Tsvangirai must listen to the unspoken words and read between the lines: Coalition Talks

There can be no doubt that Robert Mugabe’s grip on power is slipping. The so called one centre of power can longer hold Zanu PF together. Even after expelling a whole faction led by Joyce Mujuru, factionalism remains rife in the party.

Not only is Zanu PF riddled with factionalism but 2016 has also seen a rise in public discontent marked by public sector strikes and street protests. Bond notes have come, they might be able to cure symptoms like cash shortages and bank queues in the short run but rest assured they will not be able to resolve Zimbabwe’s underlying economic problem. At some point in the near future the country will not be able to finance its ever-growing import bill. Which will in turn cause high inflation, shortages of basic goods and the re-emergence of the black-market.

Not so good news for the ordinary person but in all intents and purposes a conducive environment for the opposition to thrive going into the 2018 elections. In spite of this promising prospect, the opposition in its foolishness has turned its knives towards one another.

No, we will not allow them to kick the ball into the woods (kurovera bhora musango) when the goal is gaping. Their minor squabbles will not detract us from the task at hand, change is too an important objective to forgo on account of a few inflated egos.

Whether or not to participate in 2018 elections without reforms.
As we all engross ourselves with preparations for 2018, the opposition must make its position on 2018 clear. We need to know if they will participate in the next general elections or not. What we know is that Zanu PF is most unlikely to institute further reforms. Common sense tells us, they will not reform themselves out of power.

I hope no one thinks that the opposition is capable of forcing these reforms through Zanu PF’s throat. Remember, all it took to stop the NERA demonstrations was a single police order issued by a little known Chief Superintend Newbert Saunyama who commands the Harare district.

We therefore, must expect a flawed electoral playing field going into 2018. Never the less, an election boycott is still unacceptable, a no brainer at least in my humble opinion. Timing is everything in politics. In 2013, boycotting the election made sense. Then, the opposition had leverage, even the SADC mediation team advised the opposition to boycott the election. Not only that, the world’s eyes were on Zimbabwe and more importantly, Zanu PF was in desperate need for legitimacy after the sham 2008 election. Unfortunately, boycotting the next general election is not different to closing the stables when the horse has already bolted. The boycott will certainly make headlines for a couple of months but will be soon forgotten, just like how we have forgotten crises in Burundi and Ethiopia.

A case for a coalition
If we are to participate in the next general elections, then we must draw lessons from the opposition in Seychelles and Gambia who recently won elections against authoritarian regimes in their respective countries.

Seychelles’ opposition having boycotted the 2011 elections, demanding electoral reforms, came together and formed a coalition which contested parliamentary elections this year. The coalition won a majority in the parliament for the first time since the country returned to multiparty democracy in 1993.

In Gambian for the first time in two decades, the opposition came together and formed a coalition, rallying behind a single candidate who ran against president Jammeh. They were able to bring president Jammeh’s 22-year rule to an end by re-energising their support base in the face of intimidation and other underhand tactics employed by the former president.

With this positive message coming from across Africa, that it is possible to defeat these tyrants, it is sad to hear all this bickering in the opposition camp. More so, when they all believe that a united opposition stands a much better chance of unseating a weakened Zanu PF from power. Only through a coalition can the demoralised voter be re-energised. Joining hands shows a serious intend of purpose and has the potential of exciting the new voter, creating a momentum that has been lacking ever since that election in 2013.

As I have highlighted above, I am no fan of boycotting the 2018 elections. But assuming there were no reforms and the opposition were to boycott the election, would it not be better to do so collectively under the banner of a coalition?

An indictment on Tsvangirai’s leadership
In the midst of verbal insults and bickering, great leaders have the ability to read between the lines, to listen to the words unspoken. If only Tsvangirai could listen, listen not only to his kitchen cabinet, I am sure he would hear the smaller opposition parties begging for his leadership.

The only reason why smaller parties and outsiders took the initiative to set the Cape Town talks is because Tsvangirai has failed to provide that much required leadership. If 2018 is going to mean something then he must step up and take responsibility, time is not on our side. After all the objective of the coalition is to try and rally behind his candidature against Robert Mugabe in 2018.

There are those who do not want Tsvangirai to join hands with anyone, saying the MDCT is big. Of course, it is true that Tsvangirai leads the biggest opposition party in the country but what honour is there in leading an opposition party that never gets power? History is awash with so many forgotten opposition leaders. He must be reminded that he stands to personally benefit from working with his former colleagues. Even in elementary politicking one is taught to work with their enemies to achieve their objectives. We cannot afford to miss another opportunity in 2018, its totally unacceptable considering how vulnerable Zanu PF is at the moment.

Decision time
Politics is always a game of imperfect choices, decisions are never completely right or wrong but never the less they must be made. All we demand from the opposition is clarity. They must come clean with the people of Zimbabwe who have placed their hope for a new Zimbabwe in them. They must tell the people whether they want to form a coalition or not and whether they will participate in 2018 elections or not.

The people have a right to know the options on the table, 2018 is too important an election to walk blindly into.

