Will a divided MDC opposition keep the country safe from a one-party state?

Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC-Alliance is hitting the ground of 2021 running, as it fights to save the country from a one-party system.

Opposition party leader, Nelson Chamisa, of the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) addresses a news conference in Harare, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

While the year 2020 will undoubtedly play an integral part in history – bringing the world to a halt as a result of the pandemic – Zimbabwe’s politics will go down as an historic year for the Movement for Democratic Change, once a united front, now split into two: MDC-Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa, and MDC-T, led initially by Thokozani Khupe and now by Douglas Mwonzora.

At the peak of the global pandemic in March 2020, a supreme court judgement ruled that the main opposition MDC-Alliance’s rise to power was irregular. The court’s ruling recognised Thokozani Khupe as the legitimate successor to the late Morgan Tsvangirai (the late MDC president) and interim leader of the party.

But following a congress ruling on 27 December, Douglas Mwonzora was ruled to be head of MDC-T.

Consequences of the court ruling

A party recognised by the majority of supporters in Zimbabwe, 2020 was the year that the MDC-Alliance lost its leadership in the House of Assembly via the expulsion of its MPs and councillors (a total of 31 MPs), along with access to finances. The cherry on top of it was losing the party’s historical headquarters, the the house of Morgan Tsvangirai.

As per the court’s ruling, the 2020 financial year under the Political Parties [Finances] Act, saw the funds initially earmarked for the MDC-Alliance be handed to MDC-T (MDC-Tsvangirai), led at the time by Khupe.

The opposition is clearly facing a serious challenge from an authoritarian regime, the ruling party Zanu-PF, that hopes to crush and fragment the opposition, inevitably destroying multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe, says UK-based Zimbabwean political analyst Alex Magaisa.

“The ruling party created the surrogate opposition MDC-T to essentially disturb the MDC-Alliance. It is not a fight between factions in the opposition, but a fight by the ruling party against the opposition to dismantle it and move towards a one-party regime,” Magaisa tells The Africa Report.

Death of multi-party democracy

MDC Alliance leaders have described the year 2020 as challenging and threatening to democracy in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime.

Early on in 2020, Mnangagwa announced that those who oppose the government would be “flushed-out”; throughout the year the country witnessed cases of abductions, torture and harassment of citizens and opposition party members.

Critics of the regime, journalists and authors were also persecuted for speaking out against corruption, poverty and injustice.

Thabitha Khumalo, MDC-Alliance national chairperson, describes events that affected the opposition party in 2020 as the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. Zanu-PF found a willing partner in the MDC-T to destroy the bigger objective of the opposition in favour of individuals who were open to benefitting from such a system.

Khumalo says: “The MDC is working with the ruling party to stifle democracy in the country. Zanu-PF is motivated to dismantle the opposition, for them they would rather have a one- party state and they have found a willing partner through the MDC-T.”

Future of opposition, the 2021 Big idea

But despite such a rough year, Fadzayi Mahere, the MDC-Alliance spokesperson says in 2021, the party will fight strategically against Zanu-PF.

Mahere says: “Strategy is rooted in the people. The fact that we are still standing and remain the only credible democratic alternative confirms we have a solid strategy.”

“Our party strategy will never be discussed openly but they thought that they had buried us in 2020, they did not know we are seeds,” Mahere tells The Africa Report.

Without launching into details, Mahere speaks generally about how MDC-A will “continue to champion and fight to win Zimbabwe for change, to defend the Constitution and Constitutionalism, to fight for a better life and livelihoods and return Zimbabwe to democracy and legitimacy.”

Although MDC-Alliance, looks like a beaten party, fragmented and weakened going into 2021, its members believe it will save Zimbabwe.

Settlement Chikwinya, an MDC-Alliance legislator for Mbizo, Kwekwe [Midlands], says: “I have confidence in my leadership. We are going to pursue all the democratic efforts to make sure that we have a provision for democratic participation. Zimbabwe will never be a one-party state. Our people are of diverse political affiliation and therefore cannot be railroaded to supporting a one-party.”

Step up and show leadership in 2021

Political analysts have described the Chamisa-led opposition MDC-Alliance as having run out of ideas and strategy in order to manage the next 2023 elections.

Going into 2021, the Chamisa-led MDC must rise to the task and come up with strategies against the divisive efforts of the ruling Zanu-PF to dismantle them.

“The opposition [in] 2020 has been a little quiet, [in] 2021 it is important for them to demonstrate their worth and be more courageous in the face of Zanu-PF’s strategies to thwart them,” says Magaisa.

“If the opposition remains as it was in 2020, then we risk having a one- party state where the ruling Zanu-PF has absolute power with no strong opposition. The opposition has to demonstrate that is up to the game and they are prepared to take the risk of challenging the authoritarian regime.

He adds: “The MDC-Alliance is still a very strong movement, with the majority support of Zimbabweans. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic they have not been able to hold political rallies to demonstrate their superior support with the people, but they have to strategize and challenge the authoritarian regime.”

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