Party factions might not be a bad thing after all


Factions have different purposes which range from patronage (of all kinds) to policy commitments. Discussion of factions in Zimbabwe presents some unique complexities because of the personalist political approach. Driven by the fear of victimisation, some people are members of multiple factions at once, depending on their interests.

The overemphasis on the degenerative nature of factions blinds us from realising the benefits of other forms of factions such as the probable productivity of factions, or at least the ability to be open about their existence.

Due to the history of chaotic politics, party fracture, violence, and backhandedness, it is easy to dismiss the important role of factions. It almost seems as if some of the pitfalls of factionalism, real or imagined, have limited our ability to accommodate other perspectives on factions. It has led to the bashing of the idea of factions from across the political divide.

The anti-faction rhetoric often comes from personal disagreements, political immaturity, and general ignorance about the role of factions. There is no denying that some of the criticisms in the past have been on policy disagreements. Unfortunately, even when this happened in the supposed spirit of productivity, the result has often been destructive.

It is the history of productive factions in the early 1960s that shaped what would be the direction of nationalist struggle and strategies. One has to go beyond the embellished sellout narratives to appreciate how factions productively shaped history.

In 1961, the leader of the National Democratic Party, Joshua Nkomo, was engaged in talks with Edgar Whitehead and the British for a constitutional compromise. The negotiations would provide some voting rights for blacks and not challenge white control of electoral politics. NDP was represented by Nkomo and Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, with Hebert Chitepo and George Silundika as part of the advisors.

Nkomo was elated by the prospect of 15 seats being reserved for Africans in the parliament. A vibrant trade unionist, Reuben Jamela, vehemently opposed the talks and campaigned against the approval of the proposal, resultantly putting him on a collision path with NDP leadership.

Leopold Takawira, Edson Sithole, and Paul Mushonga also argued against the plans. The NDP vice president Michael Mawema was fired for gross insubordination and publicly disagreeing with Nkomo. This faction generated popular support that forced the NDP leadership to abandon the plans and demand universal suffrage.

A policy change was birthed from a productive faction that was organised and disagreed on ideas and direction of the struggle. The factional pressure ensured a sacred commitment to universal suffrage throughout the history of struggle. Factions can guard against dangerous groupthink and improve the quality of policymaking through robust deliberations

Owing to the relationship between the government and the governing political party, it is not foolhardy to argue that factionalism has a bearing on policy decisions and the direction of the country. Intra-party disputes can easily spiral into national chaos. Factions can manipulate state machinery to navigate a political quagmire.

Continued next page


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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  1. Those factions, along with stupids like chamisa, and vote rigging, will guarantee zpf victory, time after time. Greed and stupidity are the only things in plentiful supply in Zimbabwe, as proven beyond ANY DOUBT, by the last election.