MDC treading on dicey ground

Divisions within the Movement for Democratic Change, fanned by an overzealous state-controlled media all out to discredit the strongest opposition party this country has ever had, could derail the party's presidential election campaign.

The situation could be worsened by an overprotective private media which seems to have adopted a "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" attitude towards MDC, and political analysts who appear to have been blinded by their own desire for change.

Divisions within the MDC came to a head when three Members of Parliament, security chief Job Sikhala, publicity secretary Learnmore Jongwe, and Tafadzwa Musekiwa, ironically all former student leaders at the University of Zimbabwe, accused the party's shadow Minister for Finance, Tapiwa Mashakada, of being a sell-out.

They said the party should investigate Mashakada and party provincial chairman Alexio Musundire because they were creating divisions within the party and had links to the ruling ZANU-PF.

Sikhala's home was stoned and extensively damaged shortly after and his daughter was injured. The state-controlled media said the attack had been carried out by MDC youths while the privately owned media said this had been done by ZANU-PF youths wearing MDC T-shirts.

Sikhala appeared on state television saying this was the work of Mashakada and said the party should expel Mashakada and Musundire otherwise he would leave the party and contest the St Mary's seat as an independent. Sikhala, however, changed his mind four days later and blamed the attack on ZANU-PF.

The state media said Sikhala was told that there was no way Mashakada could be expelled from the party. He was free to leave the party and if he contested his St Mary's seat as an independent, Tsvangirai himself would stand against him.

Though the privately-owned media rubbished the story, observers say Tsvangirai indeed gave Sikhala that warning. The Insider has it on record that it is almost unthinkable for Tsvangirai to get rid of Mashakada as their relationship dates back to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions where Mashakada was the labour movement's economist when Tsvangirai was its secretary general.

Mashakada was Tsvangirai's right hand man and was even favoured over his boss Godfrey Kanyenze who was more experienced and better qualified. Mashakada was also given the Hatfield seat on a silver platter by Tsvangirai.

While the MDC and the privately owned media tried to play down the divisions claiming this was propaganda from the state-controlled media aimed at discrediting the opposition party ahead of the presidential elections, the party set up a committee to investigate the divisions and suspended eight members of the party, including all four MPs involved, after the investigations.

Observers say while it is true that the ruling party may be fanning divisions within the MDC, they are there. "The divisions have always been there. The only thing that is surprising, perhaps, is why it took so long for the divisions to surface," one observer said. "In a way this demonstrates the strong leadership qualities of Tsvangirai because he has been able to hold the party together for at least two years. Most people believed the party would crumble before the parliamentary elections of last year."

Observers say it has been a common practice by ZANU-PF to infiltrate every opposition party that is formed in this country and the MDC was no exception. ZANU-PF infiltrates the new parties at the highest level, and usually has some of its loyal cadres in the founding team of the opposition party. It has done this with the Zimbabwe Unity Movement and the Democratic Party, for example and they crumbled when they were beginning to gain strength.

The strategy is that those planted in the opposition party defect at the crucial moment, usually just before elections. They usually cite corruption or lack of transparency in the opposition party, things that ZANU-PF itself is often accused of. There are whispers that seven key members of the MDC were planted by the ruling party but no one is prepared to name them.

As a coalition of people with different interests, there have always been divisions within the MDC. "The only thing that is holding them together is that they have one common purpose, to get rid of Mugabe. Once that is done, it is doubtful whether the party will last," one observer said.

The MDC is a coalition serving various interests: workers and trade unionists, employers and industrialists, various civic organisations, and academics and professionals. The major rift is said to be between trade unionists and academics and professionals.

Tsvangirai and Mashakada are from the trade unionists group. All former student leaders as well as secretary general Welshman Ncube are academics and professionals. Academics are said to be uneasy about Tsvangirai's level of education.

Tsvangirai himself argues that education has nothing to do with leadership. If it counted so much, he argues, Adolf Hitler would not have led Germany and Sir Roy Welensky would not have headed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, since both had primary education. He also argued that if education counted that much Zimbabwe would be the best run country in the world since President Mugabe has at least seven degrees.

Mashakada qualifies as an academic as well. He has a master’s degree in economics and was at one time a part-time lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. But he knows that the support base of the MDC are the workers. Without workers, the party cannot win any election. This is why perhaps the party has rallied behind Tsvangirai despite the fact that he lost his Buhera seat.

And the ruling ZANU-PF is quite aware of this powerful base. It is therefore trying to split Gibson Sibanda from the trade union base by playing the tribal game. Through the state-controlled media, it is promoting the idea that leaders of the MDC from Matebeleland where it won 21 out of the 23 seats are now saying Sibanda or Ncube should head the party since Matebeleland is the power base of the opposition party.

While some of the opposition leaders from Matebeleland may have toyed around with the idea, they have since realised that this would be a recipe for disaster. As some have rightly argued, Mashonaland remains the MDC's powerbase as it has 35 seats from Mashonaland.

Any tribal split would only benefit the ruling ZANU-PF as any increase in votes from Matebeleland would boost its majority. In fact, the electorate in Matebeleland does not buy the argument as they have already demonstrated that they are against anything that isolates Matebeleland from the rest of the country.

They have rejected parties that advocate for the federal system such as ZAPU (2000) and the Liberty Party. The MDC itself refused to enter into any coalition with these groups as it knew this would cost them the vote.

The MDC, though posing the greatest challenge to the ruling ZANU-PF, could also be facing the same problem ZANU-PF faced during the 2000 elections. The ruling party was misled by its own media.

The privately owned media could easily be misleading the MDC by turning a blind eye on the weaknesses of the party, and painting the picture that if the presidential elections are free and fair, they will be a walk-over for the MDC. According to an observer, local journalists might be blinded by their own desire for change.

"Deep down, everyone is patriotic, including journalists," the observer said. "People should therefore be careful about wishful thinking. It would be foolhardy to write ZANU-PF off. The Young Turks, Finance Minister Simba Makoni, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, Lands Minister Joseph Made are no fools. They cannot just put their lives and careers on the line unless there is reasonable hope that the party can win the presidential elections, and they would be adequately rewarded for backing up Mugabe at this crucial moment."

ZANU-PF has the experience and the resources to destabilise any opposition party. Besides, President Mugabe is desperate to win because he has a point to prove. He wants to prove that the world, especially the West, is wrong. He and his party still have support.

His fight for land is not a political gimmick. And despite several assertions to the contrary, the observer said, the land card cannot be downplayed. ZANU-PF is so desperate to win that it has ignored calls by civic organisations and the opposition to have an independent electoral supervisory commission arguing that the state appointed election supervisory commission has done a good job over the past two decades. It is not entertaining international observers who it says are biased.

But for Mugabe, his major draw card is that world attention is focussed elsewhere. The bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in September has steered world attention elsewhere. The British and American attacks on Afghanistan which are likely to go on for months will also help Mugabe.

The postponement of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for this month was another blessing in disguise. Mugabe will not have to be censured by the Club until next year, and might hold elections before the summit if he is confident of winning. Even if he decides to wait, it will be too late to censure him as elections should be held by April.

Another thing in Mugabe's favour is that though his party has a six-seat majority, he is going into the elections as the underdog. The world believes he has already been beaten. The only way he can win the elections is through concerted violence or rigging. At the same time the world seems to have accepted that because of his disregard for international opinion and the rule of law Mugabe will not play fair. He will use violence to win the elections, even if that means running down his own country. He therefore has nothing to lose.

Though under pressure from the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community, Mugabe also knows how critical Zimbabwe is in the region and can arm-twist his colleagues because if Zimbabwe collapses, they will too.

Big brother South Africa will not been spared either. Although its economy is 25 times that of Zimbabwe, South Africa, the powerhouse of the region, is worst affected by any turmoil in Zimbabwe, perhaps because of the similarity of their economies.

They both thrived under some form of apartheid and international sanctions. Besides, they both have large white populations which have better resources than the black majority. The crisis in Zimbabwe directly affects the South African rand. In the first half of this year, it fell by 7 percent against the United States dollar.

South Africa is also the country of first resort when Zimbabweans flee from hardship in their country. There are too many traditional routes into South Africa that people resort to, to enter into the country.

Besides, employers in that country, especially farmers in the northern part of the country find illegal Zimbabweans to be cheap but highly productive labour. And, when South Africa sneezes, the Customs Union countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland catch the flue.

While currencies in Malawi and Zambia have been appreciating against the dollar, this has also had a negative effect. Officially, their currencies are weaker than the Zimbabwe dollar but since it is easier to change local currency into the greenback in both Malawi and Zambia, the Malawi Kwacha is effectively five times stronger than the Zimbabwe dollar using the parallel market rate while the Zambian Kwacha officially less than one Zimbabwe cent, appreciates to about 10 Zimbabwe cents.

What this means is that Zimbabwean products are now selling for a song for people from Malawi and Zambia and they have been flocking into the country to buy goods for resale. This is literally killing industries in their own countries while at the same time promoting the parallel market in Zimbabwe. All this, though not good for the country, gives Mugabe a hold on his neighbours.

This leaves Tsvangirai in a quandary. He has to play the gentleman. He has to play democrat. He has to play the transparency card. He has to play saviour, someone who will bring back a market economy and international donors. He has to play someone who will be reconciliatory and will bring back the rule of law.

Whether this will win him the elections or not is anybody's guess. Though the country's economic decline and the fact that people seem to be fed up with Mugabe play in his favour, the constant bombarding of his party as a puppet front for whites and the international community, and reports that he will reverse the present land reform programme, may rub off onto a few. The fight is still too close to call.

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