The confidence exuding from Zimbabweans that, this time things will be different, is evident in the opposition leadership and its rank.
The late Morgan Tsvangirai, President of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, set the tone for the 2018 harmonised elections on 8 May 2017. As he launched the coalition of opposition parties, he stated that “Today, we show that we have graduated from a dark past of needless fragmentation” (Tsvangirai, 2017). That fragmentation not only deflated hope and punctured national confidence, but it also slowly led to people staying away from national processes and losing faith in elections. The kaleidoscopic mix of our political identities today is meant to infuse hope and underline the theme of the alliance that we launch here today. That underlying theme is that, “Alone, we can go fast but together, we can go far.” In the opinion of this writer, MDC Alliance’s victory in the election will be Morgan Tsvangirai’s posthumous Oscar.
The following are some of the reasons for the robust fervour exhibited by MDC Alliance and its support group.
The post Mugabe ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU/PF) party is severely fractured. The internal animus and turmoil have generated a bitter war of words between the new faces and the old guard. These trepidations have been felt in the halls of parliament and councils. Predictably, tension has developed between the army and “Team Lacoste” (ZANU-PF faction supporting President Mnangagwa) for influence in the party. It is no secret that there is no love lost between “Generation 40 (G40)” (ZANU-PF faction supporting former First Lady Grace Mugabe) and the current president. With the normalisation of the situation in the country, there has been a steady resurgence of the G40 that is gearing to challenge Team Lacoste.
In his seminal essay, “Zimbabwe Can Do Better”, Canadian resident, Oscar Simela drew our attention to the political health of ZANU-PF. He states, “To cut a long story short, factionalism in ZANU-PF which had been brewing under the surface for some time between the so called G40 group led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace and the so-called Lacoste faction led by then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, came to a head on 6 November 2017 when Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired by Robert as Vice President of Zimbabwe” (Simela, 2018).
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has revealed that about 60 percent of the registered 5.3 million voters in Zimbabwe are between 18 and 40 years old. As of now, it appears that the 2018 presidential race will be between President Emmerson Mnangagwa (ZANU-PF) and Nelson Chamisa (MDC Alliance).
It is rather tempting to compare the chances of the two contenders under this scenario. Mnangagwa is 75 years old and Chamisa is 40 years old. On the face of it, the MDC candidate should appeal to the young set more than the ZANU-PF standard bearer. In fact, according to Nehanda Radio, 23 August 2017, the MDC youth assembly’s pledge confirmed this.
It read as follows: “Lastly, we reaffirm our support to the coalition building process and the consolidation of a formidable MDC Alliance. We believe the coalition will be the best platform through which to bring about the much-needed political change in the country. As the MDC National Youth Assembly, we are fully behind this process in line with the demands of the people of Zimbabwe” (Nehanda Radio, 2017).
Contrast this with the mood of the ZANU-PF youth groups that were recently engaged in denouncing their party and especially former President Mugabe using the slogan, “Down with Robert Mugabe”. Incidentally, this is the same slogan that he had meanly and routinely applied against the opposition and sundry other enemies. The question to be asked is, what will attract the youth vote?
The civil society has supplied the answer time and time again throughout the 35 bleak years of the Gushungo regime. It simply is jobs, democracy, civil/human rights, peace/security, education and genuine freedom. While solid record shows ZANU-PF incapable of delivering on any of these, MDC has the advantage of “clean hands” and learning from others’ mistakes and open mindedness.
The case for youthful leadership is buttressed by the statement of Graça Machel made at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg on 25 February 2018. She said, “Africa does not need leaders who are 75 or 65 years old but a leadership that is young, vibrant and innovative.” (Machel, 2018)
There is strength in numbers. There are several sources that could swell MDC’s ranks. Over the years, numerous Zimbabwean voters have been disaffected but because of the Mugabe machine of rigging, there were no alternative ways to express vote preferences. This time around, at least, President Mnangagwa has promised a fair and free election and masses of formerly disaffected individuals have indicated that MDC Alliance offers them a viable choice.
There is little doubt about the euphoria that has gripped the youth of Zimbabwe on the possibilities of these elections, and thus they have determined that they will play their role in ways that they have not been permitted to do in the Mugabe/ZANU-PF era of terror. Even before his death, MDC Alliance President, Morgan Tsvangirai had mobilised masses in the townships and rural areas. Partly, due to the impact he had on the people, Tsvangirai’s death is expected to generate a sizeable amount of sympathy vote. The several groups that comprise the Alliance contribute memberships that augment the size of the organisation.
Based on past experience, MDC Alliance has crafted a mechanism to counter ZANU’s quinquennial habit of rigging elections. In April 2017, MDC was invited by ZEC to inspect the newly acquired biometric voting machines. MDC did this in the process of researching ZANU’s rigging plan around the computer servers in use.
The information obtained enabled them to devise effective counter measures. Their confidence that they had captured the head of the snake was evident in the following statement, “We have our team of experts who have their eyes on the ball all the time. We can assure the nation that we will not let the ZANU-PF regime have its cake and eat it too. This time we have the regime firmly cornered” (MDC Alliance, 2017).
Inside observers report that the ultimatum to ZEC in the form of the slogan “No reforms, No elections” is producing results. President Mnangagwa, unlike former President Mugabe, has called for calm and no violence. It should be noted that violence and disruption were used as cover by the ruling party to accommodate acts of vote manipulation. The Alliance, through election committees, deciphered ZANU’s rigging puzzle. ZEC was directed by the administration to change statements about procurement of computer equipment in order to accommodate fraudulently registered ZANU-PF supporters. Party zealots were surreptitiously bussed to a secluded area for secret voter registration. Since the exposure of the plot, ZEC has vowed to stop it, and thus Mnangagwa is missing one sharp arrow from his quiver.
