Zimbabwe: MDC – When Change Gives the Same
THE Herald has redeemed journalism. One read with absolute disgust shallow media reports on the ongoing saga and leadership tussle within MDC-T, eternally wondering when the better deserving reader would finally get justly served by our media. The wait has been long, with respite only coming yesterday through a headline story in The Herald dedicated to this contest. The MDC-T’s “national council” is not a secret. Its membership is known, as are the legal parameters within which it meets, ponders issues and then decide. To then have two rival factions, each claiming a commanding lead founded on separate votes from the same organ comprising the same membership, and with our media obediently reporting both results and claims as a correct record, takes obeisantly journalism to a new low.
We was rigged!
Tsvangirai, we are told by the media, expelled Biti following an overwhelming 162 out of 167 vote in the 176 MDC-T national council. A few days later, the same media reported that the MDC-T national council, presumably the same one, voted 136 out of 138, to expel Tsvangirai and his acolytes. Until yesterday, no comment followed both reports whose interpretive value was borne out by the fact of turning both results into pot-boilers in subsequent stories on the same matter. Clearly the first line of history had been written. And rigged! Pity unto our children who shall turn to this for guidance and knowledge. Is this not breathtaking? More interestingly, MDC-T, the party which claims July 31 elections were rigged, is rigging its own vote and processes! And doing so in tragi-comic ways. Here are the key questions.
The questions they would not raise
Firstly, are we still talking about the same 176-strong national council of MDC-T? Or is it about some self-serving offshoots from it? Secondly, is it within the bounds of possibility that a divided MDC-T would still retain an undivided, even-handed national council which is at the beck and call of both rivals? Which is to say as an organisation the MDC-T is not divided, but is only suffering two leadership personalities entangled in a personal feud of zero implication to the whole organisation?
Thirdly, where an organisation gets conflicted, does it not stand to reason that the behaviour and performance of its underpinning organs becomes a subject of interest and scrutiny? Why has this not been so? Lastly, where a dispute boils down to the constitutionality and procedures of actions, surely journalistic emphasis shifts to an assessment of processes, procedures and their integrity? How does the same institution meet twice in different venues, at different times, at the behest of different leaders, but on the same matter, all to give different results carrying see-saw fortunes for the two contestants, all without arousing media scepticism in both results, heightened media interest in the integrity of these rivalling processes?
Far from exposing the MDC-T and the way it manages its affairs, the current leadership tussle in the MDC has put the national media on trial. And the media are not doing too well at all in that dock. Such a spectacular willingness to suspend disbelief, itself the essence of journalism, raises key questions about our media and their editorial leadership. And not just in respect of leadership contest in MDC-T; but in respect of major shifts in the bearing of national politics whatever causes them.
Look at the shallowness with which the issue of Zanu-PF succession is being handled, compare it with the way the leadership tussle in MDC-T — itself an expression of succession in the one branch of national politics – is being handled, and tell me whether what comes through is not juvenile journalism. And of course the hallmark of journalism still to break a voice — isati yaputudza — is fascination with unexamined “pressa”, personalities and meaningless sound-bites. Such journalism can’t recognise that the only handsome face in journalism is that of a satisfied reader who must be well served through a never balancing equation of non-belief between scrubs — sorry scribes — and inveigling sources out to hoodwink journalists.
Looking at media outputs on the MDC-T leadership story, one detects a clear dilemma in the newsroom: between a recognition that a post-July 31 MDC-T cannot continue to be the same or to run on the same ideas, style and leadership on the one hand, and an equally compelling commitment to resurrect, protect and present intact a human symbol of oppositional politics by way of Tsvangirai. If the MDC does not reform after the July debacle, its extinction is assured, something the media do not want. But to acknowledge the need for reforms is to challenge Tsvangirai’s leadership, something the media are not yet ready to do. After all it was the same media which built the persona which Tsvangirai wields, built it for well over a decade and half.
