By Methuseli Moyo
A close friend and professional colleague asked me to assist him come up with a media campaign strategy for the MDC (the one without Morgan Tsvangirai’s surname) during the run-up to the March 2008 harmonised elections.
“They have two options; either they brand themselves as a regional (Matabeleland) party and win all the seats in the region, or go back and rejoin Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and retain their seats and then disengage again and continue to operate as a separate faction of the MDC.”
That was my advice to the MDC, through my colleague of course. He asked me to put my “strategy” in writing, which I did later that evening at home and handed over to him the following morning. After a brief discussion, we agreed to refine the “strategy” and that he would hand it over to the MDC officials who had assigned him.
I have no reason not to trust my friend presented the “strategy” to the MDC officials. As I feared, our “strategy” was not implemented. I presumed it was because then the MDC leadership, particularly from Matabeleland, did not imagine that the people would abandon them. Also, they mistakenly assumed that the rest of the people were rational and fair, and would choose them because they were “principled and were the original MDC” anywhere, and Tsvangirai and his gang were unprincipled defectors. While this is true and could win you elections in civilized democracies, it has never worked, and will never work in Zimbabwe where tribe and colour is more important than anything else.
Professor Welshman Ncube and others in the MDC thought they could overcome the tribal barrier by having Professor Arthur Mutambara as the leader of their party. Sadly, the majority (the Shona) saw this as tokenism and stuck to Tsvangirai’s MDC and Robert Mugabe’s Zanu. Sadly again for Prof Ncube and others, their Ndebele “kith and kin” were not convinced enough that MDC (Mutambara) really stood for them. If they stood for Matabeleland, why would they “hire” someone from Mashonaland to be president of the party? The MDC lost both the national and the regional vote because it was not clear who (and not what) it stood for.
Looking back, our “strategy” could have worked. “Rejoining” Tsvangirai would have ensured that Prof Ncube, Paul Themba Nyathi, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, Fletcher Dulini-Ncube and other key figures of the MDC (M) would have won their constituencies “uncontested”, and that Zanu-PF would have come out empty-handed in Matabeleland, and the “unified” MDC would have a very clear majority in Parliament, and Tsvangirai would have beaten Mugabe hands-down in the presidential race. When it became clear that Prof Ncube and others did not see the looming danger of staking their political future against MDC-T, whose leader was then the only hope against Mugabe, God intervened when Dumiso Dabengwa and Simba Makoni and their Mavambo Kusile Dawn project came along.
The MDC lost the plot when Prof Mutambara declared long before the March 2008 polls that he would not “contest against brother Morgan Tsvangirai”. In a way, Prof Mutambara capitulated to Tsvangirai, thereby rendering his own party irrelevant in the “removal of Mugabe”. Whether they like it or not, the 10 MDC (Mutambara) MPs and handful of senators who survived should thank Dabengwa and Makoni. The MDC did well in areas where Mavambo won, such as in Nkayi, Lupane, Bulima, and Tsholotsho. Anyone who cannot see this does not need to waste his/her energy trying to be a politician. Precisely, that is the reason why Dabengwa and others were convinced it was time to bring back the real thing, which is Zapu.
Like in 2008, the MDC leadership is yet again being called upon to make a decision, and hopefully this time around they will not take a plunge into unknown waters. In my view, Prof Ncube, Nyathi, Dulini-Ncube, and perhaps Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga have everything to lose this time around if they do not make the right choice. As for Prof Mutambara, he has nothing to lose because he ended up as deputy prime minister even when he did not contest for the presidency. By not contesting Tsvangirai, Mutambara indirectly ensured that he did not create bad blood between himself and his “brother”, while Prof Ncube, Nyathi and Dulini-Ncube and others created bad blood between themselves and their “brothers (and sisters)” such as Thokozani Khuphe and Lovemore Moyo by fighting it out in the constituencies. Being the clever professor that he is, Mutambara continues with his ambiguity, which he has now extended to Mugabe, meaning he could be accommodated by either of the two whenever he wanted. He is what we used to call umandawo (a player who plays for both [or all] teams) when we played soccer as children.
The successful revival of Zapu has presented a new and trickier situation not only for Zanu-PF and the MDC-T, but for the MDC (Mutambara) mainly because this party’s only 10 (now seven) House of Assembly seats are in Matabeleland, an area that has a very sentimental and emotional connection with Zapu. While Zanu-PF lost Matabeleland long back, except for one or two pockets here-and-there, and the MDC-T can afford to lose Matabeleland and remain strong in Masvingo and Harare for instance, the MDC-M has nowhere to go if it loses Matabeleland. Regrettably, Prof Ncube sounds very determined to meet his doomsday.
