Tuesday, 18 February 2014

5 (Sad) Reasons for Violence in Zimbabwe’s Largest Opposition Political Parties.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Any political opposition to a long standing ruling party will always suffer the burden of being scrutinized in greater detail than its nemesis. In the age of social/new media, this tendency becomes even more widespread as many citizens and even supporters can generally express either their support or disapproval of the actions an opposition party takes in pursuing political power. 

In the case of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition, the recent major outcry, and correctly so, has been its seeming (re)embracing of internal politically motivated violence to resolve what has been largely character based leadership differences.  Or if the leadership denies such allegations, then it is the easy resort of components of its membership to violence that is a cause for serious consternation.

But in order to move beyond disapproval, shock and condemnation, it is also important to begin to analyze potential reasons for this sort of undemocratic opposition politics.  Particularly in Zimbabwe’s largest opposition parties.

I have tried to narrow down the reasons to five short ones as follows:

1.  Mimicry: In Zimbabwe’s post independence politics, there is a general pattern of what academics have referred to as ‘the past being in the present’. In most post independence opposition politics, because of the resorting to violence by Zanu PF to suppress both grassroots and general dissent, the mainstream opposition has tended to take on the character of its political rivals. Both internally and in how they interact externally with the electorate or their rivals.

In their being victims of brutality at the hands of the state, power comes to be ultimately viewed as the ability to mete out violence. Even if it was towards one’s political own.

So at two levels, internally and externally, the system established by a longue-duree ruling party comes to be viewed as ‘successful’ political organizing, especially by those at the helm of also long suffering opposition parties or movements.

Even more so when they have harrowing experiences, not unlike those of the ruling party in acquiring power, of being arrested jailed, tortured, violently displaced or losing their loved ones/comrades in arms in the name of the specific cause which they were involved in founding. 

Especially  where and when these opposition leaders feel they are being ‘unprocedurally’ challenged without due recognition to their ‘brave’ or ‘founding’ status’.

2. Leadership’s Sense of Entitlement and Borderline Messianic Tendencies:  This is a point that is directly linked to the first one above. Contemporary Zimbabwean opposition leaders have referred themselves to be leading a ‘struggle for democracy’. They have however sought to justify their continued presence of leadership to their ‘struggle’ movements by claiming, and unfortunately so, that you cannot change the captain of the ship before reaching the destination.

What this has led to has been a sense of entitlement to leadership ostensibly on the basis of the opinionated assumption that it is only the captain that set off on the journey that must complete the journey.

Well, even at sea, depending on whether the captain is staying the original course, this is not a cardinal rule.

 What this has done, and again unfortunately, is to inculcate into the membership the development of ‘cultist’ opposition leaders whose primary task has remained that of being exactly that, opposition leaders.  In the process they construct systems of patronage that come with either political party or donor funding and where they need to do so, employ the age old tactic of mobilizing their members to act only when there is money or material benefit. 

3. Lack of Intraparty Democracy, Inconsistent Ideological Pretexts and Inorganic Membership: Interlinked with points 1 and 2 is the fact that in order for opposition leaders  to remain at the helm they therefore must have a membership in  name or for the purposes of a founding elective congress, a rally or a protest.

Beyond that, the membership is generally idle and left to its own devices. This makes the membership not be clear, from grassroots upwards, of the specific causes for which the party stands for and its broader vision for Zimbabwe. 

Where elective congresses or issues of leadership renewal occur, there is a huge tussle and unfortunately in most instances, a violent contestation for control of structures that will have at best been skeletal or in the end,  purchasable by the highest bidder.  It is a common characteristic of many an opposition party to claim to be on the proverbial ‘ground’ when in fact the ‘ground’ does not even know it exists beyond the next event.

In all of this there is a consistent disjuncture between ideas articulated by the national leadership and those experienced or mobilised for on the ground. 

4. Scrambles for Resources without Accountability: With opposition parties come donations. Both from within the party and from without. Leadership in most of these opposition movements becomes a personal quest to control whatever resources are raised or thrown at the party, especially after a publicly anticipated launch of the same. 

Mechanisms of accounting for the resources are made secret ostensibly to keep rivals in the dark, but instead these resources are used for both personal aggrandizement and keeping ‘reserve armies’ of activists ready for times of political contestations for power. 

Even membership fees, the basic token of commitment to the opposition party rarely get audited or reported back on as to their utilization. This creates an atmosphere of mistrust and competition that feeds into the above cited three points and an evident lack of the principle of collective responsibility both in political and financial transactions.

5. Poverty, Unemployment, Generational Praxis  and Predatory Capitalism: There is always the broader fact that political formations reflect the character and ‘real’ values of the societies in which they are not only formed but also operate.  Zimbabwe’s contemporary opposition has emerged from the politics of disempowerment through both a repressive state and a national economy that was dominated by what in present day parlance is referred to as predatory capitalism.

In articulating its founding, our mainstream opposition spoke to the existential circumstances of the late 1990s in both social democratic and popular terms. With time, and given the gravity of the economic crisis at the turn of the century, the latter people centered narrative was allowed to be reversed with the complicity of the then and current leadership to one that was more acceptable to global capital than it was to its own progenitors, the people of Zimbabwe. 

In the process, society took on a character of its own without the guidance of the opposition (and not even the ruling party) which has come to be more a ‘survival of the fittest’ framework while viewing politics as not part of the solution but part of the problem.   Instead, opposition politics then becomes an initial avenue for young people onto the gravy train and therefore, it is in most cases all or nothing in pursuing patronage in order to get a job, a meal or the $1 to make it back home and try again tomorrow.  

Hence where there are reports of violence, elections , there is always fervent participation or evident apathy, respectively,  from what are referred to as the ‘youths’.

Either way, politics is now fitting the unjust economic and social system more than it should redress it. And with that, unfortunately, there is always the specter of politics by way of aggrandizement and sadly, without the people.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)