“The Future and Relevance of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe after the 2013 Elections”.
A presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute’s (MPOI) Public Seminar, Thursday 26 September 2013, New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha*
Let me begin by expressing my gratitude, as always to MPOI for inviting me to participate in this important debate concerning the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. As the title of the matter to be debated openly implies, it is a future that is being considered particularly in the aftermath of the July 31 2013 harmonised election. The reasons why the question is relevant relates to two things.
Firstly that the political opposition in Zimbabwe, which historically was at its strongest since 1999 and particularly in 2008, seems to be on the back foot. Assumptions of an inevitable victory or alternatively, movement from opposition to ruling party status appear to have been quashed by the disputed but politically accepted result of our most recent national election. Secondly, the issue of the status of the opposition and its future is emerging not only in relation to the existence of the mainstream opposition , the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), but as a generalized query as to whether there can be a viable, vibrant and potentially election winning opposite end of Zanu Pf in Zimbabwe.
Both considerations will evoke political emotion in many an opposition party supporter. Some who may not want to have all their sacrifices appear to have come to naught will defend to the hilt the current mainstream political opposition parties. It is an understandable reaction to any attempts to seek to analyse the reasons for the current state of affairs in the opposing political parties. Others who are sympathetic to the ruling party will argue that where the opposition finds itself now is a political tragedy of its own making.
They will over analyze the weaknesses of the mainstream opposition and claim that it was not grounded in the people. Or alternatively that it did not campaign adequately for the hearts and minds of the masses. This is also an understandable assertion given the right of every Zimbabwean to an opinion even if it is a biased one.
A departure point however would be to assess the opposition politics with an understanding that it will always exist in Zimbabwe and that it will not always be victorious. In fact the key issue is that there must always be an opposition to whatever government in power, not only in order for the replacement of the latter but also for critical and popular oversight. So I must make this particular point with emphasis. The opposition does not exist solely for the purposes of power acquisition, except only in cases where it claims to be leading a revolution, particularly in the short term.
The opposition in Zimbabwe has never laid claim to leading a revolution. It has talked of democracy, the struggle, but not revolution. And therefore, it has fundamentally been a collection of those that oppose not in order to transform Zimbabwean society, but to replace those in power. This has been a key characteristic of the mainstream opposition since independence and it is not a bad thing in and of itself.
The only problem that this tendency has faced is that of the long incumbency of the ruling party and its claim to be a revolutionary which in its own reasoning makes it somewhat unassailable.
This has regrettably led to the contemporary opposition in Zimbabwe taking the well trodden path of them versus us and no other particularly issue to oppose each other about.
It is an analysis that some will refute to the extent of bringing out manifestos to try and offer or prove themselves as an alternative. The truth of the matter is that the lived political realities on the ground indicate that the practices and strategies of the parties are all too similar. That is why for example, the patronage component appeared to have triumphed in the last elections with allegations of vote buying being placed before the Electoral Court.
In order to elaborate further, I will use the famous phrase from George Orwell’s Animal Farm novel. In relation to lived political experiences of the masses of Zimbabwe over and about political opposition and ruling parties, the most apt line would be “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
This brief analysis does not however to imply that the opposition has no future in Zimbabwe. In fact it lays the ground for it. The mainstream opposition that has emerged from the electoral process must take up the role of formal opposition with whatever seats it acquired for itself in the last plebiscite. Even if it claims it does not recognize the electoral triumph of the once again ruling party, it must swallow its pride and fulfill the mandate it sought from the people of Zimbabwe within the context of a new constitution it helped construct, albeit in an elitist and undemocratic fashion.
Furthermore, where it claims it is leading a ‘struggle’ it must demonstrate the necessary contrition at why the objectives of its struggle are far from met, even after its participation in an inclusive government. And finally it must bring its party elected leaders to account on the basis of their performance. If it is serious about its own future, it must reserve the right of political recall of the same said leaders.
But because the question posed here today is not solely about the mainstream and now formal opposition, it is important to explain the overall future tasks for the success of any opposition to the ruling establishment in Zimbabwe.
For the opposition to remain relevant and eventually ascend to political power, it must exist as an organic alternative to the ruling party. Even if the consequences can be dire. This would entail that the opposition understands and explains its founding objectives and values not only to its membership but to all of the citizens of Zimbabwe, no matter their station in life. It must also avoid mimicking the ruling party’s tendencies in relation to political practice at grassroots and articulate those issues that affect both the idealistic as well as mechanical life expectations of the people of Zimbabwe. It must not find itself caught up in the elitist trappings of power and their attendant materialism and ‘kiya kiya’ politics.
Mr. Chairman, if the question were not a qualitative one on the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe, I would say with certainty that opposition politics has a future in Zimbabwe. It is only a question of whether it will be an organic and people driven opposition or one that functions again in binary terms, of them versus us. In my view, the future looks bright for any opposition that listens to and continues to heed the call of the people for a social democratic Zimbabwe. And one that also remembers the famous quote from Guinea Bissau and Cape Verdean African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you would like to use this article elsewhere, please attribute it to takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com