Paradox of GNU, MDC and transition politics

ON JANUARY 30, 2009, the MDC National Council, by a narrow margin, made the bold decision of being part of the Inclusive Government pursuant to the execution by the political leadership of the three parties to the GPA on September 15, 2008.

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That the decision to participate in the GNU was marginal cannot be a surprise. There were those that felt that participating in the same would disconnect the MDC from its grassroots and alienate it from the generality of the masses.

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Equally, there was a general feeling that Zanu PF was a predatory, institutionalised and militarised sobriquet that would never morph itself into a civil political party, would prove an unreliable partner and would never demobilise.

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The decision that carried the day was predicated on one thing and one thing alone: the need and obligation to provide relief to a people that for more than a decade had been assaulted by dislocation, hunger, starvation, violence and capture by an irresponsible, visionless, indifferent, intolerant, clueless, and cruel regime.

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Between 1997 and 2008, the Zimbabwean economy was devalued by over 60%, unemployment increased to above 80% and 90% of the people were surviving on less than US$0.35, hyper inflation reached supersonic figures whilst there was a complete shutdown in public service in particular health and education.

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There is no question that the MDC in government brought relief and time-out to a tortured population. The introduction of the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme brought solutions to a country that had been savaged by crisis for more than a decade.

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However, the MDC’s presence in government brought its own contradictions. The first was that internally, a clear chasm developed between the grassroots party and its members seconded into government. Suddenly, one group was now driving Mercedes Benzes and on the face of it now on par with the Zanu PF effigy of power and corruption.

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That same chasm was reproduced between the MDC and its civic society partners. The real challenge was that the MDC was in government but still an opposition in that its goal for democratic change had not been achieved.

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We found ourselves in the same paradoxical situation of being in and being out at the same time. At some moments, we were more out than in and at others we were more in than out.

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Part of the contradictions in government was that, it being a coalition government, the MDC had no free reign to implement its social democratic policies. More importantly, the MDC did not have the real power in government the same having been totally retained by Zanu PF. Even in spaces that the MDC operated, for instance in health, education and social delivery, Zanu PF squeezed resources, in particular diamond resources making policy implementation impossible.

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The truth of the matter, therefore, is that the MDC’s participation in a government in which it has largely been a junior partner has brought contradictions and challenges. These challenges are somewhat captured but not explained in the recent Freedom House survey “Change and New Politics in Zimbabwe”. That report, among other things, makes the point that the MDC is now 10% behind Zanu PF. Its share of declared election vote in June-July 2012 has shrunk from 38% to 19% between 2010 and 2012 and that Zanu PF’s has climbed from 17% to 31% during the same period. The report also points to a decline in confidence and public trust in its leadership.

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The Freedom House report thus comes at a critical time for the MDC and presents a fantastic opportunity for self-introspection. The Freedom House report, despite its limitations, must be regarded as a mirror in respect of which the MDC is looking at its face. When you are ugly, you don’t break the mirror for telling you the same.

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It is the duty of any organisation and political party to unpack and derive lessons from any work of an academic nature. Thus clearly, there are points being made by the Freedom House report and the MDC certainly has not discounted the same.

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The major lesson being that the MDC needs to reconnect with its mass base and needs to carry out protracted programmes of mobilisation, advocacy, education, recruitment and delivery. This is not contestable.

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We accept fully the message that the MDC does not have a God-given right to govern and that the MDC by action has to wake up and work for the support of Zimbabweans.

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The MDC’s biggest strength is its capacity to listen, learn from its mistakes, pick itself from the floor and move forward. Throughout the years the MDC has been a victim of serious body blows to it including the 2005 split, the loss of critical cadres through death, the lack of resources, being abandoned by friends and partners, violence and fascism.

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At any given time, we have never had the luxury of experience or tutors and mentors. We have always struggled in the dark guided by our own principles. Every stage of our development, like the life of our leader Morgan Tsvangirai, has been a deep end. Against the odds, we have made history and we will make history.

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Despite our history, it appears that in certain political circles obituaries for the MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai are now being written. This is amazing but not surprising.

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For different reasons, there is a huge constituency outside Zimbabwe that does not want the MDC to succeed. In some circles, a victory for the MDC is dangerous precedent against the grip of liberation movements in the region. For this reason, the MDC must not succeed.

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In other circles, particularly in the USA, the MDC is seen as incompetent and therefore the thrust is to find an alternative and more importantly work with a reformed Zanu PF. We saw this in 2008 where the emergence of Simba Makoni was treated in some circles as the Damascus moment for Zimbabwe. Many discarded us into history textbooks and we fought the 2008 election with a budget of less than US$50,000.

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The truth of the matter is clear as pikestaff and is reflected implicitly in the Freedom House report itself. The people of Zimbabwe want change, real transformation that is why according to the survey, 85% of Zimbabweans are eager to vote in the forthcoming elections.

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Further, a staggering 82% of Zimbabweans will support any political party that can bring change, 90% will support a party that can deliver services and 89% will support a party committed to civil and political rights. This is in contrast to the support given to land reform and indigenisation.

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Moreover, in the same report unemployment and general economic issues and not sanctions and indigenisation are recognised as the main issues affecting Zimbabweans. These are clearly MDC issues.

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In addition, the same report highlights that a staggering 95% (34% MDC; 20% Zanu PF; 33% undeclared) fear acts of political intimidation.

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The truth of the matter is simple: the MDC remains the legitimate and credible alternative to the status quo. The mass majority of Zimbabweans continue to place faith in it. However, it cannot to take the people of Zimbabwe for granted and must work. There is no question about it.

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Zanu PF has not been fooled by the opinion poll and has not celebrated it. Zanu PF is aware that since its election defeat of 2008, it has not delivered anything or come up with any fresh programme that can seduce people back to it. Indigenisation (particularly in the manner it is being executed) and sanctions do not fool anyone.

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Its current paralysis on the draft constitution is proof beyond reasonable doubt of crippled leadership. It is a party of the 14th century characterised by destruction and archaic ideas. It cannot be chlorinated by jingles and incomplete opinion surveys. And if by an omission of logic it (Zanu PF) thinks it is now the party in Zimbabwe, then let us go to a referendum with its warped constitutional draft and let us see how the people of Zimbabwe will punish the same.

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Tendai Biti is secretary general of the MDC party led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

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