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Road to 2023: Fatigue and despair surrounding Zimbabwe’s opposition politics

Fatigue and despair surrounding Zimbabwe’s opposition politics


By Dr. Alexander M Rusero

The formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999, will forever be cherished as a development that shifted the political tectonics of post-colonial politics of the Zimbabwean state. The opposition entrance marked the end of the de facto one-party rule Zimbabwe had endured under ZANU PF for almost two decades.

For its grand announcement on the political stage, MDC trounced the ZANU PF inspired and engineered Constitutional Commission draft constitution, whose fate was sealed through the historic No Vote in the February 2000 constitutional referendum. It became apparent then that the honeymoon ZANU PF had enjoyed for a whooping 20-year period had come to an end as the No Vote triumph was sufficient alibi of the fate awaiting ZANU PF in the much-hyped parliamentary elections that were scheduled for June 2000. The epic victory of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC that was anchored on the collective support base of trade unions, the students, the farmers, the peasants and the middle class demonstrated the extent at which the invincibility of ZANU PF was a fallacy.


Realising the Armageddon signalling the end of its long envisaged political eternity, ZANU PF resorted in pressing lots of panic buttons which resulted in Zimbabwe going down the precipice which the country has been struggling to wobble out to date. MDC entrance on the political stage also changed the nature and outlook of the political atmosphere and reignited the violent liberation struggle political culture authored by ZANU, and thus resulted in the binary characterisation of citizens as either enemies or as friends. One could either be in the opposition and declared an enemy or aligned to the ruling ZANU PF and thus declared a patriot. What followed were devastating consequences of this logic which resulted in the erosion or rather dearth of the national consensus among the Zimbabweans. It is for this reason that Zimbabwe’s national question 42 years after independence remains narrowly defined, incidental and scattered.

Zimbabweans hardly agree on anything as a nation. Even when an artist sings about corruption and limitations of the dividends of independence as popular dancehall artist Wallace chirumiko popularly known as Winky D has done – he becomes an opposition surrogate. When an artist sings ‘Kutonga Kwaro Gamba’ as Zimbabwe contemporary musician Mukudzei Mukombe, better known as Jah Prayzah did in 2017 with the song coincidentally released on the advent of the 2017 military coup that ushered Emmerson Mnangagwa to power, he becomes a ZANU PF zealot. As such, the greatest undoing of our toxic politics is perceiving everything in the narrow lenses of ZANU PF and the opposition, forgetting that Zimbabwe will outlive any political party, past, present or the future.

As the nation is already in the election mode with the much-expected 2023 elections, what comes to the fore of any discourse but which people are afraid to confront is that there is some form of fatigue and despondence characterising opposition politics in Zimbabwe. The vices and social ills that Zimbabwe grapples with, coupled with a ruling class without ruling ideas presiding over the state honestly deserves a fired-up opposition which must always be ready to make authoritarianism expensive. This is not happening – for the reason that the opposition in Zimbabwe follows the form and character of ZANU PF. When ZANU PF is on holiday, opposition indefinitely also go on holiday, when ZANU PF is silent, opposition competes in the silence, when ZANU PF share the spoils of the state in some dubious loans to ministers, deputy ministers and Members of Parliament, opposition stampede for the cramps.

Whilst contesting under the vices of a ruling party operating in a war mode as has been the case with ZANU PF is a precarious and hazardous business, it is quite apparent and critical to note that the opposition has done less in as much as inspiring confidence and assuring the masses that ZANU PF can be challenged and that ZANU PF can be removed, as was the case during the tenure of Tsvangirai at the helm of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. It was Tsvangirai who demonstrated to the world that ZANU PF could genuinely be challenged and that it could be defeated. In spite of all the machinery and war chest on its side, the electoral commission, the media, the army, the police, resources and money, in 2008 the ruling party was reduced into a proverbial folk tale of an owl long surviving the throne of birds by mischaracterising its long-fur ears as horns.

ZANU PF suffered a heavy defeat under Tsvangirai and MDC’ hands in 2007 elections, such that any semblance of legitimacy and acceptance even in their traditional club of SADC could only be guaranteed through some political arrangement with MDC. For all who care to know, the Government of National Unity (GNU) of ZANU PF and the two MDC formations between 2009 and 2013 is the greatest testament of a ruling party that was defeated but remained in power through hook or crook. MDC dragged ZANU PF kicking and screaming to the negotiating table that resulted in the GNU. The similar fired Opposition is no longer the case as evidenced by its performance in the 20134 and even 2018 elections.

So, what needs to be done? The mojo of opposition politics in Zimbabwe needs to be reactivated if change is to be witnessed in our lifetime. The galvanisation of the opposition should be centred on realising that some tactics ought to be discarded, some revised and some parked. The opposition can only be better by self-introspection and behaving more like a government in waiting than an opposition. The opposition in Zimbabwe ought to realise that any effort aimed at contributing to their cause despite of where it is coming from should be harnessed and accommodated. The opposition can do better by shedding-off its identity as some ZANU PF-lite. The times we live in are in desperate need of clarity, courage and sincerity on the part of the opposition. There are times the opposition require to win in silence, but in doing so, also grapple with the reality that politics is not for the saints.

As much as spirituality is a critical aspect of human living, opposition politics should stop lying to themselves that we must and we shall locate God or some deity or by some mere accident of history witness the intervention of the gods to change the circumstances. This will not happen and has never happened anywhere in the world.

The big tent approach is still the most viable approach to any meaningful politics that will dislodge ZANU PF. Sadly as we draw close to the harmonised elections, history will likely repeat itself, and before the end of the year, will slowly be marching where we are coming from.


Dr. Alexander M Rusero is a Research Fellow with the Institute for Pan African Thought (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa,