Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is probably the most popular opposition leader that Zimbabwe has ever had.
He may be the president that never was but he is a national hero. He may not make it to the national heroes’ acre because of the country’s politics but he definitely changed the nature of politics in Zimbabwe.
Now he could lose all that by hanging on to office when it appears that his party is crumbling around him. Tsvangirai must therefore step down to save the party because he has proved over and over again that he is bigger than the party.
The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front needs a strong opposition movement rather than a strong opposition individual.
One of the reasons why ZANU-PF has survived this long is that the party is bigger than any individual including current leader Robert Mugabe.
Seasoned politicians within the party know that there is no life outside ZANU-PF. That is why they are prepared to go through all sorts of humiliation as long as they are not expelled from the party.
Simba Mudarikwa now Minister of State for Mashonaland East summed it all three years ago when he told United States embassy officials that ZANU-PF was badly fractured and was like a stick of TNT, susceptible to ignition and disintegration but it always held together when there was an external threat.
According to the cable filed by then United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray, Mudarikwa said that ZANU-PF was like “a troop of baboons incessantly fighting among themselves, but coming together to face an external threat”.
What Mudarikwa meant was that squabbles in ZANU-PF are the norm, but they do not hurt the party because as soon as there is a common enemy, members unite and gang up.
Squabbles in ZANU-PF are therefore bad for the government, bad for the people because they forestall development, they make the government dysfunctional, but they are a healthy for the party. At least it has not split over any differences over the past 36 years.
Squabbles in the MDC, however, are not healthy. The party split within six years of its formation, then split again and there are now three MDCs. And if the current squabbles continue, there could be another split. This is not good for the country even for non-MDC supporters.
Tsvangirai should therefore step down to save the party. He has done his best. He almost upset ZANU-PF nine months after the formation of the MDC. Almost beat Mugabe three years later and beat him nine years later.
For all his faults, Tsvangirai has proved that ZANU-PF can be beaten if people have something better to offer, or if ZANU-PF becomes arrogant again as they are beginning to now because of their recent victory.
But he did the unthinkable in 2008 when he pulled out of the presidential elections run-off for the sake of the people.
Call it what you may, but this was one of the biggest sacrifices any leader has ever made in Zimbabwe. And he was rewarded by the economic recovery that the country witnessed when he joined the inclusive government. No one can steal that from him.
Zimbabwe needs a strong opposition and only the MDC can provide this if it does not disintegrate. The present situation, where ZANU-PF has more than a two-thirds majority, is not healthy for the country that is why they can afford to squabble among themselves.
Zimbabwe needs a strong opposition that can shake ZANU-PF and make it deliver. Winning is not necessarily the answer to Zimbabwe’s woes, but forcing ZANU-PF to meet its promises because of fear that it can be dethroned is a very good, valid, worthy cause for the MDC to survive.
Zimbabwe must progress beyond personalities to strong political parties that can survive beyond individuals. Tsvangirai can once again set the example. He will be a winner, and not a loser.