There is no doubt that since its inception, MDC Alliance has enjoyed a strong support of the Zimbabwe civil society. The Alliance is a beneficiary of this good will. There is all the good reason that the group should count on the backing of the masses during the election.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s legacy and message of peace is a public record. As civil society has gravitated towards MDC, it should also be noted that they share a few but significant common experiences that have become a basis for comradeship. They have suffered harassment, arrests, abductions, ballot deprivation, banishment and even death.
The people’s confidence in MDC Alliance and its leadership was expressed in an article titled, “Tsvangirai’s death brings new hope for Zimbabwe civil society” from Transconflict.com. The author, Edward Chinhanhu, observes “Overall, the ascension of Mnangagwa to the presidency, the death of Morgan Tsvangirai and the ascension of Chamisa to the opposition’s apex, have provided a new lease of life to Zimbabwe’s civil society and the population at large. Hope for democratic change is high” (Transconflict.com, 2018).
With the recent change of circumstances and with Mugabe in the “dog house”, in 2018, this hope is heavily vested in MDC Alliance. One other issue that has been of interest to civil society, especially the youth, is the diaspora vote. We know that even though it is accommodated in the constitution, ZANU-PF and Mugabe shot it down for this election. MDC Alliance has discussed it thoroughly and has requested the ZEC to make necessary plans for elections later in the year.
Some will ask, what about rumours of jostling for power in the Alliance? It is not uncommon for organisations to experience doubt and turmoil after changes at the upper echelons. However, the Alliance demonstrated its resilience by agreeing on a choice of the next president in the person of Nelson Chamisa, one of the erstwhile Vice Presidents. In the spirit of cooperation and progress, even though many people do not believe governmental pronouncements, MDC Alliance has guarded confidence that ZEC means it when it says it will ensure that proper logistics for a free and fair election are put in place for it to be held in terms of the constitution.
To be sure, the party has expressed concern about the possibility that ZEC and ZANU-PF will not keep their promise. In the event, this is the case, MDC Alliance will not participate in the election.
Nelson Chamisa’s and MDC Alliance’s confidence for victory is the path they are charting for the country going forward. They are on record as stating that they will implement wide ranging changes needed to restore fiscal discipline and fundamentals, lay a foundation for economic recovery and promote observance of human rights. They have articulated what they have called, “Alternative Economic Rescue Plan”. It calls for the creation of jobs, revitalisation of the industry, maintenance of high standards of education, cooperation with the international community, participation in international trade, respect of the rule of law, press freedom, and the establishment of government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
Technically, there is no government in Zimbabwe now. Former President Mugabe was removed from power unconstitutionally. So-called President Mnangagwa was put in position by the army. There is nothing in the Zimbabwe constitution that allows the army to play this role. As such, Mnangagwa is an illegitimate usurper.
Like every sovereign country, Zimbabwe deserves a government of its choice and making. The majority of Zimbabweans are unhappy with the ZANU-army consortium since they never signed up for it. MDC Alliance sees itself as the strongest party contender to form a government entity to fill the vacuum left by Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Its self- reliance was demonstrated immediately after the coup when there was talk about a MDC-ZANU transitional government. Although such an offer had not been officially offered by Mnangagwa, the expectation was there. However, MDC was on record as disinclined to entertain the idea since the ZANU/ Zimbabwe African People’s Union debacle of the 1980s was not lost on their minds.
Moreover, the memories of the recent brittle marriage between the two in the form of the joint government were not the best. Based on the mood in Zimbabwe, the civil society seems to share the Alliance’s sentiment that this is its time and that it should seize it. In the same spirit, MDC Alliance President, Chamisa threw a gauntlet down at President Mnangagwa’s feet regarding the pending elections. On 16 March 2018, he stated, “We are not going to have business as usual where ZANU-PF rig elections, we will not boycott elections but will simply make sure that elections will never happen without being credible, free and fair” (Chamisa, 2018) I dare say that Chamisa and company are not alone in sharing that view.
* Japhet M. Zwana writes from the United States of America
Chamisa, N (2018) “No reform, no election however will not boycott elections regardless,” says Chamisa - clear as mud, pompous one! [online] Available at: https://bulawayo24.com/news/national/130445 [Accessed 20 March 2018]
Machel, G (2018) Africa needs young‚ vibrant and innovative leaders [online] Available at: https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2018-02-24-africa-needs-young-vibrant-and-innovative-leaders-graca-machel/ [Accessed 20 March 2018]
MDC Alliance (2017) MDC-T ‘exposes’ 2018 election rigging plot [online] Available at: https://www.newsday.co.zw/2017/04/mdc-t-exposes-2018-election-rigging-plot/ [Accessed 20 March 2018]
Nehanda Radio (2017) Full text of statement: MDC Youth Assembly pledge support for opposition alliance [online] Available at: http://nehandaradio.com/2017/08/22/full-text-statement-mdc-youth-assembly-pledge-support-opposition-alliance/ [Accessed 20 March 2018]
Simela, O (2018) Zimbabwe Can Do Better [online] Available at: https://www.pambazuka.org/democracy-governance/zimbabweans-can-do-better [Accessed 2o March 2018]
Transconflict, (2018) Tsvangirai’s death brings new hope for Zimbabwean civil society [online] Available at: http://www.transconflict.com/2018/03/tsvangirais-death-brings-new-hope-for-zimbabwean-civil-society-073/ [Accessed 20 March 2018]
Tsvangirai, M (2017) President Tsvangirai’s speech at the launch of the MDC Alliance. [online] Available at: http://www.mdc.co.zw/index.php/meda/news/263-president-tsvangirai-s-speech-at-the-launch-of-the-mdc-alliance [Accessed 20 March 2018]