Zimbabwe opposition’s self-created dilemma


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Many countries in Southern Africa have been, and still are led by nationalist parties that won them independence. Such arrangements, no doubt have provided stability, but most have not resulted in democracy.

Nationalist parties by their nature were created to be liberation movements, not democratic organisations. Being liberation leaders, Mugabe and Mnangagwa have their background rooted in the military, and that linkage can never be severed.

Their continued incestuous relationship with military commanders, and the way ZANU-PF succession problems were dealt with in November 2017 attests to the difficulty of transforming liberation movements into democratic parties.

This presents challenges for future political developments in Zimbabwe. Most notable is that it impedes the organic growth of strong opposition parties with a possibility of winning state power through constitutional means.

Opposition is forced to develop in an asphyxiated environment where it is overwhelmed by coercion and suppression, and is always characterised not only as mere political opponents, but also as enemies of the state.

Because of this asphyxiated development, opposition parties that survive state coercion tend to impose an extra burden on themselves – an adamant refusal to learn how to conduct opposition politics in an authoritarian environment.

They do not only cease to proliferate despite congruous ideologies, they also fractionalise, dividing the same support base. Many times they programme at cross-purpose, literally negating each other’s existence, simultaneously benefiting the incumbent.

The section below shows how this arrogant refusal to learn has cost opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

In 1999, many civil society groups taking part in a working people’s convention concluded that to achieve democratic governance, there was need to form a strong opposition party capable of challenging ZANU-PF nationally.

As a result the MDC was formed in September 1999. In parliamentary elections held in mid-2000, less than a year after its formation, the MDC won 57 of the contested 120 seats, while the ruling party won 62 seats.

For the ruling party this was a massive loss of support, while for the new opposition, it was a huge endorsement, moving from nothing to 57 seats overnight.

In the 2002 presidential elections, the opposition candidate scored 42% against the ruling party’s 56%.

Towards the end of 2005, the MDC split into two factions. Several reasons were advanced for the split.

Dominant in the public discourse was the question of whether or not to participate in the November 2005 senatorial elections that Mugabe had just announced, probably with the intention of instigating friction within the opposition.

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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