Saturday, February 24, 2024
HomeGuest BlogWhither Opposition Politics In Zimbabwe: Hon. Tendai Biti

Whither Opposition Politics In Zimbabwe: Hon. Tendai Biti


The reality of our situation is that Zimbabwe is in a crisis and a deep, structural and unprecedented crisis.  This country,has almost been in perpetual crisis since 1891. The cyclical nature of the Zimbabwean crisis followswhat are known as Kuznets Cycles. These are 15-25 cycles are called con-tractive circles. Our cycles are almost like a 15-year period. These crises are both political and economic. So we go through these seismic political and economic crises since 1891.Patrick Bond’s book, ‘Uneven Zimbabwe’ graphically captures the slumps and booms of these constant cycles that this country goes through.

But there is a unique characteristic of the attendant crisis. Thiscurrent crisis in Zimbabwe is a collision of many of the crises that manifest themselves as one strand. In some situations there is a stable economy but a political crisis. For example, the Rhodesian economy under UDI peaked between 1965 to 1973. The economy was doing very well but under a political crisis. Thus, the political crisis was the dominant crisis facing the country. Between 1982 and 1987, the economy was performing reasonably well but we had the political crisis, the Gukurahundi, geographically located in one spatial region of the country Matabeleland.

This is the first time and it is very unique that Zimbabwe is having all these crises, all these variations  of the crisis coalescing in one historical epoch. There leadership crisis manifested in a President who is 90 years of age and therefore the country is now in a suspense when will nature do what it wants to do.  Zimbabwe is also experiencing a serious succession battle in the ruling party resulting in the samebeing at its weakest since independence. This is against the tradition of the history of this country, which at any given time the ruling parties have always been strong.

The Rhodesia Front under Ian Smith from 1965, Mr. Winston Field’s party, Garfield’s Party, Sir Coughlan’s party. 
They had this classic hegemony on the population. Today’s ruling party is uncharacteristically weak,cannibalizingis rampant within its structures, and its open warfare which has transcended into parliament.

The current leadership crisis has cascaded to all spheres of the Zimbabwean society. Zimbabwe currently does not have a strong labour movement, civil society is paralyzed, the student movement is also frail same as the church movement. Thus, the leadership crisis permeating everything in Zimbabwe.

Coupled with the crisis alluded to above is the crisis of confidence which is a by-product of the crisis of leadership, Zimbabwe is also arrested witha crisis of legitimacy and an economic crisis.

Under hyper-inflationary environment before 2009, there was aggregate demand, in-fact too much aggregate demand, too much money chasing too few goods. Today, Zimbabwe is in a disinflationary and deflationary situation resulting in no economic activity at all. There is zero aggregate demand and industrial capacity utilisation is plummeting.

According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), 75 companies closed in the last quarter of 2013. Retrenchments are taking place at the rate of 300 workers per week. Government revenue generation in 2013 collapsed by 6 percent and 18 percent in the last quarter of the year. Arrears are accumulating by the second. As the government is not collecting money to meet the wage bill, it has stopped paying stop orders of civil servants. Government is in de facto to shut-down. What is more worrying in this scenario is the absence of the coherence response to the crisis.

Nationalism has become exhaustedand has betrayed this trait of inertia, of impasse of collapse and of failure.  It is just muteness, absence of a message, absence of coherence and absence of leadership. In place is consumerism that we have never seen, evidenced by opulence surrounding the wedding of the president’s daughter andhis 90th birthday celebrations, the salaries that cannot be sustained even by the economy with GDP of 300 billion US dollars.

Given this scenario, the need for a very strong democratic opposition in Zimbabwe cannot be overemphasized.

This is not to say Zimbabwe should have a single opposition political party. Zimbabwe needs strong democratic opposition. There is need for a strong civic society and strong unions.

The need for a strong opposition movement, civic movement and unions has been necessitated by the nature of opposition politics in Africa. Opposition politics in Africa has undergone two phases, namely the colonial opposition and the post colonial opposition. These phases are relevant in understanding the nature of the opposition post-independent Africa.

