OPINION | ‘The struggle against our own weaknesses’: Populist contradictions in Zimbabwe’s political opposition

MDC supporters protest against alleged electoral fraud after the announcement of 2018 election results (pic: AFP)

By Takura Zhangazha

Zimbabwe’s mainstream political opposition in its current divided formations, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance or MDC-Tsvangirai is evidently in crisis.

The MDC-Alliance, which brought other opposition parties, including its own splinter groups, together for the 2018 general/harmonized elections has found itself in a split that has sought to distinguish the original MDC-Tsvangirai from the then electoral alliance. 

Based on a Supreme Court judgment that gave the then first vice president, Thokozani Khupe of the MDC- Tsvangirai (before the Alliance was formed) control of the party, there have now been recalls of opposition members of Parliament and also elected local government councilors.

It has not ended there. 

There have also been battles for the control of the headquarters of the opposition in Harare. A development that means either this will not end well or will not end soon. 

It is an interesting if not tragic conundrum.  One which has had the characteristics of not only being personal but also populist. 

The personal has been mainly found in the leaders of these opposition factions taking potshots at each other’s integrity or intentions. 

This is in addition to their partisan supporters taking to social media and occasionally to their Harvest House headquarters to claim some sort of ownership of being the ‘authentic’ opposition leadership, or rgue on behalf of those that they deem best placed to lead a now very disunited opposition. 

I am however more interested in the populist dimensions of the state of the opposition and the attendant contradictions thereto.  

I also use the term populist because to all intents and purposes that is the current approach of the  leadership of the opposition to what it considers its democratic change mandate.  It is a populism that has at least three main elements. 

The first is that it is Manichean.  It really does not matter who you are as long as you are against the ruling Zanu Pf party.  That is the tie that sort of binds. 

Hence the formation of the MDC-Alliance while strategic forgot that the members of the same were only bound together by the same said Manichean view of Zimbabwean politics.  

“ideological detail was not high on the list of priorities”

Attention to ideological detail was not high on the list of priorities as it was assumed that was already taken care of by supportive domestic or international ‘think-tanks’ in one form or the other. 

The second being that in either case of the MDC-Alliance or the MDC-T, there is the leveraging of the charisma of the founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. From arguments about his chosen successors through to quite literally claiming him for legitimacy (even though a majority of the current leaders were at loggerheads with him.)

But even if they were to push it to its populist ends, it eventually wears off.  These leaders will need to stand on their own, even if they claim to be standing on Tsvangirai’s shoulders.

The search for recognition

The third is that it’s a populism that seeks recognition from the global west.  A development that is understandable given the general Zimbabwean mindset of admiration of everything that occurs in the global north. 

Opposition and also ruling Zanu Pf party leaders appear to need to be popularly recognized by Zimbabweans as being close to leaders of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or the European Union.

This is as opposed to taking more time to understand the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or the African Union’s (AU) historical and liberation struggle based international relations dynamics in their regional, continental and global elements.

This may be understandable given the legacies of colonialism as well as our overt admiration of those global north societies and neoliberal consumerism, but it unfortunately is not enough to cross Rubicons.

“What would you do better?”

A frequent question however, and I am sure it will be asked in social media threads to this blog, is “What would you do better?” And it is an easy one to answer if I was an opposition political party leader.  In at least four parts.

With number one being that I would be ideologically clear. No ambiguities. To the extent of, for example, not lauding current American President Trump’s xenophobic nationalism and neoliberalism, or Chinese President Xi Jinping’s version of state capitalism.  And always remembering Amilcar Cabral’s words at the first Tri-Continental continent in Havana, Cuba in 1966 where he advised delegates of the ‘the struggle against our own weaknesses.

And also, “that however great the similarity between our various cases and however identical our enemies, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are, and increasingly so every day, the outcome of local and national elaboration, more or less influenced by external factors (be they favorable or unfavorable) but essentially determined and formed by the historical reality of each people, and carried to success by the overcoming or correct solution of the internal contradictions between the various categories characterising this reality.”

“Intra-party democracy matters as much as national democratic practice”

Secondly, it would be important to understand that it is internal political processes that give meaning to external ones.

No matter how unpopular or against the trends they may be.  Intra-party democracy matters as much as national democratic practice.  Even in the most populist of moments.

Thirdly, it remains important that we lead for posterity. Not just ourselves and our moment in the sun. We must always lead for the future.

While the past and present remain important, they are more relevant to an envisioned future if leadership is designed to perpetuate long-duree equality in our society.

Finally, in all of the aforementioned three points, it is important to have ‘praxis’.  To combine both ideological theory and practice. That is to create progressive counter-hegemonic frameworks that last beyond the moment.  All this with an understanding of other existent hegemonies and how best to try and navigate a path toward the peoples’ progress going forward.


Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)