Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
Yesterday marked the 19th birthday of the Movement of Democratic Change – Zimbabwe’s once formidable opposition party. Of course, one can be forgiven for not knowing what that name actually now represents: it seems so many years ago when a man called Morgan Tsvangirai became the face of a social and political movement that had grown from a cauldron of forces that changed Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium.
Tsvangirai is no more.
He died on Valentine’s Day this year.
(May his soul rest in eternal peace.)
In many respects, Tsvangirai took the very soul of the MDC with him to the grave.
That is, he also took part in the death of the MDC, birthed in September 1999.
When he died, Tsvangirai had appropriated a faction of the party, having superintended the original split of the party in October 2005 when there was a schism over participation in that year’s senatorial elections.
A sub-plot of that schism related to a contestation for power between academics such as Welshman Ncube and men of fewer letters like Tsvangirai himself, whose strength came from labour and the organic background.
Tsvangirai used the “T” in his name as a suffix to identify his grouping, while Ncube kept the original name, albeit with different logos and colours.
In 2013, again under Tsvangirai’s watch, another split occurred as the likes of Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti tried to wrest power from Tsvangirai, resulting in them being forced to adopt other names – less fancied ones.
Tsvangirai kept his MDC-T, in what was largely a personification of the struggle, something that had lodged so comfortably in his psyche.
He was called the face of the struggle. He believed – as many of his followers also did – that he owned the MDC-T.
And as it would show, he was not keen on succession, which he did not plan properly even when his body failed him.
He actually complicated the succession by appointing two more vice presidents, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri, over and above Thokozani Khupe who had been elected at congress in 2014.
Expectedly, the tussle for power became a soundtrack to his last days as officials fought over his evanescing health and over his body as it lay cold eventually.
Two factions then emerged: the Khupe faction that retained the name MDC-T and the Chamisa faction that took the appellation of the “MDC-Alliance”, itself a loose coalition of seven parties.
It was ahead of July 30 elections.
There were two MDCs that fought the elections – and lost.
A common lament is that the opposition was fragmented and could not mount a formidable challenge.
The situation is much worse if one considers that even within the ostensible alliance there was a streak of disagreement manifest in fielding of double candidates.
Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance did far much better than Khupe’s MDC-T and Chamisa himself garnered 44,3 percent of the presidential vote, something that belies a fundamental problem of the organism called MDC.
Now, it will be recalled that MDC-Alliance was not a party, but a coalition without a constitutive formal organisation.
It was often pointed out that Chamisa was homeless – which was largely true: he was a hovering spirit to which his followers paid homage.
The presidential result actually confirmed this as personality showed more than the organisation – if any.
Think again of 1999 and its heady days.
So much water under the bridge.
Chamisa borrowed a lot from Tsvangirai – including cutting out a personality cult – but under Tsvangirai, the organisation was always primary and defined.
It has changed now.
It has changed much more if one considers the religious-personality-cultism characterising the party of Chamisa.
And, news, news!
Yesterday it was announced that Chamisa had appointed Welshman Ncube and Morgen Komichi as his co-deputies, while he co-opted Tendai Biti to become deputy national chair.
That is supposed to mean that we have a new MDC – and actually we are told that the new party will be called MDC!
It is so head-spinning.
Those are the many shades of the MDC and someone chose its 19th birthday to announce yet another shade to this creature.
Suffice to say, even with the so-called reunification to include Ncube and Biti, Chamisa’s creature of MDC is so alien to the party of 1999.
But what went wrong with the Movement for Democratic Change?
Students of history and politics may seek to explain this in two broad ways: a) organisation and ideology; and b) leadership.
Commentators like to point out that when the MDC was formed in 1999, it was a “broad church” comprising workers and trade unionists, students, academics, constitutionalists, industrialists, churches, white farmers, foreign interests and so on.
They were all motivated to remove the Zanu-PF Government and then President Mugabe for different reasons – from the worker’s gripe about retrenchments; student’s erosion of social protection; the white farmers’ fear of land reform to Western interests that were unhappy with a radicalising Mugabe.
They inherently had different motivations and could not coexist – at least not for too long.
They were just united in one thing: that Mugabe must go, which itself became a rallying cry for many years to come.
However, friction set early on – inevitably – and the fissures began to show with the classic example being the fallout with Munyaradzi Gwisai.
Gwisai, an academic, trade unionists and socialist, would not cohabit with the interests of white farmers and industrialists.
On the other hand, the organism began to break down progressively with different interests getting disillusioned and falling by the wayside.
Donors became fatigued.
The organisation stretched and strained.
It broke down.
The message that “Mugabe must go” progressively lost appeal because it became overused and out of currency.
And when Mugabe resigned in November 2017, the MDC lost what was meant to be its biggest and crowning achievement as the opposition party. “Mugabe must go” as a message became obsolete.
It did not feature in the last elections – for the first time in two decades. It did not surprise anyone, therefore, when the opposition did not have a coherent message or a rallying cry.
The removal of Mugabe and with it the death of a key message that had galvanised the opposition were symbolic.
In fact, there is a whole continuum as to the breakdown of the MDC of 1999 which, whatever Chamisa is trying to do – not to mention that he is doing it badly – will not be revived.
If you are nostalgic enough perhaps you feel sad.
The momentum of the 1990s was wasted.
It was also hijacked and stolen.
A glorious opportunity for a re-engineering of the political and social architecture, executed by home-grown forces that constituted the bulk of the push towards change following the failure of structural adjustment programmes.
This would also follow a lament on the lost opportunities that democracy could bring.
Sadly, neither Tsvangirai nor the MDC were adequately resourced to push through the movement.
Bar Chamisa’s phony showing in the last election, the organisation called MDC – or rather the spirit – is dead.
Chamisa will not even revive it.
Most ironically, he will further the breakdown of what is left of the MDC.
This time next year, there will probably be yet another shade – or shadow – of the MDC.
That is how bad things are.