Opinion: Obsolescence politics of political parties


“I have no time (to) waste in party politics. In any event, I think political parties are outdated as instruments of reforms for real change in Zimbabwe. What is now needed is a broad movement of coalitions.” These were Professor Jonathan Moyo’s utterances during a recent interview with Open Parly on 14 May 2020 run on the microblog of twitter under #AskProfMoyo.
I once wrote about the same five years ago, questioning viability of political parties ever since they came into existence. Professor Moyo’s sentiments, which I concur with, have led me rekindle the debate and interrogate through modification on what I once said pertaining the idea of a political parties as viable instruments of change in Zimbabwe.
Although it is a critical defining feature of democracy, political parties, in their current form have largely become archaic and thus in desperate need of revision, remodeling or discarding altogether.Political parties have for the umpteenth time been enduring organisations under whose labels candidates seek and hold elective office. However, as we have witnessed and continue to witness in Zimbabwe, political parties have largely contributed to political division, instability and violence.
This is in contradiction with their long-held belief of being organisations that seek political power to govern and implement certain policies and programmes. In parts of Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, the competition for power and influence has tended to precipitate the degeneration of politics into strife, violence and warfare.
This is the current predicament that we find ourselves in. The current wrangles within the MDC remind us once again that politics is not always about representing the people. Name-calling, labels, salvo and derogatory language targeted at those who have ‘deviated from the norm’ have become the order of the day.
All that has been happening since the (in)famous Supreme Court ruling has not only been unhelpful but retrogressive in as much as the principle of diversity, agreeing to disagree as well as democratic plurality is concerned.
Some have assumed oracle positions in their parties and establishments, telling us who the sinners and who the saints are, who are God-sent and who are devilish. The battle has fast become one of the good versus the evil. These are shocking indicators of those who assume the role of an alternative – an aspiring government in the post ZANU-PF reign.
Ever since its formation as a splinter liberation movement in 1963, ZANU and later ZANU PF dismally failed to transform itself from a liberation movement into a political party. The undertones of the liberation struggle and the logic of war still inform the party’s ethos in the contemporary.
It explains why the party’s leadership succession and power transfer from long-time leader, the late president Robert Mugabe, to the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was militarily embedded. Typical of the Mgagao Declaration of 1975 where the military wing of ZANLA and not ZANU deposed founding president of the party Ndabaningi Sithole, the ghost manifested yet again in 2017 with the military ouster of Mugabe. It was never through an election. The orientation of that political party thus, is one where an election will never resolve leadership dispute as well as the transfer of power at any given stage.
One researcher succinctly put it that apart from fighting the war of liberation and independence, ZANU was also running a parallel project of conquering the masses and all political spaces in Zimbabwe. The researcher notes that at everyPungwe (liberation all-night vigil), more than just the orientation and the mixing and mingling of guerrilla fighters with the masses, three or four people were killed. Yes – at every Pungwe!
This explains why failure to ‘capture’ Midlands and Matabeleland provinces manifested into Gukurahundi were at least 20 000 people were killed, at a time Zimbabwe was still excited with the liberation hangover and euphemisms of reconciliation and independence. Gukurahundi which might not have been an ethnicity cleansing project but a Zimbabwe conquering project was indicative of a political party that absolutely did not tolerate let alone imagine a day it would be out of power.
As such, a political party premised on this logic has neither the capacity nor the features of projecting the aspirations of the future Zimbabwean generations. Forty years after independence, the party has failed to transform and or reform.
Whilst political parties have remained the most popular mechanism for the installation of leadership the world over, they are currently proving to be a retrogressive façade whose continued existence is now a threat to proper governance and modern day progress.
Since their evolution a couple of centuries ago, political parties have fast alienated themselves from the people becoming stumbling blocks to societal progress. As such, debates on the success or failure of a state such as Zimbabwe should not be centred on party capabilities, but the viability of a political party as a credible system for national leadership recruitment.
Political parties have become a modern anachronism and a fetter to the further development of society. When they first emerged, they were indeed a radical development. But now, the party as an idea and a form of political organisation has run its course. It is an exhausted idea.
First, participation in party politics and even voting in the West and the rest of the world is declining. Continued unprecedented low turnout of voters in Africa and Zimbabwe, particularly in urban areas which reduced the polls into a sham, is an indication of an incipient decline of citizens’ confidence in political parties as well as electoral processes. Second, a lot of the advances in political rights — for example, women’s and labor rights — have been achieved not through political parties, but through interest group pressure.
Third, political parties, especially in Africa, have been divisive, and indeed the most effective instruments of transforming brothers and sisters into enemies. Fourth, political parties stifle critical independent thinking – the political commissar thinks for you while the party spokesperson speaks for you.
All political parties speak of democracy but internal articulation of views and or positions are not on the basis of democracy but what the leadership feels. The current discord within the MDC on the position to disengage and or withdraw from Parliament attests to this. Finally and related, following the party line makes it difficult to judge issues on their merit as ideology substitutes reason.
The moment a system prioritizes idiosyncrasies over merit and credentials there is bound to be massive governance crisis. If one is to assess the calibre of Members of Parliament, Ministers and Senators, then you are rest assured that nothing meaningful is likely to come out. Their appointment in public offices has never been about their capabilities, but simply where they can be fitted at the pleasure of the President.
So if you are a member of a political party the secret is simply to appear less intelligent, less wise or even less reasonable than the party president. The prize of outshining your master is very costly to one’s political career. In other words, if party leadership exhibits some stupidity, the rule of the game is for all the other cadres to jump into the ship and parade more stupidity than that exhibited by leadership. In such a scenario, as a world, a state or a modern society we are unlikely to reap anything meaningful that benefits the entire polity emanating from the political party system.
So what is the option? The desired option is preference of a meritocratic democratic system in which leaders are chosen from the grassroots level to the top on merit and demonstrated capabilities. For instance, in order to choose a minister of education all stakeholders (teachers, parents, students, civil society) at each level of society elect the most qualified. From among those chosen at district/council level, the provincial representative is chosen, and from these the minister.
The modalities to implement this principle could be worked out. Whilst I do not have anything against Education minister Cain Mathema as an example, I do not believe he is the best brains we have in the country to preside over the critical noble Ministry of Education. What about Dr Sekesai Nzenza, will industrial fortunes of this country surely turn around because of her? Covid19 has surely shown us the calibre of the Minister of Health we have in this land.
Tragically the current system is one which promotes those with greatest degrees of loyalty and humbleness to party leadership. They make it to the top not because of their capabilities but their subservience to leadership – their unashamed boot licking. In governance principles this is wrong and costly in the long run.
It explains why a country with a remarkable learned populace like Zimbabwe remains poor. It points out why despite abundant natural resources majority of the country’s citizens live and wallow in abject poverty. Since 1980 the current political party system from across the divide has created a sophisticated paternalism system — a policy or practice on the part of people in authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to or otherwise dependent on them in their supposed interest. Rationalism has largely been suppressed and punished.

