Zimbabwe’s two main parties that appear to be like oil and water, Zanu PF and the MDC-T, recently conducted primary elections which seem to have been scripted from the same manual.
Once the dust had settled on the chaotic and often delayed primaries, allegations of internal violence, vote rigging, intimidation and imposition of candidates arose, with some losing candidates filing their papers at the Nomination Court last Friday as independents or a party having two candidates as was the case with Zanu PF in Bikita West and MDC-T in Mutare Central.
While the developments would not have surprised observers who have regularly followed electoral processes in Zanu PF, it is events in the MDC-T which have become a talking point as the party has been campaigning for change and a different political culture.
Last Saturday, MDC-T Manicaland provincial chairperson Julius Magarangoma abandoned all protocol and took to social media to attack the “snakes, cups and kitchens within the party who went out to openly rig elections and in some cases even impose candidates in Buhera West and Chipinge Central”.
This was in reference to the “kitchen cabinet”, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s inner circle comprising people often accused of making unilateral decisions.
Magarangoma’s outburst was followed by a similar attack on the party by other senior colleagues, including outgoing Magwegwe MP Felix Magalela Sibanda and aspiring Makoni Central candidate Grace Kwinjeh.
“Saka hanzi Grace Kwinjeh ndiye adyiwa, hanzi hondo yedu yahwinhiwa, hoooo tahwina. (So they say Grace Kwinjeh has lost and we have won the war — is that so),” Kwinjeh, who actually suggested the name MDC in 1999, posted on her Facebook wall.
“I went into politics at the tender age of 19. I have lived through seasons and I sit back to watch this one with keen interest,” she said, adding that she will resist all attempts to push her out of “the party I formed, neither will I be provoked to leave the party that I love so much, have worked so strenuously for”.
Such accusations coming from founding members and high-ranking officials like Kwinjeh and Magarangoma have had analysts questioning whether there are any real prospects for a democratic dispensation in Zimbabwe when the two biggest parties cannot even manage peaceful and credible internal elections.
Analysts say if the main parties are not democratic internally and not committed to democratic processes, the likelihood of democracy taking root in national politics is slim.
They say it is also pertinent to ask if any of the parties would still have the moral high ground to cry foul after the outcome of the polls given the way they conducted their own primaries.
If anything, analysts say, the whole primaries charade has shown Zimbabwe is yet to develop a democratic culture and even with the advent of the new constitution the situation proves there is still a long way to go.
The major political parties must take the lead in embracing democratic values to allow credible internal elections before they can do the same on the national stage.
Zanu PF and the MDC-T have been found wanting as they were often quick to protect high-ranking officials from democratic competition during the primary elections.
MDC-T showed its undemocratic tendencies when it resolved that its 12 standing committee members would be unopposed, ensuring they circumvented the democratic process.
As if that was not enough, the party brought in “rebels” from the Welshman Ncube-led MDC like Nomalanga Khumalo, Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu who were all given free passage into the party primaries, fuelling divisions within the party.
Analysts ask if members of the standing committee are indeed the backbone of the party, why then should they be shielded from internal scrutiny, competition and renewal? If anything, contesting elections is the best way of proving that they are the trusted party leaders they claim to be, they say.
Political commentator Blessing Vava said the controversy over the primary elections in both parties have clearly demonstrated that “democracy is still an alien idea in Zimbabwe’s political system”.
“Clearly, the will of the people is not the one that prevailed in most cases in both parties as there were instances of imposition of candidates, rigging, violence, vote buying and unfair disqualification of candidates who posed a threat to those favoured by the parties’ hierarchy,” said Vava.
Vava said in the aftermath of disputed primaries bhora musango (internal sabotage) could affect both parties given the number of disgruntled aspirants who thronged the Nomination Court last Friday to file their papers to contest as independents.
In Zanu PF the list of independent candidates includes suspended Manicaland provincial deputy chairperson Dorothy Mabika (Chipinge Central), Marian Chombo (Zvimba North), Daniel Garwe (Murehwa North), Richard Mavhunga (Marondera Central), Rumbidzai Mujuru (Chikomba Central), Shylet Uyoyo (Bikita South) and Jonathan Samkange (Mudzi South).
Sitting MDC-T MPs Samuel Sandla Khumalo and Sibanda are among those who opted to stand as independents to contest the Pelandaba-Mpopoma and Magwegwe constituencies respectively after losing in primaries they claim were rigged.
Political analyst Godwin Phiri said the primary elections fiasco reflected a crisis of leadership in both parties and blamed both Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe for allowing a culture of rigging and manipulation to take root in their parties.
“The problem lies squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the parties who should have done better in ensuring transparency in the electoral processes. Otherwise the country will have a perpetual problem in addressing issues of democracy if the major political parties are struggling to demonstrate a commitment to these ideals within their own institutions,” said Phiri.
Magarangoma scoffed at suggestions that the MDC-T problems can be resolved through dialogue with the party leadership, saying he had “developed a hoarse voice trying to speak about these issues through official channels”.
“I am a senior (MDC-T) member and I have spoken to everyone who matters and no one listens because they are the very people who are guilty of corrupting internal democratic processes,” said Magarangoma.
Given these shenanigans, analysts say it is difficult to imagine how political parties, which have failed the internal test of democracy, can move the country along the path to credible, free and fair national elections which reflect the general will of Zimbabweans.