Morgan Tsvangirai remains the president of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T). I have checked and his current term ends in 2019.
By Dr Phillan Zamchiya
Some medical reports indicate he is not too well these days. Consequently, some horses have bolted out of the stable to start the succession race, albeit with the rider still on. Out of this complex situation, I have made 13 preliminary observations that reveal claims to power from supporters. This is not in order of the way they are being forcefully articulated.
First is a claim to seniority. The narrative is based on one’s contemporary position in the hierarchy of the party. The logic is that those who are senior in the party must lead the succession race. However, others object on the basis that one cannot claim seniority based on current positions.
They argue that there are more senior leaders who did not claim positions even at the last congress. In addition, they say some shot to the top under undeserving circumstances. A more radical voice is that most current senior members must leave with the president when he departs.
Second is a claim to charisma. From this school of thought they prefer someone extroverted to take over. An electrifying, magnetic, photogenic, beautiful or handsome character with great oratory skills is their vision of a successor. Wow factor, I hear. However, the counter narrative from others is that charisma is not equal to leadership and content. They further assert that some of the ruthless dictators in history were borne out of celebrated charisma.
Third is a claim to intellectual stamina. This narrative proposes that the envisaged leader must be an educated smart-machine, perspicacious, learned, titled and able to process complexities of the 21st century. The counter proposition is that one does not need formal education and titles to lead the people and process practical solutions. Political disasters orchestrated by other learned leaders are highlighted in debate. They insist a title is just but an adjective.
Fourth is a claim to party structures. Ane mastructures (s/he has support of the structures) is a common chestnut. The logic is that politics is a game of numbers and at the end of the day, congress made of MDC-T structures will decide. Others say this is tautological as one can command party structures without appeal to broader party membership and the nation.
Fifth is a claim to delivery. This narrative promotes a candidate who delivers when tasked by the people. Who is performing well in their current positions? They go further to ask which leaders have demonstrated the ability to empower others from their positions. In simple terms, those who do not eat alone. Even the MDC-T’s sojourn in the inclusive government is recalled. Who performed and who did not perform? However, some point to the structural conditions that have limited their full potential to deliver.
Sixth is a claim to the anointing oil. The narrative is that the candidate who has been more loyal to Tsvangirai and is anointed by him must take over. The logic is that the most loyal must be rewarded for he or she has better will to complete the vision.
The counter narrative has been crafted on what it means to be loyal to Tsvangirai. They say praise-singing is not equal to loyalty. Others even argue being loyal to his family is as good as being loyal to him hence sub-claims to the family. Some have gone as far as suggesting Tsvangirai is no longer in a position to anoint.
Seventh is the unifier claim. The logic is that the next leader must be able to bring the efforts of diverse actors towards a common goal. Talk of the trade union, civil society, party members but more loudly the MDC Alliance. In some quarters, it is as direct as “we need someone acceptable to MDC Alliance members”. The counter is that the succession race is an internal MDC-T matter and other external actors have no stake. They further argue that after all, the MDC-T is now a party and not a movement.
Eighth is a claim to history. The argument is that we need someone who founded the MDC to carry on. It has to be a founder member, who understands why and how the party was formed. They say it is not yet time for mafikizolo. Hence you have to demonstrate that you were there in the beginning to succeed. However, a counter narrative is that the formation of the MDC was not the beginning of history. They argue it was a culmination of many struggles against Gukurahundi, one-party state, privatisation of education, Esap et cetera. So those who participated in these phases are also laying a claim based on history for democratisation.
Ninth is a claim to levers of state power. They argue that they want a leader who appeals to brokers of state power such as the military, war veterans, traditional leaders, judiciary and international community. A counter claim is that this excludes the people who must be the central cog in the succession. They go as far as saying “if that is the case then let the president be chosen in the military barracks”.
Tenth is a generational claim. The position is that “it is time for a young person to take over”, preferably those in their 40s given Zimbabwe’s demographics. Further to the logic is that young people in general are dexterous, energetic, informed and innovative. A counter narrative is that being young is not synonymous with new and great ideas. They say emphasis should be on ability, content and character as age is said to be nothing but a number.
Eleventh is a gender claim. The narrative is that “it is time for a woman”. They argue that the opposition party has been led by a man for close to two decades and it is time to give a woman a chance. A counter narrative from competitors is that Zimbabwe is largely a patriarchal society and not ready to embrace a woman president. Alas, as with the counter to the age proposition, they say leadership should be on ability, content and character and not based on sex or gender.
Twelfth is an ethnic dimension. Yes reader, they argue that a person from one of the largest ethnic groups and not minority groups must lead. They posit that Zimbabweans are not ready to accept a leader from the minority groups given the politics of ethnicity. A counter narrative is based on the equality of human beings and civil politics. That one should never be denied an opportunity because of ethnicity or where they come from.
Thirteenth is a claim to humanity. They say they need a humble, respectful, down to earth leader who believes I am because we are. A servant leadership, one who is accessible and has love. They say no to a know it all, arrogant and pompous leader. A counter narrative is that they confuse confidence with arrogance.
However, the horses have bolted with the rider still on yet he is not to dismount! So we shall hear.
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