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Zimbabwe’s misfiring opposition and a dangerous politics of ethnic division

Limiting critical political focus on and identifying ZANU PF as the single most significant problem in Zimbabwean politics is an illusion that trivialises the problem and renders solutions even more elusive; it is sabre-rattling conveniently meant to divert attention from the real systemic problems. Tribalism is a visible marker in the form and content of Zimbabwean politics.

Zimbabwean politics operates within a dangerous separatist socio-political framework that characterises some ethnic groups as foreigners (irrespective of their nationality) and some as natives who enjoy an exclusive entitlement to influential political roles within the state. It is therefore unsurprising that the continued but unjustifiable exclusion of Welshman Ncube from the core of Zimbabwean politics is the only politically significant argument on which President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai are in agreement.

The incessant calls for the Ncube-led Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) to merge with the Tsvangirai-led faction are a symptom of that politics based on the perception of an exclusive ethnic Shona people entitlement to the running of the Zimbabwean state. If race was the single most significant factor in determining people’s worth pre-independence, ethnicity has substituted it in the independent Zimbabwe; ethnic groups other than Shona are consigned to peripheral, if not ceremonial, roles within the government.

The ill-advised, undiplomatic and non-objective appraisal of Welshman Ncube by Christopher Dell (the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe) who, according to Wikileaks records, argued that Welshman was a highly divisive figure who must be removed from the Zimbabwean political stage is reckless and of itself problematic as it unwittingly supports tribalism. Such remarks do not only highlight ignorance of the underlying socio-political problems in Zimbabwe but also illustrate double standards and more importantly represent a betrayal of the democratic aspirations of millions of Zimbabwean citizens. In the USA political opponents are allowed political space yet the ambassador advises the removal of opponents in Zimbabwe, disturbing!

Continued calls for the Welshman Ncube-led MDC to merge with the Tsvangirai-led faction are as disrespectful to Tsvangirai himself as they are condescending to Ncube. Why should Ncube stand aside for Tsvangirai? This is essentially not an argument about Ncube’s party being ‘small’ or dividing the opposition vote but an acknowledgement by Tsvangirai’s friends and/ or supporters in the media that the MDC-T’s organic growth has stalled.

It is a serious indictment to Tsvangirai’s leadership that he has failed to transform his MDC from a protest party of the late 1990s and early 21st Century to one ready to govern Zimbabwe in 2013. Blaming Ncube for what is clearly a lack of vision within the MDC-T is a desperate attempt to shift public scrutiny from the MDC-T leadership to Ncube’s MDC.

The Tsvangirai-led MDC must objectively look at itself. Why is the party’s brand fast losing its appeal? Besides the 2005 split and limited cosmetic changes in junior party positions, the party leadership has not changed. More and not less internal democracy is what the MDC-T requires; repeated veiled tribal attacks on Ncube will not turn bad policies to master strokes.

As part of a misfiring coalition, the Tsvangirai-led MDC has presided over the continued worsening living standards of the electorate while the political elite, including Tsvangirai, have enjoyed unexplained economic renaissance.

By failing to rein in ZANU PF, Tsvangirai is complicit in the continued abuse of human rights and civil liberties. The MDC-T’s characterisation of Ncube as a power-hungry ‘regional leader’ (a contextual euphemism for Ndebele leader) as opposed to a national leader is bigotry reminiscent of the early 1980s Zimbabwe that saw the victimisation and illegal murders of PF ZAPU supporters and ordinary Mthwakazians. Indeed the arguments against Ncube are not based on the material content of his party’s ideals but on ethnic bigotry.

The continuation of the politics of entitlement in which ethnic Shona people believe only them should be leaders of all significant national institutions should be worrying to all discerning minds in Zimbabwean politics. It is a serious indictment to Zimbabwean politics that the 21st Century MDC-T still sees and plays its political narrative as the 20th Century ZANU PF. The MDC-T is only worried about the next election and not about the next generation; that is the reason for the absence of practical steps to rid Zimbabwean politics of the ethnically divisive rhetoric. ZANU PF has failed Zimbabweans but attempts to divert people’s attention from the predominant socio-political deficiencies to just ZANU PF as a political entity must be resisted. If anything, the differences between ZANU PF and the MDC-T are becoming less and less apparent in the eyes of the electorate and Tsvangirai’s indecision and lack of clarity in significant political matters should be a worry for his political friends.


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