Zanu (PF) was shaken from its slumber by the advent and sustained presence of the MDC. For more than 20 years, Mugabe and his government had ignored the issue of empowering the people through agrarian reform. They were busy enriching themselves and their hangers-on. But with the formation of the MDC, Zanu (PF) was jolted into a hasty land redistribution programme.
Pressure from the opposition unmasked Mugabe, who had become some sort of an infallible deity in the eyes of many. With the nation stuck with a de facto one party political system, Mugabe had become larger than life. While he remains so among a section of the Zanu (PF) population, he is no longer so in the eyes of millions of Zimbabweans.
This comes courtesy of a spirited and brave fight by MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai and many others who helped debunk the myth that Mugabe had become.
This was particularly so in 2008 when Tsvangirai beat Mugabe during the first presidential poll. Many people believe that he scored an outright win against Mugabe, who only survived because of the Machiavellian tactics of the state security machinery that allegedly played with the ballots to lessen the margin between the two rivals.
On more concrete issues, the journey towards democracy and good governance was quickened by the opposition, thanks to the pressure it has kept on Zanu (PF). The new constitution that was adopted last year after years of painful trying, has brought substantial checks and balances to the executive and, more broadly, national governance. Assuming of course that it is respected by the current and subsequent regimes.
That the opposition and the people did not succeed in getting rid of Zanu (PF) rule is mostly because they were emasculated by a party that enjoyed incumbency and had at its disposal potent State machinery like the military and intelligence services.
They failed to dislodge a clearly unpopular and failed regime basically because of the absence of economic independence among the generality of the people.
In fact, Zanu (PF) used the peoples’ economic vulnerability to its advantage. The majority were – and still are – poor. Because of that, they became susceptible to the machinations of Zanu (PF). That is why it became easy for the party to use food as a tool to both weaken and manipulate the people.
You had to vote Zanu (PF) or starve, and people didn’t want to die of hunger, so they hardly had a choice. Poverty made them too weak to resist persecution.
It would therefore always take a whole miracle for the opposition to win. The irony is taht while hunger and suffering encouraged the spirit to stand up against the Zanu (PF) regime, it also helped the increasingly detested party to stay in power.
It is now a fact that, in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2013, the combined MDCs failed to topple Mugabe and his party, despite near victories and brave fights.
While they may decide to carry on and while new parties may be formed, the bottom line is that we need a change in strategy. Erstwhile tactics wrongly assumed that a hungry population would translate its anger into an effective war against the status quo. The fight against the Mugabe regime was largely limited to calls for regime change based on the excesses of the establishment.
The opposition wrongly concluded that change would come and democracy be won by demonstrating how bad Mugabe and his outfit were in terms of human rights violations and bad governance. Of course, they were bad – very bad – but that would never be enough, considering the strong-arm tactics of Zanu (PF) in countering resistance. There were abstract calls to turn around a limping economy without the opposition working to enable that itself. The situation was not made any better during the tenure of the Government of National Unity when those that had advocated a sound economy and a more vibrant democracy jumped onto the gravy train and started snoozing in their new-found comfort.
New politics in Zimbabwe must address the shortcomings of the opposition. Fundamental independence can only be enjoyed when people are economically empowered. Thus, the opposition needs to work closely with the humanitarian and non-State community to promote economic development.
That way, people will be able to stand up even when guns are pointed at them. In fact, with an economically empowered population, it will be difficult for a sitting regime to command soldiers to shoot at the people because they would see no sense in doing so. Our soldiers have been shooting because they are hungry and assume that taking extra-judicial orders will bring benefits such as farms and promotions.
Zanu (PF)’s survival relies on an impoverished population, and the last thing on the minds of those running the party is to give the people economic independence.
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