I read with great sadness, a story that appeared in a local daily, The Newsday, about the two MDC factions having a public spat about victims of political violence. The Biti faction, through its spokesperson callously accused the Tsvangirai faction of having abandoned victims of political violence for ‘wives and houses’. In turn, the Tsvangirai faction also through its spokesperson, accused their newfound rivals of not only being elitist but also having abandoned victims of political violence.
While one understands that rivalry in opposition politics has been generally about petty grandstanding and name calling, this particular spat is not only tragic but callous. It points to a political leadership that appears to have no sensitivity to actual victims of political violence. Nor any sense of contrition for their shared failure to assist/rehabilitate the same.
In the process there is a sense of desperation on the part of the factions to want to claim those sizable number of supporters who have long been feeling abandoned after losing relatives, limbs or property through political violence. These supporters are however not naive or simply victims. Given the fact that a number of them are in positions of leadership in either factions, they do not have any intention of leaving their respective placements if their issues are not addressed. Instead, they intend to negotiate for a greater stake in the political processes of their camps.
Especially by way of leadership positions based on the recognition of not only their suffering political violence but also their ‘staying the course’ with one faction or the other.
This is all understandable particularly for those members who are finding themselves in a position in which they are now important to their respective national leadership. They have probably found new leases of political relevance due to the infighting, but at least its a recognition that had been missing for some time in the then united MDC T.
The more serious reflections are however the evident intentions of the factional leaders to scramble for this one-time abandoned party constituency. The fact that they have now decided to publicly accuse each other of allegedly abandoning party victims of political violence in favour of opulent lifestyles is not only political opportunism of a dishonest nature. It is also a politics that sacrifices the seriousness of the issue of political violence and its victims at the altar of short term political expediency.
It is most unfortunate that both factions of the MDC-T have embarked on a public blame game on this issue. Thee end effect of such will be in two particular respects. Firstly that the entirety of the issue of victims of political violence will be weakened in national discourse due to its continued politicisation or its being viewed from the accusatory angel of one faction over another. This will undermine its being viewed as a holistic national issue that must transcend factional party politics in order for it to be legally and culturally impermissible in our body politic.
Secondly, the very fact that being close to or being a victim of political violence is now possibly being presented as a legitimating act in the pursuit of leadership, or at least viewed as a demonstration of authenticity, does not bode well for opposition politics in Zimbabwe. It is bad enough to be a victim of political violence, an occurrence that must be taken most seriously particularly in terms of the rule of law than expedient political grandstanding only for the purposes of garnering factional support.
Instead of name calling, it would be democratically preferable if either of the two factions placed generic proposals on transitional justice on the policy table for consideration by the Human Rights or the National Peace and Reconciliation Constitutional Commissions. Or any other legal body they find constitutionally fit to deal much more holistically with the challenge of seeking justice and compensation for victims of political violence.
Finally, one of the key debating points around issues of political violence has been its one-sided nature, particularly where it concerns the ruling party supporters and state structure victimisation of opposition party members. In this debate, it is emerging that a new trend of a shared political traits and characteristic of a culture of violence might be affecting all major political parties. Both internally and in part externally. Especially in cases where there are congresses or general elections to be held. The issue therefore becomes a problem that cuts across the political divide, though at varying scales.
It is therefore a problem that is no longer in need of opportunistic partisanship but a much more concerted and holistic approach. While its effects and structural occurrence will not be solved overnight, it would be a good start if the MDC factions demonstrated good and organised leadership in seeking to address it.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)