ONE great man once said, “Desperate times require desperate measures.” While I strongly accept this philosophy, and while I might have applied it myself at different times, it is only problematic on a macro level: when it’s the philosophy of a government or the most popular opposition party in a country. This is the case in our Zimbabwe.
The political system of our great nation is run on desperate measures by both political divides though of course this philosophy can be avoided if both sides in the political spectrum apply some conscious effort. The effects of desperate politics have devalued our country and it us on the lower levels of the political hierarchy who feel them the most. Like the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled,” most of us have seen and experienced the suffering.
The great nation of Zimbabwe has come a long way since its black sovereignty in 1980. However, the political inertia has forced the country to be economically stagnant and become a place of diminished hope. Our political leaders have invested most of their time masquerading as guardians of the gains of the liberation struggle, yet at the same time weakening the country both economically and militarily.
A poorly-governed state cannot protect her citizens nor defend her sovereignty against external threat. All politicians chanting the chorus of safeguarding the gains of our independence struggle should do the ever patient Zimbabweans a favour and pave way for a new chapter of economic growth and sustainability. This is a message to all politicians: stop toying with the people of Zimbabwe.
The birth of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the brain child of the civic society, in September of 1999 was largely seen as the dawn of a new era by Zimbabweans from all walks of life. I vividly remember marching on the streets of Glen-Norah with my older brother Maxwell. He believed in the movement, and we marched like everyone else who had faith in this movement, singing songs of hope and new life. I was a nine-year-old boy then, but I was knowledgeable of the status quo then and as a result I was driven by the people’s faith in this new movement. Mukoma Maxwell used to say, ”Mufana zvinhu zvakutochinja” (Things will change soon young man).
To Mukoma Maxwell and other faithful followers, a new political platform was born which was supposed to propel us into a new economic and political system that was going to take us into a prosperous future. Our hopes were high but false.Advertisement
While I do believe that the MDC was formed with a sincere intention of ushering a new political dispensation in Zimbabwe, over the years it has become more of a “desperation party.” The MDC is a “desperation party” not because they can’t deliver real change, but simple because they have taken the people of Zimbabwe as the sacrificial lamb to maintain their political relevance. They have set for themselves standards and created expectations that they have failed to deliver. Are they the new “Zanu-PF” of post-colonial Zimbabwe?
Driven by their motto of “change,” the MDC won the support of the people of Zimbabwe.
Over the past three decades Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe have clung to power by revisiting and privileging on the liberation struggle rhetoric. As a country, we need to move beyond that. On the other hand, the leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has overstayed at the helm of the party. I am starting to see a potential problem with his lengthy stay as the main leader of the opposition movement.
I don’t have a problem with Tsvangirai’s leadership qualities but the culture he is creating or perpetuating in Zimbabwe’s political circles. One might argue that he hasn’t been in power yet. An opposition is a government in waiting; the same constitutional protocol that a sitting president adheres to should be the same one that a legitimate opposition party leader should stick to. The culture of giving up power when one’s legal term ends does not start in government only; it’s a culture that has to be cultivated from the grassroots levels; opposition parties are not exceptions.
This culture of overstaying at the helm of a political movement should end. Like his antagonist Mugabe, the Tsvangirai brand has become bigger than the MDC’s brand. This was obviously realised when the original MDC movement split in 2005. The split proved that Tsvangirai was indeed a bigger brand than the MDC and that he had established himself as the un-budging epicenter of power. He even boasted about the fact he was the MDC and the MDC was himself at a political rally in Kuwadzana in 2005.
Undoubtedly, Tsvangirai is the main force of the opposition movement, but he can contribute to the movement in many ways besides being at the helm of the MDC. He is a hero to many Zimbabweans including myself. His courage and his advocacy to bring democracy to Zimbabwe is encouraging to young and aspiring politicians like myself. He has paved ways for many of us and that’s why we know of the enormity of the task ahead of us.
Politicians like Welshman Ncube, Job Sikhala, Paul Themba Nyathi, Priscilla Misihairambwi and others who failed to acknowledge at the time (2005) that Tsvangirai was bigger than the movement they were a part of are still struggling for political relevance.
Here is how Tsvangirai’s overstretch of his tenure has devastated the movement. A smaller faction of the MDC led by Ncube, defaulted to the “desperate politics” game, and appointed former student leader Arthur Mutambara who at the time was an unknown figure in Zimbabwe’s politics. Some might argue that he was a former student leader at the University of Zimbabwe, but that was a long time ago and he was already a forgotten figure.
The MDC-M’s need to achieve political relevancy made them appoint a political rookie leaving out political gurus like the late Gibson Sibanda and Paul Themba Nyathi in the shadows. Mutambara himself was not in support of the Senate elections, he said at the time, “My position was that the MDC should have boycotted those Senate elections. I guess then that makes me the anti-Senate leader of the pro-Senate MDC faction. How ridiculous can we get? That debate is now in the past, let us move on and unite our people.”