In the 1990s Edgar Tekere and Margaret Dongo were expelled from ZANU PF because of their “deviant” behaviour. Joice Mujuru, Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo met almost the similar predicament. At some time it befell Mnangagwa, Chris Mutsvangwa, Victor Matemadanda and several others at the height of succession disputes in ZANU PF whose script ended with a military coup.
Their expulsion was neither based on rationality nor merit but simply that they were not in thinking terms with expectations of the party leadership. The same fate befell MDC’s Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma. They fell from grace because they were no longer at same thinking wavelength with expectations of the MDC leadership.
One of the constant themes underlying contemporary world politics is voter apathy. Political party systems promotes patronage and reasoning based on gut feeling of the leadership, and such will not take a country forward.
In the United States of America, official government data states that between 1960 and 2008, the percentage of eligible voters who have bothered to cast their ballots during the presidential elections have ranged from about 49% to 63%. This means that as much as half of American voters do not care enough to decide which candidate would make a good chief executive of the great nation.
One of the grievances surrounding vote boycott is the limitation of political parties to indulge in the much needed governance intervention. In Africa elections have turned out to be an exercise of voting without choosing and when people have at their disposal choice-less democracy, they would rather exercise their democratic right of choosing not to vote.
Everything indulged by political parties in this land tends to be cursed. From ambitious and impractical manifestos to delusional conferences and congresses; from dubious housing schemes to desperate empowerment gaffes all what we have witnessed from political parties notably in Zimbabwe is high loud sounding nothing.
All points to simple reasoning that entrusting the whole governance matrix to a political party simply because it is the one that would have begged more votes at an election is costly. This is so because more votes do not necessarily translate to monopoly of competence, talent, merit and credentials.
Is it not absurd that, while in other organisations managers and directors are appointed on merit, in politics it is the most loud-mouthed and violent demagogue who is elected? The Bible in Proverbs teaches: “Without knowledge, zeal is not good.” Zeal and enthusiasm cannot be adequate substitutes for knowledge. Similarly, good intentions alone are not enough. To be effective, they must be backed by technical know-how and well-thought-out strategy.
Political leaders, given the enormities of their responsibilities, and especially that they hold the fate of a nation in their hands, need training in leadership. Training in leadership should be a requirement for political office. Greatest political philosopher of all time Aristotle once retorted that the wise and knowledgeable should rule, but I am not convinced whether it is the scenario in Africa, Zimbabwe included.
In Zimbabwe, evidence is there for all to see that we do not have the wisest of leaders or come even think of it the rulers!

Alexander Rusero writes in his own personal capacity.

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