Home » Governance » Tsvangirai, Biti Staring Down Barrel of Their Favourite Gun [analysis]

IN politics, authority — not just transient power, but true authority — is hard to acquire and easy to lose. As the row continues to swirl around the true leadership of the MDC-T, it’s important to keep a few things in perspective.The MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai from 1999 played the role of a swashbuckling opposition politics leader, who was popular because of his brand of politics, not his conviction or contribution to the national discourse.

Many people admired his daring political aentures which he engaged in with a level of bravado or flamboyance never been seen before in Zimbabwean politics.

But bravery with no ideology or conviction was always going to lead to disaster. Almost at the outset Tsvangirai prefixed his political career with the declaration, “If Mugabe does not want to go we will remove him by force”. He also punctuated his politics with one public diplomatic blunder: seen on television receiving cheques from white commercial farmers to fund the MDC-T party.

At that very moment, MDC-T failed to embrace the struggle that black nationalists had gone through to liberate the country thus becoming part of a right-wing neo-liberal thought collective whose aspirations were diametrically opposed to, and out of sync with, the aspirations of the Zimbabwean or African people. There was never a national story to tell and the implosion we see today was always going to happen.

They forgot the cardinal rule of politics: that all politics in the end is local.

The problem with the current political pantomime within the MDC-T is not about leadership or Tsvangirai’s refusal to step down. It is about relevance to Zimbabwean politics. The wishy-washy neo-liberal politics of the MDC-T was bound to fail without Western support, regardless of who was the leader.

It cannot deliver Kaguvi and Nehanda’s aspirations. There is nothing oppositional about it, because it does not offer a credible alternative to Zanu-Zapu politics.

The MDCs simply cannot create an alternative world from Zanu and Zapu. If you look at all the versions of the MDC, they are not substantively different from each other ideologically and intellectually.

Tsvangirai’s brand of politics, therefore, was always going to resemble a mayfly — ephemeral and transitory. There was never any serious reflection about the alternative type of government or state they wanted to create. Their whole existence was based on what happens when Mugabe dies and this still fills the discourse of the thought collective that includes academics, writers, and institutions on the Right, who support the MDC brand of politics.

The MDC thus lost it from the start. It had issues to raise in 1999, but because you raise an issue does not make you a credible political party. The implosion was written all over its politics from the start — that to get power is to see Mugabe dead, not to convince the electorate that you have better policies.

Prior to the July 2013 elections, Tsvangirai dismissed all polls that pointed at his ineffectiveness as a leader, and the drubbing his party was going to face from Zanu-PF, including those from neo-liberal institutions like Freedom House and Mass Public Opinion Institute.

Tsvangirai soon learnt that leading a political party and winning elections were not the same. The business of formulating, moulding and convincing people of policy is quite separate from the psychological warfare of pointless political campaigns and political scaremongering. After long painful years of suffering, voters normally seek reassurances rather than revolution.

As Tsvangirai saw after 10 years, voters also need to be persuaded that the pain was worth it. People are persuaded by arguments of the day, as they relate to their lives. That was difficult for Tsvangirai-in-Government because the essence of his politics was to frighten people and nurture despair to warn of disaster to come and, above all, to cultivate hostility, sounding like the drunk outside the pub. “Mati mafa nenzara here? Hamusati,” said Tsvangirai. Fear and foreboding, however, are rarely a recipe for election victory in Zimbabwe — a country with such a solid liberation history.

What Tsvangirai faced on Saturday was a much more lethal charge — his violence mantra did a ricochet on him. For years, with some measure of success, he had cultivated the image of a David taking on the lumbering Goliaths of the Zimbabwe political landscape. He was the Purple Pimpernel, the Reactionary Robin Hood.

His message of fear had found an audience, but he played with fire more cunningly and irresponsibly than any politician I can remember, inviting us to applaud his often-reckless rhetoric as bold honesty.

Tsvangirai’s combination of political rally scaremongering and fantasy politics is the problem, not the solution. From 1999 up to July 2013, Tsvangirai always stood as the tower of the MDC party, doing so with a twisted confidence that increasingly commanded attention. He had an eccentric, but politically audacious means of keeping himself in the headlines. He did keep himself in the news, sometimes through a patchwork of confusion and ignominy —and it worked for him and the MDC-T for a while.

But he forgot that complacency is electoral poison, that a politician should never confuse his own conviction with successful persuasion. The people could see that he was just a de facto standard bearer for the Right, with no strategy to remain relevant nationally and regionally.

By concentrating on issues like constitutional reform (dual citizenship and so forth), issues that have now been realised and exhausted, the MDC-T gave the electorate the impression that they did what they set out to do, and thus have no residual purpose.

“Mission accomplished” is a phrase no politician seeking election or re-election should ever utter. This is the fate of the MDC-T. It cannot persuade the electorate that it is all for them, and that it still has a purpose to serve, beyond the anti-Mugabe rhetoric.

As odd as this may sound, it is the perennial MDC-T dilemma: to look less like an out-of-season football club and more like a serious political party. The slogans and saloon bar anger of the MDC-T serve no political purpose except to self-destruct.

No real alternative

The problem with the MDCs and their thought collective is that they have never envisaged an alternative Zimbabwe or Africa, other than the one offered through the prism of the West — embodying a right of centre ideology that’s out of sync with Zimbabwe’s aspirations. They have not got the faintest idea about how knowledge underpins the colonial encounter and how that in turn is inscribed and reproduced in the neo-liberal mantra they go on about. There is nothing different about all the MDCs.

