Takunda Maodza, Harare Bureau
Former MDC-T top official and scholar Dr Toendepi Shonhe has predicted a grand defeat for a coalition of opposition parties in next year’s harmonised elections, arguing that the opposition suffers ideological bankruptcy and donor fatigue.
Dr Shonhe noted that Zanu-PF’s empowerment politics had given birth to a new social class comprising mainly farmers and artisanal miners, who owed their allegiance to the revolutionary party.
Dr Shonhe is a former MDC director general and an Associate Researcher at the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Research Institute.
He did his PhD at University of KwaZulu Natal.
Contributing in the Gravitas Volume 1. Issue 7 released on May 2, 2017 courtesy of the Institute for Public Affairs in Zimbabwe (IPAZ), Dr Shonhe, who was writing on “The Prospects of a Grand Coalition in Zimbabwe’s 2018 Elections: An Ideological Lens”, posited that a grand coalition was not a licence to victory for the opposition next year.
“There appears to be somewhat growing consensus that a grand coalition is the ultimate answer to the complex and regressive challenges in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“This article posits that the proponents and architects of the ‘grand’ coalition may somehow be both simplistic and green in exaggerating the usefulness of this solo tactic.”
Dr Shonhe said the opposition was blind to a reconfigured political economy in Zimbabwe.
“However, post 2000, immense structural changes in the economy — property relations, social and labour relations culminating in today’s artisan economy may have gone unnoticed by the opposition,” he said.
“I raise this point because the grand coalition strategy seems to be resting on the democracy and transition narrative propounded by scholars within the liberties and neopatrimonialism framework where the tendency has been to adopt a narrow definition of the State and civil society and as such miss many variables at play.
“It is important to reveal that beyond the electoral law flaws… Zanu-PF’s redistributive agenda in response to threats at power from 2000 have had far-reaching consequences on the political economy of the country such that it is idle for the architects of the coalition to pose serious questions beforehand.”
Dr Shonhe said contrary to arguments that Zanu-PF’s stay in power was attributable to violence and coercion, the ruling party made efficient use of ideological tools.
“(Professor) Raftopoulos put it squarely well in his post 2013 election assessment that Zanu-PF has retained a substantial social base and ‘moreover the maintenance of this social base has not been based solely on violence and coercion, but on a combination of the ideological legacies of the liberation struggle, the persistent memories of colonial dispossession, and the land reform process’.
“What would you have voted if you had been that communal dweller who had received a fertile piece of land; if your small mine claim had just been registered; if you were a jobless ex-farm worker; if your small business was gradually getting off the ground (whom would you credit?); if you had lost your livelihood under Murambatsvina in 2008; if you had just received U$1 500 dollar at the tobacco auction; if you had been struggling with corrupt MDC council officials about a plot for your house; if you had a job in a mine and were hoping to get a share of it?
“Assessing the utility and relevance of a grand coalition and electoral reforms must be done in a manner that takes into account the changing political economy in Zimbabwe. The politics of coalitions in Zimbabwe must be carried out from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives as this will help in bolstering the coalition that emerges as we move into the 2018 elections.”
Dr Shonhe said in 2008, the MDC failed to seize power due to some qualitative issues that were yet to be resolved.
“These issues included limited strategic thinking, absence of timely and effective intelligence, deficiencies in State craftiness and inferior infrastructural capacity to compete with the vast governmental scheme that is underpinned by State bureaucracy and State security. Will a grand coalition disentangle this circumstance?”
Dr Shonhe said there was need for the opposition to understand the dynamics of political economy and noted that there were over two million artisan miners and over three million voters in farming areas.
He dismissed the notion that Zanu-PF rigs prior or outside “the actual polling station”.
“As things stand, the opposition is in a very weak financial position because of fatigue across well wishers,” said Dr Shonhe. “To a large extent, the collapse of momentum and subsequent splits resulting in more fragmented groupings: PDP, RDZ, ZimPF and NPP are a manifestation of financial drought across the opposition movement. Much less to do with ideological differences or contestations around the national agenda.
“In any case, none of the parties has placed the people’s agenda at the core of its actions since 2013. Much more, some parties will be left out, possibly to form their own ‘majestic’ alliance/coalition.”
Dr Shonhe added: “As some analysts have pointed out, MDC T support has remained around the famous one million mark over the years! In any event, Morgan Tsvangirai has become an obvious leader of the ‘grand’ alliance, yet the ultimate coalition will be much weaker given the splits in MDC Team and ZimFirst parties and potential differences yet to emerge among the coalescing partners.
“The net effect may be a ‘grand’ loss as . . . President Robert Mugabe has predicted. Even more, in the absence of funding, the coalition faces a similar fate and prospect for electoral victory are lean, not least because on its own, Zanu-PF has uninterrupted access to governmental infrastructural support and resources. How will a grand coalition reverse this funding challenge?”
Dr Shonhe said it was self defeating for the opposition to assume a coalition would win the next elections.
“The tragedy is in the opposition’s reliance on a popular and simplistic narrative of a grand coalition without analysing the qualitative political dynamics about the 2018 plebiscite,” he said. “Hard questions must be asked and good answers must be proffered, now!”
Dr Shonhe cited a deficiency of ideology as another huge obstacle for opposition forces in Zimbabwe.
He suggested a formation of a new political party far removed from the MDC’s foreign politics.
“The major weakness of the grand coalition is the absence of a shared ideology,” said Dr Shonhe. “Perhaps it is time to think about Munyaradzi Gwisai’s intervention on 7 August 2013 when he observed: The (only) way forward for working people is to break from MDC and lay now the foundations for a new working people’s movement to continue the struggle against the regime, yet the painstaking realities of that option is that the politics on the ground still point to the currency of the MDC.”