A Zimbabwean working in Botswana had this to say about Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
“Tsvangirai akafanana nomunhu akasvika parwizi rwakazara, vanhu vatadza kuyambuka, akavati mirai ndinokuyambutsai. Vanhu vakamira, vakamira, kusvikira rwizi rwaserera, ndokubva vayambuka voga.”
(Tsvangirai is like a person who found people stranded before a flooded river. He promised to take them across, but they waited and waited until the river subsided and crossed on their own.)
This aptly describes what has happened to the once charismatic trade union leader. Tsvangirai has been showered with praise since he, together with civic groups and academics, formed the MDC in 1999.
The MDC, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, has been treated with kid gloves since its inception. It has been pampered like a child with pneumonia. Protective signs have been plastered all over. “Fragile. Handle with care. This side up!”
The independent and international media have played cheerleaders. Their motto has been: “See no evil. Hear no evil.” The party itself fell for it, claiming that though it had promised the electorate change, there was very little it could do until it got into power.
Now it has proposed 15 key demands for it to participate in next year’s elections. It appears getting into power has become an obsession. The party has spent more time in the courts than with the electorate. It challenged 37 seats it lost in the 2000 elections. It challenged the presidential poll of 2002.
It even swallowed the media hype that Mugabe’s administration would be pressurised to hold fresh elections before the end of June 2004. That was more than a year ago. June has come and gone.
It lulled itself into believing that there would have to be a transitional government in which the party would take a leading role. But it did not campaign at all. It firmly believed, and still believes, it is the people’s choice.
Even in its RESTART document -its Reconstruction, Stabilisation, Recovery and Transformation programme- it says if it comes to power this year it will take 13 years to bring the country back to the 1999 level when it came on board.
If it is elected into power next year, when general elections are due, this would take 15 years. And if it comes to power in 2008, when the next presidential elections should be held, this would take 18 years.
The party, which came on with a bang in 2000 and almost unseated the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), polling 57 out of the 120 contested seats, is now down to 51 seats.
It has just lost two parliamentary by-elections in a row, one in its urban stronghold of Chitungwiza, and another in its rural backyard, Lupane, in Matebelelend North where it swept all the seats in 2000.
And it still blindly believes it was robbed of victory. The elections were rigged. The playing field is not level.
While this may be true, the party continues to wallow in self-pity. Some people and countries that supported it are beginning to see that if the present trend continues ZANU-PF and its leader Robert Mugabe are going to sweep the next elections.
Fair or foul is no longer material because if Mugabe wriggles his way out, he can survive the next five years. The 2000 victory demonstrated that the octogenarian, who has been called all sorts of names is, as Slate magazine said before the 2000 elections, “a scheming survivor”.
“What most people don’t understand is that, though it was a revolutionary party, ZANU-PF is modelled along Western political lines. Its leaders can squabble among themselves. They have differences. But when it comes to the crunch, they stick together,” a political observer said.
“That is why diehards like Eddison Zvobgo have never left the party. Even disgraced politicians like Dzingai Mutumbuka and those working outside the country in high paying jobs like Fay Chung have never left the party. They criticise it but at the same time they are backing it to the hilt.”
This cannot be said of the MDC. Cracks are beginning to show in the party as the 2005 elections approach. Everyone is singing his or her own tune. Party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, once the unifying force, seems to be losing ground.
“The international media has misled the MDC,” a media analyst said. “Too much focus on Zimbabwe has confused the MDC. It is a fallacy to talk about a conducive environment. Look at Senegal or Nigeria where at times over 20 people are killed but the opposition still wins.”
“We don’t have a generation of elections in this country if we take the yardstick that a generation is 30 years. So the MDC has to realise that a political contest is a political contest. We are looking at how much you are able to contest in terms of ideas, in terms of personalities. They don’t have depth in terms of ideas and in terms of candidates.”
The analyst said the party was dominated by youngsters who did not have enough experience to challenge ZANU-PF seriously. “Youngsters have their own use but as activists rather than as political players,” he argued. “This is a major problem in the MDC but they do not want to acknowledge this. They are not open to scrutiny or challenges.”
Another major problem within the MDC, the analyst said, was that they lacked an ideological outlook of their own and a nationalistic agenda. “Even if you have differences, why would you call for sanctions on your own people?”
The analyst said the MDC had been turned into a “pentecostal choir” in which everyone chorused “Amen”. No one was asking them serious questions. “All they are chanting is slogans- chinja, chinja, with the international media cheering. They are playing on public sympathy but public sympathy does not add up to votes. The feel good factor does not lead you anywhere.”
It also looks like the party has not just run out of money but is bankrupt of ideas as well. People have helped themselves to the funds that were available. Besides, despite the people’s disliking for ZANU-PF the MDC leadership cannot match ZANU-PF man-for-man.
“Tsvangrai is a pale shadow of himself and is no match for Mugabe though Mugabe is 30 years older. It’s like playing a fourth division team with a premier division team. Gibson Sibanda cannot stand against Joseph Msika, Isaac Matongo against John Nkomo, Welshman Ncube versus Emmerson Mnangagwa, Paul Themba Nyathi versus Nathan Shamuyarira.
“If you have a clear political programme money does not count. Our elections are different from those in the UK or US which are won on television. Here you have to fight nomuromo (with your mouth).”
But it is not only the MDC that has been misled by the media. Its main rival ZANU-PF also seems to be suffering from the same fate. The propaganda campaign by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo is doing the ruling party more damage than was being done by the privately-owned media which Moyo has silenced.
No one believes his propaganda any more. In fact even when the state media says something that is true, people scoff at it. Contrary to what Moyo and his henchmen believe, the barrage of attacks on the MDC by the state media, without giving the opposition a chance to respond, seems to be doing the MDC more good than the pampering it received from the private media.