ANOTHER year has just dawned but all indications are that the malaise and further fragmentation that has been a feature of opposition parties and politics in Zimbabwe in recent years will continue despite the next general elections being only two years away.
MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the motley crew of unknown opposition politicians who gathered at the Anglican Cathedral in Harare last month, to sign a document imploring government to introduce electoral reforms, provided what was probably the clearest illustration of the malaise to be expected this year.
On that hot summer afternoon on December 1, Tsvangirai sat at the high table in the company of largely unknown leaders of obscure parties to sign the petition, an initiative which although noble, was certainly undone by the failure to speak with one voice. Among the parties that turned up were African Democratic Party, Transform Zimbabwe, Free Zimbabwe Congress, Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment, Zimbabwe United for Democracy, Zanu Ndonga and Freedom Front Party. Conspicuous by their absence were Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn founder Simba Makoni, MDC-N frontrunner Welshman Ncube, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Tendai Biti, Zapu stalwart Dumiso Dabengwa and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ) head Elton Mangoma.
Ancelmo Magaya of Zimbabwe Divine Destiny, the conveners of the meeting aptly summed up the fractious nature of the opposition parties, saying: “I think, by nature, political parties being political parties, don’t trust each other. It is very tough because we have postponed (the signing) once or twice.”
Although former Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa, signed the petition two weeks later on behalf of People First, a yet to be formed political party headed by former vice-president Joice Mujuru, the absence of other key players did not augur well for the opposition where mistrust and mutual suspicion has been the bane in attempts to forge a united front to challenge President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF. That same mistrust also resulted in the still-birth of efforts by retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare to bring together opposition players into dialogue to achieve a coalition in preparation for the elections due in 2018.
And as 2018 draws closer, there is still no sign of the parties ever finding common ground. If anything the continued factional squabbles in the opposition ranks point to further splits.
Divisions continue to be commonplace in opposition parties with the fight between Tsvangirai and MDC-T national executive member Nelson Chamisa being the most keenly watched.
The splits and infighting in the opposition are notwithstanding the fact that the ruling Zanu PF party is engaged in its own deadly infighting pitting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa against a group calling itself Generation 40, which has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Infighting in the ruling party has already claimed Mujuru’s scalp alongside several other former party heavyweights such as Mutasa, former spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, leaving the party considerably weaker.
And while Zanu PF appears to be at its lowest ebb, opposition parties are faring no better.
There has been speculation that Mujuru’s imminent entry into opposition politics will give opposition parties fresh impetus, given her liberation war credentials and long history in government, but some players have been unsettled by her presence.
Although People First officials have indicated they want a coalition with other parties ahead of the 2018 elections, some in the opposition have already thrown a stop sign in her way before formal talks begin.
Chamisa in November last year described Mujuru as a “politically troubled soul … who cannot expect to come straight to the driving seat”.
MDC-T national youth leader Happymore Chidziva was even more scathing, saying it would be a “great betrayal of those who died for the democratic struggle if we are to be seen to work together with people who presided over the abuse and killings of our people in Mashonaland Central (Mujuru’s home province).”
Political analyst and academic Eldred Masunungure says “ego-based politics of the opposition leaders rather than any serious differences in ideology” is responsible for the disunity in the opposition.
Probably the opposition politicians have not heard the time-honoured aphorism that in politics there are no permanent friends and enemies, just permanent interests.
Masunungure expects the malaise and fragmentation to continue this year and beyond.
“There should be some kind of coalescing of the opposition parties, an understanding that they are facing a common enemy in Zanu PF. They will have to come together under common understanding not necessarily common ideology because in any case most of the opposition parties do not have a coherent ideology,” Masunungure said. “But I don’t see that happening because of the dominance of personal egos. There’s too much ego-based politics such that it’s difficult to envisage Biti working harmoniously and energetically with his former boss (Tsvangirai). The same goes for Mangoma and Ncube.
“I don’t think they will agree to suspend their personal differences. I don’t see Tsvangirai deferring to Mujuru as the leader or vice-versa, so you have a fundamental problem based on egos and there’s a failure to see the bigger picture which is the national interest.”
It was once said of France’s 19th Century Bourbon king Charles X that he had “learnt nothing and forgot nothing” and this was on account of the fact he repeated the same mistakes that had led to the downfall of his predecessor King Louis XVI who was overthrown by his subjects in the French Revolution.
The same can be said of the opposition parties in Zimbabwe who, as the 2018 elections beckons, appear determined to travel down the same road of disunity and bickering which has cost them in previous elections.
As Masunungure summed it, the “winner will be the incumbent Zanu PF party and its leadership. That is why it can afford to quarrel publicly because there is no serious external threat provided by the opposition.”
And the loser can only be the national interest and the opposition parties themselves.