IN what should have been important news, only to be overtaken, with rapidity, by events at last weekend’s Zanu PF youth interface rally in Bindura, a fortnight ago, an international news agency, Reuters, published an interesting piece suggesting that a backroom deal had been, or was being discussed between opposition parties and one of Zimbabwe’s Vice-Presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Simukai Tinhu,Political analyst
Understandably, the battering that Mnangagwa has recently endured at President Robert Mugabe’s hands, his wife Grace, and his political franchise, the G40, has seen many analysts dismissing this idea as a dead project.
The endless assaults have left Mnangagwa’s position in the party, and in government seriously weakened. Indeed, some have suggested that he should resign, to save face.
The rationale for the deal, the Reuters report suggests, is for the purported coalition of the opposition and Mnangagwa to give room for a transitional process,which analysts argue is needed in the aftermath of Mugabe’s departure.
The resultant transitional government, Reuters further claims, will work on attempting to achieve national healing by setting out and implementing political and economic reforms. The news report goes on to say that, in order to facilitate the work of the transitional government, 2018 elections will have to be suspended.
Hitting wrong note?
It was the last part which spawned a quick, robust and disdainful refutation of Reuters’ claims by the MDC. In an official statement, the main opposition party indicated that the chances of entering into a post-Mugabe coalition government with Mnangagwa were not only remote, but non-existent.
Indeed, in acknowledgement of the opposition’s swift response, within a few hours of having penned the article, the same Reuters authors, Ed Cropley and Ben Brock released another piece confirming the opposition’s refutation of a possible deal with the embattled vice president.
What could be discerned as the other main reason for dismissing the idea, at least from the rhetoric of its elite, seems to be the conviction that against either an unpopular Mnangagwa or a 94-year-old Mugabe, the opposition has a better chance, of winning both legislative and presidential in 2018, than at any time.
To the opposition, Mnangagwa’s move is motivated by an awareness that his government is likely to lose the next election. As a result, the logic of this argument is that by extending his hand to Tsvangirai, Mnangagwa and Zanu PF is searching for a political lifeline. The opposition should not be tempted as victory is within sight.
This is not 2008 revisited, or even 2013. In other words, this disheartening assessment reflects optimism which is not only dangerously unrealistic, but should have no place in the brutal politics of nations governed by liberation movements. The poor assessment also demonstrates the opposition’s ignorance, or inability to grasp the depth of the difficulties it faces in its attempts to dislodge Zanu PF from power. Without a coalition of opposition forces, each of the opposition parties including the MDC, are weaker than Zanu PF.
As alluded to above, in the statement and some of the senior opposition figures’ rhetoric, the reason for this objection to Mnangagwa’s efforts at post-Mugabe coalition government appears to be the undemocratic nature of this strategy, particularly the suggestion at suspending the 2018 elections.
This stance is in line with notions of “democratic dispensation”, “justice” and “human rights”, which have been the opposition’s preoccupation. Indeed, in the opposition, politics is never talked about in terms of taking power, but elections. And, elections.
The preference for a legal route to Zimbabwean politics, reflects the composition of the opposition. The top echelons of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, Tendai Biti’s PDP and Welshman’s MDC are packed by legal scholars and practitioners. These tend to look at Zimbabwe’s politics through legal coloured glasses. But as demonstrated by post-colonial history across the globe, law or the constitution, are the most barren and abstract routes imaginable to ascending to political power in states with entrenched regimes such Zanu PF.
To address this disengagement from practical politics, the legal opposition (I will call it legal since it is so obsessed with legality, as opposed to political Zanu PF) will have to start thinking more and talking more about how to take power, and worrying less about perfect democracy as such a state is elusive. Only by doing so will it understand that Mnangagwa’s gesture might be undemocratic but not absurd.
The MDC’s scoffing at the idea of a deal with Mnangagwa is a also a product of obstensible moralism among some of its leaders. Because of its preoccupation with moral turpitude of Zanu PF leaders, to some of the opposition’s elite, there is a potential heavy moral cost for being sympathetic to Mnangagwa’s cause let alone contemplating an alliance with him.
To be sure, in Zimbabwe, there is no politician who is seamier than Mnangagwa. The Midlands godfather is too tainted by claims of his role in 1980s atrocities in the Midlands and Mateleland regions; government’s crackdown on peri-urban opposition supporters in 2005, which became known as “Operation Murambatsvina”; and the 2008 second round election hecatomb against opposition supporters, which saw hundreds of MDC potential voters dead. In a case that has even gripped the First Family, Mnangagwa’s nastiness is said to have found an outlet by confining a love rival to a wheel chair.
The opposition’s leadership has not been spared from this entrenched national obsession with Mnangagwa’s legendary ruthlessness. The Manicheans quarter, who are very influential in the opposition are concerned with painting themselves as bible-do-gooders and others such as Mnangagwa bad.
This is part of the opposition’s meta-narrative against Zanu PF. Thus, the MDC is on the side of right and Mnangagwa is on the side of wrong and the two cannot be part of the same struggle. The Mnangagwa who has killed and maimed innocent lives violates the purity of political transition that the opposition wants to see in Zimbabwe.
