Why Tsvangirai must pass on the baton

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THE highly anticipated 31 July 2013 watershed Zimbabwean elections did not live up to the high expectations of taking the country forward in its quest for full democratisation; rather the announced election results took the country back to the pre-1999 scenario of one-party dominance in all spheres of government and the state. How was this possible after the painful sacrifices made by millions of Zimbabweans for over a decade to push the country towards a path of full democratisation? How could all the strides that had been achieved towards eradicating one-man and one-party rule all be lost within a wink?
Inconsistent leadership
Morgan Tsvangirai has been at the helm of the MDC party since its formation in 1999. As a political activist, Tsvangirai made huge personal sacrifices as he highlighted the democratic challenges the country was facing (and is still facing). Domestic and international convergence was reached on the need for democratic reforms in Zimbabwe, and this brought in SADC and AU facilitators to help the country implement democratic reforms. Tsvangirai can be fully credited for having brought the Zimbabwean democratic struggle into the international fore.
However, the biggest weakness to Tsvangirai’s leadership of the democratic movement in Zimbabwe has been his lack of consistency in pursuing strategic political positions that he himself and the MDC pronounces. In a recent example, Tsvangirai was quoted in the local newspapers pronouncing that he was prepared to meet President Mugabe to discuss issues pertaining to his continued stay in a government mansion in Highlands and also discuss with the President if he was entitled to or qualified for a government pension. How hypocritical and inconsistent for a leader who had publicly declared in August 2013 that he would not have anything to do with an “illegitimate leader” who had stolen the July 2013 elections.
Tsvangirai then went on to command all MDC members not to accept any government appointments, and members of Parliament were ordered to boycott the opening of parliament addressed by the “illegitimate President”. How is it possible then for Tsvangirai to meet the same “illegitimate President” to negotiate his own personal comforts? It is these high levels of strategic inconsistencies displayed by Tsvangirai that Mugabe and Zanu PF have fully taken advantage of to perpetuate their hold on power and reverse all the democratic strides that had been achieved in the last decade.Advertisement

Tsvangirai blamed the MDC’s dismal performance in the July 2008 elections to Zanu PF rigging systems perpetuated through the complicity Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). However, ironically the MDC under the leadership of Tsvangirai took part in by-elections last week organised and run by the same unreformed ZEC in Mbare, Karoi and Zaka. Zanu PF won all the three by-elections. How does a principled leader continue to take part in elections that are organised and run by a supposedly compromised institution?
Why 2013 election was lost?
Tsvangirai and the MDC have pointed out that the election was lost due to massive rigging by Zanu PF. However, this begs the questions – “why did the MDC in government not take the necessary steps to prevent it? Was it not public knowledge that Zanu PF would resort to rigging to secure their hold on power?” Rigging of the elections outcome was successful because of ZEC’s full complicity. Rigging of such massive scale could only have been possible with the full compliance of the ZEC and the Registrar General’s office. It is public knowledge that these two institutions are fully staffed by Zanu PF and CIO functionaries masquerading as public officials.
In 2012 the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute (ZDI) published a comprehensive research report which concluded that “ZDI contends that the unreformed ZEC secretariat, as currently composed, cannot deliver free and fair elections. ZEC, as currently composed, provides an opportunity to undermine the way through which powerful political forces can manipulate popular influence through institutionalized mechanisms and political strategies.” The report further contended that the bulk of the ZEC staff had been handpicked by Brigadier Douglas Nyikayaramba from the army and the CIO during his brief tenure as chief electoral officer before returning to the army. The current chief electoral officer, Lovemore Sekaramayi, was seconded from the dreaded President’s Office.
The MDC’s position at the beginning of government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009 was to insist on the total reconstitution of the ZEC secretariat because of its proven high complicity and collusion with the Joint Operations Command (JOC) that secured Mugabe’s unrecognised win in the bloody June 2008 presidential election run-off. However, for reasons known only to himself, Tsvangirai, in March 2013, absolved the ZEC secretariat of any wrong doing, he even commended them for being a highly professional outfit that was manipulated by Zanu PF in 2008. It was at this point that the July 2013 election victory was handed to Zanu PF on a silver platter. The Zanu PF rigging strategy was centred on a compliant ZEC and the Registrar General’s office.
Tsvangirai, from here on, then totally shifted from the earlier MDC position insisting on the total reconstitution of ZEC, instead he was now demanding the reform of the country’s armed forces, and Zanu PF simply counter-argued that such a move would compromise national security. Ian Smith did not fire his security generals before the elections in 1980; even apartheid South Africa did not replace the notorious generals before the 1994 democratic elections. What Tsvangirai failed to understand and appreciate is that generals do not run elections no matter how powerful they may be perceived to be. What was required was to reform the civil institutions tasked with running the elections and appoint competent and professional individuals who would not be influenced or controlled by the security chiefs.
