox of plenty and the Pierre Wack syndrome. They knew they had the active and passive support of the majority of Zimbabweans, including those from Zanu PF, but relaxed in the comfort of that massive support.
The Pierre Wack syndrome is a management disease that affects many people — often knowing what to do, but for some reason, failing to do it. It is largely due to procrastination, indecisiveness, doubt or fear of failure or the summation of all four.
It is also important to note Zanu PF has in fact also deployed the change narrative and not only promised, but implemented, albeit wrongly, its policies and programmes on land and indigenisation.
Is the Zanu PF’s change narrative on land, indigenisation and empowerment timely and popular enough to eclipse the MDC-T change agenda? What exactly is the content of the MDC-T change programme?
To some it appears Zanu PF’s narrative produces more problems and hence boosts the MDC-T’s change refrain. Even if Zanu PF’s change might resonate with some people, the way it executes its programmes somehow backfires and in the process prevents the party from re-inventing itself.
The Zanu PF change model is mainly undermined by the party’s own failure to embrace change from within. There has been no leadership renewal and reform in Zanu PF for a long time now. Some people have been part of the leadership for 35 years, since 1977. As a result, the party has struggled to renew its structures and inevitably it is now reeling from a leadership succession crisis, which in many respects poses a more serious threat to it than the MDC-T.
That is why some now think it is better for Zanu PF to keep President Robert Mugabe as leader to ensure the party does no disintegrate. Should they change the leader, all hell will break loose and Zanu PF will soon be at war with itself while, of course, also fighting the MDC-T.
When that happens the party will insecurely be on the same path as other former liberation movements: Zambia’s Unip, Malawi Congress Party and Kanu in Kenya.
While marketing strategists often use rebranding and re-launches to keep a product fresh and in demand, the attempt to rebrand and recycle the Zanu PF leadership has long reached points of diminishing returns.
And it is here that Zanu PF, by default, keeps the MDC-T relevant and in serious contention for power.
There are other critical factors as well. Firstly, the demographic structure of Zimbabwe; like most developing countries, shows the population is very young. Estimates are that up to 60% of the population is below the age of 45 years. The MDC-T structures are largely dominated by the youth, while those of Zanu PF have older people.
Secondly, the change process of indigenisation and economic empowerment seems to produce similar patterns in terms of beneficiaries from a political, class, race, gender and even ethnicity point of view. That is largely why these programmes lack a consensus-based and popular buy-in. They exclude some on the basis of political affiliation, class, race, gender and ethnicity. They are therefore not national but sectarian in a sectional and even factional sense.
This narrow focus often and consistently continues to undermine Zanu PF’s change process, leading to it being a political or class agenda which needs to be enforced on the majority who don’t actually embrace it.
No wonder Zanu PF resorts to use of force and shrill propaganda to pressure a sceptical population to embrace its narrow change paradigm and vision which excludes and marginalises others on bigoted grounds.
In pursuit of its change agenda, The MDC-T must avoid falling into the same pitfalls as Zanu PF. Time is not on their side, but they still have a chance depending on which change agenda people vote for, come elections next year.
Zimunya is a socio-economic researcher based in Mutare. He was formerly with Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and Crisis Coalition.