HomeOpinionTime for MDC to get back to basics

Time for MDC to get back to basics

WHAT might be regarded as the MDCs’ limited success during the Government of National Unity (GNU) from 2009 to 2013, although significant, seems to be just brushed aside as being irrelevant when viewed against the backdrop of the July 31 elections won by Zanu PF, albeit amid allegations of rigging.

Eddie Cross MDC-T MP

The MDC-T is under huge pressure right now and there is a real danger people will not recall and recognise just what the party achieved in the process that led up to the GNU.

President Robert Mugabe with his former coalition government partners, MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai (left) and Welshman Ncube of the MDC.
President Robert Mugabe with his former coalition government partners, MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai (left) and Welshman Ncube of the MDC.

Zanu PF and the ANC in South Africa will both claim that they were responsible for the successful transition from minority to majority, democratic rule in their respective countries. They will, in fact, claim that it was the liberation struggle by their respective armed wings that brought about change.

A close examination of these transitions reveals a very different situation as shown by the following:

They both required that the collective forces for change in their respective countries worked together, in the case of Zimbabwe it was the Patriotic Front, in the case of South Africa, the UDF.

They both required that the international community be united on the way forward and that a major power takes on the responsibility of representing those interests and being willing to exercise real interventive power to secure the transition. In the case of Zimbabwe, it was the United States and its secretary of state Henry Kissinger, followed by Lord Carrington of the United Kingdom while in the case of South Africa it was the late UK prime minister Margret Thatcher.

In both countries the struggle leading to the transition was a long drawn-out affair — in the case of South Africa the ANC was formed in 1913 and the transition took place in 1994, signifying 80 years of struggle and sacrifice. In the case of Zimbabwe the struggle started in 1949 and was concluded in 1980 — taking about 31 years. In neither case was the incumbent regime defeated by military means.

So we must ask why the transition from Zanu PF (an entrenched minority regime with control of the armed forces and the economy) to a new democratic dispensation should take place under any different conditions. Clearly, an armed struggle is simply not an option; I do not think that even has to be explained.

A “popular uprising” is not possible — the state is simply too powerful and has too tight a control over the instruments of oppression. In any event, if that was to happen what would be left of this fragile and collapsed economy would simply disappear and we would become a real “failed state” like Somalia.

In both historical cases the global consensus for change was unanimous; the small white community in Zimbabwe had no international or continental support, sympathy perhaps, but no real support. It was a question of a transition from a colonial regime to a democracy. In South Africa, the global consensus was absolute; this was a struggle against apartheid — a moral struggle with clear boundaries.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the situation is different and yet similar. The same in the sense that the regime that took power in 1980 has become a rogue state, has almost destroyed the economic and social fabric of the country and has suppressed and is abusing the rights and values that were the object of the liberation struggle.

Hence, the claim by the MDC-T that it is attempting to finish what was started by the struggle in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is different in that there is no international or continental consensus on the need for a transition. In reality, most African states are fearful of what is happening in Zimbabwe and can see in it the seeds of the destruction and defeat of their own power structures.

It is in this context that we must examine just what the MDC-T achieved between 2006 and 2013. It started at the March 2006 congress where 18 500 delegates elected new leadership to replace the one which had engineered the attempted removal of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the leadership of the party. They then set the agenda for the next five years by deciding on a programme that would:

Use democratic resistance to bring about change (via peaceful, legal and democratic means);
Force Zanu PF to the negotiating table and negotiate reforms required for a democratic transition; and Participate in the subsequent elections and form the next government.

We had already fought three elections against Zanu PF and in each case had been denied victory by a combination of electoral manipulation and rigging, regional interference and the use of the armed forces as instruments of oppression. We knew what we were up against and better than anyone, understood what was needed in the way of reform.

In 2006 we rebuilt the party from scratch — after the split we did not own a motor vehicle, a bank account nor had any staff. The only asset we were able to retain was our head office building in Harare and this was either empty or occupied by various arms of the CIO.

