“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!” This famous quote by Walter Scott rings true of what went wrong over the years in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is now a pale shadow of its former glorious self.
In retrospect one can argue that the problems bedevilling the MDC, of which I am a founder member and also coined the name, are not just an instant reaction to unfortunate circumstances in the party’s recent history. Rather, these can be traced back to our narrow-mindedness and lack of a long-term collective strategic vision based on a solid ideological foundation at the inception of the party.
With the progression of time, the MDC has allowed itself to be gradually diverted from its original ethos and founding principles – hence the MDC of 1999 is a lot different to the one we have today.
The party will emerge from current power struggles and turf wars stronger. The worst scenario is that this could be the end of a dream many Zimbabweans invested in and had hoped would be their vehicle for much-desired change.
I argued in 2007, after the most brutal and unfortunate firing of Lucia Matibenga as the chairperson of the Women’s Assembly, that the failure at the time by the MDC to dismantle the patriarchal model of liberation – whose main features are corruption, cronyism and violence – would in the long term cost the political movement.
Flawed politics centred on individuals who do not allow for democratic debate to flourish are the current undoing of the party. History is repeating itself as personality cults politics take centre stage ahead of the myriad problems the country faces.
The MDC lost the higher moral ground it held over Zanu-PF and compromised itself by failing to deal decisively with corruption at national level when it had a go at governing, mainly because of its own failure to deal with the same problem at internal party level.
Consequently, over the years we keep counting the cost of the factional battles, with the party now faced with its worst and most brutal internal battle pitting party president Morgan Tsvangirai against his erstwhile right-hand man Tendai Biti.
The battle has already started over the MDC’s properties and assets, and the $5-million allocated to it under the Political Parties Finance Act, as reported recently.
I have no wish to take sides with either of the warring parties, but rather my main contention, as an individual who has invested much in this struggle for change, is to make an honest assessment and offer pragmatic suggestions to move the country forward.
The ongoing internal battle in the party is a result of the young liberation movement failing to distinguish itself in leadership style and internal democracy from what nationalist movements such as Zanu-PF represented.
The MDC was formed in 1999, at a time when winds of change were blowing over the whole Southern Africa Development Community region. This happened within a context of deepening, and consolidation of, democratic governance. For instance, South Africa had gained her independence after the fall of the apartheid regime, and the late president Nelson Mandela was in power.
A spirit of multiparty democracy was taking root in countries such as Malawi, where long-time dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda lost an election to Bakili Muluzi in 1994, and in Zambia, where one-party rule had collapsed and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy under Frederick Chiluba took over government.
It is within this wider regional context that the MDC movement was founded on noble principles and values to be a vehicle for democratic change through legitimate means, to usher in a new government that would steer Zimbabwe forward and rescue the country from the political and economic quagmire in which it was fast sinking.
Zimbabweans were seeking honest leaders and visionaries who are not out to line their pockets and abuse the power entrusted to them by the people. This is why throughout the country the faces of the MDC, those who represented the party in the structures, were your people – trade unionists, vendors and professionals like myself – who had nothing much to give other than self-sacrifice and readiness to serve party and country.
Consequently, the biggest challenge for the MDC at its formation was to offer an alternative political system to what Zimbabweans had been accustomed to and had seen in Zanu-PF since independence.
Zanu-PF was a synonym for violence, cronyism and corruption. People were tired of this; they still are. And the sooner the MDC gets its house in order, the better for its own sake and those who have sacrificed and died in its name.
Grace Kwinjeh is a journalist and founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change. She is based in Brussels.