The Future and Relevance of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe after the 2013 Elections

A couple of hours ago I attended the Mass Public Opinion Institute’s monthly discussion on Zimbabwean politics. It was a lively discussion, as expected – after all the speakers were Takura Zhangazha, the MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora and the ZANU PF deputy director of information Mr. Psychology Maziwisa.

The topic was “The Future and Relevance of Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe after the 2013 Elections”.

First to speak was Takura Zhangazha who spoke from a somewhat neutral point since he was the only one who was not representing a political party. He began by saying that it is important for the opposition to accept reality- and the reality of the matter is that ZANU PF was the victor of the July 31 elections. Comrade Zhangazha said that a given point was that there would always be opposition parties in Zimbabwe since “you can form a political party and go and register it with three of your comrades who will say, they’re the Vice President, Secretary General and Treasurer- whether the opposition will be serious remains to be seen.” He added that that should always be the case, as the existence of an opposition party opens up democratic space and encourages policy dialogue.

“In fact the key issue is that there must always be an opposition to whatever government in power, not only in order for the replacement of the latter but also for critical and popular oversight. So I must say this particular point with emphasis. The opposition does not exist solely for the purposes of power acquisition, except only in cases where it claims to be leading a revolution, particularly in the short term.” – Takura Zhangazha

Zhangazha however pointed out that if the MDC wants to be effective it should not, under any circumstances, mimic the ruling party it seeks to replace. He said there was not much to differentiate the MDC from ZANU PF- there is patronage, politics of personalities and self-aggrandisement in both parties. The second shortcoming of the MDC, according to Zhangazha, was that their leaders became distant; they were no longer in touch with the people.

Mr Zhangazha remarked that the main opposition parties risked being irrelevant if they did not tackle the important issues of the day, particularly Local governance. He said he was particularly disappointed with the silence of the MDC and their councilors on the proposed introduction of prepaid water meters. “Will it mean that children playing football at their neighbours’ houses won’t freely ask for water?” he asked, and pointed out that unlike electricity which, however difficult, people could live without, water is an absolute necessity. Zhangazha also added that the whole idea was against our culture and Ubuntu/Unhu and would surely have the ancestors turning in their graves.

His last words of advice to the opposition parties in Zimbabwe were that they should always consult the people, not make decisions on their behalf in board rooms. More importantly, any party hoping to dislodge ZANU PF needed to differentiate itself from ZANU PF in terms of conduct and needs to be organic. He concluded by quoting the eminent African and Cape Verdean revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, who instructed his comrades to “tell no lies and claim no easy victory.” His full speech- minus some fillers- can be found hereon his blog..

Second to speak was the youthful ZANU PF spin doctor, the party’s deputy director of Information Pychology Maziwisa. As expected he started by taking an anecdotal dig at MDC MPs who he said had boycotted the official opening of Parliament but would certainly not boycott the cars given to parliamentarians and other pecks that came with being a legislator.

Mr Maziwisa said opposition parties would struggle to remain relevant after their crushing defeat at the hands of ZANU PF in July. He said political parties should show the people that they are capable of solving their challenges instead of being clueless about policies.

Maziwisa, who seems to have a penchant for making fun of other political parties, said that the party Madhuku wants to form is destined to fail because it offers nothing other than “a people driven constitution”, something Maziwisa says the country already has since our new constitution was made after consulting Zimbabweans and was also overwhelmingly endorsed by the people in the March constitutional referendum.

His point of departure was that a party needs people oriented policies, unlike the MDC which he claimed had policies completely at odds with the aspirations of Zimbabweans, who “wanted economic reforms rather than media reforms… because a country’s success is not measured by the number of newspapers in its streets.” Equally important, added Maziwisa is the calibre of the leader of the party. He finished by ‘prophesying’ that for as long as Morgan Tsvangirai remains leader of the MDC-T it will never win elections.

Last to speak was the spokesman of the main MDC Douglas Mwonzora who began by denouncing the ZANU PF government which he said is in a crisis of “legitimacy and mandate and, secondly, a crisis of governance. He queried why President Mugabe despite condemning corruption and acknowledging that some of his ministers were corrupt had not dealt with the issue.

Mr Mwonzora also said ZANU PF also faces a “crisis of expectation” because it set unrealistic expectations for itself. He castigated the cancellation of utility bills by the government as a populist move that also ultimately benefited ZANU PF bigwigs who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to council and other utility service providers. He added that people were being hoodwinked, pointing out that after the cancellation of debts, the charges for the services have risen, making the ordinary man suffer.

He also spoke at length about the electoral “fraud” and gave a long list of irregularities of our last election. His parting words were that it was too early to “…write the epitaph of the MDC. Tsvangirai will win and rule in 2018- or even earlier.”

It was a lively discussion and the audience also contributed, with their comments and questions mainly directed at Mr Mwonzora and Mr Maziwisa. Mr Mwonzora was questioned why Mr Tsvangirai was not stepping down and why the MDC continued to participate in flawed elections, questions he handled rather adroitly whilst Mr Maziwisa was hard pressed to defend ZANU PF’s positions. Maziwisa rejected some questions outright and found ways of avoiding others.

When I asked Maziwisa why President Zuma won elections despite his often ridiculed public image Maziwisa danced around the question. I also pointed out that ZANU PF was deviating from its supposed Pan-Africanist ideologies and suggested he get a copy of Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and he- for some ridiculous reason- recommended that I should read ZIDERA (A Bill passed in the US Congress in 2001 containing some financial restrictions on Zimbabwe). Maziwisa was also unable to reasonably explain how the Indigenisation and Empowerment program would absorb the country’s ever increasing graduates.

In my opinion the presentations from all three speakers were very good, especially the one by Takura Zhangazha who could afford to say politically inexpedient truths whereas Messrs Mwonzora and Maziwisa obviously had to defend their respective party positions.

I hope we will soon have these discussions at different levels of society without intimidation and violence. Zimbabweans must embrace and encourage the contest of ideas.

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