The post liberation, for all its weaknesses, particularly centred on politics of predation and exclusion, tribalism and so forth had one common trend, one common value system, that is, one man one vote, and depending on which country you are coming from, the issue of land. It was about democratisation, self-determination and reasserting  the sovereign rights of the majority population in that country.

These rights were consistently pursued in Swapo in Namibia, the ANC in South Africa, is Kanu in  Kenya, UNIP in Zambia, Chama Cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania and various liberation formations in most of Africa. Even up to today, the liberation movement in independent black Africa has remained largely loyal, despite the predatoriness and corruption. The liberation movement has largely remained loyal to those values of nationalism, sovereignty and some would say of power retention. However, in some states, contradictions have risen, of dictatorship and autocracy.

But the liberation movements that are still alive at the present moment are still bound by that common thread of nationalism of minimum democratisation and one man one vote.  The challenge of post-independent Africa as Frantz Fanon says in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’,  is the failure by the liberation movement to extend liberation independence to the economy, that is, the democratisation of the economy. As Dr Mandaza states in the preface to Edgar Tekere’s biography, post-independent bureaucrats in Africa were functionally illiterate. They had no craft competence and lacked understanding the intricacies of the state as many of those were coming from wars.

Coming from war resulted in the centralization of power around one figure head, usually the president. Thus most post-independent leaders are these powerful big man such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Mzee Kenyatta in Kenya, Comrade Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Comrade Samora Machel in Mozambique, Comrade Agostinho Neto in Angola. These characters then substitute the state for themselves.

A good example of this phenomenon is Zanu PF. People are Zanu and Zanu are the people. If Zanu is the people and the Politburo ends up being the party it means the Politburo is now the people. But in the case of Zanu-PF the Presidency becomes the Politburo, which the Politburo has substituted itself from the central committee and central committee has substituted itself for the party, for the party  which has substituted itself for the people. This culminates in the deification of the leader, the founding  leader, and the privatisation of the state by the leader, we see it in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a privatised state. The state becomes totally privatised.

ALSO ON 263Chat:  No Sustainable Economic Growth Without Foreign Exchange Reform

In response, the population tries to capture space that has been captured by these big individuals. Consequently,the response is also  personalised. We don’t  want Robert Mugabe. We don’t want Zanu-PF. We don’t want Arap Moi. The response becomes very limited to the capture of space. It is a protest movement, and not a substantive response based on a substantive narrative to the value system anchored by the liberation movement in post independent Africa.

The danger is that the post-liberation movement, because its centred and created out of essentially protest, it fails to actually articulate an alternative substantive, coherent message beyond the protest message, thereby creating contradictions.The second contradiction arises out of the fact that because of the post-liberation movement is being formed under the conditions where there is repression and exclusion, the temptation to reproduce itself asymmetrically to that which it is seeking to replace become apparent. The post-liberation movement ends up being a replica of the exhausted nationalist movement that it is trying to replace.

Thirdly, the post-liberation movement enters into massive contradictions where the transition is delayed or arrested by a number of factors. It could be down to Fascism as the case of Zimbabwe, it could be corruption, co-option as what Mobutu Sese Seiko used to do in the Democratic Republic of Congo banning all the opposition or forming the opposition himself. Where the transition becomes delayed or arrested, the contradiction in the  post liberation movements becomes acute.

Of all these factors, the biggest challenge facing post-liberation movements is the absence of an alternative message and value system that goes beyond removing the Big Man. If nationalism can become exhausted in the Fanonian manner, equally post-liberation opposition movements are not unique to that same level of exhaustion arising out of all these contradictions. This has resulted in liberation movements redesigning and re-emerging. For example, in Ghana, John Kufuor led a post-liberation movement but the ruling  party now is a nationalist party that is the party of Jerry Rawlings. They have lost two elections now since John Kufuor resigned. In Kenya, the nationalist party is now in power led by the son of the founding president. In Zambia, the post-liberation movement is no longer in power but a redefined nationalist party the Patriotic Front.

