Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC risks losing relevance

THE turn of the century saw the emergence of a new-fangled and red-hot political opposition. The new party, with a strong labour backing, could be described earnestly as a total package; it had it all: from trade unionists, student leaders, distinguished academics, workers, the middle class to the ordinary common in the street.
Identifying with the suffering masses and the downtrodden at a time when everything begun to crumble like a deck of cards in the land between Zambezi and Limpopo, the party was magnetic drawing hundreds of thousands in record time.
The party, in its infancy, went on to wrestle 57 of the 120 parliamentary seats in the 2000 legislatorial election giving Zanu PF its biggest scare in history. It was a huge feat for a party hardly a year old. The young party had done what no other opposition movement had ever done in the history of post-independence opposition politics. The united MDC kicked Zanu PF in the shins, awakening it from a deep slumber. Its antics of 2000 is historic.
It can be safely said that the turn of the millennium saw real battle lines being drawn on the Zimbabwean political topography. Here was a real fight; a fight that put Zanu PF to the defence; a fight that has somehow kept Zanu PF on its toes in the last decade and half.
The MDC gave people a basis for comparison. It was unheard of that an opposition party could scoop more than a million votes in a single election against a then default election winner; Zanu PF. Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe United Movement (ZUM) emerged in the late 80s, made noise and fizzled out. Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zanu (Ndonga) also made a mark on the political landscape successfully defending a single seat for years but could not last the distance. Margaret Dongo’s Zimbabwe Union of Democrats (ZUD) also came, made noise and plunged into oblivion.
But the year 1999 brought something that had nearly everyone standing up in scrutiny. Here was something that upped the hopes of long-suffering Zimbabweans. The emergence of the MDC and its sterling performance in the 2000 parliamentary election was like a long awaited bus that would take people to the Promised Land. The Zimbabwean dollar had started on a free-fall then; prices of basic commodities had started a march towards the north, food student riots were fast becoming the order of the day.Advertisement

Perhaps, it is for this reason that some critics have maintained that the MDC was an opportunist party; but I digress. With the increasingly volatile national situation, the MDC became a formidable alternative to better governance. To say that the MDC was a threat to Zanu PF rule would be to put it mildly. The MDC, at its inception, had become some sort of government-in-waiting. It had the country eating from its palm and it is sad that many unfortunate deaths of activists also resulted from the momentous rise of the party.
Now fast forward to 15 years later and one can only look in bafflementat what happened to the impetus over the years. Could it be the acrimonious splits of 2005 and 2014 that took the steam off the former vibrant party? The silence, by its leader Morgan Tsvangirai, since the 2013 presidential election, especially the better part of 2015, has not helped matters either. The once glowing embers of the main opposition are slowly turning grey and soon might become cold ash if no meaningful trajectory is found towards revamping the party.
It is strange that at a time when Zanu PF has been ripped apart by ugly internecine fights, the opposition is itself at its lethargic best. The economic malaise is there for all to see, dying industries, a collapsing health system and a general lack of answers to serious national questions yet the opposition seems to be snoring on the wheel. Shouldn’t the MDC be profiting from the chaos to launch an offensive?
We continue to witness an opposition seemingly indifferent to the national cause. Could it be political fatigue? Could it be the drying up of funds? Honestly, the opposition’s silence is deafening. The opposition has been its worst enemy resulting from its perpetual bickering that has led to fragmentation. The general populace, it would appear, have lost the hope and frenzy that characterized the turn of the century. People have resorted, instead, to focusing on survival under the unrelenting economic climate. Was he right who said, ‘Zimbabweans should look beyond Mugabe and Tsvangirai?’
That vending has become the default trade for millions of Zimbabweans speaks volumes about the situation facing this southern African nation. The Zimbabwean crisis has reached a tipping point and, in my view, if ever a time existed for an alternative government to show its relevance, it certainly is now.
The opposition has unfortunately been reduced to the role of commenting and shouting on the side-lines. Shouldn’t this be the time to be mapping a solid way forward; articulating a clear vision of what the country needs to do to untangle itself from the economic quagmire? Shouldn’t this be the time to be capitalising on the palpable holes within the current establishment? A few more months of this ruinous silence and we might as well write an epitaph on the opposition movement.