Tsvangirai could have received sympathy and support from SADC leaders if he had only demanded the reform of ZEC and the Registrar General’s office based on the track record of the two civil institutions in the bloody June 2008 elections. Zanu PF would not have provided a convincing counter-argument against reforming the two civil bodies. With a reformed ZEC, staffed with professional and independent officials, it would have been near impossible to undertake the rigging project on the scales seen in July 2013. If Tsvangirai had been consistent with the earlier MDC position of calling for, and demanding, a reformed and reconstituted ZEC, the outcome of July 2013 elections could have been different.
Common sense could also have dictated to Tsvangirai that there was no way that the MDC would prevail in such a skewed political environment. Using a soccer analogy, imagine a situation where the two Harare soccer rivals, Dynamos and Caps meet in a do-or-die soccer cup final match. However, Dynamos then appoints the referee and his two assistants including the match commissioner, from their own ranks. Would Caps United, sensibly expect to win such a match no matter how good they maybe on the field of play? Would they agree to play in such a blatantly skewed competition and with the results clearly predetermined?
Clearly, if the ZEC had been reformed it would have been difficult for Nikuv to manipulate the voters roll and get away with it. Registration of new voters would not have been made so difficult for urban dwellers and the voters’ roll would have been released on time to all political parties in line with the requirements of the Constitution. This is where Morgan Tsvangirai totally lost the plot and handed Zanu PF the landslide victory they awarded themselves in August 2013. Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo refused to be hoodwinked into taking part in the 1979 Zimbabwe-Rhodesia elections that were fully controlled by Ian Smith. Abel Muzorewa participated in those flawed elections and wrote his own political obituary in the process. Mugabe and Nkomo only agreed to participate in the 1980 elections which were supervised by the UN. In the 1980s Nelson Mandela refused to budge to the offers by the apartheid government to release him from prison on condition that he goes into exile. Great political leaders do not compromise on what they are fighting for; they will take a principled stand all the way. This has been Tsvangirai’s major shortfall.
Another costly strategic inconsistency by Tsvangirai was the decision to contest the July 2013 Presidential and Parliamentary results in court. The courts were used by Zanu PF to railroad the country into elections on the 31st of July 2013 disregarding the full provisions of the new Constitution for the need to register all eligible and qualifying voters and providing all the registered voters sufficient time to inspect and confirm their correct registration and inclusion on the voters’ roll before election day. It was clear and apparent to all right thinking Zimbabweans that the judiciary was in bed with Zanu PF and were part and parcel of the election rigging strategy. How then did Tsvangirai realistically expect the same courts to overturn Mugabe’s victory?
By the time Tsvangirai eventually realised that approaching the courts was just an academic and futile exercise that would only benefit Zanu PF by granting them legal endorsement of their victory by the country’s highest court, valuable time had already been lost. Zanu PF got the breathing space they needed and valuable momentum had been lost as people had now accepted the painful Zanu PF victory. Any right-thinking political leader would not have wasted valuable time approaching the very same courts that are so blatantly biased towards Zanu PF and expect them to act in a different way, unless of course one was day dreaming. With this lack of strategic consistency by the MDC Leadership, the democratic movement will never win elections in Zimbabwe.
No one now takes Tsvangirai seriously. He declares Mugabe an illegitimate leader but he is prepared to meet him over his pension; he declares the Zimbabwean judiciary biased and in bed with Zanu PF yet he approaches the same people expecting them to overturn crucial election results declared to have been won by Zanu PF. Tsvangirai is an excellent political activist who resonates well with the ordinary folk and the masses. But, and unfortunately, he is not a shrewd politician. He cannot strategically plan ahead to influence events in his favour and take his opponents by surprise – the biggest strength displayed by Mugabe all the time. Tsvangirai fails to take bold and firm decisions at a crucial moment.
In March 2008 when it was all clear that Tsvangirai had won the first round of voting, instead of calling his supporters into the streets to protect their vote as Michael Sata did in Zambia, Tsvangirai instead chose to abandon his supporters and flee to Botswana and then South Africa. Again he provided Zanu PF with the valuable time they needed to stabilize the political environment and recover from the shock defeat to strategize a way to reclaim their hold on power. Tsvangirai has always provided Zanu PF with valuable breathing space at a time that they were cornered by events with no way to escape. His failure to make critical and firm decisions at critical moments has always been the lifesaving rope that saves the drowning Zanu PF.
