Zimbabwe’s democrats: A luta perdido – e reinício

By David Moore. David Moore’s 1990 York University (Canada) Phd examined the history of Zimbabwe’s liberation war: the contradictions continue still. Now Professor of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg, while on sabbatical he is Visiting Scholar at UCT’s Centre for African Studies. This is an altered version of an August 9 OpenCanada.org publication.

August 1 6:08: from inside a party meeting assessing the damage, the SMS from the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai activist could not have been more different than his “WE HV WON” after Zimbabwe’s March 2008 election. “Bad news” wrote the man who was in seventh heaven at the country’s biggest ever political rally two days before: “We hv bn hit by the unexplainable. Its game over. 5 years with Mugabe again”.

The MDC-T’s hopes for a ‘crossover’ peaked at the rally (twenty per cent being registered, opined one senior observer: I trust that the young fellow who pickpocked me was one of the unregistered masses!). The real crossover contrasted starkly to the hopes of the MDC-T, its civil society supporters, and democrats the world over. It marked a fundamental transformation in Zimbabwe’s polity and social order nonetheless.

The results were soon in: ZANU-PF’s 62 to 34% victory over Zimbabwe’s main opposition in the presidential race and an over two-thirds parliamentary majority guarantee ‘revolutionary party’ power for the next five years. Many words have been spilled saying that this will be Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s last term as president, but it should not be forgotten that after 2005’s elections he said he’d rule until he was a century old. Constitution makers may have stopped this: two terms, up to 10 years, is the limit. Biology willing, the need to maintain a faction-ridden ZANU-PF could stretch his years in power to 99.

Mugabe’s August 22 inauguration completed the text messenger’s disappointment. In the intervening three weeks, the MDC-T’s manoeuvres seemed rote: would the ZANU-PF-packed courts ever have allowed evidence proving the ballot fraudulent, null, and void? Would SADC’s and the AU’s slight hesitations in their reports have ever been acted on?

SADC’s consecration at Llongwe preceding the final anointment was the cake’s icing. Lindiwe Zulu, labelled in July a prostitute by Mugabe for trying to keep Zimbabwe’s road-map to democracy on track, was welcomed back to the fold. South African President Jacob Zuma asked Mugabe for her bride-price: thus SADC’s previous efforts to cajole ZANU-PF into line were forgiven, never to resurrect. SADC’s final summary of September 2 closed the debate: ‘free, peaceful and generally credible’ (with an apologetic gesture to the elephant in the room: the missing 1.6 tonne voter’s roll, for which the soft copy was never available while hard copies were only ready a day before the election) was the organisation’s last Milquetoasty testament: with mid-2008 as the benchmark, could one have expected more?

Now charged with contempt of court for withdrawing the claims and noting the judge’s bias, Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have to practice the fine art of opposition politics again. Assuming its leaders reject offers to join government (not to confuse sitting in parliament with co-option, as did a number while contemplating a boycott), the opposition party will do what such parties do best. The MDC-T lost the 2013 struggle, but the significant space it and civil society opened during nearly 15 years of intense effort (aside from some seductions with the so-close-but-so-far transitional inclusive government and donor dependency) must be widened. The 2013 phase of the struggle was lost, but it starts again: a luta continua – without turning into continuous looting.

Contrary to the disappointed democrat’s SMS, what hit the MDC-T was far from unexplainable, nor surprising. An explanation can help the MDC-T – and all Zimbabwe’s democratic forces – chart a future shadowed by the spectre of the ‘revolutionary party’ torn into factions, and possibly more reprehensible than ever.

Niccolo Machiavelli and Antonio Gramsci could have designed ZANU-PF’s campaign. Gramsci’s coercion+consent Centaur merged with Machiavellian trickery – outsourced to Israeli election managers – to outwit the MDC-T. Three prongs of a four-toothed fork won the race for a party that after fifty years has mastered the route to power. Crudity, concurrence and chicanery constituted three-quarters of victory’s equation.

The last quarter consisted of a lethal mix of MDC-T flat-footedness and naïve hubris. It relaxed while the Zimbabwean leviathan concentrated single-mindedly to finish nearly fourteen years of containing, then eliminating, its threat. Who sang the lullaby? Was there too much advice from the likes of the International Republican Institute?

The intimidation, pre-voting rigging, laggardly registration of candidates and ‘alien’ voters, gift-giving and the missing electronic voters’ roll will be documented eventually: records kept, lessons will be learned. Surely this observer was not alone thinking the July 31st voting queues in Mbare were funereal, contrasting starkly with all elections since 2000. The urban chipangano militias worked well; similarly rural chiefs lined up their subjects promising repeats of July 2008’s violence were if the vote went wrong.

