By Takura Zhangazha*
The outcome of the main opposition MDC-T Extraordinary elective congress have seen a myriad of reactions from the public and pundits. It is a good thing. Not least because the MDC-T remains the largest opposition party in Parliament .
There were three major issues that emerged from it. The first being the fact that it was held to elect or give fresh mandates to incumbent or new leaders. The second being that it made recommendations for structural changes to its constitution. The third that it also had resolutions that sought to look at what it perceives as key challenges faced by the country.
The importance of these three aforementioned developments is however in no order of preference as all of them are closely interlinked. The reason for this being that the party has tended to mix the three up with relative ease.
From statements of how the party cannot do without its re-elected leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, through to its internal divisions based on the distribution of power (presidency vs secretary general) and its intention to wrestle power electorally from Zanu Pf on a democratic change platform, the end result was always going to be a mixture of personalities, power distribution in the party and eventually decrying the state of national affairs.
True to form the issue of personalities and their indispensability in the party emerged as the most triumphant. The top three positions in the party were retained uncontested by Tsvangirai, Thokozani Khupe and Lovemore Moyo (president, deputy president and national chairman respectively) . This has been the leadership of the MDC –T through two major elections. One which was highly disputed (2008) and led to an inclusive government. The other which was more a shock in defeat (2013) and led to the severe weakening of the party’s parliamentary presence.
That their congress chose to retain the same top three leaders is down to the oft repeated issue of the party president being a ‘brand’ who is still deemed to be the only one capable of dislodging the ruling party from government. It is a characteristic that has seen it through two successive splits with Tsvangirai remaining at the helm of the main and larger MDC. And given his lack of contestation at this recent one, it is something that is not going to change soon. Or for at least the next five years.
In the same vein, there were and remain assumptions of the importance of personalities in the contest for the fourth most powerful position in the MDC-T. Where Mwonzora and Chamisa squared off for the post of Secretary General, allegations were that the former got the favour of the president in order to win. The thread of borderline personality cult and control continued to emerge. Other views however hold that the congress electoral process was in itself free and fair with the more popular candidate emerging victorious.
In both sets of views, one can discern a lack of an evident internal democratic culture in the party, where initially there were disputes over nominations and then disputes over congress electoral results both based on the roles played by individuals and not party rules or regulations.
This then brings into view the issue of the recommendations to increase the role of the party president in the administration process of the party. Some of these functions were initially the prerogative of the secretary general. It can only be surmised that these recommendations are the end result that the party’s presidency intended to prevent a situation where the secretary general exercises power without its direct supervision.
This intention at centralisation of official party authority around the presidency may be convenient but undermines intra-party democracy and the all important sharing of leadership responsibilities. It is a marked departure from the general principle of collective leadership responsibility that may not bode well for an opposition party that needs to harvest more than it discards capable and empowered leaders. Especially where this concerns constitutionally given roles and processes.
The final import of the MDCT-T congress was in how it sought to speak to the broader concerns and challenges it deems are faced by the country. True to its long standing tradition and history as a party that originated from labour, its resolutions reflected more a tinge of social democratic ideological outcry of the state of affairs in the country.
These were however short on solutions and therein lies the problem. It is not enough to claim distraction via internal processes of the party on addressing much more robustly the challenges the country is facing.
Congresses may have electoral contests but these should not overshadow immediate and urgent issues that must be placed within the public domain as emanating from a party that has the broader issues ordinary citizens are challenged with as a priority. So their congress should have had prior meetings to discuss its broader socio-economic agenda for the country going forward, even if at provincial levels and finalised the same at their important meeting.
Finally, it is healthy to still have an opposition in Parliament. Especially one that is willing and able to hold a congress. What is however more important is the democratic national character it portends beyond electoral contests, personality clashes and internal distribution of power. In this, the MDC-T and many other opposition parties still have a lot of work to do.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)