It is obvious that this faction’s line of thinking was mainly influenced by tribal affiliations. Though, Mutambara being Shona was the rightful candidate to be the face of a party that wanted relevance not only in Matabeleland but in Zimbabwe, desperate politics forced them to pick an individual who couldn’t win a parliamentary seat in Zengeza. One understands the motive behind the Mutambara appointment; however it’s disappointing to note that his appointment was not based on political principles but marketing principles that disregard people’s desire to have legitimate politicians leading the country. Professor Ncube in his learned capacity and his cohorts took the people of Zimbabwe for fools; they thought that we could not see beyond tribal lines. This lack of respect for Zimbabweans by political heavyweights is worrying, and it’s high time the people of Zimbabwe vote such leaders out of power.
Zimbabweans deserve better politics and government. Zanu PF is not spared from this desperate politics game. In fact they have mastered it so well that it has become part of their culture. While they deserve all the credit for bringing freedom to the people of Zimbabwe, they should also take responsibility for bringing down a vibrant economy. Like most revolutionary parties across Africa, Zanu PF was not ready to govern Zimbabwe in 1980. All these revolutionary parties were a fighting force, and not formed with a vision for years beyond colonialism. Zanu PF and most revolutionary parties found themselves facing a new challenge; a challenge they were not ready to face: running a country.
The old Zanu PF that did not see a problem with waiting for 10 years before they could amend the constitution, which trusted that all British governments would abide to the Lancaster House agreement to fund the land reform program, is still the one in power. It would be harsh to blame the politicians who were present at the Lancaster House Agreement, but one cannot help but see the early signs of desperate politics. They were desperate to acquire a free Zimbabwe, and that was noble.
But 18 years after independence, in 1998, we would see the surfacing of the consequences of desperate measures taken at Lancaster House and the consequences were brutal. In 1997 the liberation fighters demanded compensation packages and in their bid to keep the loyalty of war veterans, Zanu PF decided to give them ZW$50,000 payouts which were not budgeted for. The next morning, the Zimbabwean dollar crushed and it is yet to recuperate from the shocks of this recklessness and impudence. The unnecessary interventions in the Congo civil war of made sure that our weak economy sunk deeper. We all watched in horror and shock.
Zanu PF did not stop their desperate politics there. After the MDC included the land issue in their manifesto in the run to the 2002 presidential election, Zanu PF had to respond quickly. In a forced move to regain its jeopardised political relevance, especially in the wake of a devastating loss in the referendum on a new constitution of 2000, Zanu PF turned to the land redistribution strategy. The fast-track land redistribution was born specifically for that reasoning.
While I find no problem in giving the people of Zimbabwe their land, it was the manner in which the process was executed. Zanu PF disregarded the effects of such a move to an already fragile economy. The liberators of Zimbabwe wanted to stay relevant, and here was an opportunity to stay relevant but at the cost of exposing Zimbabweans to the hardships that then followed this disastrous strategy enacted by a handful of elites in Zanu PF.
Shortly after land redistribution, Operation Murambatsvina of 2005 was born. This operation targeted slums in the urban areas. This idea (Operation Murambatsvina) is noble at face value; a government taking measures to keep the cities clean (what a great government we have!). However, that was not the reason for the birth of this clean-up campaign. Many supporters of the opposition live in the big cities; most of them are poor workers who cannot afford decent housing. Zanu PF targeted these people in order to weaken the MDC’s political support in the cities.
This move by Zanu PF backfired as the slums resurfaced a year later. Then instead of kicking the people away from the cities, Zanu PF came up with the indigenisation programme. While it is, at the core, a move to create wealth for the big shots in Zanu PF, it is also a desperate move to gain the support of the city population which has been difficult to get over the past decade.
The years that followed the farm invasions were the worst years in Zimbabwe’s young history for the politicians kept playing their games of survival at the expense of the people. Zanu PF was quick to blame the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. The sanctions were unwarranted and they mostly affected the average Zimbabwean. As a student in Zimbabwe in 2008, I experienced firsthand how deeply the economic meltdown affected students’ life not in school only but also in their homes.
The coalition government was supposed to be the saviour. Indeed it stopped the downward spiral of the economy, but it did not provide lasting solutions. First of all it was a forced move by Zanu PF to stay in power and re-group after the loss in the March election of 2008. The two political parties have relatively worked well together and there have been some positive things that have come out of this coalition government.
While the Zanu PF administration is to blame to a greater extent, the people of Zimbabwe should also take a fair share of blame for being docile and letting few individuals turn the country upside down. Zimbabweans are tired of mediocre governments and political parties that respond to situations but do not have policies set to avoid events that have a negative impact on the people of Zimbabwe.
It is one thing to be desperate as an individual, but on the other hand the fact that a politician can disregard the people of Zimbabwe in a quest to stay relevant is disturbing. Desperate politics have been the order of the day in Zimbabwe, and it’s impacting our country negatively. We deserve better politicians. Zimbabweans it’s time we vote out of political systems that promote desperate politicking.
Zvikomborero Matenga is a senior at Wesleyan University, CT, USA