Zim: Reinvention of the opposition

The red shirts and berets at the Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC's) policy conference this week were a nod to the party's labour past, but its election manifesto reflects a party still trying to find a compromise between its roots and the need to appeal to foreign investors.

The phrase "social democratic state" appears frequently throughout the 247-page manifesto, but the party leans heavily towards a free market economy, with its economic plan pinned almost entirely on foreign investment.

The MDC's policy looks for a sharp break from Zanu-PF's policy of promising ownership of foreign businesses. The MDC would cut state subsidies, and focus on creating jobs, which the party says is its central strategy.

In the manifesto, "creating a conducive investment climate" is mentioned as a precondition for the success of the MDC's policies. The MDC believes its policies will grow Zimbabwe into a $200-billion economy by 2040.

The MDC manifesto says: "An MDC government will seek to address the unfinished business of land ownership [and bring] finality to the emotive land question."

But this would be the toughest task of the MDC government. Previously, senior officials suggested the MDC would reverse Mugabe's reforms once in power. However, over recent years, the party has realised it cannot realistically drive resettled farmers off the land, but would rather carry out a land audit to weed out the owners of multiple farms.

Zanu-PF itself has called for such an audit, most recently at its last conference. But with many top leaders known to hold several farms, this is unlikely to happen. The MDC says it will end all state subsidies to farms, including the supply of inputs.

This contrasts sharply with Zanu-PF; parcelling out inputs, including seed and farm implements, has helped to support new farmers, while at the same time oiling Zanu-PF's web of political patronage.

The MDC hopes to appeal to resettled farmers by offering to provide them with title deeds. In contrast, Zanu-PF offers long-term leases to large landholders, but many resettled farmers have no official claim to land beyond frequently disputed "offer letters".

There would be "deracialisation of the land programme – every Zimbabwean has a right to land", says the MDC. Zanu-PF says white farmers can apply for land, but white farmer unions say it is rare for their members to be allocated land.

There would be full compensation for both land and improvements, says the MDC. Zanu-PF, on the other hand, vows never to compensate for land, which it says is stolen land that is being reclaimed by its rightful owners. The MDC also wants a cap on the size of farms, though it does not say whether this would apply to large commercial estates, which its manifesto says it wants to promote.

Indigenisation is the centrepiece of Zanu-PF's electoral campaign. Through "community share ownership schemes", Zanu-PF's empowerment model forces companies to dole out shares to community trusts.

The MDC says it realises that there would be a need to enact policies that "rectify imbalances resulting from past practices and policies". But where Zanu-PF says these can only be corrected by redistributing wealth through its 51% local ownership, the MDC says investment and creating jobs are the solution.

The MDC's approach to empowerment includes the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund, into which foreign investors would contribute a portion of their profits. A separate fund would be created, compelling foreign companies to finance community development.

However, apart from dropping Zanu-PF's "indigenisation" for the word "empowerment", there is little detail in the manifesto on the MDC's empowerment plan.

Foreign affairs
An MDC government would return to the Commonwealth, from which Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003, and "normalise" its relations with Britain and other Western nations.

This would include the "repeal of all restrictive laws that militate against normal relations" with the United States.

There is a thinly veiled jab at China. An MDC government would "maintain sound relations" with China – which the MDC notes could be the world's biggest economy in future – "the relationship will be based on transparency and mutual benefit".

Although Zanu-PF is mending ties with the West, it has thrown in its lot with China and the Far East under its Look East policy.

Security forces
Defence forces will be "depoliticised" so that they accept the "primacy of civilian rule" and respect the Constitution, the MDC says. Zanu-PF, on the other hand, believes the army cannot be separated from Zanu-PF.

The MDC says it plans to cut the size of the defence forces, which may be an unpopular plan with the rank and file of the military that the MDC hopes to reach out to. The defence ministry, run by Zanu-PF, has on the contrary been recruiting more soldiers to the army, without consent from the treasury.

On how the MDC would treat past injustices, the party says it will "combine elements of restorative justice to balance the delicate attainment of both reconciliation and justice".

The MDC says Zimbabwe has experienced four periods of rights violations: the Gukurahundi campaign in the 1980s; farm invasions; electoral violence since 1980; and the violence after the 2008 elections.

It omits the liberation war, which could easily be seized upon by Zanu-PF, whose usual reaction to calls for justice is that war-time atrocities must be included. Zanu-PF wants past issues dealt with through a ministry set up especially for "national healing".

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