MDC marks decade of struggle against Robert Mugabe

The giant rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city and key MDC power base, wraps up a series of provincial rallies held around the country over the last six months. But the mood is not entirely celebratory.

More than 300 MDC supporters have been killed over the last 10 years, mainly at the hands of Mugabe’s militant backers, the party says, amid claims of a renewed crackdown to whittle down its slim parliamentary majority.

The unity government, sworn in following months of deadlock after Mugabe was declared the winner of a one-man presidential run-off, has also been plagued by power struggles over key appointments with no compromise in sight.

Political analyst Takavafira Zhou said despite a "strong opposition in government" the MDC was still learning the ropes of government, and how to pull them in its favour.

"What is clear is that ZANU-PF is miles ahead of the MDC in terms of scheming," he said.

The MDC enjoyed electoral success almost immediately. The last polls in early 2008 saw the party seize 110 seats from an enlarged 220-member legislative assembly.

In the presidential vote, Tsvangirai won the first round but pulled out of the run-off as fresh political violence erupted against his supporters.

"We are now in this inclusive government with ZANU-PF although it is a diluted presence as our flag is flying at half," MDC spokesman and unity government minister Nelson Chamisa told AFP.

MDC officials have suffered arrests, beatings and prosecution. Tsvangirai claims to have been the target of four assassination attempts, including one when he said assailants tried to throw him out of his office window.

"We survived a storm of violence and persecution. We have over 300 names of people that have gone to their graves because of the MDC and on the account of politics," Chamisa said.

Internal challenges included a party split in 2005, a schism that many argue cost it an outright victory in last year’s elections.

While the new government has acted to reign in the economic crisis, many challenges still remain.

Tsvangirai was recently booed by exiles in London with chants of  "Mugabe must go" when he pleaded for their return home, and the MDC  has frequently accused the veteran leader’s party of undermining the unity pact.

On Sunday Tsvangirai — who has been the face of the country’s return from international isolation — is likely to speak on the prospects and challenges of the inclusive government and the way forward.

"He is also expected to talk about the performance of the inclusive government," the MDC said Thursday.

Chamisa argues that the MDC has forever changed Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

"Through this mirage we have helped ZANU-PF to appreciate what democracy and democracy means. The MDC has managed to change the political landscape of this country, there is now a culture of political tolerance to some extent," he said.

Sydney Masamvu, researcher with the International Crisis Group, said the MDC remains a potent threat to Mugabe, although the party had to accept compromises to seal the unity accord.

"It has really been a groundbreaking party which has managed to pose a threat to President Mugabe," he said. "And I believe they still have the capacity to that."

"Their challenge is how to maintain its quest and its desire to gain power within the inclusive government?"–Sapa–