IN 1995 the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Morgan Tsvangirai sat in his office thinking about the situation that confronted the Unions in Zimbabwe.
He had held the position for several years by then and was recognised as being an outstanding leader and negotiator.
The problem he was grappling with was that the national government under Zanu PF was simply not managing the national economy properly.
Everything he was achieving for workers was being wiped out by bad government policy and leadership.
He had been a member of Zanu PF all his working life, owed his position to the party which had engineered his rapid ascension to the position of secretary-general, thinking him a loyal and competent pair of hands.
Now he painfully recognised that his party and its leadership had to be challenged, civil society and the unions had to have more say in how the country was being administered.
What happened then is now part of our history. He started by calling for consultation and consensus on all policy issues, when that was denied, he decided that it was the constitution that was at fault and he called for a new national constitution that would reduce the power of the party and the president and create a more democratic State. He called for and then established and led an organisation called the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to promote this ideal.
Initially the new organisation was ignored by government; however it slowly built momentum until it could no longer be ignored.
The president established a commission to canvas views and draft a new constitution and then subverted the whole process and forced through changes that the NCA felt would not only negate what they wanted, but further entrench state and presidential power.
It was too much.
Tsvangirai decided that the ruling party had to be challenged. He began quietly canvassing the views of ordinary people across the country.
Eventually, convinced that the people wanted change, he announced the holding of a “Working People’s Convention” where the basis of a new party was crafted and agreed. The MDC was born.
In September 1999 he launched the party and declared that they would fight the February 2000 referendum on the new Constitution, followed by the parliamentary election.
Sitting at his desk in the ZCTU headquarters, he was visited by a peasant farmer from the South East of the country who told him that he had a vision where God had told him that the new party should use as its slogan “Real Change” accompanied by an open hand salute.
Morgan took this seriously and when the party took to the streets at the end of the year, he was appointed president of the MDC and the new party adopted both the slogan and the symbol for the subsequent electoral struggle.
The ruling party at first made a joke of the new boys on the block: “what can a train driver (Gibson Sibanda) and a textile worker (Tsvangirai) do for this country”, the state president remarked.
To which Morgan Tsvangirai responded “at least train drivers keep their train on the tracks”.
However when the new boys won the vote “No” in the referendum by a wide margin even with rigging, they were forced to review their views and the gloves came off.
In the subsequent parliamentary election, for the first time in 20 years, Zanu PF faced defeat; they scraped home with a majority of three seats.
In 2002, Tsvangirai squared off against President Robert Mugabe in the first presidential election since the MDC was formed. Tsvangirai won hands down but in a flurry of actions, the machinery of the state and the influence of South Africa came to Mugabe’s rescue and he was falsely declared the winner.
Zanu knew how close the election had been and the next three years followed by the election in 2005 were characterised by violence and intimidation as well as restricted political and human rights, and in 2005 they dealt the MDC a substantial defeat.
By now South Africa recognised that the ruling elite in Harare had become a regional problem. By systematically destroying commercial agriculture because they held the balance of power between the towns and the rural electorate, Mugabe was in fact destroying the economy.
Economic collapse was forcing millions into the Diaspora, most of them to South Africa where they were starting to destabilise the society and a fragile job market.
In response former South African president Thabo Mbeki sponsored two attempts to force Mugabe into retirement — in the first, the main casualty was the Jonathan Moyo/Emmerson Mnangagwa duo we see under renewed attack today.
In the second at the end of the year, the main casualty was the leadership of the MDC where a split was engineered and for the first time Tsvangirai’s leadership was challenged.
In the subsequent parallel Congress’s held by the MDC in early 2006, Tsvangirai re-established his control and in the next three years his challengers were consigned to the electoral wilderness.
At its 2006 Congress, attended by 18 500 delegates from all 12 party provinces, a roadmap was adopted which subsequently led to the negotiations with Zanu PF in 2007 and 2008 and then the March 2008 elections where the MDC won a signal victory over Zanu PF, securing a majority in the House of Assembly and with Tsvangirai beating Mugabe for a second time.
It was not to be and the MDC was again forced to accept second place by a combination of military and political power at home and a hostile Southern African region outside the country.
The Government of National Unity (GNU) gave the country a brief (four-year) respite from the failed leadership of Zanu PF and saw rapid recovery in the economy. However the GNU also gave Zanu PF the time and the resources (Marange diamonds worth US$10 billion) to prepare for the election and this time they put the campaign into the hands of a secretive Israeli company and the Joint Operations Command (JOC).
The MDC ran a superb campaign, in my view the best since we were formed but out-gunned by 20 to 1 in financial terms and completely outmanouvred on the ground and in the region. The MDC, like in 2005, was heavily defeated.
As in 2005, elements in the MDC again manoeuvred to try and take control and eventually, in a weird rerun of October 2005, secretary-general Tendai Biti led a walk out of senior leadership.
This time not as devastating as in 2005 when five out of the “Top Six” went with the secretary-general; this time only a small minority joined the dissidents in their call for leadership renewal outside the rules laid down in the party constitution.
We are now well down that road and again, Tsvangirai has retained the support and loyalty of the great majority of MDC supporters nationwide. This support is reflected in all structures — the standing committee, the national executive, the national council and all provincial and district assemblies.
The most recent meeting of MDC councillors in Harare that attracted well over 90% of all elected officials nationwide was just another example of this ascendency.
What I find difficult to understand is how such capable and intelligent people like Biti and Mangoma, both good friends of mine, can talk of leadership renewal via a route that is totally outside the provisions of the very party constitution that they crafted when they were in the MDC.
We are now preparing for our national congress, likely to be held later this year and when we do come together I have no doubt at all that Tsvangirai will be re-elected president of the MDC and charged with the responsibility of carrying the flag of real change into the electoral battles that lie ahead.
And if Zanu PF continue to carry on in the manner that they are doing at this moment, then I for one would not be surprised at all to see them beaten, soundly this time, by a resurgent MDC under Tsvangirai’s leadership.
The leadership debris of the process in the MDC is not made up of bodies but of failed challengers who are simply cast aside by the democratic process, and the loyalty of ordinary Zimbabweans from every walk of life to the man who has literally given his life so that they can expect better from their elected leaders in the future.
Eddie Cross is MP for Bulawayo South