New leader for the movement
As I alluded to earlier, Tsvangirai is already a compromised and conflicted leader as he declared his willingness to meet Mugabe to discuss his pension and the status of his Harare mansion when the party position is that Mugabe is an “illegitimate President” who they must not legitimize by engaging with. Mugabe will certainly take advantage of Tsvangirai’s compromised position. The MDC and some party funders need to set up a trust fund to take care of Tsvangirai’s pension so that he will not be manipulated by Mugabe. Tsvangirai now deserves to rest and retire honourably after having led the party in seven elections against Zanu PF. He needs to pass on the button to someone who will continue the democratic fight from a different strategic perspective. Not all great liberation and democratic leaders ended up being government leaders; Mahatma Gandhi, Martin King Luther, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Joshua Nkomo, all come to mind.
The notion that Tsvangirai is the only leader in the democratic movement who appeals to the grassroots supporters is a fallacy. People have been supporting the MDC-T not because of their love for Tsvangirai, but because the MDC-T party has always been the only democratic party with a real chance of defeating Zanu PF. Any leader who takes over from Tsvangirai will receive the same levels of grassroots support provided the MDC-T remains the only party with a realistic chance of defeating Zanu PF.
A new democratic movement leader is now required to devise ways to fight Zanu PF at the home front without reliance on international support. The international community is more concerned about stability in the country and the sub-region than the aspirations of a true democratic country espoused by all Zimbabweans, the endorsement of the Zanu PF victory by SADC and the AU is true testimony to that. Only Zimbabweans fighting at the home front will bring true democratic change. The new fight will not be based on violence as Zanu PF has since realised that violence is counterproductive. Rather, the democratic war will be fought over the control and reform of the civil institutions that run elections in the country.
ZEC, the Registrar General’s office, electronic media, the Judiciary and other civil bodies with some leverage over democratic processes are now the new front for political warfare in Zimbabwe. This new fight will be fought in the domestic tuff as the international community will not commit to Zimbabwe again unless there is a national crisis of major proportions.The Zimbabwe democratic movement now requires a leader who is consistent and firm on strategic positions, a leader who plans and sets an agenda for the country’s political course of action, a leader with a meticulous attention to detail on electoral systems and processes and keeps his eyes on the ball all the way.
Zanu PF currently vulnerable
The use of a basket of international currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe has made the Zanu PF government very vulnerable to being brought down on its knees by a well-organised campaign of civil disobedience. The government now relies entirely on income from taxation to pay the salaries of its bloated civil servants and security forces. The Zimbabwean government will not survive a well-organised one-week stay away mass movement which completely closes down all formal businesses, as income taxes, VAT receipts, exercise and customs duties will dry up over that period. The government will not have cash to pay the security forces and other civil servants that it so relies on for its hold on power. The bankrupt government which survives from hand to mouth has got no reserves to fall back to and cannot print money as before. The government will collapse in a week.
The new MDC leader needs to come up with new strategies that bring the MDC closer to all civil society, business organisations, transport organisations and set-up grass roots structures to mobilise the masses. Peaceful mass protests against the Zanu PF government can be organised again with the devastating effects of the 1990s. Zanu PF will only agree to reform the ZEC, the Registrar General’s office and other democratic institutions if it is put under massive pressure from the populace. If the government reacts with violence then that will put Zanu PF under the international radar and spotlight again.
The statement by Rugare Gumbo of Zanu PF that Mugabe will be nominated as the leader in the next Zanu PF elective congress shows how confident the party is with its hold over the electoral systems. We will not be surprised if Mugabe is presented as the Zanu PF presidential candidate in 2018 and still win that election by 75% of the votes.The MDC can only prevent that scenario turning into reality if a new leadership emerges now, and devises and implements, among others, the following strategies:

Focus on the critical electoral reforms that ensure that ZEC is truly independent and stuffed by professionals. The voters’ roll must be controlled only by ZEC.
Repositioning the MDC to work closely with all civic, business and student bodies.
Unite all democratic forces under one umbrella, Tsvangirai has dismally failed to bring unity to the two MDC parties and other democratic forces.
Crafting strategies to undertake successful rolling mass action to force the Zanu PF government to implement real democratic reforms.
Crafting strategies that take advantage of the current vulnerability of the Zimbabwean government to the economic mess they created, and force the party to implement democratic reforms.
Using social media and communication technology such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsup, etc, to mobilize people to stand for a common cause.
Refuse to take part in any form of elections organised by ZEC in its current form, and consistently stick to that. The MDC cannot accuse ZEC of having helped to rig the June 2008 and July 2013 elections and yet participate in by-elections organised by the same unreformed institution.
Openly support the lifting of the targeted sanctions so that Zanu PF has no excuse for its incompetence, corruption and limited knowledge of the working of the global economic system.

Tirivanhu Majaji is Financial Consultant based in Johannesburg