Terms like “progressive politics”, “democracy” and “human rights” have often been thrown around in a rather loose way, by some of the most vicious and caustic MDC leaders.

We need a clearer idea of what they are talking about. The MDCs have failed to encourage energetic discourse and fresh practical possibilities, thus have not been able to deliver anything.

Unlike Zanu-PF, the MDCs have failed to work from the ground-up, and commit to “politics as the people’s work”, opting for the neo-liberal model of politics driven from the front, as a bureaucratised and professionalised activity restricted to a paid class of persons set apart from the rest of us.

This has effectively alienated the MDCs from the electorate, failing to understand the sites of power, how it’s used, by whom, and accountable to whom.

The Biti coup

The notion that you form a political party when you lose an argument is a bizarre one, and this has been the problem with MDC. It is also classic Mavambo. Looking at Biti, one senses the hopelessness of a man once full of bravado and chutzpah, but now falling for some ghastly trap to lure him to steer a sinking ship. This is an undignified scramble that is the MDC party’s speciality.

Remember 2005? He is simply a Dauphin in a battlefield whose configuration has not changed. He was a beneficiary of that battlefield when Welshman estranged his crew from Tsvangirai — the ironic and oxymoronic interplay of MDC-T politics.

Biti and Mwonzora — two colleagues I had the pleasure of acquaintance at Goromonzi High School — are ambitious, but the ambitious live in the illusion that they control their destiny. They don’t. In a party like the MDC-T, you can only wish for the best because it’s the worst that often happens.

Thanks to both of them, Zimbabwean politics has become ugly again. Biti has been hit by a boomerang. He is the one who always spoke so eloquently about Mugabe’s health and age. Now the issue is how savage, and how personal, Mwonzora’s camp will make this attack on Biti’s health and credibility.

It is one thing to question the competence and judgment of a prospective leader quite another to insinuate that his health, or (as in this case) the health and age of his close associates, are seriously adrift.

It’s too late for Biti to posture as a prophet of a new, ethical politics. He has never looked grubbier than he did on Saturday: conspiring to sack Tsvangirai from MDC-Tsvangirai, in a manner he tried to overthrow President Mugabe in 2008 by declaring, “Morgan Richard Tsvangirai is the next president of Zimbabwe”. It goes to show how quickly politicians’ skin hardens and how low their horizons can fall. In his desperation to maximise his chances of becoming party leader and president, he showed precisely why he is not fit to occupy that role.

The protest party with no real national agenda

Zanu-PF has been smart: pursue serious national policies while keeping the MDCs behind by rattling its politicians and, like Sirens wearing blazers, pushing them to make decisions that will absolutely ensure MDCs’ disaster in 2018. The idea is for Zanu-PF to make sure that MDCs remain protest parties, not driving the policy agenda.

Thus far, the MDCs have made this mistake, and too much time has been allocated to chastising Zanu-PF and its policies and attacking dissenters and critics of Tsvangirai, while chastising those who jump ship.

What about Tsvangirai?

Often effective on the attack, Tsvangirai has not yet learnt how to handle criticism, or to control the burst capillaries of self-righteousness. Like Biti, he finds himself precisely where he does not want to be: the object of the sort of inquiries and dilemmas he wishes upon his opponents.

Now he stares down the barrel of his favourite gun — the political gun that fires at leaders deemed unpopular, asking them to go. The issue is that he has aggressively encouraged us to assume the worst of all politicians, to take their collective guilt for granted, and to regard their very membership of the “elite” or “political class” or “establishment” as damning in itself. Now he is feeling the rough edge of those same assumptions, the kangaroo court whose only jurisprudence is: “They’re all the same”.

The MDC-T is imploding, left, right and centre. Tsvangirai and his kitchen Cabinet make the implosion worse by engaging in political pugilism of the most brutal and protracted sort: unlicensed bare-knuckle fighting. The Tsvangirai-Biti battle is a premonition of a much greater battle to come, and one which, if Tsvangirai is still leader at the next election, will certainly be fought to the death.

Tsvangirai’s political honeymoon though is over. He is starting to resemble the very politicians he lives to destroy, deeply resentful that his astonishingly easy ride in the media has come to an end, outraged that he should have to call endless press conferences to explain why he won’t step down.

Behind the anger, you could see the self-pity. And you could see something else, too — a broken man who simply hangs on to power — in a crumbling political party — for the sake of hanging on to power.

All gone

All MDC politicians and their thought collective (including academics, institutions and policymakers on the Right), are now just other politicians, scrabbling around in the gutter, making reckless statements, peer reviewed publications, and stoking any fear, just so long as it will buy them some credibility and discredit Mugabe.

The riots we see at Harvest House are socially destructive and self-defeating for the MDC-T. The Tsvangirai-Biti feud has disfigured MDC politics for a generation, including politics in all factions, not just the MDC-T. It has left a sulphurous memory that will linger till 2018.

It will certainly call attention to something, but will not lead to any social transformation or the change that MDC often preaches, but to an electoral defeat by Zanu-PF. The MDC can embellish their differences and their violence, but the truth will always out.

Their cheap populism — which they hid for very long — has faced its reckoning. Leaving them with what? Nothing. They are now a footnote in history because as Mutabaruka says, “They’ve been in the wild too long.”

The MDC formed in 1999 is gone. At the rate they are going, they would have a difficult time organising a drinks party in a brewery.

Dr Itayi Garande writes from the United Kingdom.

Source : The Herald