via A View on the Electoral Outcome of the MDC-T Congress | newzimbabweconstitution 3 November 2014 by Alex T. Magaisa
This is a rare moment. Rare because for the first time in a long stretch, I address something in a party that has my political favour. I am aware of the thirst for critical assessment of matters in the opposition circles. It is not that those of us who are supportive are not critical. We are and viciously so at times, but the difference is we often channel that criticism through the avenues that are available to us and there is no need, oft-times, to channel it publicly. But I understand the need for public perspectives on these issues, because public scrutiny plays a role in shaping the democratic culture. In that regard, I shall from time to time, endeavour to share my thoughts, hoping that they, too, assist in shaping awareness and thoughts on matters pertaining to the opposition parties. But I will not pretend to be less inclined to the opposition democratic forces, because I am. However, it does not stop me from being critical, if need be.
Douglas Mwonzora and Nelson Chamisa are both men that I know and have come to regard both as comrades and brothers for some years. I knew Nelson first, back in our more youthful years when we were students. The man who connected us was Learnmore Judah Jongwe, who was a mutual friend.
One day, in the early days of the 1995 academic year, Jongwe had run up to me and said, “Mukoma, my name is Judah Jongwe. I am doing first year law. I heard that you got the prize last year. I want to make sure I get it, too”. He was referring to an academic award I had managed to win in my first year. It was an interesting moment from which our friendship began.
Then one day, Jongwe expressed his wish to join student politics and he wanted advice. We sat down and the rest is now part of history’s record. It was through his politics that I got to know other young student politicians like Job Sikhala and Tafadzwa Musekiwa at the UZ and Charlton Hwende and Nelson Chamisa, both of whom were at Harare Polytechnic. Jongwe would often invite me to their sessions, including the Zinasu events, where I would share my views, as the proverbial ‘big brother’. As Jongwe addressed me as Mukoma, so they all referred to me by that title. I accepted with humility. And they too, became my brothers.
They would come to Beverly Court, where the offices of the law firm I worked for were housed and we would go down to the little cafe on the ground floor, where we would have lunch and discuss politics. In those days, preparations were underway to form the MDC and these student leaders were at the centre of it. It was at those offices that Jongwe first introduced to me his prospective girlfriend and future wife, Rutendo. She was a beautiful girl. “I want her to see where I will be working one day, Mukoma”, he had declared a few days earlier, to which I said, “Please do come along and we will have lunch”. Later, they were to live in an apartment above mine, at the same flat, Shingayi Court, where my other great friend Tererai Mafukidze also had a home. There, too, the young politicians used to come and we would share our company. Sadly, by circumstances that are still hard to understand or accept, our mutual friend, Jongwe and his wife are both no longer with us. It is a story that is hard to tell and I must let their souls rest in peace.
But I say all this in order to convey the context in which I have known Chamisa and my understanding of the roots of his political career and therefore, that what I say is motivated only by the spirit of comradeship that goes back a long way. I know he will be hurting deeply over the outcome and perhaps, the circumstances leading to the outcome of the elective Congress recently concluded. The easiest thing for me would be to join him in disappointment and curse everything. But that would be unhelpful.
I commiserate with him but I also say to him that the strength of the eagle is seen not only when it is soaring, but on whether it can get up and fly again, after falling to the ground. It is a time of self-introspection – a time of asking what went wrong and how it can be corrected. It is not a time of giving up. In times like these one can do no better than listen to the friends and critics alike and take on board their different perspectives.
In hard moments, it is easy for one to go into a shell, to feel sorry for one-self and to believe that the world has conspired against you. It is not a time for hasty and impetuous reaction. No human being is perfect and my brother has his faults, which may partly account an outcome that seems so cruel, but he has youth and intelligence on his side and he will bounce back – perhaps with better polish and a demeanour honed by time, that great sorcerer.
Harsh electoral defeats are not new. A few years ago, once a hot favourite for the leadership of New Labour, David Miliband faced the unlikely challenge of his brother, Ed Miliband and lost. It was hard not to feel for David Miliband. But he went away and has been doing other things, while his young brother tries to win next year’s elections. Perhaps, one day David Miliband will bounce back. History has other examples of men and women who lost in elective processes but still bounced back to make a contribution – both John Kerry and Hilary Clinton had ambitions to lead the US. They lost but both returned and became, at different times, the chief diplomat of their country.
If I have one misgiving, it is that the current leadership structure of the MDC is not properly set for the deployment of people by their best talents. In my time, I have not seen a better political communicator than Chamisa. The young man has a rare ability to capture a crowd and to represent the party in words. He did very well in the run-up to the 2008 elections. I would only encourage him, as I have done before, to minimise the desire for big words and to keep it simple. I have no doubt legal practice and art of drafting legal documents, the hallmark of which nowadays is simplicity, will shape him in that regard. To my mind, Chamisa was the best spokesperson for the MDC after Jongwe, the man in whose footsteps he followed.
I have little doubt that he would have done well there during the years that he became the commissar. Attending to the commissariat, which in the MDC is called the national organising department, was probably not the best political decision. It brought its problems and conflicts, especially in the run-up to last year’s elections and this too, might have worked unfavourably in the most recent contest.
But Tsvangirai knows that Chamisa was probably his biggest public backer during his recent troubles with his erstwhile colleagues who have now formed the formation they refer to as Renewal. He stood by him and for that reason took some serious flak, attracting all sorts of unpalatable labels, which may also be the cause of the political price that he has to pay. Chamisa will feel that he has been hard done by; that probably, he has been betrayed. One can understand the hurt but he will need to accept what has happened with grace and look to a future whose promise has not been diminished in a permanent sense.
