When the movement for democracy changes…


The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was
historically viewed as a ray of hope for a better future in Zimbabwe. Since
2000, the country has been gripped by a political crisis under the leadership
by the ruling party ZANU-PF. Over the years however, this faith in the MDC and
its leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been diminished by the party and its
president’s loss of direction and adoption of the worst attributes of
mal-governance and self-centred rule. What promised to be a formidable
opposition party, has now degenerated into a theatre of factionalization and
internal politicking.

The MDC’s history of factionalism is revealing,
since it was initiated in October 2005, by then Secretary-General Welshman
Ncube. In April 2014, Job Sikhala led a group of disgruntled cohorts to create
the MDC 99 faction. In the same year Tendai Biti also led a faction that split
from the party. In 2014, Tendai Biti was quoted by Reuters as stating that the
party had dismissed the president of the Party Tsvangirai and his Deputy
Thokozani Khupe because the former was resisting a leadership change after
having lost a third general election to Robert Mugabe.. The MDC’s fragmentation
has been underpinned by an abandoning of its original “founding values and

Of particular concern is the element of violence
that has slowly been manifesting within the party, and its relations with any
sources of criticism or resistance from its own members. Furthermore, their outright
stance against other opposition parties that have entered the arena since July
2017 reveals a political formation that is paranoid. Recently, MDC deputy
president Thokozani Khupe, was attacked in Matebeleland by some MDC youths on
the basis of an accusation that she was part of a group of MDC officials
hosting an “un-convened” meeting which aimed to discourage MDC supporters from
attending Tsvangirai’s own gathering. According to reports, from Bulawayo 24
news, the Shona-speaking youth are linked to the president of the party,
Tsvangirai and they not only attacked Thokozani Khupe, but also other senior
officials in the party including, the national organising secretary Abednico
Bhebhe and the national chairman Lovemore Moyo. This was not the first attack
of this kind on party members.

In February 2014, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma
were attacked by some youth on a Saturday afternoon after a meeting at the
party’s headquarters at Harvest House. In an interview Mangoma had with
NewZimbabwe.com, he alleges that the party’s leader Tsvangirai instigated for
the attack to occur when Mangoma attempted to flee the headquarters through a
private entrance that was reserved for Tsvangirai. Subsequently, in a statement
released by Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai distanced himself from the attack
stating that he was instrumental in trying to contain the situation and in his
view the narrative of this incident had been maliciously changed by false media

For a party that was rooted in trying to
overcome the culture of violence that ZANU PF has normalized in Zimbabwe, MDC
is slowly becoming a version of its nemesis and acquiring the attributes of the
same monster that it tried to confront. We cannot of course forget the brutal
attack on MDC officials at the hands of 200 allegedly ZANU PF supporters that
occurred in 2004, which is well documented in television and video recordings.
Having suffered such a brutal attack that left Tsvangirai, Nelson Chamisa and
many other party officials with severe and serious injuries, it is almost
surreal that the MDC of today has allowed itself to be engulfed in this
practice of violent democratic suppression.

It is self-evident that the MDC has been the
main opposition for the last 18 years, and has showcased itself as the alternative
to ZANU PF. However, with the factionalization and the culture of violence in
its internal party politics, the MDC has morphed into a party that is incrementally
beginning to resemble the ZANU PF and has left many Zimbabweans between a rock
and a hard place. This narrative of a way-ward opposition party is now evident
on social media, in the lead up to the upcoming presidential elections in 2018.

The way in which the MDC has related with other
presidential candidates also running for the presidential elections such as,
Nkosana Moyo, shows that given this former status as the only opposition party
alternative to ZANU PF, MDC views itself entitled to the peoples’ vote.
Throughout this year, the MDC has made it clear that they believe that the
other opposition parties are working against the agenda of removing ZANU PF and
instead are working towards splitting the opposition vote which could result in
ZANU PF’s presidential candidate winning again in 2018. What’s ironic and anti-democratic about this is the very blatant dislike
for any form of opposition beyond itself. It reeks of the self-entitlement that
now alludes the party’s leader Tsvangirai who sees himself clearly as the
rightful alternative to President Robert Mugabe. Furthermore, this is also infused
with the liberation war hero rhetoric which has galvinised Zimbabwe’s
post-independence politics, the belief that we as the people owe those that
liberate us from oppression all the positions and perks they desire. Midway
through 2017, Zimbabwe seems cursed to endure the demands of those who claim to
have freed us from colonialism, while the worst practices of this historical
era remain with us by way of mis-rule and oppression. Given the chosen
trajectory that the MDC is on, we could end up replacing the devil-we-know with
the devil-who-is-prone-to-mimic-him.

Other concerns relating to the nature of the
MDC, in the last few years, is related to its gender exclusionary practices.
The MDC seems intent on recreating a political space in Zimbabwe that does not
accommodate for women to participate at high levels within the leadership
structures. In 2016, Tsvangirai appointed two more deputy presidents to his
party, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri to serve alongside Thokozani Khupe.
Many have criticized this move because it gives the impression that Tsvangirai
does not view Khupe as competent enough to serve alone in that position or
potentially a candidate worthy of succeeding him. Given the years and efforts
Khupe has dedicated to MDC one would expect her to have been appointed as the
new party’s president. The failure to appoint her as the president of the MDC
reveals a gender biased leadership within Zimbabwe’s so-called opposition.

These leadership failures point to the essential
truth that Tsvangirai has transgressed his best-before-date. Why Tsvangirai is
still president of his party, will continue to remain a mystery? This is a
concern that has grown increasingly especially amidst Tsvangirai’s current
state of health. Many have lost respect for his party with him as its
president, because the MDC has slowly evolved into a version of ZANU PF. As
Zimbabweans enter the madness of the electioneering into 2018, there is still
hope that a genuine opposition will emerge into the forefront and provide a
credible alternative for citizens to identify and embrace as they exercise
their democratic right.

Leslie is a post-graduate student, Department of Political Studies, University of Cape Town and intern for the Justice and Peacebuilding Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation