A paper by Nathalie Brack and Sharon Weinblum titled, “What do we mean by ‘political opposition’: a theoretical perspective”, offers interesting insights into the notion of opposition in a democracy like Zimbabwe.
They attempt to define political opposition and locate it in the governing matrix of a country. They draw from several other scholars, offering key definers that we find useful.
One scholar says it is critical to understand what “those with power under their control try to do and actually achieve, but also with regard to those who oppose those aims, or whose interests and resistance have to be conciliated before those in power can act”.
Other scholars point out that opposition has been studied in a larger framework as a co-subject in the understanding of power, government, parliaments, parties, social movements. By definition opposition is “standing in some form of disagreement to another body” — “when B is opposed to the conduct of government A” while other scholars see opposition as “logically and morphologically . . . the dialectic counterpart of power”.
Alternatively, opposition is “an organised political group or groups, of which the aim is to oust the government in power and to replace it by one of its own choosing”.
The authors then make an important intervention, mapping a typology of opposition. They distinguish between a “normal” opposition on the one hand, and a “deviant form” of it on the other. The latter is also called “disloyal or anti-system, that is supposed to be more disruptive and not very positive in democratic regimes”.
The normal opposition offers alternative to the chosen policies while recognising the government and the constitutional system in place. It is principled opposition, opposing both the policies of the government and constitutional requirements of the political system, and it is “political competition”, competing with the incumbent for power.
Normal opposition presupposes consent on fundamentals, opposing the government, not the political system as such; acts quietly and constructively, “by opposing, but not obstructing”.
The flipside — the deviant, anti-system opposition — “acts irresponsibly as it has no chance to be called to power and to respond”.
We find these ideas useful when applied to Zimbabwe’s politics. We had elections in July that produced the governing party in Zanu-PF led by President Mnangagwa and the opposition in the MDC-Alliance led Nelson Chamisa.
Post-election, this configuration allows us to look at the workings of Government and its “dialectic counterpart”.
We come to this reflection at this time when Zimbabwe is facing a not-so-unfamiliar economic turbulence manifest in currency crisis, price hikes, shortage of some goods, profiteering and scaremongering from some quarters.
Much of the woes that Zimbabwe is facing — we hasten to say — appear to be artificial and manufactured, a case being that of retailers hiking prices of local products when manufacturers have not done so or other enablers such as the price of fuel have not risen.
The ruling party has not been paralysed. It has instituted a raft of measures meant to arrest the situation by injecting foreign currency for essentials while monetary and fiscal authorities have put in place measures to restore macro-economic stability in the face of a deep-seated structural dislocation in Zimbabwe’s economy.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe did not develop overnight. It is far from being a (Reserve Bank Governor), Dr John Mangudya or a (Finance Minister), Prof Mthuli Ncube baby.
The administration of President Mnangagwa itself inherited the malady that Zimbabwe’s economy was, itself a product of the previous regime’s acts of commission and omission.
And external factors too.
In all this, where has been Zimbabwe’s opposition? The sad truth is that the MDC-Alliance has behaved far less than a normal opposition. It has offered close to zero policy alternative or thought leadership on the economy and other issues.
It has not shown any capacity that it has ideas that can be relied upon to change the situation in the country. Instead, we have seen them enjoying any hint of a meltdown that they hope would lead to mass revolt against Government. It is that old “let-it-crash-and-burn” mentality, which the likes of Eddie Cross, a former policy chief in the MDC, have since abandoned.
In short, that is what scholars call irresponsible or anti-establishment opposition. No doubt, there has been little enthusiasm in the MDC-Alliance in the idea of creation of the Office of Leader of Opposition. It entails responsibility and accountability and we doubt if the current deviant, anti-system and disruptive opposition has that capacity.