Senegal clearly highlights the contradictions prevalent in post-liberation opposition movement in Africa. In Senegal, Abdullaye Wade formed the Liberal Party of Senegal but changed the constitution, a trait synonymous with liberation movements.

What then is the way forward for opposition movement in Zimbabwe?Number one, the opposition needs to go back to the value system,that is, refocusing attention on a value system supported by an alternative political narrative. We call ourselves social democrats. We need to be true to that by returning to our values. When the MDC was formed, it came up with a symbol of an open hand it depicting the openness and transparency of the party. Each finger on the palm stood for something that was so fundamental. Article 3 of the MDC constitution defines these values while Article 4 defines the character of the MDC. It is the same values that  made form the party in first instance against a culture of  corruption, violence, purging and predatoriness.

Number two, the opposition in Zimbabwe needs to refocus on the central strategic objective which is to achieve a new democratic society. The struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe has never been about individuals but about the people and liberating the same from current quagmire of failed liberation struggle. Now we are making the mistake of reproducing the personalized agenda of liberation movements.

Number three, relates to the need todepersonalize our struggle and focus on issues. The opposition cannot adopt a reductionist approach to the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe by merely focusing on individuals but on issues and systems.

Number four, the opposition must learnfrom the 2013 election. The political economy of Zimbabwe has changed dramatically. Whereas in 1999, 60 to 70 percent of the working people in Zimbabwe were in informal employment, in 2013 and 2014, 84 percent of the population is in the informal sector. Whereas, the MDC could be successfully formed on the basis of the structures the labour movement had, there is hardly any formal workforce worth talking about. Now the challenge with the informal sector is that it operates on predation and patronage. For instance, if one wants to get a table at Mupedzanhamo in Mbare the local Zanu-PF leader has got to approve that table. If one wantsmine claim Chegutu to prospect for gold,a Zanu-PF official has got to approve that claim. If oneis a cross border and wants to walk through the airport or the border post unchallenged, there has to be some patronage somewhere. So the economy has changed and destroyed the social base that official opposition inZimbabwe relied on. It cannot be business as usual.

So the lesson from 2013 is how the opposition can respond to this changing political economy of the country. In my respective view, it is no longer possible in post 2013 Zimbabwe for anyone with a little party to dream that he or she can challenge the ruling party on his or her own. The opposition needs to move to a new form of politics in Zimbabwe that is inclusive, de-personalized.

Number five, political parties in Zimbabwe must also be alive to the capacity of forming broad or united coalitions or alliances.In 2008 Morgan Tsvangirai would not be the president of the country because of nine percent votes that went to Dr Simba Makoni. Recently the MDC lost a seat, by-election seat in Mbare-Sunningdale by eight votes. If the MDC had worked with Dr Madhuku’s party, it would have easily won the seat. If the two MDCs, one led by Prof Ncube and the one led by Dr. Tsvangirai, had worked together in the 2013 general elections they would have won sufficient seats, not to win the election but to have a constitutional blocking number in Parliament but instead Zanu has got two-thirds majority. If they had worked together they would have achieved sufficient numbers to block, to deny Zanu-PF the power to change the Constitution. There is need to have to have these coalitions. I do not believe that we must form one united party. I think that is wrong and I think that it is the same nationalist party mentality.

ALSO ON 263Chat:  ZPF launch, the great deception

The opposition in Zimbabwe needs to form these alliances and have memorandums of agreement firstly based on values and principles not opportunistic arrangements of wanting to win an election at that time.

And part of the problem with the post liberation opposition movement is that at the time when these organisations were formed, they were a salad and did not actually say, as all organizations do, what really are our values, and rules which bind us. So if you are a Christian Democratic party, you know that Christianity is important. So if anyone is going to misbehave or breach the 10 commandments, there is a line you can’t cross but we did not do that because we were a broad church. We had people from the right alongside those from the left, which is a contradiction in its own terms.

