Zim politics anchored on leaders’ persona

There is a stubborn truth that stands majestically at the centre of opposition politics since time immemorial that one wonders why many do not see the lesson and continue to fall headlong into the same pit as others that came before them.

There is no known opposition political party in Zimbabwe that changed its leader and went on to garner the same rapport and perform well afterwards. Zimbabwean politics (sad to say) is not about ideas, but about personalities. This truth was learnt the hard way by many senior opposition politicians, especially secretary-generals who served under and thought they could outstrip the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who had a modest educational background.

Ahead of its elective congress in May this year the opposition MDC continues to experience rising tensions with people angling themselves for power. It is currently rumoured that almost 12 names, so far, are expected to vie for the party’s vice presidency.

The congress slated for May 24 to 26 will focus on choosing a new leadership for the party. The congress will be instrumental in proving whether the party left by founder leader, Tsvangirai, will adhere to the basic tenets of democracy.

Perhaps of all the jostling for positions taking place, none is as eyebrow-raising as the probable challenge to the presidency of the party by current secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora. Mwonzora’s name continues to be attributed to some fiery and controversial comments furtively aimed at current party president, Nelson Chamisa. Although Mwonzora has gone tactful about it, his statements that Chamisa had fallen short of 4, 5 million votes in the MDC strategic plan are pregnant. Mwonzora’s comments betray a thinly (but not so thinly) disguised dig on Chamisa‘s suitability to continue at the helm of the party.

It is a wonder how anyone would, in their right frame of mind, think Chamisa could win 94% of the votes in tandem with meeting the party’s set target. Even Tsvangirai wouldn’t have managed that.

Only 4 775 568 people cast their votes in the last election. Mwonzora’s comments are laden and give a peak into his version of politics ahead of the congress; he said: “A person who is contesting is in fact holding himself or herself to be saying that they can score more and there is no reason to underestimate them because you have never seen them in a presidential election…” Surely the gist in not to malign the current secretary-general, but if truth be told the man is apparently fiddling with the idea of some political figure other than the incumbent leading the party and amassing the same goodwill and rapport that Chamisa had built with the electorate.

It is exactly here that I make the case that it remains some sort of political conundrum that has endured over decades in Zimbabwean politics that opposition politicians never seem to learn. It would appear the secretary-general’s position currently held by Douglas Mwonzora does certain things to the office holder. It seems that they give themselves a delusionary colossal stature such that they cannot see things in their prospective.

With all due respect to the principles of democracy, many in opposition politics held the same post and saw for themselves the futility of battling for the top job (party presidency) before the party has even assumed power.

Tsvangirai, deemed the beacon of opposition democracy, remains the most loved opposition figure to emerge from this country. On his part, Tsvangirayi lacked the highly rated A-class academic status that other politicians held. Tsvangirai was human and had those periods of lapse where he would, like anyone else, misfire in a speech.

Even more, Tsvangirai had a weaker side as a human being which played out loudly after the death of his wife as he sought to reengage in marriage. What is the point here? The point is this, for all his failings with women, a modest education and poor political showing at times, he remained the top most popular politician to the electorate.

Tsvangirai, up to the point of death, could not be defeated by anyone within the party. He had to cede power to Chamisa in the face of failing health. The first secretary-general Welshman Ncube was miles ahead in education and decorum as compared to Tsvangirai, but still wondered in the political wilderness after leaving the party. The same happened to Tendai Biti.

Zimbabwean politics has not yet reached that point where politicians are looked at in the capacity of their ability. We must be honest enough to admit that it’s not yet about a contest of ideas in African politics; it is so much about connectivity with the grassroots. If a politician has no grassroots connectivity the education and decorum don’t count an inch.

Tsvangirai presided over a party with professors, decorated lawyers and refined academics, yet he never held a degree. It’s never about one’s history within whatever political party or something else. Mwonzora needs to eventually learn this sooner than later. It is unfortunate that the man continues to be embarrassed by unruly party supporters each time he comes to the fore.Party structures and processes must be followed, but honestly I think we should not try to hide behind a façade of democracy.

Zimbabwean politics is still anchored in the persona of the party leader and changing party leaders as an opposition party intending to get into power is irrational, to be polite. History doesn’t seem to be on Mwonzora’s side.


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