IT was in 2000 when I had just begun my “A” level studies at Rupare High school in Bikita, Masvingo.
We were going towards the 2000 parliamentary election. Zanu PF had just lost a constitutional referendum in February of that year.
The Movement for Democratic Change had been formed in 1999 and was to participate in the 2000 election for the first time. The wind of hope swept across the country. I saw people being as hopeful as they were during the first decade of Independence (1980-1990). I did not anticipate the violence that was to come.
As we approached the 2000 elections, I witnessed and heard of iniquitous violence which I never thought would become a long and savagery chapter of our political system.
Violence-mongering elements mounted “roadblocks” in the villages. They stopped and searched vehicles for MDC materials. Those who were found in possession of these, or anything which is red in colour, were tortured or harassed. Those who would not stop had their vehicles stoned, many times injuring the passengers.
They visited teachers’ cottages and searched houses.
Many teachers went through nightmarish experiences. Schools were closed. Many of them were turned from centres of education to centres of interrogation and torture. It is conscience-wrenching to recount the horrors of June 27, 2008. It was the epitome of savagery of human against human. Entire homesteads were torched; livelihoods were destroyed or appropriated; eyes were gouged out; limbs were hacked and heads were crushed.
Villagers slept in mountain caves and along river banks. It was reminiscent of their excruciating experiences during the liberation war. I heard of heart-rending stories of old women, some in their 80s, who were flogged.
In September 2019, I visited my rural home. One day, I took a walk. I met a familiar village woman. During our conversation, she stated that she is a converted Zanu PF supporter. Her major reason for moving from the MDC was the belief that the party’s splits and focus on personal power and aggrandisement are evidence of its lack of appreciation of the hard sacrifices which have been made by its grassroots supporters.
She said: “ZveMDC hazvina shumo. Vanogara vachingorwa nekuparadzana gore negore. Havana futi kana chavanoitira vanhu. Vanomboziva here kuti vanhu vanovasapota vasangana nezvakawanda. Tarira kuurawa kwakaitwa vana Richard Chatunga na Richard Maposa. Umwe wakaururwa nemuururo waiswa mumoto. Umwe wakatemwa musoro.
Mapurisa haana kana kupindira” (MDC is always splitting year after year. Plus they have not done anything for the people. Do they even appreciate what their supporters have gone through over the years because of their allegiance? Just look at how people like Richard Chatunga and Richard Maposa were killed. One was burnt while the other’s head was bashed in. The police did nothing).
The other day, I was seating under the mutondo tree with my mother when another woman from the village came. We talked about many issues, including politics.
She told me that if I want to join politics, I should not follow the path of Jacob Ngarivhume, who is in the opposition. She enjoined me to join Zanu PF.
She said that in the village and surrounding areas, only Zanu PF supporters get food aid. “Dhongi rinomwa padhongi, mombe pamombe. Munhu ungasapota MDC inechii. Zanu PF ndiyo inebhegi. Izvezvi isu hatichemi chikafu. Vhunza mai vako. VeMDC vachafa nenzara gore rino, vachadya masilogani iwayo,” she said, with a strong sense of conviction and contentment.
This conversation was interrupted when a young man from the village arrived. He is an MDC supporter. He wanted to harvest some grass to feed his domestic rabbits. After harvesting the grass, he came and sat with me. I asked him how life was going. He said that “these old women are letting us own by voting Zanu PF”. He told me a long story of what he lost because of supporting the MDC.
I asked him why he continues to support the MDC. He said: “I cannot renounce my support for the MDC because I want food aid. All I want is a good economy. In a functioning economy, I can raise my own income and buy food for myself. I want what is good for us all, not for me alone. Right now, my family cannot get food assistance. It is tough but ok, we will have to work hard to put food on the table. That is why I have this project of domestic rabbits”.
These are the stories of many MDC supporters across the country. For the past 20 years, they have sacrificed, even the last drop of their blood, for what they believe is a long fight for the common good. Let me now turn to the story of MDC leadership.
It is incontestable that the leadership has fought against enormous odds, but there are also many areas of concern. In 2005, the party encountered a split because of controversy over whether to participate in the senatorial elections of that year.