The leadership of the MDC (M) has to look at their situation more objectively and do what is best for themselves and their members and supporters, if they still have any. Prof Ncube, Nyathi, Misihairambwi-Mushonga, and generally the rest of the MDC leadership are good people. At times I wonder if they were meant to be politicians. Zimbabwe’s politics demands that one be like Mugabe or Tsvangirai, and do things the Highlanders Football Club way, “ngenkani” (by any means necessary), or simply the Dynamos Football Club way, de referee (read ZEC or Tobaiwa Mudede), or both. The MDC leadership decided in 2008 that they would rather lose the elections than be called tribalists; they clung to the name MDC in order to prove that they were principled and that they were the original MDC. On the other hand, Tsvangirai would rather call his faction by his own surname. What if the MDC had taken our “strategy” and branded themselves as a regional (tribal) party? Certainly they would have done better than they did in Matabeleland, and Prof Ncube or the late Gibson Sibanda would have been the third principal in the Global Political Agreement. In the end it was Prof Mutambara and not Sibanda or Ncube, when no significant number of people from Mutambara’s region voted for the MDC. It was the people of Nkayi, Tsholotsho, Lupane, Bulilima, Gwanda, and to some extent, Bulawayo who gave the MDC their only seats. Have you ever imagined Zanu-PF and the MDC-T having a president from Matabeleland? Just how? What for?
The manouvres by Tsvangirai’s MDC to destroy the other MDC through snatching their MPs and senators soon after the 2008 polls, and recent attempts to manufacture wholesale defections in rural district councils of Nkayi, Lupane and Bulilima is testimony that Tsvangirai and his gang are not finished with MDC (M). The defection of former MPs, namely, Abednico Bhebhe (Nkayi South), Norman Mpofu and Njabuliso Mguni, demonstrated how fragile and vulnerable the MDC was. There is therefore need for decisive and firm leadership action from the MDC. In my view, the MDC has to decide whether to go back to Tsvangirai and become perpetual underdogs; or join my party, Zapu; or even Zanu-PF. It is obvious there is determination in the MDC by some of its leaders to continue carrying the cross. While this may appear brave, it may be very catastrophic in 2011 when the party is exterminated at the polls. The Zapu option looks very attractive and viable because they would be joining, a “new” and friendly force where there are no incumbent MPs and senators, and it would be easier to accommodate new arrivals. My daily prayer is that Prof Ncube does not fall into the Zanu-PF and MDC-T trap of trying to entice him to stake his future again and that of his followers by trying to maintain a semblance of a party, with the aim of trying to be an “internal opposition” for Zapu. The MDC has already lost the battle of who is the real MDC against MDC-T, and has no chance of winning the battle of who is Zapu. Paul Siwela and Agrippa Madlela, who have gone as far as the Supreme Court claiming they have their own Zapu, can testify how impossible it is to destabilize our Zapu. If there are any in the MDC leadership who want to come home to Zapu, they better do it early to avoid last minute decisions which may appear to be driven by desperation, and leave them with no bargaining power.
One thing I have found fascinating about Prof Ncube’s bid for the MDC presidency is the manner in which it has been generously covered by the state media, particularly Chronicle. Contrast that to the manner the same newspaper tried to suffocate the Zapu Congress, held a stone throw from its offices. Chronicle only covered Zapu and Dabengwa when “rebels” expressed dreams of “ousting” Dabengwa, or when Zapu members “axed each other”. There was no mention of the congress, until when Madlela and Siwela sprang an eleventh hour High Court action meant to derail our congress, or to take away the limelight from it, none of which was achieved. Where are Cdes Siwela and Madlela? The question we must ask is why would the state media promote Prof Ncube’s ascendancy to the presidency of the MDC? In my view and experience as a journalist, it is clear the Zanu-PF propaganda department imagines that Prof Ncube would rival Dabengwa in Matabeleland so as to divide the vote and give a chance to Zanu-PF and the MDC-T to re-establish political hegemony. Will this succeed? As the Ndebele would say, khona sizake sibone! (We shall see). If the next elections are held under the first-past-the-post constituency based system, the MDC has zero chances of getting any seat. If it is by proportional representation, the MDC may be (I stress may be) can do a “General Bantu Holomisa” and get one seat for its president. I will give the MDC one of my cattle to slaughter for its victory celebrations party if it performed better than it did in 2008. I am serious.
Bhebhe, Mguni, Mpofu and misguided councilors in Bulawayo and Nkayi who have “rejoined” Tsvangirai must prepare themselves for the humiliation of their lives come next elections. It was no accident that constituents in their areas chose MDC at the expense of MDC-T and other competitors, as mush as it was not an accident that people elsewhere chose MDC-T and Zanu-PF. The three musketeers are all but sell-outs in the eyes of the people of Matabeleland. Selling out is selling out, whether to MDC-Tsvangirai or to Zanu-PF.
I urge the MDC leadership, and their former MPs and councilors who are being enticed to join Tsvangirai, not to continue carrying their own cross, like ex-Zapu leaders who continue to follow Zanu-PF. They are simply carrying their own cross, on which they will be crucified by their own people in the not-so-distant future. My advice is please lay down the cross and go back home. Home is best.
About the author. Methuseli Moyo is the Director of Communication and Marketing in Zapu. He writes in his personal capacity as a journalist and political commentator. He can be contacted at email@example.com.