In an eNCA News interview of 30 June 2020, MDC President Douglas T. Mwonzora submitted to his political contemporaries that “rational disputation” is what is needed to bring about political changes with far reaching behavioural, cognitive and emotional changes in the Zimbabwean political landscape. Said President Mwonzora, “We want to have a different approach in our politics. We want to remove the politics of violence, the politics of rancour, acrimony, and the politics of intolerance and replace that with the politics of rational disputation. In prosecuting the democratic struggle, we need to make use of all tactics that we can employ, and one of them is waging meaningful dialogue with government and all stakeholders. But this dialogue has to be broad-based to include churches, trade unions, civil society groups and political parties. The current dialogue framework only deals with the political parties.”
Since its formation MDC has been a democratic agent that was lacking in Zimbabwe. Although it began as a coalition of forces concerned mainly about the economic problem of the working poor, it quickly began to strenuously look for answers to national questions such as unity, equality, democracy, order and stability, and sovereignty which permeate through past, present, and future generations. Twenty-One years on MDC is looking at using the proverbial keys of interdependency with other political players to evaluate, challenge, and dispute irrational political beliefs and trajectories which lead to a dysfunctional society.
What is also revealing is that all Congresses since 2006 have resolved that national dialogue is an imperative to bringing about lasting solutions to our nation’s problems. It is on this background that President Mwonzora has warned of the immobilising effect of talking about a revolution without the capacity to start nor to sustain it. The party’s high regard for non-violent and constitutional means of wrestling power from ZANU PF is responsible for the biggest achievements we have posted so far as an opposition party. The nation at large has a history imbedded in dialogues that were timely carried out to save the country from further decay.
History of Dialogue in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s independence was thrashed out at the Lancaster House talks to which the liberation fathers were dragged screaming and shouting. After independence these fathers were involved in conflict which will kill 20 000 before there was a table to resolve issues. This conflict was mainly orchestrated by ZANU PF which went after the total annihilation of an opposition ZAPU party they had defeated in an election. To end the conflict there was a round table culminating in the 1987 unity accord.
ZANU PF were to repeat their aggression on the opposition this time on the newly formed MDC who they tried to bring to their knees. This time around they were dealt a blow in the 2008 elections which forced them to sit around a table for discussions with an opposition yet again. The outcome was a Government of National Unity (GNU) which ushered one of our most peaceful and developmental years of our nationhood. MDC President Mwonzora, ZANU PF’s Paul Mangwana, and break-way MDC’s Edward Mukhosi successfully co-chaired our national constitution making process which resulted in a new constitution, the flagship product of the GNU. The GNU had its challenges chiefly because it was a policy blind arrangement in some instances given that it had to accommodate three different manifestos. However, it is not in question that it created the lasting reality that opposition politics and parties in Zimbabwe are legitimate entities with a contribution to make in the development of our nation.
Defining and Preserving the New Era of Rational Disputation
Two things therefore must be guarded against in order to preserve this status and to build upon it. First, after the GNU experience the opposition must not walk away from continuous rational engagement with the government of the day. The opposition must not be overly obsessed about elections alone because they are not the only answer to every problem we have as a country. Yes, the focus is winning elections because that is the only way to form a government, but it must be remembered that Zimbabweans like all citizens of the world expect political leadership to keep adapting to the changing political dynamics in order to make substantial contributions to their lives post the election dates. As an opposition we must do all in our means to get the electoral reforms necessary to align with the 2013 constitution, as well as scaling up our fight in ensuring that electoral bodies comply with existing electoral legislation at all times. However, that must be all of political leadership given by the opposition.
Citizens expect political parties to look at elections in the context of a nationalist project which cuts across generations and across the country’s shared history, traditions, culture, economy, and the spiritual and sociological existence of its diverse people. Their expectations for national dialogue among citizens in the quest for solutions to their problems is therefore not narrowly confined to electioneering and the results of any particular election. Exclusionary politics creates problems everywhere, and we have many examples to validate this observation.
Engagement with the government must therefore be robust in parliament, and must permeate to urban councils where MDC is the government around issues to do with service delivery. Rural district councils must also open up to engagements across political party lines to prioritise deliverables such as road infrastructure. The new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the incessant waves of natural disasters hitting our country are a clarion call to the need for greater unity than ever before in our national leadership. COVID -19 is on the rampage across political maps, and Cyclone Eloise has ravaged huge parts of the southern region without any respect to our political diversity. Our leadership need to use the same indiscriminate approach to solving people’s problems, and that can only be as a result of dialoguing, agreeing where do, in differing respectfully where don’t agree.
Second, ZANU PF must not retrace paths to its past mistakes where it viewed opposition political parties as inherently evil entities to be desecrated. That approach was counterproductive for the nation and for them as a party as it ate away on the stock of their liberation credentials resulting in some viewing them as a movement which cannibalises its children for survival.
ZANU PF also needs to go beyond creating optics about dialogue to actually moving into the substantive issues that the nation must be seized with. These are issues at the centre of the national development agenda which cuts across political lines. After November 17 2017 there were widespread expectations that citizens will finally engage in dialogue for nation building. Instead POLAD was set, and it has become a plausible failure that was easily overtaken by political dynamics. Zimbabweans have long forgotten about most of the candidates in that grouping and are looking at leadership from political and social leaders from the entirety of our nation. For example, MDC President Mwonzora was not a candidate in the 2018 elections but today leads the official opposition party. It is only through dialogue that the government will be motivated to soften their hard-line stance on the opposition while the opposition directs focus to needs of the populace.
Nature of the State Needed to Maintain Continuous Dialogue
It is key to note that Zimbabweans exist in a state that has been created by successive ZANU PF governments which have churned out polarising statements from government megaphones in denouncing opposition parties and politics. While rhetoric and banter are normal gamesmanship on a party-politics field, the same must never be heard from securocrats and other arms of government outside political formations. There must be a recognition of a separation between government and the ruling party, so that it becomes possible for opposition politicians to be collaborative on government work.
Zimbabweans must live in a state that does not necessarily subject them to the liberation guns. They must be allowed to be sovereign citizens who can engage and differ peacefully without the involvement of any guns. This entails that the opposition has a role to play in upholding the responsible citizenship by not provoking continuous internal strife which weakens society. The opposition needs on a premise that we have one Zimbabwe despite our different political groupings, and elections are only but one of the many methods of seeking for change. After all it is only the 1980 elections which brought bigger change than the successive timely dialogue we have had at defining moments of our nationhood.
The opposition need not treat government as a foreign element leading a different Zimbabwe that must be rescued from non-Zimbabweans. Equally, ZANU PF will do well to drop the narrative that they exist to preserve Zimbabwe from the so-called enemies from afar who want to buy the country using the opposition. In the history of the world no nation or group of nations have ever bought a sovereign nation through local opposition parties! It is in this light President Mwonzora is calling for focus to be shown on the citizens who need to be rescued from poverty, hunger, joblessness, poor health, and from other national questions we are failing to answer collectively as a nation. The desire should be to continually want to offer solutions for a better life for all and not to postpone everything for correction by an election. The struggle for the opposition must be the struggle for lasting change, not the struggle for elections which come in intervals. Opposing must not be a theatrical play meant to entertain and draw emotions from the electorate in the hope that they will repay the showing by a vote, it must be substance driven, and its leadership based on track records.