Sunday, April 10, 2005

Why MDC doesn't have the support of most Zimbabweans (A broad overview)

In the hours right after the election in Zimbabwe, it became apparent that the MDC doesn't have the support of the majority. While the extent of ZANU-PF's cheating in the polls needs to be ascertained, truthful soul seeking and introspection are due on the MDC's part. Zimbabwean chatrooms, forums, and call in programs were awash with the rabid anger of a society who's hopes had been aborted by a losing party that had promised deliverance. I thought it prepostrous that people accused the MDC of a languid and disillusioned campaign. In my naivity, I thought that the MDC was unfairly being accused of complacency and lack of virile leadership when they had been cheated yet again. So I did not address the question of what went wrong with the MDC parliamentary campaign.

Led by the western press' obligatory accusations of ZANU-PF's chicanery, the world was led to overlook the mediocrity bedevilling the MDC. Not that ZANU didn't cheat, the fact is the accusations of cheating were trumped up so much that noone ever paid attention to the fact that Zimbabweans themselves have ruled out the MDC as an alternative for the country's political future. This off course, just another example of the gulf between the rallying cry amongst proponents of democracy in the west their counterparts in Zimbabwe (which zimpundit has taken to highlighting in recent weeks).

But since some in the west's elite media have now taken an interest in the MDC's inability to entice the Zimbabwean people, perhaps it's time to ask how the MDC relieved themselves of popular support in Zimbabwe after such a promising start. "Promising start? How so," you ask. Allow me reader to explain what was right about the MDC that has since gone wrong in six short years.

During the heyday of Mugabe's rule (late 80's to the mid 90's) when Zimbabwe was known variably as the "breadbasket of Africa" or "jewel of Africa." A radical transformation of the proletariat was going on. After working as indentured slaves during the colonial era, ordinary Zimbo's (as we now casually refer to ourselves in the diaspora), started experiencing gainful employment of their labor for the first time. Between the money earned from working in urban centers, and excess output from their subsitence agricultural endeavors, Zimbabweans were realizing surplus.

With that came a whole new set of expectations for governance and citizen rights. As Zimabweans began to grasp the extent of their enfranchisement, workers and student unions emerged, and a vibrant affirmative action movement (for both indigenization and women's right's) energized the proletariat to heights eclipsing the exhileration of Chimurenga (liberation struggle).

There was so much faith in the collective action movement that after a general increase in prices of basic necessities in late January of 1998, a wave of strikes ground the nation to a halt. Surprised by the popularity (and success) of the riots, the state responded brutally, killing eight citizens during the melee that ensued during the riots. The most influental group in the success of the strikes was none other than the Morgan Tsvangira led ZCTU (the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions).

Fast forward a year later when the government attempted to ammend the constitution via referendum. What changes Mugabe and his colleagues wanted to impose on the people of Zimbabwe at that time has been a subject of speculation and debate but essentially remains to be seen (since now Mugabe won himself the prerogative to change the constitution as he wishes). The important detail about this is that again in this pivotal period in contemporary Zimbabwean politics, it was the ZCTU that translated the implications of the amendment to lay people. I was in Harare on the day of referundum and can remember the activists standing on street corners passing out flyers urging people to vote "no" to the draft constitution. A second defeat of government by public will.

In both these instances, Tsvangirai (then ZCTU leader) engendered, articulated, and alligned his movement to pains and wishes of ordinary Zimbabweans. That was the impetus behind his snowballing fame. Because of that he gained popularity and his political stock vaulted him to the leadership of the MDC. Soon after the public's rejection fo the draft constititution, Zimbabwe's politics were forever changed when the MDC declared their intention to run in the June 2000 parliamentary elections.

The stakes were high. On the one hand, ZANU-PF with the humiliations detailed above fresh in their memories were for the first time, feeling the pinch of threatening opposition. So they committed themselves to rapid land redistribution and a belated veteran's gratuity payment. Meanwhile, the MDC encouraged by their increasing popularity decided to throw in all the candidates they could. For the first time in Zimbabwe's history, ZANU won an election narrowly when they got away with a 61-58 victory in the parliamentaries. This culminated the promising start the MDC had.

Somehow, after the MDC debuted as a political party, Tsvangirai's leadership began to distance itself from the realities and hardships faced by the proletariat. Change became his party's clarion call. As early as the run up to the 2002 presidential elections, MDC began to emphasize the need for regime change louder than they articulated wishes of the masses.

But these continued cries for change didn't alleviate the pinch of an economy imploding under high inflation and unemployment as well as the detrimental effects of AIDS. Those were and remain the immediate concerns of the public in Zimbabwe.

As long as ordinary Zimbabweans don't hear the MDC championing their cause, for food security, employment and sustained economic growth, MDC can rest assured all the sympathies for them will come from a small minority. And that spells doom for them unless they change the mainstay of their platform and it's not too late to do that yet.

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