Reflections on why the Bond note demonstration failed

Ndabaningi Sithole replying to his younger brother in a letter in 1977 raises a very interesting point on renewal and regeneration: ‘Seriously though, Mas you and your generation must begin to formulate and express your views on all and every issue. My generation is on its way out, whether we like it or not. We have done our part, sometimes not as well as we might have liked to.’

Unfortunately, four decades later we are still stuck with the same leadership; yes, that very same leadership that Ndabaningi Sithole said in 1977 was on its way out. Even the heavens seem to be conspiring against Zimbabwe’s regeneration. The old is refusing to die and the new cannot be born.

However, this year has been a bit promising. Young people have stepped up and have begun to play their part, reclaiming their space and taking full ownership of their own destiny. They are leading from the front, calling and organising demonstrations and stayaways. Doing exactly, if not more than what Ndabaningi Sithole expected from his young brother’s generation.

But if we are to be truly honest with ourselves, recent demonstrations and stayaways have been quite unsuccessful. It might seem we have taken a step back but rest assured our struggle is going forward. At such times, we can only but draw inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s words ‘revolutions do not go backward’. But to make this statement true for Zimbabwe, we must interrogate the reasons why recent demonstrations have flopped and learn our lessons.

Thus, this article is not meant to bash those who are stepping up, but is an attempt to provide a few lessons for our struggle going forward.

Coalition building

Winston Churchill’s remarks to his private secretary just a few hours before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union are quite instructive to this politics of coalition building. The secretary inquired how Churchill, an anti-communist, could reconcile himself to being on the same side as the Soviets. Churchill’s reply was clear and unequivocal: ‘I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler and my life is simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of commons.’

This is the attitude pro-democratic forces need to embrace. They might not agree with one another on many issues but they must build alliances and work together for they share a common enemy.

It does not help that student, labour union, political party and other grassroots movement leaders learn about a demonstration they are expected to participate with their constituencies through social media. If constituencies they represent are important in making a demonstration successful, it follows that they must be involved in the planning and organisation of the protests.

Everyone is free to exercise their right to protest. But to build proper mass protests, we must start working together and stop trying to outdo each other.

Grassroots mobilisation

This takes me back to my time as a student leader at Great Zimbabwe University. We once organised a demonstration against an increase in the catering fees. We knew everyone was against the fee increase and therefore assumed that everyone would join in. Unfortunately, our demonstration was a flop not because people did not agree with us, but because we failed to prepare.

At least we learned a valuable lesson grounded in political realism. Human beings do not always do what they ought to do, sometimes they need a strong push. Mass action is rarely impulsive, it needs cultivation and proper organisation. Twitter and Facebook might be good tools to help spread the word but they are inadequate. There must be mobilisation on the ground and yes this requires a serious investment in both human and material resources but there are no two ways about it.

What is the end game?

This is the most burning question we still need to address. People want to know the immediate objective of any action they are to undertake. It is perfectly legitimate for people to raise this question because in the arena of politics, people are primarily moved by self-interest, after all protesting in Zimbabwe can be quite costly.

People have participated in demonstrations in the past and yet none of their concerns have been addressed. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some people can become a little disillusioned.

In order to counter this disillusionment, we must make our objectives unequivocally clear for everyone to understand. Secondly, we must learn to pick our battles. We can’t call for a demonstration after every two weeks, this makes the whole exercise very tedious for most people. We ought to be a little more creative in our protesting, we should not restrict ourselves to just street demonstrations. Finally, we must pursue our objectives to the end. We cannot protest against corruption and stop when no one has been arrested or at least fired from government. If through our actions we  do not achieve our objectives then we must do a rethink of our actions.

Change means friction

As Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals informs us ‘change means movement and movement means friction, we should never expect change to come without the abrasive friction of conflict.’

When we demand change, we must be sensitive to the process of action and reaction. We must anticipate the regime’s actions and adapt our tactics to shifting circumstances, we cannot afford to become trapped in our own ways.

I sincerely believe that our ability to pick ourselves up and learn the valuable lessons we can learn from last week’s temporary setback will determine if this generation of young men and women have what it takes to give birth to a new Zimbabwe.

I remain hopeful, a new Zimbabwe is possible in Mugabe’s lifetime.

2018 it’s do or die, the opposition must unite or perish.

If only we had time I would have attempted to play with words and deliver the very same message in a more respectful manner just as my culture demands, but unfortunately time is so desperately working against us.

Dear reader, do not be unnerved that I have included you in “us”. I know you have your reservations when it comes to the opposition but I know deep down, you too are seeking change and yearning for a better Zimbabwe. Now listen carefully, it is our responsibility to exchange notes, try and map a way forward for our country and give advice to our esteemed leaders before it is too late. They seem to be enjoying their time in the opposition, basking in their yesteryear glory but our country cannot endure another Zanu PF government in 2018. The regime is enjoying watching us waste valuable time hurling insults at one another. It should be common knowledge by now that competing against ourselves is meaningless; there is no honour in being the biggest opposition party, any form of defeat by Zanu PF in 2018 is unacceptable. Continue reading