WHEN the MDC was formed in 1999, it was expected to provide a democratic alternative based on upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This was necessitated by Zanu PF’s leadership and policy failures which had led Zimbabwe down a disastrous path.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
Democratic interface and freedom were expected to be the MDC’s foundational pillars as it sought to change Zanu PF’s entrenched repressive political culture.
There was a lot of promise at the beginning, but the trouble was that foundation was flawed in many respects. While the MDC’s vision was good, there were problems with the assemblage of constituent groups, quality of leaders and the ideological base, among other things.
Being a party formed as a broad church encompassing a wide range of groups and opinions, or an eclectic mix of trade unionists, academics, professionals, farmers, students and civil society activists, among others, who had different interests and expectations other than the common objective of removing President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF from power, it was always going to be difficult to keep the MDC ideologically intact and coherent.
Put differently, being largely a protest movement, with weak ideological and organisational foundations, there was always danger the party could split or crumble as it lacked deep social roots in communities and was thus fragile.
While founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his trade union colleagues were brave and better placed at the time to form the MDC, the reality is their quality as leaders was poor. Tsvangirai and the late Gibson Sibanda — the driving forces behind the original MDC — were good activists, but not really quality leaders.
It appears the MDC’s benefactors understood this from the beginning. Former US ambassador to Harare Christopher Dell’s diplomatic cable about Tsvangirai’s leadership qualities says it all. Dell might have been harsh, but many agreed with his observation.
The issue about the MDC being ideologically weak or even vacuous also applies. Because of that, social or protest movements often have serious internal conflicts of ends and means. When such groups with various and even competing interests coalesce, especially for short-term tactical purposes, participants may have different and sometimes conflicting ends and preferences of the means.
Besides, the MDC’s politics of protest was a disaster-prone strategy. There was always a danger that after exhausting itself in protest battles against Mugabe, Zanu PF would have been in the meantime updating itself, retooling and regrouping, that is devising new counter tactics and refurbishing its fossilised ideology.
So as time went on, instead of presenting itself as a viable alternative to Zanu PF, the MDC deteriorated into a negative protest movement solely motivated by removing Mugabe from power. In the process, its values and principles as well as broader vision to change society were sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
MDC leaders later forgot that opposition politics is basically about presenting an alternative and always standing opposed to the incumbent through their value system and policies.
What then happened is that because of that lack of resolve and purpose, the party abandoned its founding values. Hostility to dissent, intolerance and violence crept in. The use of violence, now structural and systemic in the party, and impunity became a preferred political instrument for some.
Yet this is not only a violation of founding MDC principles, but also a mockery of democracy and rejection of what the party purportedly stands for.
In short, embracing repression, personality cult politics and overstaying in charge began Zanufication of the MDC. This at a time when the party is fighting an asymmetric battle against a state with far more resources than itself, and when the MDC should be showing that even after manipulating elections, Zanu PF, led by a nonagenarian, remains inept; for that reason representing the past, not the future.