THE MDC-Alliance, and the entire legacy of the opposition movement, faces the gravest political challenges it has had to confront since its formation in 1999.
This is the result of a combination of judicial manipulation, political violence, and repression of Zanu PF over nearly two decades, and the cumulative organisational and democratic weaknesses of the MDC itself.
In the current context, two recent judicial and legislative decisions have set the political agenda for the MDC-Alliance for the foreseeable future. The first was the Supreme Court judgement, SC 56/2020 delivered in March 2020.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court set out that the “essence and objectives of the corrective measures to be implemented by the Party is to restore the status quo ante that prevailed before the irregular and unlawful appointments to the Party presidency took place”.
This in turn would require the “convening of an extraordinary congress to elect a new president following the demise of Dr Tsvangirai”, resulting in the deputy president Thokozani Khupe assuming the role of acting president, until the election of new a president at the extraordinary congress.
The second was the decision by the Speaker of Parliament on May 5, 2020, to recall four MDC-Alliance legislators at the request of the Khupe/Douglas Mwonzora leadership of the MDC-T.
These MPs included Charlton Hwende, Tabitha Khumalo, Prosper Mutseyami and Lillian Timveous, all top political loyalists of the Nelson Chamisa leadership. This was a clear move to weaken the MDC-Alliance and set a threatening precedent for other loyal members of the Alliance.
Both these judicial responses took place in the same month as it was reported that three MDC-Alliance members were abducted, tortured, and sexually abused by members of the ruling party.
The three were: Joanna Mamombe, a Member of Parliament for Harare West constituency and MDC-Alliance Youth secretary for policy and research; Cecilia Chimbiri, the MDC-Alliance Youth Assembly vice chairperson; and Netsai Marova, the MDC-Alliance Youth Assembly deputy organising secretary. The police arrested them on May 23 and allegedly facilitated their abduction by security agents of the state.
This incident took place barely a month after an attack on two women, Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa Mpofu, by six ZRP officers in Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, under the cover of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
Moreover, this latest round of state repression and violence was also marked by the arrests of several human rights lawyers charged with defeating or obstructing the course of justice during the execution of their professional duties.
The MDC-Alliance’s response to this onslaught by the state was to immediately suspend the participation of its members in Parliamentary duties, pending further “consultation with the electorate and other stakeholders on the way forward”.
Unfortunately, due to poor consultation and the reliance of legislators on this singular source of income as MPs, several members of Chamisa’s party ignored this directive.
The result was that a month after this resolution was announced, Chamisa changed the earlier resolution and allowed the MPs to return to Parliament. The Alliance has also embarked on a series of legal challenges that are likely to keep it occupied for the foreseeable future. The opposition is in an extremely difficult position and faces a major test in finding a way forward.
From these recent political interventions by the state, it can be surmised that Mnangagwa’s objective to deconstruct the MDC-Alliance is composed of a four-fold strategy.
Firstly, the deployment of the use of the judiciary to delegitimise the MDC-Alliance as a party and Chamisa as its leader. This is a response to the MDC-Alliance persistent questioning of the Mnangagwa Presidency since the July 2018 elections. This strategy will be accompanied by the continued use of violence and repression to control the MDC-Alliance and its capacity to mobilise popular discontent.
The announcement by the regime that due to the Covid-19 epidemic Zimbabwe will remain in an indefinite period of level 2 lockdown, is an attempt to provide a legitimising narrative for the ongoing securitisation of the country’s politics.
The announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) that it has suspended all electoral activities citing the Covid-19 regulations in place, will also delay the replacement of the MDC-Alliance MPs who were recalled from Parliament.
Secondly, to use the recent judgments to deny the MDC-Alliance the ZW$7,5 million allotted to it under the Political Parties Finance Act and to channel these funds to the Khupe formation. The state assisted eviction of the Chamisa leadership from the party headquarters in May by the Khupe group, has compounded the resource crisis in the Alliance.
Thirdly, to ensure that the Political Actors Forum, Polads, which Mnangagwa put in place after the 2018 elections as a controlled dialogue space, is given new momentum, by asserting the legitimacy of the Khupe formation, and the illegality of both the MDC-Alliance and Chamisa’s leadership.
This attempt to silence the massively popular MDC-Alliance and to ensure that the Polad Forum remains dominated by electorally insignificant parties, could allow Mnangagwa to dictate the pace and outcomes of any national dialogue.
Fourthly to ensure the continued solidarity of Sadc and the African Union (AU) in its anti-sanctions debate with the European Union and the United States. The AU chairperson’s call for the “unconditional lifting of sanctions” on Zimbabwe and Sudan in May this year, once again points to the polarisation of positions between African and Western organisations on the Zimbabwe crisis.
In its current form, this debate will continue to benefit the ideological pretensions of the Mnangagwa regime as it did with his deposed predecessor Robert Mugabe.
The ongoing structural economic crisis in Zimbabwe, has only been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a feature of most countries in the global south. In a letter to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund in April, the Zimbabwean Minister of Finance Mthuli Ncube stated that the country, “desperately needs urgent international support”.
The letter called for “an urgent dialogue to advance a transformative financial support and arrears clearance plan”, with the promise that the state would carry out several economic and political reforms as part of the process.
Notwithstanding the problem that the Finance minister only refers to policy missteps since late 2019, rather than the longer-term policy mistakes from the late 1990’s, there is little chance that the regime could deal with the Mnangagwa connected cartels that have engaged in massive corrupt accumulation since the 2017 coup.
Connected to this corruption is a factionalism that continues to haunt the ruling party, and cast grave doubts on its capacity to stabilise the politics of the country.
As the long-term economic and political crisis has intensified in Zimbabwe, the legitimacy of the ruling party has diminished substantially. The political response to this has been the increasing militarisation and repression by the state, a politics that is deeply embedded in the history of Zanu PF.
For the MDC-Alliance, the challenge remains of attempting to dislodge an authoritarian regime through peaceful electoral means, combined with organised protests.
This will be even more difficult in the context of the global pandemic that has deepened the repressive strain of the ruling party. Moreover Covid-19 has weakened the structural and organisational capacities of both the opposition and the social forces that support it.
One positive message that the opposition can take away from the current environment is that the post-coup regime is simply unable to deal with the country’s economic challenges, outside of providing a corrupt accumulation space for sections of the Mnangagwa cabal.
The continued strikes by public sector workers, most recently the nurses, point to the persistent challenges of dealing with public sector wages. Once again, the state response has been police and military curfews, and another tepid attempt at wage increases that will very rapidly be eroded in an economy spiralling into another hyper-inflationary cycle.
Raftopoulos is the director of Research and Advocacy at Ukuthula Trust.