Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
One day in the turbulent history of Zimbabwe, four men set themselves to agree on a constitutional arrangement that by the end of that year, 1978, gave us an animal called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The date was March 3 and the men were Ian Smith, then Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Senator Chief Jeremiah
Chirau, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole.
The four signatories of the constitutional agreement were sworn in as members of the Executive Council of the Transitional Government of Rhodesia with (supposedly) equal powers.
Various transitional mechanisms such as a referendum on the new constitution and dissolution of parliament were put in place. On December 2, it was announced in Salisbury that members of the Executive Council of Rhodesia’s Transitional Government had agreed on a government of national unity for the first five years under the new constitution.
The leader of the party winning most seats in the legislature would become prime minister and select his cabinet from parties represented in the legislature on a proportionate basis.
On January 2, 1979 a new constitution was published, christening the country “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia”.
It is trite to mention that this is one of the most laughable phases in Zimbabwe’s history — what with giving the country a surname — and it was made more ridiculous, and vacuous, by the fact that the mainstream nationalists Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo refused to be part of the charade.
Smith had had an unfruitful meeting with Nkomo in Lusaka on August 14, 1978, the intransigence of which angered Frontline States leaders.
(Zambian leader, Kenneth Kaunda, for his part had supported the transitional government and thus re-opened the rail route between Zambia and Rhodesia, “to enable Zambia to import urgently needed fertilizer.”)
But the unrecognised Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government was doomed to fail.
The liberation struggle continued, got hotter, and genuine independence eventually came on April 18, 1980, to the detriment and shame of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia experiment Muzorewa and Smith dismally lost the elections to the nationalists Mugabe and Nkomo.
Another March agreement
That was the unfortunate March 3 agreement. Another March agreement was cobbled only four days ago.
This one is even paler, not even a historical marker. It is worth discussing, though, because it represents some dynamic in the country’s modern, post-colonial politics.
That is why Smith-Chirau-Muzorewa-Sithole’s agreement has an allegorical significance in this piece, not least for the month in which it was signed.
On March 1, factions of the opposition MDC, MDC Renewal and MDC-Green, led by Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, both offshoots of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai, met to form what they termed United MDC (UMDC). You may be forgiven if you did not hear of it, because it was not an earth-quaking arrangement.
That opposition parties in Zimbabwe need to unite and defeat Zanu-PF has been a much-touted imperative.
Only it has failed: instead the main opposition MDC has split into different factions since 2005 while attempts at bringing in the likes of Zapu, Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn and others have failed.
The good old Zanu-Ndoga is dead, its leader announced recently, and members were told to join Zanu-PF structures. The present arrangement between Biti and Ncube strikes one as a coalition of bitter people who have fallen out with Morgan Tsvangirai. This will haunt them, because that is a perception that the people out there will have; actually have. It belongs to Tsvangirai, people would say. In a nutshell, this coalition, which is by no means grand, is a shadow of the original MDC.
If you look at the composition of the new outfit, nothing and no one strikes you as out of the ordinary.
We have Biti. Old Biti.
Welshman Ncube. Old Welsh.
They have done pretty little above their failed projects since breaking away from Tsvangirai.
They carry no weight other than the borrowed, diminishing weight of the old MDC. But there is even something ominous in the arrangement announced on March 1, not least because Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga left Prof Ncube’s faction last month amid speculation that her own ambitions would complicate life for the envisaged compound organisation.
The leadership positions in the new party, according to reports, will be shared equally between Prof Ncube and Biti’s groups.
Professor Ncube and Sekai Holland will be co-presidents while Tendai Biti and Moses Mzila Ndlovu will be co-secretary generals. Samuel Siphepha Nkomo and Goodrich Chimbaira will be co-chairmen.
This visibly cumbersome, twinning arrangement betrays deep structural flaws underpinned by suspicion and an exaggerated sense to create parity.
If the two organisations had some esprit de corps born of their common parentage and resulting from the consultations that we understand have been taking place lately, they would not have had this preposterous arrangements.
Positions for single candidates, and perhaps joint chairmanship, would naturally flow, had there been chemistry. Now, if every other top position has two people, it is simply a failure of checks-and-balance system, which is more qualitative than quantitative. But that is not the worst part.
The trouble lies ahead when it will be time to have substantive leadership. Biti and Prof Ncube are both ambitious people, and the contest for the presidency will present a significant challenge. Never mind the rhetoric about “depersonalised politics”.
Politics of personalities is well and truly with us still. A few weeks ago, a source within the Renewal Team revealed how Biti had been flexing muscles and seeking to project himself as the undisputed leader of the formation.
By the way, Holland has been the provisional president of the faction while Elton Mangoma engineered the breaking away of the Renewal Team last year after he wrote a damning letter to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai urging him to step down. The source had damning assessment of the two politicians.
Sekai was just a “transitional president” and Mangoma was out of touch and “not the quintessential politician”.
But both politicians will not be easy to stave off that easily and it will be interesting to see how they will fare in the not-so-grand coalition.
On the real battle, though, will be between Biti and Prof Ncube for president, and who will be the deputy?
It is speculated that under the “zebra” system of horse trading, the one side that gets the presidency will not get the secretary general post.
This is how Misihairabwi-Mushonga fell, having been suspected by her faction of having cut a deal with Biti to secure the secretary general’s post, which would leave Ncube settling for less.
Now, considering that the two, Biti and Prof Ncube, arrange that the one gets the secretary general post and the other presidency, it will cause old, familiar problems of contending centres of power that has haunted the MDC since its formation, and subsequent splits. Maybe prayers only will save the power hungry politicians from themselves.
No message, ideology
Try hard as you may, you will not find a single outstanding political philosophy or seminal ideas in the new movement. Since his breaking away from Tsvangirai, Prof Ncube has not proffered any single national idea or outlook. Unless you talk of devolution, which rather than enhancing his national stature, has hurt his reputation by casting him as a regional leader.
On the other hand, you cannot pin a solid ideology on Tendai Biti.
Granted, he preaches about an abstract called social democratic state, which he even does not seem to understand, less so able to implement. Today he cuts a figure of a confused soul. That is why he talks about making peace with the liberation struggle and its ideals with one corner of the mouth and seeks to put Zimbabwe on the western support systems. However, these politicians are held together by their supposed disdain for Tsvangirai. That is why at the UMDC launch they went to town on poor Morgan — and Tsvangirai’s MDC-T duly noted that. Yet, what will they reap from it, substantially?