One large question remains. Why did the MDC-T enter this election? The Central Intelligence Organisation’s (with its own diamond mine, reportedly) careful preparatory work was well-known: Zimbabwean intelligence is about sharing more than keeping secrets. Nikuv’s mercenaries (admittedly better than those wielding guns, but quartered with the defence ministry nonetheless) working since 2000, invented sci-fi+John Le Carré pre-ballot ruses carrying the ‘revolutionary party’ to a majority more than even it and western legitimacy packagers such as Andy Young and Jess Jackson expected. But a good proportion of its tricks – from duplicated names to ghosts – were known well in advance of D-Day. Many had been tested in May’s constitutional referendum and July’s special security forces votes.

After Zimbabwe’s predictable judges refused SADC’s mid-June request to postpone the election by a mere two weeks, SADC facilitators offered support to the MDC-T if it withdrew pending consolidation of the Global Political Agreement’s electoral conditions. The MDC-T debated the proposition, deciding against. Victory was in sight. The upcoming Victoria Falls tourism conference made post-election violence improbable. Repetition of the 2008 run-off carnage was considered unlikely given its ramifications for ZANU-PF if repeated. If the MDC-T disappeared in Matabeleland wouldn’t ZAPU and/or the splinter MDC have taken the cake? Moreover, there were no guarantees how far SADC’s support – perhaps only offered on the side-lines and thus hard to backup – would go if the plug was pulled.

Yet it seems ZANU-PF had no Plan B if the MDC-T had refused to attend the nomination courts. Mugabe’s screaming insults at Lindiwe Zulu could have alerted MDC-T strategists of their advantage. Yet acquiescence emerged – as obsequious as Zuma, who dropped his compatriot like a hot potato. As one perplexed Zimbabwean activist queried; ‘where was the leadership?’

Along with its insistence in 2008 that polling results be posted outside each station, SADC’s quiet offer could have deepened Zimbabwe’s democratic dynamic irretrievably. That chance is foregone: has it foretold democracy’s death? The lesson? Take every opportunity to divert ZANU-PF from its path: artlessness and hubris are no challenge to fifty years of domestic and international cunning.

The leadership issue questions Morgan Tsvingirai’s future. With it arises the ‘cold war’ between secretary-general Tendia Biti (surely relieved to be released of the finance ministry’s albotross) and national organiser Nelson Chamisa (who let too much in his communications ministry slip to ZANU-PF’s transport portfolio – eg cell-phone companies paying licenses 15 years in advance – and failed to organise the election well-enough). The prospect of pure opposition rather than hamstrung co-governance may fire Tsvangirai up, but many think that losing all the elections since 2000 – be they by hook or crook – renders him unfit. Will the party survive either his hanging on or his departure? The loss of much of its dead wood is a plus, as is the virtual disappearance of the splinter parties – although in their wake the MDC-T lost many Matabeleland seats as it fell through cracks created by Dumiso Dabengwa’s ZAPU and Welshman Ncube’s other MDC. ZANU-PF may as well have been practising divide-and-rule. Division and control could end, in Matabeleland especially, if early unity buries rusting hatchets

On a larger scale, fifteen years of deindustrialisation have decimated trade-union based civil society: it remains to be seen if a new subaltern base made up of striving ‘new peasants’ is irretrievably and organically ZANU-PF. A core of youthful civil society intellectuals disenchanted with the MDC’s move into patron-client politics may see a new party born: ZANU-PF’S intellectuals are already crowing at that new wizard.

ZANU-PF’s habit of harsh recrimination to those stymying its right to eternal power will discourage democratic deepening. Yet ZANU-PF may factionalise further. Mugabe’s glue, holding the party together since 1977, is decaying. Mujuru and Mnangagwa factions’ battles will be overlaid with the ‘Group of 40’ and/or ‘Super Zezuru’. Policy swings between populist patriotism and weak technocratic efforts to re-engage the international financial institutions to crack the $11 billion debt will ensue. Will the diamond-lords channel their wealth to the state, not their expanding empires? Will a revised Kimberley Process effect much?

If the economy nosedives again – and this surely must be exorcising the European Union’s agonising over sanctions, which were on the way to lifting had the elections been more tolerable – Zimbabweans’ choices will be stark. After a decade and a half a stoic denizenry has become adept at informal work and sending in millions from the diaspora, but this, notwithstanding enclaved diamonds and platinum, is a precarious political economy at the best of times. They may have to choose resistance over resilience.

Will the MDC marshall a collectivity of contestation to its cause before it gets out of hand, or will a ZANU-PF style of authoritarian populism win the day?

Rights reserved: Please credit the author, and Solidarity Peace Trust, as the original source for all material republished on other websites unless otherwise specified. Please provide a link back to http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org

This article can be cited in other publications as follows: Moore, D. (2013) ‘Zimbabwe’s democrats: A luta perdido – e reinício’, 4 September, Solidarity Peace Trust: http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/1330/zimbabwes-democrats-a-luta-perdido-e-reinicio/

Wed, September 4 2013 » 2013, Elections, Zimbabwe Review

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