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By Francis Musoni

birth of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999 was a significant moment in the country’s post-colonial political history.

With a carefully chosen and well articulated rhetoric of Mugabe Must Go as its launch pad, it was not surprising that the MDC soon gathered a lot of supporters and sympathizers in Zimbabwe and abroad.

Within a short space of time the MDC and its civic allies managed to successfully mobilize Zimbabweans to vote against the Zanu PF government’s draft constitution in February 2000, wrested some 57 parliamentary seats from Zanu PF in the June 2000 general election, and fell 400 000 votes short of pushing Mugabe out of State House in March 2002.

Thus barely three years after its emergence, the MDC had become THE hope for Zimbabweans the majority of whom are poor peasants living in the rural areas and very lowly remunerated workers in the country’s cities.

However, today, the MDC seems to have lost the momentum. The honeymoon is certainly over, and the opposition camp is not in good shape at all. Apart from retaining only 41 out of the initial 57 parliamentary seats in the 2005 general election, the party has split into two factions and it has also lost most of its Zimbabwean civic allies and international sympathizers.

Many people now believe that the opposition has lost steam and is no longer positioned to liberate suffering Zimbabweans from Mugabe and Zanu PF. Inevitably a lot of people who were in the fore front of the struggle for A New Beginning and a New Zimbabwe three or four years ago have thrown in the towel. Indeed the going has become really tough and unbearable.

Paradoxically, whilst people are losing hope in the opposition, life in Zimbabwe is becoming more and more difficult, and poverty is evidently on the increase. Mugabe and Zanu PF do not seem to be concerned about finding a long lasting solution to alleviate human suffering either. Instead, their priority is to further entrench their grip on power. Theirs is a kind of domination without hegemony and they don’t give a damn.

As have been said by other concerned voices over and over again, the generality of Zimbabweans also do not seem to be prepared to fight the misery that they find themselves in at the moment. Opposition forces have tried most several strategies that have worked in many similar situations in Africa and the world over but they have not succeeded in removing Mugabe and Zanu PF from power. Because of this many people are currently asking what problem there is in Zimbabwe and how this can be resolved.

Whilst I agree with many people that Mugabe has since become a liability for the country and that he can easily be characterized as the Zimbabwean crisis itself, what I see as the major problem in Zimbabwe at the moment is the opposition’s obsession with removing Mugabe from power. By directing resources and energy towards removing Mugabe from power, the opposition forces are missing the political plot, and they are in fact shooting themselves in the foot. The Mugabe Must Go rhetoric made a lot of sense during the formative years of the MDC and it helped them to demystify the invincibility of Mugabe and Zanu PF, but such rhetoric has since become ineffectual. It has obviously over-lived its usefulness.

As far as I am concerned the fight to remove Mugabe from state house was won in 2002 and it is no longer relevant to continue waving it as a trump-card in opposition politics. In coming up with an Action Plan anchored on removing Mugabe from power, as the Tsvangirai-led MDC did at its March 2006 Congress, and popularizing the ‘ever-coming’ mass protests to force Mugabe and Zanu PF to the negotiating table, the opposition is behaving like a soccer player who continuously hits a ball which is already at the back of the net when his team is trailing by a wide margin. Why do people continue to sing Mugabe Must Go when Mugabe himself conceded to such a call a long time ago and has since packed his bags? What is at stake at the moment is not Mugabe but the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.

The mistake that the opposition is making is to perennially bask in the successes it achieved during the early years of its life. For the opposition, all the present problems that Zimbabweans are experiencing are supposedly going to end with the removal of Mugabe from state house. Such kind of thinking has seen opposition forces adopting narrowly conceptualized strategies with predictable negative results.

Apart from limiting and narrowing their options and strategies the Mugabe must Go rhetoric has, of late, did nothing but plunge the opposition into several traps that Mugabe and Zanu PF have set up since the 2000 general election. For instance, it has become very difficult for them to escape Mugabe’s propagandist claims that the MDC is a western implant whose single objective is to effect regime change in an otherwise peaceful country. In this vein the MDC’s continuous call for the removal of Mugabe from the throne helps them in no way other than to project themselves as mere power-hungry lunatics.

Listening to and observing the actions of some opposition leaders sometimes makes me wonder what they will do if Mugabe decides one morning to quietly sneak out of the country never to return again.

The fight for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe which unfortunately the opposition has not seriously engaged is apparently the source of Zanu PF’s weakness at the moment. Within Zanu PF itself, the rhetoric of Long Live Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe has evidently died out and everyone wants to take charge of a Zanu PF and Zimbabwe without Mugabe.

What complicates matters is that Mugabe himself is threatening to go away with both the party and the country against the will of many in his party and government. Why on earth should the MDC and their allies continue to waste their and our time asking Mugabe to go when his own party has long since accepted that the old man is out and gone? Rather than fighting for the past, the opposition should fight for the future. What New Beginning do they talk about if they stand aside and look while others fight for the future of Zimbabwe?

Shifting attention from an obviously out-going Mugabe to a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe does not mean forgetting that Mugabe and Zanu PF are the source of massive suffering among Zimbabweans today. It does not mean joining hands with ZANU PF until Mugabe has finally left either. This simply means re-shuffling of cards to put the right one on top. What the opposition wants to do is to re-build its image of a serious political party and strengthen its structures country-wide. Doing that should not be viewed as a draw-back, but rather a natural process of continuous re-building that every organization goes through now and again. Rather than waiting to react to Zanu PF’s ill-conceived policies the opposition should escape Mugabe’s traps by embarking on an offensive and aggressive, but non-violent campaign to educate the masses about what the MDC is and what they stand for.

Of course the majority of people have heard about the MDC, but very few understand the opposition’s political philosophy outside of Zanu PF’s propaganda. How then would one expect people to sacrifice their dear lives for a cause that they do not know?

While it is true that people are suffering, and that many have had enough of Mugabe and Zanu PF, they are not aware of what the opposition really represents. Although the majority of Zimbabweans can hardly remember anything good that Zanu PF did for them after 1990, none of them can afford to ignore the ruling party’s violence and intimidation which they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Memories of a formidable opposition party that almost took power from Mugabe barely four years ago have since been distorted, if not erased completely. It is a pity that where opportunities have availed themselves for the opposition to articulate their great plans for a future Zimbabwe, such plans have been over-shadowed by anti-Mugabe rhetoric.

Having said all this, I still remain convinced that the current opposition has the capacity, and in fact is better placed than a Mugabe-less Zanu PF to take charge of Zimbabwe’s future. They have the brains, energy and will-power to change things for the better in Zimbabwe.

Francis Musoni is a Zimbabwean student based in the United States. He can be contacted at:


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