“IF you take two Zimbabweans to the moon, leave them there and visit them the next morning, they would have formed three political parties,” the late Professor Masipula Sithole, one of Zimbabwe’s most venerated political scientists, once remarked.
By Hazel Ndebele
Although his remarks were in jest, they served to highlight how Zimbabweans are fond of forming political parties.
The country has more than 50 political parties, most of them hardly known by the electorate. Questions have been asked about the purpose and interest they serve.
As the 2018 general elections beckon, there are now countless parties jostling for political space.
In Zimbabwe there are no laws that compel political parties to register in order to legally exist and therefore it is easy for an individual or a group to form a party.
Currently the country has two major political parties represented in parliament, namely the ruling Zanu PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T. The MDC led by Welshman Ncube has one or two representatives.
However, there are a number of other political parties which have recently emerged, including Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party and the Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa-led Zimbabwe People First party.
Among the plethora of parties on Zimbabwe’s political landscape are Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu, Welshman Ncube’s MDC, Denford Musiyarira’s Zanu Ndonga, Simba Makoni’s Kusile-Mavambo-Dawn, Elton Mangoma’s Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe, Lovemore Madhuku’s National Constitutional Assembly, Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party, Acie Lumumba’s Viva Zimbabwe, Egypt Dzinemunhenzva’s African National Party and Cosmos Muponda’s Freedom Front.
There are also Barbara Nyangoma’s Progressive Democrats, Jacob Ngarivhume’s Transform Zimbabwe, Farai Mbire’s Zimbabweans United For Democracy, Gilbert Dzikiti’s Dare, Joseph Makamba Busha’s Free Zim Congress, Marcellina Chikasha’s Africa Democratic Party, Leornard Nkala’s Patriotic Union of Matabeleland, Noah Manyika’s Build Zimbabwe Alliance and Shaka Maya’s National Alliance for Good Governance, among others. There is also the successionist Mthwakazi Republic Party and Patriotic Union of Matabeleland.
The more prominent opposition parties are discussing a coalition which is likely to see the parties coming together to field one presidential candidate against President Robert Mugabe in the 2018 elections.
According to the Political Parties (Finance) Act of 2001 a political party is an association of persons, the primary object of which is to secure the election of one or more of its members to a local authority or Parliament.
Zimbabwe, with a population of 14 million people, has more than 50 political parties. Some political analysts are of the view that the quest to dislodge Zanu PF and Mugabe who has ruled the country for 37 years has contributed to the growing number of political parties, each keen on dislodging the long-time leader.
The laws of the country have also made it easy for anyone to form a party. The only time registration is obligatory is during elections when a party intends to field candidates.
However, the ever-increasing number of opposition political parties makes it difficult for the electorate to figure out the exact motives of these formations.
Professor Eldred Masunungure, who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said some political parties are created to cause confusion.
“There have been tendencies of creating opposition parties just to create havoc, confusion and infiltration,” Masunungure said, adding that having too many political parties reflects badly on a country.
“Other countries with larger population than us have only two political parties. Zimbabwe has become a fragmented multi-party state and this shows that the leaders of those parties have other personal motives in the formation of their parties, which are not of public interest.”
Many countries have two major political parties. The United States, for instance, which has a population of 318,9 million has two main political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, although several fringe parties such as the Libertarians and Greens also exist.
Masunungure said some of the ulterior motives of leaders of political parties include financial gain. Most political parties in the country depend on financial aid from individuals, businesses and private organisations.
After the 2013 elections only Zanu PF and MDC-T received public funding in line with the law which allocates money only to parties with at least 5% of the national vote.
He went on to explain that having too many opposition parties is a disadvantage when forming a coalition as people clash over ideas and competing ideologies, sparking fights.
“Having too many political parties does not mean a country is democratic. In fact, it speaks badly of Zimbabwe and is not at all an indicator of a democratic process. The ever-increasing number of political parties will make it more difficult to form a coalition and challenge the ruling party as each party will be fielding its own candidate,” he said.
In 2005, the now defunct Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) noted that the absence of laws for the registration of political parties has led to the emergence of “fly-by-night” political parties. The ESC then recommended the enactment of a law to curb the willy-nilly sprouting of political parties. Such a statute would enjoin parties to formally register. However, no such law has been enacted.
The ESC report claimed that the absence of laws for the registration of political parties had led to the emergence of “nondescript small parties with little content and no standing, let alone sustainability”.The report also states that the registration of parties will supposedly defend national security interests as the state could use the information so availed through registration to carry out investigations to ascertain the party’s intentions and to weed out potential saboteurs.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said many political parties may signify democracy if they are ideologically serious, or show fragmentation and confusion.
“Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe it’s only about three or four political parties that are serious. The others are just formations of political jesters, attention-seekers, donor funds-threshers and some decoys and political handiworks of Zanu PF as part of plot to preserve the status quo,” he said.
Saungweme said most of Zimbabwe’s political parties, one way or the other, fall into such categories.
“Most of these are not there to seek reform or change and promote democracy, but other self-serving or dodgy interests. Sadly, innocent voters get hoodwinked at times to vote for these parties whose interests are dissimilar to those of voters. Zanu PF inherited and adopted divide-and-rule tactics from British colonisers.
“They invent some of these many opposition parties to create confusion, provide a sense of multi-party democracy, yet reality is that democracy in Zimbabwe is a sham,” he said.
“The onus is on genuine opposition parties with unadulterated political programmes to sift through this labyrinth of devious opposition parties and coalesce with those campaigning for political reform or change. Otherwise they get infiltrated and then implode at the 11th hour.”