Douglas Mwonzora is a man I have got to know more in the last 4 years. I have not seen a more humble and respectful politician and, I fear, these qualities have caused him to suffer serious underrating by his critics. This is also why, on more than one occasion, he has confounded his critics. I remember him telling me how he came out of political detention on the eve of the 2011 National Congress and without the money and resources that his competitors were endowed with, worked his way through to win the national spokesmanship of the party. Even now, having received just one nomination, he has confounded his critics again and won a tough contest to become the Secretary General of the party.
But even so, I get the hint that some people are finding it hard to give Mwonzora credit for his victory, believing instead, that it is a case of Tsvangirai having ‘dumped’ Chamisa, which a private daily has, rather inelegantly, described in crude, Grace Mugabe-inspired terms as ‘baby-dumping’. This is partly because Tsvangirai’s critics must always find fault in him. I am certain if Chamisa had won, Tsvangirai would still have been criticised for promoting his blue-eyed boy and biggest supporter. It would have been seen as a reward for loyalty and to critics, sycophancy. Now that Chamisa did not win, they find reason still, to say that Tsvangirai was responsible because, from what I have heard so far, the conspiracy-theorists say he wanted to cut the young politician to size because the boy was showing too much ambition and was threatening his position. Like all conspiracy-theories, it has appeal, even if it might have foundation. In all this poor Mwonzora is regarded as a by-stander, a non-entity who has benefitted from machinations against Chamisa, rather than a self-standing battler who has fought his way to the top against the odds. It is unfair on Mwonzora.
How is it possible, a colleague asked in one of the numerous messages that I have received, for a person who had eleven nominations to lose to a person who had only one? As suaul, some people think there was rigging. I don’t know about that but there are two reasons that could explain what happened.
First, the nominations process is not the election itself. It is suggestive but not conclusive of one’s favour among the electorate. But it is not the election. If it were, there would be no need for an election at Congress. Nomination is simply a process to determine whether or not one is eligible to contest and it is done by persons in the structures. However, the voting itself is done by the overall delegates at Congress. It is possible for structures to prefer one candidate and for the people to have an entirely different opinion, since voting is done on a ‘one person-one vote’ system. The trouble with structures is that they present rent-seeking opportunities and choices can be skewed by rents that prospective candidates are prepared to pay and rents can come in various forms.
My view is that one of the weaknesses of the party has been the failure to properly and clearly set out the structures in a manner that does not cause dispute. This was a cause of serious problems in the primary election process before the 2013 elections with disputes over who constituted the electoral colleges meant to vote for candidates. This caused serious divisions which caused resentment among members. There were serious complaints from across the country because of this weakness and going forward, the MDC needs to attend to it. As long as the structures remain unclear and vague, there will be problems in the internal electoral processes. That is a job that Abednico Bhebhe, the new commissar, has to deal with from the start. The differences in the structures and the ordinary members means, I am not surprised that Mwonzora may have lost in the nominations process but won in the overall vote.
The second reason is the difference between media constructs and reality. I have heard some people say Mwonzora’s demeanour is dour; that he does not connect with the people. But I asked – if he does not connect with the people, how then did he win the contest? Is there any suggestion that he cheated? And where do these characterisations come from? I have warned colleagues to be careful of media constructs in politics. It’s like what we are seeing in Zanu PF factional fights – the media avalanche against Mujuru and her colleagues has suggested that they are losing. But these impressions are media constructs. Not a single scientific poll has been done among Zanu PF members to determine who has the upper hand between her and her rivals. People look at a demonstration of bussed supporters and the numerous negative stories in the State media and conclude that it’s all over for Mujuru.
But if there is a lesson for Zanu PF from the MDC Congress, it is that it is not over until the proverbial fat lady sings – and I say this in its figurative sense and with no pun intended. Sometimes the media builds and creates characters – we begin to believe that those media characters are representative of the actual persons and the support they command. The reality is that the media personality may actually be far removed from the actual person. In the same sense, the popular personality that is presented by the media may not be an accurate representation of the real personality on the ground. Likewise, the unpopular personality in the media may be far different from the actual person on the ground.
I worked very closely with Mwonzora in the constitution-making process, where he was the co-Chairman of Copac, the parliamentary committee that led the constitution-making process. The achievement of those men – Mwonzora, Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF) and Edward Mkhosi (MDC-N) – is often terribly overlooked. I saw them work tirelessly to find common ground and to unlock hard situations when it seemed the process was doomed to fail. I gained enormous respect for all of them, although they were often overshadowed by their more senior colleagues.
I have a lot of respect for both Mwonzora and Chamisa and I wish them well. But one man had to go through. There was always a guarantee of disappointment for one of them. It happens to be Chamisa but this is by no means the end of the political world for him.
For his part, Tsvangirai needs to perform an important balancing act and do what leaders do – which is to harness all capacity and deploy it where it can best serve the ultimate purpose. Jonathan Moyo lost Tsholotsho in the last elections but because Mugabe knew of his strategic importance in his scheme, he found a home for him. The outcomes of democratic processes have to be qualified by the demands of political pragmatism. How he deals with this situation will be very critical to the future of the party. Some people will say, but Magaisa you have not written about the constitutional amendments. That is true, but that will require its own space.