While the 2005 split of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has not wallowed out opposition politics, it has permanently re-configured the opposition political space and the way in which opposition politics is conducted in Zimbabwe. Focusing on ZANU PF alone is certainly no longer politically sufficient! There appears to be a begrudging acceptance in some quarters of the MDC-T that the party may be haemorrhaging support to the MDC particularly in parts of the midlands and the western parts of the country.
Heated debate within and between the opposition politics is to be expected, in fact it should ordinarily be welcomed by supporters of democracy yet the extant narrative threatens to polarise the electorate along ethnic margins and is thus toxic. The gap between the two opposition parties seems to have been dictated to and sustained by ideology than common sense. The prevailing animosity between the MDC and MDC-T that so far has anchored ZANU PF in power could yet again let it in through the back door in the next general election.
In public the MDC-T tries to play down the impact of the MDC on the Zimbabwean political landscape, dismissing it as a regional party run by village politicians. Sustained and irresponsible personal attacks on Welshman Ncube by both the MDC-T leadership and its supporters in the media including social networks have done little to halt the rise of MDC in the western parts of Zimbabwe and parts of the midlands. The MDC-T is acutely aware that were the perceived threat of the MDC be real and more importantly translate to votes on the ground, it will be a game changer in the face of Zimbabwean politics. Fears within MDC-T circles are that MDC is a genuine alternative within parts of the midlands and the western parts of the country and that disaffected members from these regions were more likely to join the MDC than ZANU PF.
The progress of the MDC raises the spectre for a hung parliament in any future election. It challenges the two main political parties (MDC-T and ZANU PF) to repackage their politics from one treating the electorate as possessions of the political elite to one that recognises them as partners. The parties therefore need to stop answering their own questions and start addressing those from the electorate.
The MDC-T’s focus on the MDC as a legitimate target in their strategic campaign to claw back lost political ground is quite understandable. Identifying the MDC as a direct competitor is spot on but the party does not seem to know the reasons for its haemorrhaging of support to MDC in certain parts of the country as such there is no coherent let alone credible strategy of clawing back support. Ad hoc measures will only serve to discredit the party; for instance employing waifs and stray based abroad to represent the party in local elections will not raise the MDC-T stock but instead risks undercutting and upsetting the party’s local activists and thus play right into the hands of the MDC. Even worse, some of the tactics being employed border on the margins of bigotry than political finesse. Portraying Welshman as an ugly deception employed by the ZANU PF affiliated state agents (CIO) is scandalous.
MDC-T has to appreciate that MDC’s considerable progress in the last 5 years is not a coincidence of ethnicity but a by-product of hard work and relevant politics as opposed to Welshman’s personality or ethnicity. The MDC, like any organisation, has its internal problems but its narrative and tactics appear to be right: its narrative captures and emphasises the need for equal protection of Zimbabwean citizens, the benefits of devolved powers and the importance of eradicating violence from politics. The enterprising use of the media and the ability to engage its supporters at various levels and on different subjects is noteworthy.
For the MDC-T to call the MDC a regional party and village politicians when such a characterisation is not used about Simba Makoni’s Mavambo smacks of veiled tribalism. By so doing, the MDC-T is playing a dangerous socio-political game that may alienate the party in the midlands and the western parts of Zimbabwe. Demeaning the rural electorate is not intelligent politics no one wants to be on the wrong side of at least 70 percent of the country’s population! It would be interesting to know what the MDC-T’s opinion of villagers is and how it defines ‘village politicians’.
The threat of MDC will hopefully reshape the narrative of Zimbabwean politics for years to come. A move from an obsession with the removal of ZANU PF to tackling the very societal systems that gave rise to ZANU PF and continually maintained it is long overdue. Why is it still an expectation in Zimbabwean politics that a head of state should be an ethnic Shona person? Instead of being flippant about the MDC and the rural electorate, the MDC-T has to objectively interrogate itself. Why is it that – on the back of a good electoral performance in the 2008 elections – the party has remained a repository of people’s anger instead of a government-in-waiting?