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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
future and relevance of opposition politics in Zimbabwe after the
2013 elections: A presentation to the Mass Public Opinion Institute’s
(MPOI) public seminar, Thursday 26 September 2013, New Ambassador
Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe
September 26, 2013
Let me begin
by expressing my gratitude, as always to MPOI
for inviting me to participate in this important debate concerning
the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. As the title of the
matter to be debated openly implies, it is a future that is being
considered particularly in the aftermath of the July
31 2013 harmonised election. The reasons why the question is
relevant relates to two things.
Firstly, that the political
opposition in Zimbabwe, which historically was at its strongest
since 1999 and particularly in 2008, seems to be on the back foot.
Assumptions of an inevitable victory or alternatively, movement
from opposition to ruling party status appear to have been quashed
by the disputed but politically accepted result of our most recent
national election. Secondly, the issue of the status of the opposition
and its future is emerging not only in relation to the existence
of the mainstream opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC-T), but as a generalized query as to whether there can be a
viable, vibrant and potentially election winning opposite end of
Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe.
Both considerations will
evoke political emotion in many an opposition party supporter. Some
who may not want to have all their sacrifices appear to have come
to naught will defend to the hilt the current mainstream political
opposition parties. It is an understandable reaction to any attempts
to seek to analyse the reasons for the current state of affairs
in the opposing political parties. Others who are sympathetic to
the ruling party will argue that where the opposition finds itself
now is a political tragedy of its own making.
They will over analyze
the weaknesses of the mainstream opposition and claim that it was
not grounded in the people. Or alternatively that it did not campaign
adequately for the hearts and minds of the masses. This is also
an understandable assertion given the right of every Zimbabwean
to an opinion even if it is a biased one.
A departure point however,
would be to assess the opposition politics with an understanding
that it will always exist in Zimbabwe and that it will not always
be victorious. 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 make 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.
The opposition in Zimbabwe
has never laid claim to leading a revolution. It has talked of democracy,
the struggle, but not revolution. And therefore, it has fundamentally
been a collection of those that oppose not in order to transform
Zimbabwean society, but to replace those in power. This has been
a key characteristic of the mainstream opposition since independence
and it is not a bad thing in and of itself.
The only problem that
this tendency has faced is that of the long incumbency of the ruling
party and its claim to be a revolutionary which in its own reasoning
makes it somewhat unassailable.
This has regrettably
led to the contemporary opposition in Zimbabwe taking the well trodden
path of them versus us and no other particularly issue to oppose
each other about.
It is an analysis that
some will refute to the extent of bringing out manifestos to try
and offer or prove themselves as an alternative. The truth of the
matter is that the lived political realities on the ground indicate
that the practices and strategies of the parties are all too similar.
That is why for example, the patronage component appeared to have
triumphed in the last elections with allegations of vote buying
being placed before the Electoral Court.
In order to elaborate
further, I will use the famous phrase from George Orwell’s
Animal Farm novel. In relation to lived political experiences of
the masses of Zimbabwe over and about political opposition and ruling
parties, the most apt line would be “The creatures outside
looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man
again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
This brief analysis does
not however, to imply that the opposition has no future in Zimbabwe.
In fact it lays the ground for it. The mainstream opposition that
has emerged from the electoral process must take up the role of
formal opposition with whatever seats it acquired for itself in
the last plebiscite. Even if it claims it does not recognize the
electoral triumph of the once again ruling party, it must swallow
its pride and fulfill the mandate it sought from the people of Zimbabwe
within the context of a new constitution it helped construct, albeit
in an elitist and undemocratic fashion.
Furthermore, where it
claims it is leading a ‘struggle’ it must demonstrate
the necessary contrition at why the objectives of its struggle are
far from met, even after its participation in an inclusive government.
And finally it must bring its party elected leaders to account on
the basis of their performance. If it is serious about its own future,
it must reserve the right of political recall of the same said leaders.
But because the question posed here today is not solely about the
mainstream and now formal opposition, it is important to explain
the overall future tasks for the success of any opposition to the
ruling establishment in Zimbabwe.
For the opposition to
remain relevant and eventually ascend to political power, it must
exist as an organic alternative to the ruling party. Even if the
consequences can be dire. This would entail that the opposition
understands and explains its founding objectives and values not
only to its membership but to all of the citizens of Zimbabwe, no
matter their station in life. It must also avoid mimicking the ruling
party’s tendencies in relation to political practice at grassroots
and articulate those issues that affect both the idealistic as well
as mechanical life expectations of the people of Zimbabwe. It must
not find itself caught up in the elitist trappings of power and
their attendant materialism and ‘kiya kiya’ politics.
Mr. Chairman, if the
question were not a qualitative one on the future of opposition
politics in Zimbabwe, I would say with certainty that opposition
politics has a future in Zimbabwe. It is only a question of whether
it will be an organic and people driven opposition or one that functions
again in binary terms, of them versus us. In my view, the future
looks bright for any opposition that listens to and continues to
heed the call of the people for a social democratic Zimbabwe. And
one that also remembers the famous quote from Guinea Bissau and
Cape Verdean African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, ‘Tell
no lies, claim no easy victories.
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