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Comment was right, MDC Budiriro victory rings hollow

JORAM Nyathi’s “Candid Comment” (“Wish they were all like VP Mujuru,” Independent, May 26) was a frank and honest analysis of the sad reality of opposition politics in Zimbabwe today. The Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC decided to participate in the

Budiriro by-election even though they had resolved never to participate in any election under the current framework.

That the MDC won by a convincing margin despite the apathy, confirms they knew Budiriro was one of their strongholds and therefore would help boost self-confidence while humiliating the weaker faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

Nyathi’s article rightly pointed out that the election in Budiriro was less about bread and butter issues, but more about political grandstanding aimed at showing muscle and consolidating control.

There is no doubt that Zanu PF has no support in urban Harare. President Mugabe’s attempts to sweet talk voters by donating computers on the eve of the election was therefore going to convince only the most gullible. The real fight for control was between the two MDC factions.

I do have some sympathy for the Mutambara faction, but given their poor showing at the polls, I am not sure if they have any future on the rough turf of Zimbabwe’s skewed political landscape.

They were always disadvantaged from the beginning by a perception that they dared to challenge Tsvangirai, who has managed to build a strong and unquestioning following around himself, in the same way Mugabe did in the early years.

Their second perceived weakness was that the main faction leaders are from Matabeleland, a fact used by the main faction as the reason why they should not get support.

It is worrying that even opposition politicians have also resorted to the use of tribal and divisive politics commonly used by Zanu PF in the early years of Independence.

But what is more distressing is that, in the 21st century, there are still many people who buy into this kind of tribal garbage and retrogressive gibberish.

So weird has our politics become that even Margaret Dongo, arguably one of the finest MPs Zimbabwe has ever produced, lost to a previously unknown MDC Harare Central candidate in the 2005 general election. Dongo happened to belong to the “wrong” side.

Elsewhere in the world, people are elected on the basis of solid principles and consistent policies; in Zimbabwe it is mobocracy and political manipulation that carry the day.

The unpalatable truth is that the MDC by-election victory in Budiriro signifies nothing and is largely an empty victory. Apart from giving the psychological satisfaction of having defeated Mugabe and Zanu PF, the victory will not translate into anything meaningful until the MDC stops thinking about personal empire-building and point-scoring and starts addressing real issues.

Capitalising on the shortcomings of the present government is not enough, because even when the economy is turned around people will still need a strong and vibrant opposition to ensure transparency and accountability.

The MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, also unwittingly confirmed the hollowness of his party’s victory. His press statement, issued just after the election results were announced, did not say anything new.

Apart from borrowing Zanu PF’s empty rhetoric that “the people have spoken” and reminding people of how Zanu PF brought high inflation, unemployment and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, Chamisa did not address how the MDC was planning to use the victory to address any of the people’s concerns.

No one expects the MDC to bring down inflation just because of a by-election victory because the MDC is not in government.

But even out of government, there are several things that the party can do to show it has a capacity to achieve greater things when in government.

By way of example, the city of Harare is still run by an illegal commission that was appointed after Zanu PF fired elected MDC councillors.

If the MDC is planning to organise countrywide mass protests, I am sure they will find it easier to organise a rates boycott to force government to call for elections in Harare.

People still pay rates for services to the city of Harare every month and surely cannot wait until Tsvangirai becomes president in 2008 or 2010 to have this issue resolved.

Zanu PF has repeatedly accused the MDC of being a bad loser by crying foul only for those elections they lose, while happily accepting those favourable to them. By saying the “people have spoken”, Chamisa is implying the MDC has confidence in the electoral process in Zimbabwe.

This is inconsistent with the well-publicised party view that elections are always rigged by Zanu PF.
Unfortunately, in our world, political consistency and integrity are luxuries most people can do without.

Hudson Yemen Taivo,

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