The State of the Opposition in Zimbabwe
When Zimbabwe gained its Independence in 1980, over 80 per cent of the Country voted for Zanu PF led by Robert Mugabe. 17 per cent voted for Zapu led by Joshua Nkomo and 3 per cent for the former Prime Minister, Abel Muzorewa. In the south west, virtually every seat went to Zapu while in the rest of the country, Zanu swept the board.
Mr Mugabe wanted a one Party State from day one and resented the strangle hold that Zapu held over the constituencies in the south western Districts. In 1983 when a low level insurgency led by rogue elements of Zapu – perhaps funded and encouraged by South Africa, was launched, Mr Mugabe took the opportunity to mount a massive and sustained attack on Zapu. This was spearheaded by the Fifth Brigade, an army unit selected and trained by the North Koreans. In addition the operation called “Ghukurahundi” (the storm that washes clean) involved many other arms of the State and included genocidal activity and mass deprivation of food and other essentials.
By 1987, after tens of thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of perhaps 1,2 million people, the leader of Zapu, Joshua Nkomo, caved in and conceded defeat, allowing his Party to be incorporated into Zanu PF and the Party, the oldest nationalist liberation movement in the country, virtually disappeared. This gave Mr Mugabe the one Party State that he had sought from the beginning of his rule.
Between 1987 and 1999, a number of small opposition Parties came into being. Rising up and then dying, one by one under the persistent and relentless pressure of State Agencies. Even the first Chief Justice, who formed a Party in an effort to restore a semblance of democracy to the country, was hounded into bankruptcy and collapse. Attempts by the Center Party, the Forum and Edgar Tekere came to naught.
Then in 1994, a well known individual, Morgan Tsvangirai, Secretary General of the Trade Union movement in Zimbabwe, began to argue that the country needed a new Constitution to take some power away from the center and to allow more democracy. This led to the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) in 1995 and eventually the decision to hold a referendum in 2000 on a proposed new draft Constitution.
The Government, fearful of any movement towards a more open and democratic society, manipulated the draft to retain the one Party State and the monopoly control of Mr Mugabe and Tsvangirai decided that enough was enough and that the Trade Unions had to challenge Zanu PF politically. The result in 1999 was the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change and within six months the MDC had to take on the monolith of Zanu PF in the national referendum.
Zanu was totally dismissive of the MDC challenge and went into the referendum with supreme confidence, when they lost the referendum even after rigging the vote by an estimated 15 per cent, it was a real shakeup. The country went into an election a few months later and Zanu PF survived by a tiny margin of three seats and they then knew that the MDC could no longer be ignored.
At this stage the MDC was virtually alone in the opposition field. Everyone knew that opposition politics in Zimbabwe was a dangerous game. In 2002 in the Presidential elections, Mr Tsvangirai clearly won against Mr Mugabe who survived because the vote was heavily manipulated and South Africa intervened to make sure the MDC was not victorious. After this the MDC was subjected to a version of the German Blitzkrieg or the South African “total onslaught” and the regime threw everything they had in their considerable arsenal of weapons and tactics and in 2005 the MDC was heavily defeated and then split into two – with external and internal support and resources.
Now there were two significant opposition Parties to Zanu PF. This did not strengthen the opposition and in 2008, in the first ‘harmonised” elections, the other MDC fielded a Presidential candidate in the form of Simba Makone, formerly Secretary to the SADC and Minister of Finance. The result was that Mr Tsvangirai won the ballot with 54 per cent of the vote, Mr Mugabe took 27 per cent and Mr Makone, 18 per cent. The Military refused to accept the defeat and with the approval of South Africa, falsified the ballot to force a run off.
The run off was so badly managed that not even the African Union would accept Mr Mugabe’s claim that he had been elected with 84 per cent of the vote and Zimbabwe was forced into a Government of National Unity in 2009.
Four candidates contested the 2008 elections – the fourth gaining less than 1 per cent of the vote. It really was a two horse race and had the other MDC not fielded a candidate, Mr Tsvangirai would almost certainly have been declared the winner and his election could not have been challenged.
When the GNU was terminated in 2013 without fulfilling its reform agenda, the opportunity to deal with the Opposition was taken by Zanu PF who then just rolled over the MDC and others using its overwhelming financial and State resources and control.
However critics and observers failed to recognise one major development that had taken place – the MDC was no longer the sole opponent of the Zanu PF and the electoral playing field had opened up considerably – in 2000 there had been no private media, now there were several newspapers and some radio media that were not State controlled. MDC had succeeded where all its predecessors had failed; they had restored a semblance of democracy to the country after 30 years of monopoly control.
In 2013 some 14 Parties contested the election and there were a number of Presidential candidates. In my Constituency in 2013, 7 opposition Parties put up candidates compared to 1 in 2000, 3 in 2005 and 4 in 2008.
Now we approach the next elections, scheduled for 2018 and already the field is crowded. At my last count we had some 50 Parties in the field and 14 potential Presidential candidates. Observers and analysts are saying that the opposition must form a coalition to win the 2018 elections.
The MDC under Mr Tsvangirai’s leadership started the journey to the 2018 elections with the suggestion that all opposition forces should form a coalition to force reform and to commit themselves to not fighting the elections until the playing field was more level for all players. This led to the formation of NERA, a loose alliance of some 18 Parties to negotiate reforms. This is now a quite effective grouping and substantial pressure is being put on the regime to implement electoral and media reforms.
In a way the formation of NERA has encouraged the discussion of an electoral alliance to fight the elections and increasingly Mr Tsvangirai is seen as the only candidate with the capacity to defeat the Zanu PF candidate. However the debate has a long way to go before a decision is reached and it is by no means clear just who will contest the elections on behalf of Zanu PF or the Opposition. But one thing is for sure, Zimbabwe is no longer a one Party State!
East London, South Africa, April 15th 2017