MDC violence: what really happened?

Images of a shocked Elton Mangoma - shirt torn - after being molested by a gang of party members on Saturday have flooded the media and are being interpreted by some as gruesome testimony to the fact that the MDC has been unable to resist being contaminated by Zanu (PF)’s culture of violence.

Elton Mangoma
Elton Mangoma

The MDC has blamed the media for peddling mistruths and inaccurate information about the event. Spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka says party president Morgan Tsvangirai’s driver and security staff actually rescued Mangoma and rushed him to Tsvangirai’s residence in his vehicle. The president later followed with secretary general Tendai Biti who, contrary to media reports, was not assaulted at all.

Since its formation in late 1999, the MDC has sold itself as a democratic option to Zanu (PF). It has consistently preached against violence and intolerance, which it correctly identified as the hallmark of its rival. It has steadfastly advocated for freedom of conscience and choice and spoken eloquently against retribution.

Indeed, the party has been a graphic victim of Zanu (PF)’s violence and intolerance, right from its infancy. The ruling party has used its militias, notably the Green Bombers nation-wide and the Harare-based Chipangano, as well as state machinery to brutalise and persecute thousands of opposition supporters.

During elections MDC candidates and members, including party president Morgan Tsvangirai, have been beaten to a pulp, maimed and killed. Some have disappeared and many fled into the diaspora because of Zanu (PF) violence and macabre acts of retribution. We know, also, that all who tried to oppose President Robert Mugabe in public and in private ended up ruing the day, if at all they lived long enough to regret.

But it appears MDC now has its own Chipangano. This is the militia that beat up Mangoma. This is the group that forced Tendai Biti, the Secretary General, to clutch onto Tsvangirai’s jacket for dear life and sent youth secretary Solomon Madzore scurrying for cover in a dingy corner of Harvest House. Their only sin is that they reportedly belong to the camp calling on Tsvangirai to step down and make way for leadership renewal.

It leaves many with no option but conclude that if one day MDC happens to rule, we will not be able to spot the difference between them and Zanu (PF). This points to a vicious cycle that seems immortal in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, where those who have managed to get into power want to hold onto it at all costs.

We have heard and seen the narrative before. Mugabe and the other nationalists, who today form the government, were victims of colonial violence and intolerance. Instead of shedding the tendencies of their erstwhile masters, they turned themselves into a black version of the very system they had fought against, to the extent that Ian Douglas Smith must turning in his grave with envy.

Besides beating, killing and maiming its opponents, the Zanu (PF) outfit that took over in 1980 kept the very laws that Smith and those before him had used to suppress the people. There is no prize for remembering, but the Law and Order Maintenance Act and emergency powers stick out like wounds on the pages of our post-colonial history.

That some in the MDC now seem to be victimising their own – on the very doorstep of the party HQ – for voicing their opinions is disturbing and unacceptable. Mangoma, like the others that have directly and indirectly expressed their wish for leadership change, are not committing any crime. Democracy is healthier with diverging opinions, even within the same institution. Respect for different positions and views is the fertile soil on which good politics grows.

Many have accused Tsvangirai of knowing about the impending violence, yet doing nothing to clear the hooligans ahead of the dignitaries’ departure. It is unfortunate that he was not in a hurry to make an apology or condemn the attack on his lieutenants.

This makes him fodder for Zanu (PF), whose spin doctors are likely to gleefully jog our minds back to 2005 when the united MDC split, apparently because Tsvangirai was too bossy and arrogant to accept the majority views of his colleagues over the re-introduction of the Senate, resulting in them pulling out to form a parallel movement.

The best way for him to salvage the dregs of credibility is to deal decisively deal with the looming spectre of violence and intolerance in his party. He should show that he is different from his rival, Mugabe, and that he truly stands for democracy. Without that, he is as dead as a Christmas turkey and many would certainly shy away from his political grave.

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Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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