The splinter group formed MDC-M, which was led by Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube. Job Sikhala formed MDC-99. The MDC witnessed another split after the 2013 elections. Tendi Biti formed the People’s Democratic Party and Elton Mangoma formed his own party. In 2018, it split. Thokozani Khupe limped away, but claimed leadership of MDC-T. Chamisa morphed the party into the MDC-Alliance. On March 31, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled, quite expectedly but strangely, that Khupe is the legitimate leader of the MDC.
The MDC’s narrative is that these splits are caused by infiltration by Zanu PF. The brutal truth is that this is a convenient and scapegoating narrative. It is the MDC itself which creates a fertile ground for infiltration.
To be blunt, the root cause is greed. When Biti left the MDC in 2013, he vociferously argued that the party had been “hijacked” by a “fascist clique” which uses violence, abuse of power, ethnicity, and informal methods to run party structures and stifle internal democracy.
In 2016, I interviewed a number of MDC leaders and supporters as part of my PhD studies. The general sense was that the splits are caused by personal egos, top-down decision-making processes, the rewarding of hero-worshiping, the repression of critical thinking, loss of moral compass, corruption, greed, internal violence, and the creation of parallel structures.
It is not only about fights and splits. During the Government of National Unity, the party’s representatives focussed on feathering their own nests. Municipal authorities under its leadership have been characterised by corruption. Its parliamentarians have demanded “obscene” perks and benefits. Its lawyer-politicians have defended former Zanu PF politicians in the courts.
In 2017, it participated in the events which led to the removal of Mugabe by mobilising its supporters to march on November 18; by expressing the eagerness to participate in the impeachment process and by attending the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa. It was evident that the MDC’s major ask was the formation a coalition government.
When this failed, its emissaries advocated for the retention of sanctions before the US Committee on Foreign Relations. On August 1 2018, six demonstrators were shot and killed and more were injured. Chamisa stated that the demonstrators were “stupid, very stupid” because the results had not been announced. On the delivery front, the MDC has merely promised a “new Zimbabwe”, without much tangible delivery. It is now 20 years, but there are no “pockets of delivery” which demonstrate its willingness and capability to deliver a “new Zimbabwe”.
Impoverished MDC supporters are willing to sacrifice their wellbeing and even lives, for what they believe is a long struggle for the common good. But alas, this is not the case with MDC leaders. Where and when their power ambitions hit a rock, they are ready, not only to walk away, but to turn back and wage war against the MDC, even if it means working with Zanu PF. It leaves one wondering whether they have been fighting for the democratic cause.
MDC leaders should not be judged on account of how long they have been in the party, but of what they can do to pursue and retain power, or when they are frustrated, especially in respect of their power ambitions. Using this barometer, despite its shortcomings, it is arguable that the majority of MDC leaders are not in the struggle in order to seek the common good. They do not appreciate the depth and breadth of sacrifices and suffering which the party’s supporters have gone through for the past 20 years. This is a sheer pity, and my heart goes to these Wananchi.
We should never again make the historical mistake of believing the myth that those who lead the struggle are the most important cadres of the struggle. Whether historical, present or future, the greatest custodians and cadres of any struggle are the people themselves. It is common to see MDC leaders sharing pictures of themselves, especially where and when they were victims of brutality. They use this to push the narrative that they have suffered in the struggle for democratic change. Sure? Do you want us to show you the pictures of grisly remains of ordinary people who were murdered, whose limbs were hacked and eyes gouged out, of villagers whose entire homes and livelihoods were torched to ashes, of children whose parents or guardians were murdered? None of the crop of MDC leaders, past and present, suffered as much as the ordinary people did.
To be fair, after 20 years, one would expect MDC supporters to ask whether it is worth the fight, pain and loses, when the party’s leaders are largely fixated on feathering their own nests. MDC leaders should be made accountable, they cannot be immune to criticism, and they cannot hide behind the bogus smokescreen of infiltration. But sure, this is not the MDC’s struggle. Let me divert and conclude with the following quotations, whatever their import:
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” (Assata Shakur).
“Dictators and authoritarian regimes are not easily removed from office through democratic means.” (John Makumbe).
Tofa holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of Johannesburg and a PhD in Peace Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org