via Zimbabwe’s Political Future April 9, 2014 by Prof. Ambrose B. Chimbganda
The current talk about the formation of a new political party, possibly a splinter party from the MDC, and the internal squabbles in ZANU (PF) prompt me to join the discourse on the likely political future of Zimbabwe.
The starting point, perhaps, is to ask ourselves what we can learn from the formation of splinter parties. At the moment the MDC has four factions led by Tswangirai, Ncube, Mutambara and Sikhala; and the latter has, in his wisdom, rejoined the mainstream MDC of Mr Tswangirai. The stark lesson that can be learned is that no matter how tempting it may be we can never achieve our political objective by fighting individually or as a small faction.
The old adage that “the weak become strong when they fight as a united front” is true in the political context of Zimbabwe or, for that matter, any other country. Each individual faction in the MDC can never hope to dislodge ZANU (PF) if it fights the battle on its own. A loose front or coalition is not ideal either because it is often fragile, weak and usually lacks an ideological fervour that makes it a coherent force.
To emphasize the importance of unity, let us pause to ask this brutally honest question: Why did the MDC fail to defeat ZANU (PF) in 2008? The disciples of factional politics would make us believe that they lost because the elections were rigged or manipulated. They would even accuse each other that one of them had been paid to divide the opposition.
However, the naked truth is that if Mr Tswangirai, Dr Makoni and Professor Ncube had stood together as one, the result would have been very different. And, today, Zimbabwe would have been confronting the future with more hope and greater certainty than is currently the case. Here, we need to remind ourselves that those who do not want to rise above sectional interests and personal ambitions will forever be judged harshly by history.
One critical point we should bear in mind is that whatever differences may exist in the MDC, ZANU (PF) or any other political party is perfectly natural. The disagreements should be welcome because true unity never relies on the uniformity of opinions but on the convergence of different ideas from different personalities.
Also, what should be appreciated is that honest differences in a party that are debated robustly are not symptoms of disunity: they are in fact a manifestation of a dynamic party. Similarly, for unity to be real it should stand the severest strain, like steel, without buckling under pressure. And what we know is that more often than not, splits are usually not caused by ideological differences, but are an outcome of personal egos, tribal sentiments or are motivated by financial gains.
The power of unity
Regarding the necessity for unity, the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia gives us precious advice on the importance of unity. His humble message to other heads of states, some of whom had seemed reluctant to form the O. A.U, is spiritually uplifting: “History teaches us that unity is strength…. We need to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive with all our combined strength for the path of African brotherhood and unity”. These purifying words should be our guiding principle when we want to lead other people.
Muhammad Iqbal is more philosophical about unity and sees the connection between humanity and spirituality: “Political leadership enables us to pass from matter to the spirit. Matter is human diversity, while the spirit is light, life and unity”. He goes on to remind us that “the destiny of Man lies in unity and not division. If you keep on dividing, you will end up like a troop of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees”.
For those who harbour ambitions of forming a political party, and by the way it is their democratic right to do so, they must be reminded that any political party that does not have its roots from the masses is nothing less than tyranny. Any democratic movement must be drawn not from the self, family or one class but must find its soul and spirit from different people, interest groups, different classes and tribes.
Zimbabwe’s liberation parties
A quick look at the political parties that fought for Zimbabwe’s independence can provide some lessons which our current political parties can learn from. As most of us know, ZANU was formed as a splinter party from ZAPU. There was no clear ideological difference between the two parties, except that their support base tended to be divided between the Shone and Ndebele, with each party having a cosmetic number of leaders from each tribe to mask its tribal orientation.
As a result of the cracks within the nationalist movement, one school of thought maintains that Zimbabwe’s independence was unduly delayed because the two political parties could not form a common front to fight against a well equipped colonial regime led by Ian Smith. The petrol bombing of rival supporters in the townships is thought to have been a misdirected armed struggle. The older generation can attest to the fact that this was a dark period in the history of our struggle, especially when the Peoples Caretaker Council (PCC) was formed out of the ashes of ZAPU, which tried to crush ZANU.
Those who were in favour of a new party, on the other hand, argued in frustration that it was necessary to form ZANU because ZAPU had not brought independence at a time when our northern neighbours, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, had been granted independence mainly because UNIP in Zambia and MCP in Malawi were more militant than the “gradualists” and “good boys” of Southern Rhodesia. The political division between ZAPU and ZANU continued during the Second Chimurenga War throughout the sixties and seventies, in spite of the efforts by the O.A.U. to unite them under FROLIZI, UANC, ZIPA, the Patriotic Party and so forth.
Lessons to be learned
What is it that can be learned from the earlier political parties? The first lesson is that unity is quite necessary if you want to bring about change. In a way the formation of the Patriotic Front was pivotal to the landing of a final blow that forced Ian Smith to negotiate for a transition to majority rule; but the continued division within the nationalist movement delayed the advent of independence. An important lesson which both ZANU and the MDC and the other parties seem not to have learned is that relying on support from one region or tribal group creates mistrust and resentment. Can the current ZANU (PF), ZAPU, MDC or any other political party be said to be truly national? Does this political configuration bring hope to our future generations?
Has Zimbabwe learned from the split that occurred in ZAPU in 1971 which led to James Chikerema and George Nyandoro to form FROLIZI? Do we still not have those tribal inclinations in our current ZAPU? What about ZANU? Has the party learned from the tribal divisions that led to the assassination of Hebert Chitepo and others in Lusaka in 1975? What has the party learned from the death of General Tongogara in Mozambique just before independence? It would appear that the ruling party has not learned much from its past mistakes because we have seen over the years the mysterious deaths of prominent and ordinary citizens, just like what happened during the liberation struggle.
The same can be said about the MDC. What has the party learned from its past about internal dissent? Can the leadership convince the public that they have learned to win an election, or they can offer a more democratic system than ZANU? Is the party not descending into a regional organisation like ZANU? By beating up some of the dissenting voices, is the party not doing exactly what ZANU (PF) does? If indeed the MDC or ZANU (PF) is going to split, can the leadership say that they have been able to accommodate different voices? In its handling of affairs, can the party leadership claim to uphold the principle that “we are all equal in the knowledge that we are different and that we are all the same in the knowledge that we are distinct individual beings”?
In the final analysis, the big question that needs to be answered is: why do we still have politically motivated deaths or assaults when such a barbaric and savage culture has long ended in many countries? For some people the simple answer is tyranny and impunity plus the absence or lack of the rule of law. In my view, the problem goes far deeper than that. There is the feeling among some of the leaders that “I own the party, country and its people”. Obviously when such leaders still have the “Animal Farm” mentality that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”, then we are not going to have a democratic system.
The concept of personalising political parties manifests itself when some leaders refuse to discuss leadership renewal or to accept failure. As party followers there is need to insist on collective decisions and to resist vehemently the temptation that political parties belong to an individual. When we are faced with autocracy, we should not think of leaving the party or forming a splinter party, we should correct the wrong things because the party is ours. That is how we can build a vibrant and long-lasting political system for the future. An undemocratic splinter group is equally bad if not worse than its parent party.
In saying this let us acknowledge, however, the fact that in some cases we may have leaders who erroneously believe that the success of a party or nation is measured by the number of years they stay in power or the number of years they have “won” an election. This may be the reason why some of them cling on to power for too long until they are forcibly removed or they are relieved by the earth’s force of gravity. They do not realise that their leadership is judged not by the number of years they have stayed in power but by their vision, their transformation of society and the quality of life they have created for the society based on Mahatma Gandhi’s endearing principle that “my brother is as much as I am”.