Tsvangirai still all the MDC has got


Politics is like soccer, award-winning sports journalist Tendai Dindingwe says. “When a team loses, blame is heaped on the coach. When it wins, credit goes to the players.”

After three election defeats in five years, knives are out for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s head.

The MDC, which almost upset the ruling Zimbabwe African Nation Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in the 2000 general elections, winning 57 out of the 120 elected seats, only managed 41 seats in the March 31 elections, scuttling high expectations for a regime change by most urban voters.

Critics, some from the MDC itself, now say Tsvangirai, the largely self-educated trade unionist, doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to lead such a dynamic organisation especially since it is challenging a strong ruling party that has been in power for more than 25 years and is full of academics.

Former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who some people thought might join the MDC after his expulsion from the government and the ruling party after being accused of trying to oust his former boss President Robert Mugabe, said that he would not join the party because it was “immature and ideologically shallow”. He described Tsvangirai as “clearly not up to the task”.

But Dindingwe, a veteran journalist who was the sports correspondent of the now defunct Parade magazine, differed. He said while Tsvangirai was no match for his archrival President Mugabe both in terms of intellect and inspiring his followers, he was all the MDC had at the moment.

“He is the only recognisable leader that they have, both locally and internationally. Despite his shortcomings, he is still their trump card,” Dindingwe said.

He argued that people were putting too much emphasis on the MDC defeats because they were not thinking about Africa but about the West or developed countries.

He cited the case of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who had already contested three elections in eight years and has had to contest against a different Conservative Party leader each time, with those defeated stepping down.

“In Africa, incumbency is long, so the opposition has to stick it out longer,” Dindingwe said.

The same sentiments were echoed by the late political scientist, Masipula Sithole, in his book about struggles within Zimbabwe’s political parties Struggles within the struggle.

“In politics in general, incumbents are generally very hard to unseat from power,” Sithole wrote. “In the new nations it is near impossible to unseat an incumbent by conventional political means.”

But by comparison, the MDC seems to have fared better than any other opposition party in Zimbabwe’s history.

The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) won 20 seats in the 1980 independence elections. Five years later it was down to 15. Two years later, the party was “swallowed” by the ruling party following the 1987 unity accord.

Even in Rhodesia, Ian Smith used elections to weed out the opposition or right-wingers who had broken away from his Rhodesian Front.

Labour economist, Godfrey Kanyenze, sees things differently, however.

He said people should not be focusing on Tsvangirai and the MDC but on President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

“The greatest threat to ZANU-PF right now is ZANU-PF itself, not the MDC, so why should people focus on the MDC?” he queried.

Kanyenze said ZANU-PF was riddled with so many internal contradictions that President Mugabe was not able to operate. That was the reason why the country was in a crisis.

“The economy is on its knees because of the internal contradictions within the party. People in ZANU-PF cannot agree on one thing. President Mugabe wants the country to look East, while his colleagues argue that the country cannot do without the International Monetary Fund. He wants price controls while some of his colleagues say this is a recipe for disaster, market forces must operate.”

Kanyenze said the only thing that was saving ZANU-PF from collapse was that civic organisations that should be helping the MDC to put pressure on President Mugabe, had been weakened because funding had dried up. But he was quick to add that this had nothing to do with the much-hated Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, which President Mugabe has since refused to sign.

“Donors have simply left because they are disappointed with the performance of civic organisations,” he said.

“They are saying that the civic organisations have been given plenty of money but they have failed to deliver. Now they are saying, we will leave you to fight with your bare hands.”

Dindingwe, however, still believes all is not lost. “People should not treat elections like a cup game,” he said. “They should look at them like a league championship. A league is not won after a single match. A team has to play consistently throughout the season to win the league.”



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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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