By Takura Zhangazha*
Zimbabwe’s mainstream political opposition is in serious trouble. Its continued diversification or factionalism would have been viewed as progressive if ours was already a democratic society. Unfortunately it is not. But neither is the call for democratic change in the country universally accepted. Especially on the basis of democratic value or principle. Add to this, the lack of acting for posterity and we have a recipe for disaster in the opposition rank and file.
Arguably there is much in common between the opposition and the ruling party. From personality cults through to longue duree political leaderships spiced up by ambiguous rhetoric about development, most times it is difficult to discern one from the other.
Bu the mainstream opposition has had to forge a character of its own over the years. A character that saw it enter parliament and even government after SADC intervention in 2009. The defeat that was mutedly predicted and publicly decried in the 2013 general election should have been a cause for serious introspection for the opposition.
After all, it had been part of electoral and constitutional reform processes that it publicly defended to the hilt against better advice.
As to be expected in the aftermaths of heavy political losses, no matter how controversial, opposition parties tend to split. Ours have been no exception. The reasons for their new found factionalism appear to range from blame games for losses through to desires for what are largely cosmetic changes to leadership and even just basic but often times dangerous cult-like personality clashes.
All of which neither improve nor serve even the minimal performance tenets of a democratic opposition or a continuing struggle for people centered democracy in Zimbabwe.
In order for the opposition to find its bearings once again, there are five tasks that it must undertake in order to be directly relevant to not only the general political economy but also to remain as viable alternatives to the ruling Zanu Pf party.
- 1. Being Grounded in its own Historical Genesis and Remaining true to the Founding Democratic Principles: All opposition parties have a past or reason to exist. It may be an event or an ideological consideration that led to their formation or eventual strengthening, but all the same, it is a past that must be remembered continuously in the work of the opposition parties. Remembering it however entails a continuous recognition of the founding democratic values, principles and actions to seek to achieve the intentions of seeking power. A continual thread of remembering the past without being imprisoned by it will mean that the actions taken by subsequent leaders remain organic and contribute to the creation of not only a democratic culture but an historical accountability of both opposition leaders and members.
- 2. Embracing Internal Democracy : Our opposition has generally argued that it is in a struggle and that they cannot fathom changes to founding leaderships. In the aftermath of their electoral performance in 2013, the opposition leaders would be well advised that the age of long term struggles under a leadership that is not accountable to its members while convenient does not in the end bring the desired results. Mimicry of the ruling party in this regard does not work either, especially if one is claiming to be a credible alternative party. Disputes must be resolved amicably and policy differences must be measured on the basis of founding ideologies, values and principle of the party.
- 3. Continual Engagement of Members in Policy Formulation and Organic Actions: It is not enough to seek to run a party on the basis of popular events. Party policies must be regularly debated, linked with economic and social realities at basic party structure level as opposed to occasional lip services by national executives. This would entail that individual and especially grassroots members are regularly empowered to debate policy positions and to respond to socio-economic conditions with contextual perspectives. It is also a mechanism where ordinary members are given an opportunity to lead on issues of broader concern to the public. Where members are left to wait for rallies and the holding of by-elections, the party generally takes the undemocratic path of event based activism which is breeding ground for vote buying and the creation of internal oligarchs.
- 4. Ensuring Organic Cross Generational and Gender Representation- In most opposition movements, there is limited scope for the participation of young Zimbabweans in key policy making processes. A successful opposition party will respond with urgency to the needs of Zimbabwe’s young on the basis of their socio-economic concerns and with the intention of ensuring that these are represented at the highest levels of important party documents or structures in the party. This in order to not only to keep in touch with young citizens but also to ensure the development of a future leadership in the party that is grounded in democratic values and principles from an earlier stage.
- 5. Linking Policies with Civil Society Concerns: In order to understand broader society, opposition parties need to look beyond eh pursuit of power and understand the aggregation of interests in the societies in which they operate. Where research is done into what non-political actors (churches, labour unions, students unions, residents associations, youth groups, womens groups, war veterans, farmers unions, civil servants unions, business associations, informal traders interests) party policies must respond to these in order to not only incorporate them but to demonstrate a greater understanding of the challenges Zimbabwean society faces.