Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Inside the MDC Split

After a promising start just seven years ago, the MDC like many other political parties in African politics has, for the past year, been embroiled in it's own self destructive fracas. In just as much time as took for them to grasp the impossible (i.e. winning close to half the seats in Zimbabwe's parliament in 2000), they have managed to disappoint phenomenally and (for now) abort their role in returning the nation to the path of becoming a rising African democracy leaving many Zimbabweans distraught and wondering if there will ever be end to the crisis.

As it has played out on the pages and bulletins of Zimbabwe's propaganda machinary, the MDC debacle has been cast as a crisis of wills: a contest between those in the party who want engage and outdo ZANU-PF through elections, and those who want to find alternative ways to become an alternative leadership. Typecasting the MDC crisis this was calculated to make the party seem infantile and fraught with immature bickering. So far this has worked, but as with most things in life there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Insiders in the MDC are frustrated about the problems their party is going through but not for the same reasons the government is attributing their frustration to. For starters they are frustrated at state media coverage which has played off the antagonisms in the party. But even more than this superficial frustration, is the agitation of the two factions at their inability to get their perceptions of the crisis out to the public.

Among what has been dubbed the "pro-elections faction" a seething frustration is mounting over the realization that when it's all said and done intellect and ideology alone cannot carry a political party. That is just what defines this faction from the other group in this crisis. Let me explain. When the MDC was founded in 1999, it was largely due to Tsvangirai's ability to mobilizes the working class when he was the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). So when the MDC was launched the division of tasks was as follows: Tsvangirai would devote his energies to mobilizing the grassroots base and establishing a national party structure.

On the other hand Welshman Ncube and the technocrats were tasked with coming up with a party constitution and ironing out any institutional issues. And that's just what they did. As most intellects are prone to do, the technorats in the MDC decided Tsvangirai's contribution to the party didn't warrant any internal power in the party. So the MDC constitution was written making Tsvangirai nothing more than a ceremonial leader who couldn't do anything as simple as call a meeting (any meeting) without checking with secretary general's office first.

People told Tsvangirai this is what was going on, but he trusted his colleagues too much and so the issue festered. This is the frustration on the "anti-elections" side. The only other time the warning bells sounded for the MDC leader was when the party produced their submission to parliament of what the national constitution should like in 2003. Precedent within the party had established that the "technocrats" would formulate such legal documents and Tsvangirai would seal it with his stamp of approval. After the draft constitution was read in parliament, it was ZANU-PF that came to Tsvangirai and told him that his own party's constitution barred him from becoming president of the country. This was because the intellects had included a clause that stated that the nation's president must hold at least a bachelor's degree something Tsvangirai does not have.

The technocrats for their part are trying to deal with the reality that their intellectual prowess and ability to legally outmanuvre Tsvangirai hasn't yet paid dividends. They know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the one the grassroots base listens to. The senate elections proved just that. Ncube and his friends urged party people to come out and vote. In fact they went out and campaigned in the Matebeleland province where the MDC has it's stronghold. All Tsvangirai could was tell the people not to go and vote. Come election day, only a paltry 15% of registered voters casts ballots showing clearly who the people were listening to.

The struggle in the MDC is not about elections, it is a battle for the control of the heart and soul of the party. As long democracy is based on public sentiment, Tsvangirai will for sure win out this war.

  • << Home