Political Trees

A political Party is very similar in structure and function to a tree. The soil in which it is planted is the people of the country and its roots are the structures it establishes to represent the interests of the communities among which it functions. The stem of the tree is its leadership and the branches represent the roots of the Party in the public eye - the Congress, its main decision making organs and Executive.

There are a number of things about trees that we must bear in mind - they can be killed by any number of things - termites getting at the roots, storm damage, drought and simply old age. Pruning also often stimulates them - many only bear fruit if they are pruned on a regular basis. But they all need water, good soil and heat to thrive.

It's like that in Zimbabwe. Our political trees have grown up and thrived for a while and then died. The political structures that dominated in the Rhodesian era - the long period of government under the tutelage of Godfrey Huggins, then the Rhodesian Front under Ian Smith. Zapu and then its offshoot - Zanu and more recently the emergence and decline of Zanu PF.

My son has a huge Erythrina abyssinica in his garden that has suddenly died. It showed no real sign of distress until a huge part of the tree suddenly died and had to be cut down and then the whole tree followed. Zanu PF is in the process of dying - its roots are shrinking, it is unable to get its membership to renew their pledges of loyalty and the people have withdrawn their support. You can fight this sort of thing, but the reality is that there is not much you can do about it and when it happens - the final fall is fast and total. Look at the fate of the Rhodesian Front and Zapu, look at the fate of the old Nationalist Party in South Africa; they virtually no longer exist yet at one time they were giants in the forest, towering above the others.

In the case of the MDC we have had some storm damage. A wind blew up from South Africa and ripped a large branch out of the side of the main stem of the MDC tree. It has left an ugly scar and will take a long time to heal. In fact it will probably affect the long-term shape of the tree and its appearance. But the issue that confronts us in Zimbabwe and especially those of us, who are in the opposition, is which section of the tree retained its links with the roots of the MDC.

Well, both sections have had their Congress's and I think we have the right now to say that the main stem of the Party and 95 per cent of its root structure, were left standing with Morgan Tsvangirai. The branch that broke ranks with Morgan over the Senate issue are in reality simply a broken branch that now lies on the ground without sufficient root structure to sustain its mass or deliver any fruit to its members. It will either die or become firewood - like Zanu PF or it will simply lie there on the forest floor a crippled and broken branch of the original MDC.

The MDC Congress this past weekend attracted nearly 20 000 delegates and others who tried to secure accreditation to attend on Saturday and Sunday. In the end, 15 000 delegates were accredited and when proceeding opened on time on Saturday - the Chairman got up to speak at exactly 10.00 hours, the stadium was packed to the roof and the doors with an enthusiastic crowd from every corner of the country. The 12 Provincial delegations sat in blocks and it was an impressive sight to see the response when each was asked to identify themselves.

They came on foot, by train and by bus and mini taxi. The great majority were simple rural farmers and urban workers. Their over riding concerns were to be there to show their continued support for the MDC and its leadership under Morgan Tsvangirai. I was not invited to the Congress of the break away faction (even though I was technically a member of their National Executive and Council) but I played a small role in the Congress held in Harare. What I saw and felt there was the spirit of the MDC - vibrant, energetic and democratic - almost to a fault.

In an amazing way we were able to pay for Congress, we rented the Stadium, brought in professional caterers (at Morgan's insistence) and were able to accommodate people all over the City. On Sunday we got all the Provincial Treasurers together and asked them how much money they needed to get home - we then went to a location in the City where we had what money was available and we were able to pay out 95 per cent of what was asked for - astonishing when you know that we had no support from any major donors and our State funding was arbitrarily handed over to the break away group in time for their Congress.

We adopted the reports tabled at Congress - also a much-revised constitution for the Party - an outstanding job done by a team under Tendi Biti. We also adopted a revised policy statement and the report of the disciplinary committee. The leaders of the break away group were expelled from the MDC with Morgan saying that this was a great loss as these were some of the key players in the formation of the Party and its many achievements.

On Sunday we carried out another accreditation process and then voted for our leadership. The outcome was as follows: M Tsvangirai; President, T Khupe; Vice President, I Matongo; Chairman, L Moyo; Vice Chairperson, Secretary General; T Biti, Deputy; T Mashakada, Organising Secretary; E Mudzuri, Deputy; D Komiche, Party Spokesperson; N Chamisa, Treasurer General; R Bennett. This is a strong team - disappointing that there is only one woman in the line up - an ongoing problem in the MDC. We will try to correct that in the rest of the Executive and National Council. But there are three Matabeleland representatives - both the Chairpersons of Matabeleland South and North were elected to national posts.

The President called for a winter of discontent and dissidence leading to a new Constitution for the country and a new democratic beginning. The Congress was the start of that process and we are now into the implementation phase. I expect real action this time and there is, for the first time, going to be a confrontation. I wish it were otherwise but we no longer have any choice. Perhaps when we get to start pushing that old tree called Zanu PF, we will find that it is so rotten underground that it just falls over - we just have to watch out for collateral damage.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th March 2006.