In 2007, we succeeded in achieving our first goal: we forced Zanu PF to the negotiating table. At those talks, conducted in total secrecy at the insistence of the South Africans, we negotiated the Kariba agreement and secured the first round of reforms that were then put through parliament in October 2007. Mugabe was forced by pressure from South Africa to bring elections back from June 2010 to March 2008.

Another victory secured at this time was a consensus at the G8 summit in Gleneagles that the international community would support regional efforts for change in Zimbabwe and any resulting democratic regime.

In essence, in two years, the two MDC parties rose from the death bed of the split in October 2005, to really determining the way in which the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe was going to be resolved — without violence and on a legal and democratic basis.

In the March 2008 elections, it is now generally accepted that the MDC-T won both a majority in the lower House and the presidential poll. Despite that, South Africa did not stick to its stated principles and objectives. It allowed the regime to undertake a last ditch stand to defend itself in the form of a run-off campaign for the presidency.

When that failed, the South Africans compounded their mistakes by forcing the parties to the election back into talks to establish the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which was eventually signed in September 2008. Five months of wrangling and a political transition in South Africa, resulted in the GNU in February 2009 and this led to the debacle in 2013.

The MDC-T/MDC leadership got it right in 2006 — they were spot-on and they achieved remarkable progress in the following two years and were ultimately successful in beating Zanu PF. The problem was that former South African president Thabo Mbeki was no Kissinger or Carrington, certainly no Thatcher.

When push came to shove, he went with his own interests in South Africa and not the interests of Zimbabwe. In the succeeding years, despite every effort on our part and to a limited extent on the part of the international community (the Friends of Zimbabwe Group) the main problems were related to the fact that the region failed in its commitment to ensure Zimbabwe implemented the agreed reforms contained in the GPA.

More than anyone, we knew what was needed to break the grip on power by Zanu PF. Any reading of the GPA will show this in great clarity.
The MDC-T, having secured its position in terms of the agreement and holding a simple majority in government, supported by the guarantee in the GPA issued by regional leaders, thought its job was about done. Then the fight-back began aided by Marange diamond revenues.

Without the support and power exercised by the region, the MDC-T was unable to secure implementation of the GPA and when finally President Robert Mugabe was able to force through elections without reforms, there was little the MDC-T could do.

Tsvangirai stated at every rally in the 60 meetings he held in the weeks running up to the July 31 polls that whatever the outcome this election would be flawed and undemocratic. Just how much it was manipulated is now well known — I doubt if Zanu PF really gained more than 700 000 votes, the rest were fraudulent.

But the reality is that if the region, AU and South Africa accepted the outcome, there is very little the MDC parties can now do about it. Such acceptance is not based on principle; it’s based on self-interest and fear of the consequences of a successful transition to democracy in Zimbabwe.

Such a transition would be a threat to 12 of the 14 regimes governing in Sadc. For Africa, it sets back the democratic forces and the forces of law. In Zimbabwe, it negates the progress made in resolving the crisis that has gripped the country since 1980 — first manifesting itself in Gukurahundi, then the farm invasions, then Murambatsvina and finally the violence of 2008.

To me there is really no alternative now, but to go back to the basic strategies adopted by the 2006 congress — a united front for democracy, international consensus and support to force regional states to continue with democratic reform, and then a renewed attempt to implement the essential reforms needed for a free and fair election when that time comes in future.

While we do that, we must keep the country stable and try to get things working again and resume the recovery started under the MDC parties’ leadership in the past government.

Cross is an MDC-T member of the National Assembly for Bulawayo South.

To me there is really no alternative now, but to go back to the basic strategies adopted by the 2006 congress — a united front for democracy, international consensus and support to force regional states to continue with democratic reform, and then a renewed attempt to implement the essential reforms needed for a free and fair election when that time comes in future.

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