Briefing: Of such Zimbabwe’s opposition is made of, such it be!

Tichaona Zindoga

Zimbabwe’s opposition is currently fragmented, disjointed and fractious.

This is despite the fact that only a fortnight ago, Nelson Chamisa launched the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) which could have done a lot in uniting all opposition forces in the country – or at least the majority – under one banner.

Chamisa himself is seen as an energetic, charismatic and affable character.

He is even a pastor.

However, in the opposition movement, ructions still exist – wider than ever.

When we say “opposition movement” we generally refer to the genus or family of individuals and groupings that owe their origins to the Movement for Democratic Change that was formed by Morgan Tsvangirai in 1999.

The MDC itself was a broad church of disparate interests that came together at the turn of the millennium in response to the political dynamics, chiefly the decline and corruption of the ruling Zanu-PF; its failures, shortcomings and disappointments.

In chief, the late 1990s had seen a lot of disillusionment with the Government.

The Government had mishandled its economic policies and dismally failed to articulate and implement the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme – one of the many graves of structural programmes initiated by the Bretton Woods institutions since the 1970s in the Third World.

The Zimbabwean SAP was in itself an aberration.

Zimbabwe adopted the neo-liberal agenda after abandoning the socialist experiments of the early Independence era.

ESAP was a spectacular failure – not unexpectedly – and it also underlined the ideological and technocratic bankruptcy and confusion in Government that has subsisted to this day.

ESAP brought about suffering to Zimbabweans because of its so-called austerity measures – the fancy term to describe how Government tightens the belt and abandoning social programmes and responsibilities in such areas as health, education and social protections.

ESAP was hard.

It was also stupid, patently.

It is no wonder that it created a lot of enemies and opponents for authorities from retrenched workers, students, ordinary people and what was then the authentic civil society.

At the same time there were other democratic forces crystalising around issues such as the need for a new constitution, human rights, accountability and so forth.

Confidence in the ruling party was waning exponentially – witness the apathy that characterised elections in 1995.

Another, albeit non-mainstream force was the land hunger that characterised the rural populace as a result of historical imbalances and the long colonialism that was evident in skewed land ownership models.

Townspeople were angry and unsettled by poor economic performance and in particular inflation that at the time was largely attributed to Government’s decision to award war veterans hefty packages for their past sacrifices in securing Independence from Britain in 1980.

Connected to this, at least according to many an economist account, was the decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, under the aegis of Sadc, to help quell an uprising against the government of Laurent Kabila.

To be forthright, by the turn of the century, the Government of Zimbabwe had created a lot of enemies for itself internally and externally.

Above, I recounted a number of local dynamics.

Zimbabwe also angered external forces such as the United States of America by deploying troops to DRC, for example. It will be also acknowledged that the US complained of alleged human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

So, the year 1999 saw a number of forces range against the Government of Robert Mugabe.

The MDC was formed on September 11, 1999.

Typically, it comprises different forces from labour whose face was Morgan Tsvangirai, the erstwhile trade unionist who had led riots in 1997/98; students, churches, white farmers; and so on.

And it was the white farmers that precipitated the complete change of Zimbabwe’s local and international political dynamics after they sponsored the rejection of the 2000 Draft Constitution which would pave way for legal land reform.

In early 2000, the Government and ruling Zanu-PF lost the referendum on the proposed new constitution and the most contentious clause related to the redistribution of the land, and the white farming community celebrated loudly and in the arms of the newly formed opposition that went on to win almost half of Parliamentary seats in elections of that year.

The opposition and the white farmers got a lot of “international” support, or more specifically, support from Western countries that shared a history with Zimbabwe.

It was at these early stages that cracks in the opposition movement began to show.

In the newly-formed opposition party, were people from different backgrounds who at the moment were united by their opposition to Mugabe and the ruling party.

But some – like trade unionist Munyaradzi Gwisai – happened to support land reform and other ideological positions of the ruling party.

It later became a sore point that the opposition had lost several little windows of opportunities to check and limit the power of Mugabe, including by imposing term limits, a situation that could have resulted in the strongman departing the stage much earlier.

Over the years, the differences within the opposition movement have manifested freely.

The movement has split several times to date.

To all intents and purposes, Nelson Chamisa’s CCC is just another MDC splinter by another name.

For this reason, it means that even the newly-formed party is open to old vulnerabilities and old divisions, and indeed old blood.

Currently there are issues about the readmission of Thokozani Khupe “back” into the fold of CCC after she had a hugely divisive role in the splintering of post-Morgan Tsvangirai MDC-T.

Her role as a senior Matabeleland opposition figure is in dispute.

There are tribal/regional issues at play.

There is also a gender element to it.

Further, there is a generational issue that is likely to stay with the opposition for a long time to come.

There are veterans like Khupe, Welshman Ncube, Elias Mudzuri, Morgan Komichi and others who form the founding rump.

Ageists in the movement want these “old madalas” gone, but they cannot be wished away and they indeed want to continue playing a role. More specifically, they may not want to be pushed around, about or out by younger people.

Meanwhile, young people – including even outsiders – see the future in Chamisa, and would want a clean break with the past.

Throughout the divisions and disagreements, various interests lay stake, and feel entitled.

It’s a mess.

There is conceivably no end to the infighting within the opposition.

Ironically, the man who is supposed to unite the opposition – Chamisa – is the most divisive figure, even with or without out knowing or causing it.

It may not be his problem, either. It was the same with the founding father, Morgan Tsvangirai.

It could be in the very nature and immanency of the opposition itself: of it is made of, such it be!


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