Levi Kabwato
Levi Kabwato

Tsvangirai, it’s time to step up or step down

To anyone who has been paying close attention to developments in Zimbabwe since 2009 – after the formation of the government of national unity (GNU) – the 2013 election result was almost a forgone conclusion.

Governments of national unity, as I have written elsewhere, create a false sense of security and unity in deeply polarised societies made up of a profoundly wounded – physically, emotionally and psychologically – people. Their true nature is that they are fierce power contests whose aim is for parties involved to make repeated attempts at swallowing each other in a bid to obtain influential control and authority of government.

This critical point was remarkably lost to Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party throughout the GNU era in Zimbabwe. Even more remarkable was the glaring failure of MDC-T to realise that by entering into this “marriage of inconvenience” with Zanu-PF, a party that had just lost an election, they were actually “gifting the enemy” a surprise come-back opportunity.

Ahead of the 2013 elections, President Robert Mugabe was quite aware of the damage the 2008 election had done to his party. “We are now like a wounded beast. You know how a wounded beast fights. Let’s fight back and restore our own pride,” Mugabe said.

If Tsvangirai was an astute politician and MDC-T a confident party with a resilient struggle ethos, they would have realised that the 2008 poll was probably going to be the only opportunity in history to completely demobilise ZANU-PF’s hegemonic power. Alas, Zanu-PF – with solid years of experience and cunning tactical thinking behind it – was not shy to embrace the come-back opportunity and quite evidently, they have made the most of it.

At the risk of upsetting many Zimbabweans who voted in the last election, let me point out that the exercise of their right to vote was an inevitable national – and not just political – necessity that has enabled them to finally come to terms with a fact they have known for a while but have never quite seriously confronted – “tyranny is always better organised than freedom”. Those brilliant words belong to French poet Charles Peguy.

So organised has been Harare’s “tyranny” that even observer missions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) have chosen to drop, altogether, “fairness” as a critical election condition and standard! The repercussions of this very unfortunate move will be felt in the rest of the region and continent as many other countries go to the polls.

The MDC celebrated its 14th anniversary two weeks ago. In Manicaland province, a former stronghold and where the party chose to commemorate the event, the occasion was riddled with both irony and farce.

The irony was emblazoned in the chosen theme of the event: “Celebrating and Claiming the People’s Victory.” Was there anything to celebrate post-election? And which victory, exactly, was being claimed?

Then there was the almost farcical claim that MDC-T had unearthed evidence pointing to electoral fraud on Zanu-PF’s part and – wait for it – Tsvangirai himself “shall be engaging SADC and the AU because they simply do not have the information of how the people’s verdict was stolen. So I shall visit them and update them on what happened during the July 31 theft”.

Zimbabweans reading that portion of Tsvangirai’s “victory speech” should not laugh but cry instead. Seriously.

I’m not too sure how many SADC and AU snubs Tsvangirai needs before he can realise that only the people of Zimbabwe – the people whose alleged victory he is claiming – hold the key to successfully challenging all national and electoral processes in question. This is a point SADC itself buttressed at the last summit in Malawi.

The main point, however, is that Tsvangirai was speaking to the people who probably voted for him in July, the people whose votes were most likely made not to count. So, why not present the evidence of vote fraud to them? Why choose to fly business class and visit SADC and AU boardrooms when the people who actually matter are standing right in front of you? Is this not their “evidence” too?

Without critical introspection, MDC-T seriously risks being a party that will soon not be a viable political alternative in Zimbabwe. Indeed, post-election internecine party infighting is threatening to tear the party apart. Hence, Tsvangirai should be the first person to take responsibility for the fate his party has suffered, and continues to suffer. Surely he cannot claim that his 2008 poll misjudgement and Zanu-PF’s tactical manoeuvring in the GNU have had no impact on his own viability as a leader.

“If there is need for leadership renewal, we don’t suppress it; we actually encourage it … there are processes that should be instituted and there are forums that will make that decision and one of those key forums is a congress. I was elected at a [party] congress in 2011 and the next congress is in 2016,” Tsvangirai insists.

If he gets a fresh mandate at the 2016 congress and manages to complete it in 2021, Tsvangirai would have led the party for 22 years. Unless he wins general elections in 2018, there would have been no electoral victory to show for his leadership.

Ian Kay, an MDC-T losing parliamentary candidate in the last election, thinks thus: “There is need [for MDC-T] to plan ahead before the ship sinks and if there is need to change the coach, then let it be. Or should I say it is like a rusty bolt? There is need for it to be removed and replaced with a new one rather than leave it like that.”

Has the time finally arrived for Zimbabweans disappointed with Zanu-PF’s recent electoral success to begin imagining future political alternatives that do not include Tsvangirai and his MDC-T? Is Zimbabwe inching closer to recognising the fact that the living fire that once was Morgan Tsvangirai has now been reduced, by repeated Zanu-PF success, to cold, impotent ash and nothing much should be expected from him going forward?

Only time will tell.

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