Only reinvented MDC can change Zimbabwe

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THE Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was handed a drubbing in the election of July 31 last year. Even if it might not have been defeated at the disputed poll itself, the MDC was totally outmanoeuvred by Zanu (PF) and its leader, President Robert Mugabe.
The MDC “lost” an election it should never have entered, as somehow its leadership had convinced itself it would win. It should have known that Mugabe would never have gone into a poll he was intending to lose. He would never have said, as he did before the election, that if he was defeated, he would step down after 33 years in power. And the MDC was not only naive in expecting to win, but in thinking it could secure a transfer of power.
If only a fraction of the allegations are to be believed, the MDC lost on the day because of a fraudulent voters roll. But in the judgment of some civil society activists, it capitulated well before the time because its leaders had become estranged from its grassroots supporters, and had been sucked into the system by the trappings of power during the MDC’s 52 months in a government of unity.
Now, with 49 MPs in a 210-strong parliament, the MDC faces an uphill battle. At the core of this is not how it might engage in formal political institutions, but rather how it reinvents and rebuilds itself.
Many now question whether the MDC — and by extension, the country — can make progress under Morgan Tsvangirai. Despite his personal courage, he is seen as compromised in terms of his personal peccadilloes and by his professional misjudgment in going into an election he later described as a “farce”.
Activists who complain the MDC has lost touch with its supporters face the choice of mobilising for leadership change or giving up on him by opting out of politics or starting another party.
If Tsvangirai has to go, what is the likely exit? Two options are possible: a “soft” landing with another job; and an inevitably messier but potentially affirming leadership contest.
If the latter, the question is who and how? Former finance minister Tendai Biti is one contender, as is former economic planning minister Elton Mangoma. If Tsvangirai has nothing to go to and everything to lose by staying on, it is likely to be a bitter contest. And, if so, it is not clear who has the cojones to take him on.Advertisement

Even if there were a new MDC leader, a lot of rebuilding will have to take place in reconnecting grassroots constituencies with the centre, and by creating political alliances with others.
It is no good hoping that when Mugabe eventually goes, Zimbabwe’s problems will disappear. While his death might be the best thing for the MDC’s leaders, the same might not be said for the opposition and Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s demise might offer once more the prospect of a coalition government under Deputy President Joice Mujuru as a means of co-opting the elite. That formula offers the facade of political stability but, aside from padding the fortunes of a select few, little chance of growth, development and prosperity.
Such stability above all else has been the policy goal of regional actors. However, the sacrifice, in the process, of democratic values has long-term consequences. It has translated into policy contradiction and confusion. Earlier this month, within weeks of Deputy Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister Mathias Tongofa saying the government was going up “a gear” on local ownership of assets, captains of Zimbabwean industry were expected in Europe to lobby for the removal of sanctions.
This also highlights the dilemma facing the international community in its actions towards the government. Sanctions, imposed by European powers, the US and Australia, among others, have proven a clumsy tool, signalling foreign disapproval more than wounding Zanu (PF). Worse than their lack of positive effect has been their unintended consequence of becoming an excuse for Zanu (PF)’s failings. While their removal might help focus attention on domestic actors, it might also embolden Zanu (PF) and strengthen its domestic credibility.
The answer, until now, for foreigners and Zimbabweans concerned about the course of political developments has been to focus on Zanu (PF), to try to get it to reform. But this is not enough. If the past 15 years have taught us one thing, it is that recovery will not happen through Zanu (PF) mending its ways. The MDC also has to change.
Greg Mills heads the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation and is the author of the forthcoming book, Why States Recover