FOR an organisation in which many millions have invested so much hope and faith, the vibes coming from the MDC leadership must surely, be disconcerting.
No one can seriously doubt the political capital that the MDC has amassed over the last decade. Nobody can seriously belittle its efforts. No one can seriously underestimate the challenges it faces even in this inclusive government where its leverage is severely limited.
But millions will have been dismayed by the apparent contradictions coming from members of the leadership.
One thing seems clear: There is something seriously wrong with the manner in which the MDC manages and disseminates information. This, of course is not new.
At the height of the election season and the negotiations that followed, it was often hard to ascertain the true position of the MDC on account of the many voices and tongues that spoke on behalf of the party. There was a temptation to think that this multi-voiced system was a negotiating tactic but in truth it brought more confusion and whatever benefits such a “tactic” may have had were outweighed by the costs.
Sometimes the party looked confused in the eyes of observers, saying one thing, then another and doing a completely different thing. It must be said, this did not help its standing in the eyes of SADC.
In recent days, there have been indications that all may not be well at the top.
First, during Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s recent trip to the West, he faced some uncomfortable questions after a report by the BBC in which Minister for National Healing and MDC executive Sekai Holland suggested that all was not well in the unity government.
At that time, Tsvangirai was performing the unenviable task of selling the message that Zimbabwe was making progress under the new unity government. The apparent conflicting messages did not help and not even Holland’s attempts to wriggle out of the situation were credible since the interview had been captured on video.
Second, just prior to the Prime Minister’s return from his Western voyage, ministers from his party boycotted a cabinet session. The session had apparently been brought forward to accommodate President Mugabe’s trip to the African Union Summit in Libya.
The MDC ministers objected to this on the grounds that it was a snub to Prime Minister Tsvangirai who in their interpretation should have stood in for Mugabe as chairman of Cabinet on the regular Tuesday session. They felt that the rescheduling of the meeting was calculated to prevent Tsvangirai from assuming this role in Mugabe’s absence.
On his return Tsvangirai expressed sympathy with his colleagues’ decision and characterised it as a sign of frustration. More importantly, however, he was quick to quash any doubts about the implications of the boycott stability of the GNU.
President Mugabe later said in an interview that Tsvangirai had apologised for the behaviour of his colleagues. Tsvangirai has neither confirmed nor denied making the apology to his boss. Some supporters feel he did not have to apologise.
What is significant, however, is that the conduct of the ministers in boycotting the session was completely at odds with the positive message that the Prime Minister had been trying, against an avalanche of scepticism, to sell to the world.
There was an apparent contradiction between the actions of the MDC ministers at home and the words of the Prime Minister abroad. It didn’t have to be said in words; conduct alone communicated the message that what the Prime Minister was telling the world was not a fair representation of the truth.
It raises the question as to whether Tsvangirai was informed of the boycott in advance. If so, did he approve of it? In that case, why did he have to apologise to the President?
It seems to me that despite the public rhetoric, the Prime Minister did not approve of the boycott. If he was not informed, it begs the question why he was not advised of such a significant development. Was he deliberately by-passed by his subordinates on such an important and potentially embarrassing decision?
The boycott has been described as an MDC v Zanu PF power politics but is there, perhaps, another angle to it? Could it also be a reaction by the MDC ministers to Tsvangirai’s glowing appraisal of the unity government and its prospects during his Western trip?
There is a feeling amongst some members of the public and perhaps the ministers that the MDC is being taken for a ride. Were the MDC ministers chiding Tsvangirai for painting an overly rosy picture of the situation? This boycott could have been a message to the Prime Minister that no, Sir, all is not as well as you suggest.
Third, at his press conference after returning from the Western trip, the Prime Minister announced that Finance Minister Biti had negotiated and secured a $950 million credit facility from the Chinese. Biti, who is the Secretary-General of the MDC denied this claim.
Biti’s denial was later corroborated by President Mugabe who said this Chinese facility had been negotiated long before the inception of the unity government and could not be credited to Biti and the MDC. The recently resurrected Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru did not miss the opportunity to pour scorn on the Prime Minister’s claims.
It has left the Prime Minister looking like a man who does not play fair with the truth. Clearly, some wires crossed here and crucial questions arise.
On what basis did the Prime Minister make the claim about the loan? Did someone feed him the wrong information which later caused him to face the subsequent embarrassment of being accused of not being faithful to the truth?
Did the Prime Minister jump the gun in his haste to extol the efforts of his Minister and his party in the unity government after a Western voyage that yielded little by way of funds? Or was he simply ill-advised by those around him?
These are hard questions. What we do know, however, is that there is certainly something that needs to be attended to. It doesn’t help that another MDC Minister was quoted as having denied the alleged mass killings at the Marange diamond fields.
The faithful of the MDC will argue that it is improper to pinpoint the party whilst overlooking the other political parties (MDC-M and Zanu PF) that are probably in a worse condition organisationally. Their frustration is understandable but theirs is the biggest political party in Zimbabwe and not just that but one that has for a long time and for many people represented the great hope in Zimbabwean politics; millions of people have invested their hopes and aspirations in the party, giving it the political capital that has sustained it so far.
Such a status means that it attracts higher levels of expectations and with it, scrutiny. If it should fail, then much else will go not least the already fragile hope and faith in politics and political organisations.
But more importantly, any organisation that fails to engage in self-introspection is bound to go the same way as all others before it. An organisation must identify and acknowledge what it is doing wrong and not to simply shift blame onto others deflecting criticism, believing that its troubles are authored by some dark, mysterious forces out to get it.
Something is not right somewhere organisationally and it needs to be sorted fast. For a start, there must be better communication and more efficient systems of managing information.
The MDC still enjoys a great level of support and sympathy but it would be a great error if the party took all this for granted.
Alex Magaisa is based at, Kent Law School, the University of Kent and can be contacted on e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org