By Takura Zhangazha.*
When the inclusive government came into existence, discourse over and about the ‘struggle’ shifted significantly. Whether this discourse was about narratives of ‘arrival’, or alternatively, ‘continuity’, the conversations that were had were always inconclusive. In the aftermath of the July 31 2013 harmonised elections, questions that are now coming back to haunt or even re-focus many comrades relate to fundamentals. What is the struggle? Where is it placed? Has it come full circle? How does it continue (if it still exists)? All of these questions can only be answered on the basis of self knowledge, organic values, and democratic principles.
In saying the above, I am aware of the ‘judgment calls’ that will be made on any assumed self righteous assessment of the state of affairs in the mainstream national political opposition .This is because the answers are in and of themselves judgment calls on those that were leading the struggle .A struggle which I remain persuaded exists and does not end with the 2013 electoral defeat of the MDCs (and components of civil society) by Zanu Pf. This is because the struggle for a social democratic Zimbabwe has always been much more holistic and more important than all of the parties that were part of the July 31 2013 electoral contest.
At this juncture, it becomes important that I define the ‘struggle’. Our post independence struggle has been a struggle for social democracy in Zimbabwe. It is a struggle that has its roots in the values of the liberation struggle wherein, social and economic justice was the key deliverable for a majority of the people of Zimbabwe (even if by default).
It is a struggle that celebrated the achievement of national independence and a joyous desire to participate in the return of our people to the making of Zimbabwean democratic, people centered and self determining history .Where we welcomed our first majority rule government we remained cognizant of not only its challenges but also its primary mandate which was to fulfill the aspirations of the liberation struggle. This was and remains a mandate of all subsequent post independence governments.
In our collective understanding of these matters, we measured Zanu Pf (as the ruling party) on the basis of its ability to address and achieve the aspirations of our nation’s founding values and principles.
A decade after independence we were to find it necessary to challenge the political narrative of Zanu Pf and the fundamentals of the manner in which it was governing the country. We were there both in spirit and form at the formation of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) and sought to challenge the ruling party’s hegemony. We sought to initiate a narrative that the country did not belong to one party or specifically that the collective understanding of our national liberation was not singular.
Interpretations of the values of the liberations struggle were always going to be varied but without undermining the revolutionary historicity of the same. Similarly, the fact of participation in the liberation struggle was not the singular prerogative of the right to govern as regularly argued by our former liberation movements. Contrary to this view we recognized the posterity component of the struggle. One in which we knew and felt that the progenitors of the same said struggle knew and know that the ‘baton stick’ will be carried forward by subsequent generations.
Unfortunately, this latter understanding of our national politics let alone of the significance of the liberation struggle did not find resonance in the ruling Zanu Pf party .This was where and when it had disembarked from the revolutionary path and undertook elitist policies that negated the values of the liberation struggle.
Key among these elitist policies was the implementation of the World Bank initiated and sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs),which were to come to affect those of us born in the years preceding independence and those of us who are now collectively referred to as the ‘born free’ generation. Particularly in relation to employment, education, health, public transport and a democratic future.
The issues that emerged in the decade after our independence were no longer about towing any specific ‘party line’ but leading the country to social democratic prosperity. A challenge which the ruling Zanu Pf party was to prove incapable in tackling.
We therefore, and correctly so, took to exercising our liberation struggle won rights of assembly, association and expression, to oppose the hegemony of Zanu Pf . This was done through not only opposing ESAP via the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade unions (ZCTU), but also challenging the systematic narrative of political and human rights abuses stemming not only from our new found knowledge of the tragic events and state brutality that occurred in the Matebeleland regions in the early 1980s but also the failure of the state to meet socio-economic performance legitimacy requirements.
We correctly began to question the meaning of the liberation struggle for the majority. We remained aware of the ineptitude of government but were even more significantly aware of the challenges and responsibilities of alternative national leadership.
That is why toward the 20th anniversary of our national independence the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was formed.
The primary mission of the MDC was to embark on the historical path of fulfilling the remaining social democratic aspirations of the liberation struggle. Formed against the backdrop of a National Working People’s Convention, the MDC sought to re-engage Zimbabweans on the outstanding liberation struggle aims and objectives (including the outstanding matter of the land question).
True to its founding intentions, the MDC went to the people and began the process of reclaiming the country from the elite and back to the masses. This is why, in the elections of the new millennium, the MDC was to gain ground in both Parliament as well as eventually end up as part of the Executive branch of government with the assistance of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2009, only ten years after its formation. This ascension to national government office, controversial as it was, became evidence of how and why the MDC had gained national legitimacy in relation to being viewed by a majority of Zimbabweans as the movement to fulfill the remaining intentions of the liberation struggle.
In this, the MDC was not a creation of the West as Zanu Pf would want to allege. Instead, it was an evident demonstration of the people’s sentiment, one which was seeking political alternatives, hence the rise of the MDC to executive national office in a short space of ten years.
It was however not an easy road to effective and power acquiring counter-hegemony for the MDC. Mistakes were made, and most of these relate to the departure by the mainstream MDC leadership from a social democratic historical path and narrative of the people centered pursuit of political power and office. Both in terms of their internal genesis as well as the national understanding of the initial intention to fulfill the aspirations of the liberation struggle. The lack of historicity to their presence on the national political stage has been in part their undoing. And this against better advice.
Where discussions about their agreeing to the SADC mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA) have tended to justify their electoral defeat, these can only be described as exercises in political dishonesty. The reality of the matter is that the latitude that the MDCs had during their tenure in the inclusive government was intended to allow them to demonstrate their ability to not only govern but to demonstrate greater commitment to the holistic aspirations of the liberation struggle. Both as envisioned in the past as well as in lived reality.
The above is a key point to explain, because, whereas it was and has been claimed that the mainstream opposition did not have any ideology, the truth is that its genesis was premised on the basis of social democracy. Both in relation to its articles of constitution as well as in its political origins via the labour, womens’ and student movements. That the leaders of this counter-hegemonic project failed its own aspirations is an indictment of their ahistorical approach to it.
This point brings me to the particular issue of the struggle as I have defined above. It continues. It has to. Not because of individual egos or particular party aspirations. But more because this struggle for social democracy has and still belongs to the people of Zimbabwe. Therefore whether this generation of leaders genuinely and organically takes it up or not, it shall certainly be taken up by subsequent ones. Its new path however must be one that acknowledges past successes and failures, and one that specifically departs from celebrating cults and individuals instead of principles, values and objectives.
The struggle therefore continues but only in the sense that it must renew itself both in relation to its recommitment to its founding values and principles as well as in relation to its leadership. And this should be taken to mean that no one, no matter how many scars or wounds they bear, is above the struggle. Even founders of the post independence struggle for social democracy cannot claim to be beyond criticism. This is why, in the aftermath of July 31 2013, those that were tasked to lead the social democratic movement(s) must demonstrate the necessary national contrition and step aside.
Those who take up the mantle of leadership of the renewed and organic social democratic movement must now think more in the long term and holistically about both the prospects of the struggle as well as those of the country. This entails taking into account the fact that the setback of 2013 is less about elections and more about the lack of articulation of an organic democratic alternative for the people of Zimbabwe. They must go back to the masses, engage them on the most basic of issues and restructure the struggle, less in the pursuit of international recognition, but in the interests of the majority who are the ultimate judges of what national and local changes they both need and want.
In leading this necessary next phase of the struggle for social democracy, the new leadership must pursue organic intellectualism and outright respect for the everyday citizen as opposed to the arrogant and inorganic leadership that was demonstrated before and particularly during the tenure of the inclusive government.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.