There is a popular joke often repeated in political circles, that if you place two Zimbabweans on the moon, chances are they will form three political parties.
The joke is an excellent analogy as Zimbabweans historically seem to have a rather naive tendency to form new political parties to deal with leadership deficits in existing ones.
The inability to unite and collectively work towards the dismantling of Zanu-PF’s stranglehold has been and continues to be the undoing of Zimbabwe’s opposition. Time and again political upstarts enter the scene promising an eager and desperate electorate fine-sounding changes, but many of them remain just on paper. Most will die natural deaths with no functional structures, grassroots support, agendas or known programmes.
It would be unfortunate if change should come by way of Zanu-PF self-imploding from the bitter internecine rivalry to succeed President Robert Mugabe between Joice Mujuru’s and Emmerson Mnangagwa’s factions, and not from a united opposition rising above itself to give Zimbabweans a credible alternative that delivers real democratic change.
Not spared in this calamitous demise of the opposition is the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this month. It is now limping, though in the past it enjoyed massive support from Zimbabweans of all walks of life and posed the biggest challenge to Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.
The party has all but squandered the people’s goodwill and ruptured into several mini opposition formations that stubbornly hang on to the MDC name, and sadly only distinguish themselves by oddly using a leader’s name or surname as a feature to prove their difference.
We hence have ended up with MDC-99 led by Job Sikhala, MDC-Renewal led by Tendai Biti, and MDC-T led by veteran trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. None has a differentiating policy.
Adding to the list of opposition parties is Simba Makoni’s Mavambo project and Dumiso Dabengwa’s revived Zapu. Even those Zimbabweans in the diaspora are not spared. There is Farai Mbira’s Zimbabweans United for Democracy, which claims to have representatives in all the regions of the world, though Zimbabwe does not allow its diaspora to cast votes.
Last week the red carpet was rolled out for new outfit the African Democratic Party led by Marcellina Chikasha, a vocal pastor who promises to revive the economic fortunes of Zimbabwe within 15 years.
You also have regional-based entities. Paul Siwela leads the Matabeleland Liberation Organisation, which is mobilising the Mthwakazi people around a secession plan.
Over the years many other parties have been formed. At one time Margaret Dongo’s Zimbabwe Union of Democrats was appealing on the political scene, until internal bickering started and that party disintegrated too. We have also had a taste of Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement. That too is now history.
If this is a sign of things to come then the road for those aspiring to political office in the 2018 harmonised parliamentary and presidential elections is going to be a long and bumpy one.
The increasingly despondent and uninspired electorate are in dire need of political solutions to the issues affecting their daily life, the rot of corruption presided over by an uncaring ruling elite and mounting poverty compounded by unemployment that has forced many to leave the country in droves. Abroad they are often treated as second-class citizens, but returning is not a viable option.
So one can hardly blame Zimbabweans for their cynicism in responding to the announcement of more political parties entering the playing field.
The hallmark for the function of any true democratic society is in the promotion of alternative views, through which members of society are able to express their diverse political positions and preferences.
But in Zimbabwe the people are caught between a rock and a hard place: bear with the ruling Zanu-PF party’s continued intransigence or believe in the promises of an increasingly weak opposition, overtaken by internal battles.
The issue is also not about the legal or political hurdles faced when forming a party, but rather questions to do with the strategy and relevance to the current political discourse in the formation of such parties. They should be cautious that they do not militate against ongoing efforts, but rather buttress them.
Past experience has shown how costly the opposition groups’ inability to work together for a common agenda has worked against them and favoured Zanu-PF.
Take what happened in the 2008 election, and how retrogressive it was to changing the country’s politics. Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of voting but failed to garner enough votes to be declared the outright winner.
Makoni got 8%, Tsvangirai had 47% and Mugabe 43% of the presidential votes cast. Zanu-PF’s strategy to secure the vote in the second run-off is well etched in our memories. It unleashed a brutal strategy to punish Zimbabweans for rejecting Mugabe through the ballot box in the first round. Over 200 died, many were tortured and reports of women raped are well documented.
At this rate, sadly, the ruling Zanu-PF party’s political hegemony will continue, until the opposition parties up their game by putting together a refreshed, united front that is genuine in its intentions to better the lives of Zimbabweans. Can the real leaders stand up please?