How the MDC can remain relevant

The Movement for Democratic Change needs to come out of denial and restrategise if it is to remain relevant in Zimbabwean politics, analysts say.

Its recent heavy electoral defeat, which the party says was engineered by Zanu-PF, has caused an implosion in the MDC, with some senior officials, among them treasurer general Roy Bennet and former Marondera legislator Ian Kay, accusing the party’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, of causing its downfall and calling for him to resign.

The Mail & Guardian has reported that fingers have also been pointed at some other senior officials, among them the party’s national organising secretary, Nelson Chamisa.

Newly elected councillors last week also rebelled against the party leadership — they voted for Zanu-PF mayors and rejected candidates chosen by their party.

The infighting has led analysts to predict that the divisions are likely to weaken the party so much that it will suffer a worse defeat come the 2018 elections.

The party has held a series of national standing committee, national council and national executive meetings to study the election results and plan a way forward, but these seem to be resolving little.

Professor Brian Raftopolous of the University of the Western Cape, one of the professionals recently hired by the MDC to analyse the election outcome and come up with recommendations for the party, told the M&G that the party still has a role to play in Zimbabwe but has a lot of work to do.

Raftopolous said, as long as there are still issues about democracy and accountability, the MDC and other opposition parties will have a space to fill.

"What they need is to have a situation assessment of what happened during the elections; they need to look at their organisational capacity and the leadership they have," he said.

"They also need to take into consideration the socioeconomic changes that have occurred in Zimbabwe over the last 10 years and use these to formulate new strategies.

"In addition, they need to go to the people, reconnect with them and get what people want."

Two weeks ago, Raftopolous addressed a workshop of the national standing committee held at the Wild Geese Lodge on the outskirts of Harare, where sources said he openly told senior party officials that their poor leadership played a part in the defeat.

At the workshop he also said that, although there were allegations of vote rigging, it should also be noted that Zanu-PF had worked hard and managed to grow its support base.

New supporters
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo also said the MDC has a big role to play and can still be a vibrant force, provided it reflects on the mistakes it made.

He said the party should first solve the internal divisions and succession issues at play before transforming itself into a relevant player.

He said, with the right strategies, the MDC could remain a key party because of the support it has.

"We have to consider that they did not lose their support base. What happened is that Zanu-PF grew its support base during the inclusive government period.

"If you look at the MDC figures, the numbers they got in the 2008 elections are not very different from the 2013 figures," he said.

"What they now need to do is to go beyond their traditional support base, which was the working class. They need to come up with policies that resonate with new groups such as new farmers and the informal sectors that have grown since their formation."

Nkomo said these new socioeconomic groups have bigger numbers than labour, which has been decimated by the economic downturn over the years.

The MDC was formed in 1999 with most of its leaders, including Tsvangirai, coming from the trade unions. But the landscape has now changed.

A 2012 survey carried out by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency showed that 84% of the population is employed in the informal sector — those activities and incomes that are partially or fully outside government regulation, taxation and observation.

"The currently employed population aged 15 years and above was estimated to be 5.4-million and, of these, 84% were considered to be in informal employment, 11% were in formal employment and 5% were in employment not classifiable," according to the survey.

Zanu-PF has come up with policies such as indigenisation, which analysts say resonate well with people in the informal sector and the jobless see it as a way to benefit from the economy they are shut out of.

"These new socioeconomic realities cannot be ignored, so MDC needs to come up with new policies because Zimbabwe has moved on from 1999," said Nkomo.

He also said the MDC might need to reach out to other parties, among them Welshman Ncube, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, and to work together in the long term to challenge Zanu-PF.

"They should also take advantage of the local authorities they control, such as Harare and Bulawayo, to provide good alternative leadership to send a message of what they are capable of doing," he said.

Another analyst, Ibbo Mandaza, said the MDC should remain undivided and focused on national issues.

"They should defend the Consti­tution, defend the economy like they did during the Govern­ment of National Unity period and also hold the government to account," Mandaza said.

"The party has an enormous support base in places such as Harare, Bulawayo, Manicaland and Mas­vingo, so they remain relevant.

"They now need to be focused on policy issues and they will remain a significant player," Mandaza said.

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