By Takura Zhangazha*
Four years ago, at the advent of the inclusive government, I once had an animated conversation with a lawyer and a businessman. Both were avid MDC- T supporters. They were both old school opposition activists.
That is to say, they had been there when the first University of Zimbabwe demonstrations occurred against the one party state in the late 1980s. They were also there when the second major opposition(after ZAPU) to Zanu Pf hegemony, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) was formed.
And they have been pioneers of civil society movements that eventually led to the formation of the Movement of Democratic Change that was formed in 1999. Primarily through the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (Zimrights), Zimbabwe Congress of Trade of Unions (ZCTU), or the the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).
These two comrades were our leaders and are of our former Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s generation. Both by history and by way of generational genesis. They were representatives of our intentions at leadership renewal and hope for a future in which we were or are still to have a part.
In the aforementioned conversation, I advised the comrades that politically their generation, given its leadership status, had to prove it was able to take us and the country forward.
Primarily because we had accepted and actively supported their leadership. But also because they had laid claim to leading Zimbabwe to a better democratic future. Given the fact that these two comrades were involved in the negotiation that led to the establishment of the GPA under Thabo Mbeki’s mediation, I advised them that they were in their last chance motel, as the Americans say.
They had a generational obligation to ensure that what they insisted they were leading us to was to become a reality. In the event of their failure we would not be at fault to call time on them. As it turns out, they have failed both electorally and politically.
Tsvangirai and his peers are at fault in four respects. The first being their inability to navigate the post Cold War discourse on democratization and free market economics organically. Instead of applying knowledge that they acquired by way of experience and education to local context they chose the easier but impolitic path of mimicry.
While they correctly chose to oppose repression in the form of Zanu Pf they erred in pursuing international recognition as a priority beyond local recognition. Where the agenda of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe was organically social democratic, with time they changed it to a neo-liberal one. And it is for this that they continued to ascend the ladder of global recognition. They were given international awards, including nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, yet still they could not demonstrate commitment to a cause beyond their own personal interests.
Secondly, this particular generation of leaders has sought a simplistic understanding of our coutry’s political economy. Like the Bernard Chidzeros’ of the 1980s, they found solace in prescriptive solutions to our country’s economic woes without learning from the past or from the experiences of other countries in similar circumstances.
They were enamored more to the Bretton Woods Institutions and external knowledge production systems before they understood their own local contexts. Hence they have been unable to effectively chart an organic economic way forward for the country. Instead their opposition to Zanu Pf major fault of disastrous economic management became more akin to representing global capital than representing the masses.
Thirdly, in their opposition to Zanu PF, they assumed electoral politics to be largely event and personality based. It has never been about a specific national cause. It was all about Robert Mugabe, his age and his repression without the articulation of clear democratic alternatives beyond the latter’s personality. Where they got an opportunity via the inclusive government to demonstrate their alternative, they fell back into the mode of rationalizing the economy on behalf of global capital.
Where they undertook, in tandem with Zanu Pf, a constitutional reform process, the sought their own personal and political imprints on the document to the extent that it has ended up being no more than an elitist and sharing of the spoils aggregation of state power. Even if Zanu Pf now governs alone.
Fourthly and finally, Tsvangirai’s and his peers mad e the mistake of assuming messianic tendencies where and when it came to political leadership. Like their rivals in Zanu Pf, they have presented themselves to the public as the only ones who can bring us to a political Canaan. They have held on to leadership positions even in the face of evident failure and have in some instances sold their souls merely to hold on to positions within the opposition movement. In this, they have come to mimic Zanu Pf and have unfortunately affected the ability of subsequent generations to learn how to lead.
Even after their Waterloo on July 31 2013, they refuse to be judged on the basis of their failures and are hoping for a miracle to resurrect them politically.
As it is, Tsvangirai’s generation has refused to demonstrate an iota of contrition for their failures. While they taught us how to oppose repression, they have failed to lift us out of it. Indeed they were pioneers in bravely opposing the dictatorial hegemony that is Zanu Pf but even pioneers pass on the baton stick. It is no longer enough to claim to be a founding member of a cause. It is the cause not the personality that must carry on.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)