Number six,it is critical the opposition builds a coalition of champions, a winners and performers. One of the greatest crimes of African politics is this arrest by politics of personalities, big name people and deification of leaders. Instead, the opposition needs to build a team that creates a chemistry of these individuals. No one is an island and no one knows everything. Zimbabwe today is blessed in that ithas a wide array of people, for example, who have been in the trenches for a long time and people who are outside in the diaspora who are so fresh and free.

There are also people who have been inside Zimbabwe but not in the direct firing line. These people who have been operating at a distance can unpack things from a three dimensional point of view which those in the trenches cannot do because they have been so accustomed to the situation.For instance, if in 2013 if we had many of these free people I alluded to earlier in the democratic movement as a whole, I am quite sure they would have said we could not participate in these elections. This cross-pollination of ideas is thus key.

Number seven, it is important for the democratic movement to have number a crystal clear message. The message of no to the big man is exhausted. Messages are key. For example, Zanu in the last elections had a very simple message, ‘bhora mugedhi’. Perhaps the MDCwas too sophisticated in crafting its own message. The message of 2000 cannot be today’s message. While the MDCwas selling hope and dreams, Zanu-PF was selling practical reality, for example, land and indigenisation.The critical question now is how does the opposition transit and balance the message of hope with the message of immediate delivery? I do not think the MDC addressed this issue in 2013. However, a message is just a slogan, its mascara, its make-up, the issue is about the substance behind that message. Thus the issue of articulating an alternative discourse which is walked and lived is very important.

Number eight, of particular importance to the democratic movement is internal democracy. The opposition cannot create movements to fight and champion democracy in the ruling party and not in our own organisation. It is a contradiction. Internal democracy is key. We have to be tested by the same yardstick that we are putting the ruling party and the tired liberation movement to the test. We actually must pass that test.

Number nine, the greatest lesson of the day is that we have to build trust. But trust is not built by trust. Trust is built by mistrust. If we build trust through trust, we have got a problem. Part of our problem in these movements is that, because our politics is personal. The problem of post- liberation opposition movement is that we have tried to build trust on trust instead of building trust through mistrust.

Number ten, the opposition needs to create strong institutions and have faith in these institutions. Human beings are not permanent but institutions are. There is need to create these institutions at all levels of society, the judiciary, the press, in organisations, committees systems, accountability and so forth. Building institutions is key, but are those institutions democratic, accountable and functional?

Number eleven, opposition parties in Zimbabwe need to disassociate themselves with violence. We cannot arbitrate our differences through violence. It is totally unacceptable. The opposition movement has to find a way of articulating, of discoursing, dialoguing without the use of violence.

Number twelve, the opposition movement in Zimbabwe must find accommodation within the liberation struggle. It cannot put a durawall with the liberation struggle.
The liberation struggle is not its enemy. The message should be that the oppositionis completing the unfinished business of the liberation struggle. Therefore it hasa umbilical code with the liberation struggle. However, making peace with the liberation struggle is not necessarily making peace with the liberation movement. The two are different.


This a time that we need a strong opposition movement. It cannot be the vertical opposition organisation that we had in 2013 but one that is horizontal. It has to be a home for everyone. The opposition needs to builda United Democratic Front (UDF).
It has to build a United Democratic Front that is ready for an explosion that can take place in this country and ready to talk to the many progressing forces that are in the liberation movement.

The danger is that, whilst Zimbabweis at crossroads in that it is experiencinga crisis of leadership, this crisis of leadership creates a vacuum. And given that we are struggling with things like age and so forth, that vacuum can be filled by undemocratic forces.

If ever there was a time that Zimbabwe needed a strong, vibrant, united opposition, it is now. Leaders in civic society, political parties, the church, unions, student and women movements need to find each other. There is need to put our house in order. The opposition needs to return to values and craft a coherent message, de-personalise the struggle and and create an alternative narrative.

Source: – www.sapes.org.zw

Share this article
Written by

Nigel Mugamu is extremely passionate about the use of tech in Africa, travel, wine, Man Utd, current affairs and Zimbabwe.

No comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

You cannot copy content of this page