*By Takura Zhangazha
Zimbabwe’s opposition political party landscape has, as expected, become much more interesting as the 2018 harmonized election approaches. And approaches at relatively breakneck speed though very few of us are noticing this. Especially because a lot of political actors are essentially pre-occupied with the immediate than with broader strategic considerations as to the full import of the election itself. By this, the general approach by many an election stakeholder outside of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (inclusive of political parties) is that they will handle each day/event as it occurs.
And a lot of events are happening especially for those that would run for political office via being in opposition. From the still to be resolved issue of coalitions and now to the emergence of independent candidates for the presidency , opposition politicians have a lot to work on. Especially if they are going to be in a perpetual panic about the impact of social media and individuals that are using the latter platform as a key mechanism of trying to reach out to younger voters.
There are some clear patterns that are however beginning to emerge around the opposition as the harmonised election in 2018 draws closer.
These are as they relate to how the opposition is configuring or reconfiguring itself. And this is not just in relation to what is officially the mainstream opposition in the form of the MDC-T. But also new players (at least via public announcements such as that by former cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo).
The main opposition MDC-T has some officials who are clearly not too pleased with the latter type of candidates. They have accused them of attempting to split the opposition vote. And given the 2008 experience with the Simba Makoni presidential candidacy, their concerns are quite understandable if not logical.
But so are those of those that are arguing against the MDC-T having a culture of entitlement to the opposition vote. Indeed the more the candidates, the more democratic things may appear. But sadly also the more opposition parties/candidates there are, the least likely it is that they will defeat even a faction riddled Zanu Pf.
These squabbles over ‘entitlement’ or ‘splitting’ the vote point to the lack of a unified understanding of the primary purpose of the mainstream opposition. Whereas in the 1990s and early 2000s being in the opposition was viewed as being a ‘virtue’ or a ‘people’s struggle’ against dictatorship, now it is seen more as a competition to be the first or most popular individual or party to confront Zanu Pf.
That basically means that the current opposition leaders including the new ones and those that will certainly emerge as the election draws much more closer are no longer bound by a ‘struggle’ unity but more by rank opportunism and political brinksmanship. The reasons for this are many but I will hazard a few.
The first is that our opposition leaders no longer share a similar consciousness. Very few of them come from a similar background by way of political experience and motivation. Even fewer of them exude any sense of self confidence that transcends desiring international recognition and mimicry of other sort of revered opposition leaders elsewhere. And even fewer of them adhere to a set rules of political principles or values. This is both for their internal and external political actions. But they all, perhaps correctly, want to be recognized for ‘having tried’ and in most cases for ‘continuing to try’ to fight the ruling party.
The second emerging issue within our current opposition ranks is that of class. Its relatively subtle but it was something I noticed with every major split in the main MDC-T. It would always be those leaders with a somewhat well to do economic or educational disposition that would be the first to announce a split. Those that are not necessarily of the MDC-T but have also set up political parties/outfits definitively have the same well to do backgrounds, even if they may have initially been part of the liberation struggle. In short, they can afford it (at least the initial stages of their movements/parties).
Even a majority of their followers will come from our still wannabe middle classes and upper classes (religious leaders included).
The third interesting element is that of age becoming a ‘wow’ factor in the opposition ranks. Not necessarily that you will find a young person seeking the highest office in the land via the opposition. Instead, what has emerged is an increase in young people in opposition ranks wanting to seek office in either parliament or local government. And its not just in the mainstream MDC-T but in a whole host of political parties and with efforts from some independent candidates. This will be especially the case in urban constituencies that are deemed ‘safe’ seats for the opposition. It is least likely independent candidates will win many seats but again no doubt they will undermine opposition numbers in any previously safe seat.
In the final analysis what is occurring, probably by default, is the normalization of our opposition rank and file. There is no major ‘struggle for democracy’ to talk about as of old. At least not with so many nodes of leadership that would lay claim to the same. Its all about electoral contestation and seeking political office for its sake. Hence the diminishing demand for the actions of the opposition to be couched in the virtuous language of ‘struggle for democracy’ or being ‘people-centered’. Its not a bad thing that this virtue has gone away. It is however naïve to act as though the current electoral framework is indicative of arrival. Or that by merely mimicking the ruling party, electoral victory can be had. But as always, one can only wish all political contestants all the best.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)