But for the purists and Manicheans in the opposition, in the imperfect world of politics, such thinking is not misplaced. It does no good to invoke some allegedly superior opposition morality against some supposedly inferior moral superiority of Mnangagwa despite that their causes are increasingly converging.
This is trouble with equating politics with Christian morality. It limits imagination and obstructs from pursuing what is practically achievable. The cause of the practice of politics, which is power is lost in these moralistic tendencies.
In Africa, there are seven post-independent liberation movements. The story of these liberation movements in Africa is the story of deviation from the political behaviours of other political parties in the region.
Their aberrational characteristics are familiar to scholars of politics.
First, all of them are firmly in power. Second, all of them are not only omnipresent but firmly entrenched in their societies, state structures such as bureaucracy, the security sector and the judiciary and even in the supposedly “independent” civil society and the “private sector”. Third, most of them are brutal or have the instruments or capability to be brutal.
After The National Liberation Front of Algeria, which has been in power since 1962, Chama Chama Pinduzi in Tanzania and MPLA in Angola, Zanu PF could be considered to be the most entrenched liberation movement or, for that matter, political party in Africa.
To dislodge it from power requires little of elections, but more of thorough reconfiguring Zimbabwe’s society, state structures, the judiciary and even the civil society through expansive reforms. With an unbridled sense of entitlement to power, which is characteristic of liberation movements, this is certainly something which the current generation of Zanu PF leadership will not allow.
As the catch phrase goes, Zanu PF cannot reform itself out of power. In other words, removing Zanu PF is not going to be an event that can be attained through a one off 2018 election, but should be seen as a process that is likely to obtain incrementally with the help of those in the liberation movement.
The events of 2008 demonstrate how crucial ruling party elites are in a political context that is governed by a liberation movement. Through bhora musango or electoral sabotage by the late General Solomon Mujuru and his wife Joice, Tsvangirai’s MDC-T almost made history by being the first opposition party to topple a liberation movement. In other words, how bhora musango aided the opposition’s fortunes in 2008, should serve as a powerful reminder that value judgements — legal and moral — as contained in the MDC-T statement and various of its officials’ rhetoric against Mnangagwa’s overtures, must be separated from clear understanding of the potential results that could be offered by an alliance with Mnangagwa.
As the reality in other countries has demonstrated, almost every opposition political party that have toppled first post-independent governments, which are in any case, less entrenched than liberation movements such as Zanu PF, have done so by compromising their principles in order to form alliances with rebellious, defecting or defenestrated elites from ruling parties they had grave doubts.
One can say the history of successful opposition parties in Africa is largely a story of how opposition initiatives and those of renegade ruling party elites interlocked. If the opposition neglects this reality it is not only likely to fail, it is likely to trigger a process that will strengthen or entrench the very political system they are trying to dismantle.
What must MDC do?
Despite Mnangagwa’s battery by Mugabe and his G40 last weekend, as it stands, the reality to moralists and purists is that the vice-president, more than anyone else, still has a better chance than anyone else at becoming the party’s president. It will take his defenestration from Zanu PF to seriously undermine his ambitions.
Thus, rather than eternal demands for political and electoral reforms that are never going to happen, this realisation must take centre-stage in the opposition’s calculations. Projections of a likely Mnangagwa presidency should force the opposition to reassess its strategies, and seriously consider reorienting towards an alliance with Mnangagwa’s faction. The unsavoury Mnangagwa and his faction can be the vessel through which political change can be attained in Zimbabwe.
This certainly is a disturbing suggestion for the opposition that has grown weary of Zanu PF and for those who want to lend the state of Zimbabwean politics to Christian morality and Western legality. But, it is important to remind ourselves of the significance of Zanu PF extending its hand: For years, Zanu PF viewed politics as a struggle between “us” and “them”, with the “us” and “them” being sometimes defined in primal and irreconcilable ways.
For example, in the 1980s thousands of mostly Zapu supporters died in state-perpetrated atrocities. And, in 2001,in an unprecedented move, the leader of the opposition, Tsvangirai was beaten by state security agents.
This tragic view of politics continued until Zanu PF was forced into coalition that they did not want in 2009. The coalition government which followed the bloody 2008 election was not perfect for the opposition, as there is no perfection in politics.
But, though a less satisfying result, the political union provided the platform that gave the MDC parties the much-needed government experience which they can now use to attain incremental change. Today, all that they need to attain that change are the tools to do so. Those tools are state structures which the opposition can only access when in government as cabinet ministers or bureaucrats.
Mnangagwa’s move is not only redrawing the historical boundaries between “us” and “them”, but it is remarkable that given the legendary Zanu PF intransigence, the ruling party is not being forced by Sadc, Britain and the EU and also potentially explosive social and political circumstances as in 2008 to extend a hand towards the MDC.
Though most likely to be a cynical strategic improvisation on the part of the liberation movement, the opposition should also take it as an opportunity that they can use to further its agenda, probably in its own cynical way.
Tinhu is a political analyst based in Harare.