Truth of static base
What July 31 did was to make an introspection unavoidable. It underscored and highlighted the fact that MDC peaked in 2000, before freezing in its tracks thereafter. So too did Tsvangirai’s leadership. As a cursory look at election results for subsequent years will show, MDC’s support base between 2000 and 2008 did not shrink, did not rise. It remained uneasily static. What buoyed the party’s prospects, or made them steady and unchanging, were the turbulent failures in Zanu-PF, climaxing in the 2008 “bhora musango” debacle. But in the absence of a real trouncing of the MDC, there would have been no trigger for this kind of introspective analysis which the MDC lacked while badly needing it, indeed which today threatens to wash away both Tsvangirai and Biti.
Post-colonial in post-liberation politics
And come to think of it, beyond figures which the media are always simplistically fascinated with, there were key issues which confronted the MDC right from soon after the expiry of its aura of novelty. I will just raise one. From its very inception, but possibly belied by the aura of newness, MDC faced an existential question of what form sustainable post-colonial politics assume in a post-liberation Zimbabwe. As many will readily agree, just fashioning post-colonial politics is a tough proposition in itself. Doing so against enduring values of a liberation war symbolised by a governing liberation front doubles the conceptual load. Add to all that the fact of Western, specifically British, patronage founded on a bitter desire to challenge new-found sovereignty, and you realise the load on the small back of MDC was bound to make it bent treble.
Enter Zvinavashe’s strait jacket
The enduring nature of this issue not only comes from the MDC formations’ continued reliance on Western support, but also from a spectacular failure to deal with the liberation factor and the fact of its immanent presence in the national political ethos. And this factor is not about to go away. Zanu-PF successfully used the constitution-making process to implant this in the country’s supreme law. It is now cast in stone, thereby creating a strait-jacket on political leadership.
What started as a controversial statement from the late General Zvinavashe, has now become a national shibboleth. A more politically adept Tsvangirai would have used inclusive politics to deal with the issue of liberation in a manner which would have given closure to it. He did not. Today Biti is trying to grapple with the same issue by embracing the liberation war, even though perfunctorily. Welshman Ncube sought to do the same by associating with figures from the struggle, including the likes of Dabengwa and Mzila. And where you have a wily opponent like Zanu-PF which is so able to raise issues from the past to delegitimise opponents, this is one matter which will not go away any time soon.
Sanctions which shrunk MDC
The trouble with our aligned media is that this whole debate around the key issues which the MDC should have confronted at birth, or soon after, for it to move beyond a blend of stone-throwing student politics and ineffectual stay-away politics of trade unionism was swept under the convenient carpet of votes and their numbers. While elections are won on statistics, parties are made or built on factors.
If you add the fact that the ruinous sanctions which the MDC invited and supported killed industry, it could not have been too difficult to visualise an MDC soon to face membership anaemia as many workers either got laid off or “in-formalised”. The Thursday ZCTU Workers’ Day commemorations with its pitiable attendance drove home this paradoxical relationship between MDC-favoured sanctions on the one hand, and the dwindled growth prospects for the MDC-favoured ZCTU.
It required a leadership of exceptional vision to see the downside of this blunt weapon, a blunt weapon upgraded to a weapon of choice because the foreigner wanted it , wants it, and because MDC thought it was also a weapon of least cost. And all this at a time when Zanu-PF was busy growing its peasantry backbone through land reforms!
Confronting issues of an epoch
I have decided to debate this matter to highlight the absolute lack of grasp of issues which, judging by Simukai Tinhu’s latest piece published in the British Guardian, appears to be blighting even our intellectuals as well. To read the current leadership impasse in the MDC-T as a leadership wrangle between Tsvangirai and Biti is not just ahistorical; it is to overlook the key existential questions which remain outstanding, and whose resolution or failure thereof will always make or break leaders in that organisation, or in any post-colonial, post-liberation political formation in the country. And there is nothing new in that. What made leaders from the days of NDP in the 1960s right up Lancaster in 1979, was the whole issue of how to dislodge settler colonialism.
Writing for the British
Greater misconception builds if one believes, as does Tinhu, that Tsvangirai ever wielded “personal power”, let alone entrenched it. I suppose Tinhu is writing for a British audience whose government has had a lot to do with the MDC from inception. For the British, the whole question then boils down to who leads its project here, a question Tinhu thinks he can answer for them. Yet here back home, the issue is precisely the British factor which won’t go away, and what it does to opposition politics in the national context, and to opposition leadership types and options within the MDC itself. Frankly, the issue of personalities is a British, American and western one.
Here the real challenge is to correctly interpret July 31 and give the country the waiting-politics it deserves given its peculiar post-liberation sensibility. Whilst Tinhu thinks it is either Tsvangirai or Biti — and while clearly hoping it would be Biti — for the national politics it is the fact of a terminally declining MDC badly distracted by personalities from re-examining the entire foreign premises of its politics. Its rallies are poorly attended; ZCTU, its mother body is atrophying; all its organs are shambolic. What matters is whether the current conflict re-invents oppositional politics away from foreign influence. Such a question cannot find resolution simply in choosing between a dumb or clever minder of British and western interests here. This is Tinhu’s pitfall, which is why for him it is about giving British interests here a popular face and a thinking head, and hence the partnership he says is needed between the two contestants.
No gift to Zanu-PF
Much worse, the hand of the donor has been brazenly shown, giving a sense of having been strengthened. The one uncanny result of the so-called leadership contest as it unfolds is how it is vindicating Zanu-PF’s allegations of a foreign government-dependent and funded MDC. In desperation, the hand of the foreigner has become more visible, more directing, with rival factions openly competing for its stroking and its funding. The way British and American officials have thrown caution to the wind in trying to paper over MDC cracks shows the depth of their involvement in opposition politics.
The MDC has become a key vehicle for the realisation of western foreign policy goals in Zimbabwe. The issue for the west is getting the best manager for project. It shall be these western interests, not the personalities of Tsvangirai and Biti, which shall determine the leadership outcome. I hope Tinhu takes note. Much more, and this escapes both the local media and Tinhu, turmoil in MDC can never be “a gift to Zanu-PF”. A liberation movement and national party like Zanu-PF will be exercised by the depth of resurgent western politics in the national body-politic, and how this factor attenuates our collective claim to sovereignty. This is an unwholesome reality bedimming claims that we have ousted the white colonial in our national politics. Much worse, as 2008 showed, the west often uses an oppositional entrepôt to destabilise a liberation movement by undermining its cohesion, and by diluting its agenda. That means that while the mayhem in MDC might be away, it is not far off.
Illustratively, and this is not apparent to Tinhu, the few months of leadership wrangle in MDC-T have spurred the West to attack and undermine our sovereignty more directly, more aggressively. The past weeks have seen definite acts of hostility from the West. It is as if the West, led by Britain and America, have decided to act for the opposition, while gaining more time to reorganise it. There is a determination to sustain the anti-Zanu-PF, anti-Zimbabwe momentum. July 31, we are being told through hostile Western actions, was a mistake for which we Zimbabweans must rue, and which must be rolled back before any rapproachment can be contemplated. After all, a plebiscite alone can no longer satisfy democracy as visualised by the West.
This is why the Brotherhood are out in Egypt; why Ukraine is under an oligarch; why Venezuela’s Maduro must still go even after winning elections. To meet the western test, plebiscites must integrate the vote and protection of western interests. And where the two cannot balance, western interests must gain the day. A good day for Zanu-PF is when our politics extirpate the West from our body politic. Tsvangirai could not do it. Biti will not do it given his donor-darling status. This is why he can never present a better alternative to Tsvangirai anymore than does Tsvangirai to him. The issue is to found new politics, new politicians. The present contest is a far cry from that.