THE Movement for Democratic Change party founded by the late opposition movement icon Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda, as well as scores of industrious trade unionists, students, farmers and academics has been officially buried after Wednesday’s elections.
Its founding leaders, Tsvangirai and Sibanda must be turning in their graves as their project is now relegated into the dustbin of Zimbabwe politics.
Similarly, it now appears that MDC activists who were killed while fighting for democratic space in Zimbabwe could have died in vain. The roll call of those who lost their lives and maimed for the MDC is long.
The once formidable opposition party failed to make an impact at Wednesday’s polls after it failed to field parliamentary candidates while its leader Douglas Mwonzora withdrew from the presidential race at the last minute obviously sensing an embarrassing defeat.
Mwonzora, who is accused by his political nemesis of effectively selling the MDC project to Zanu PF, has become the historic and official political undertaker of the once forceful opposition party. This is widely seen as a dubious distinction on which history will judge Mwonzora harshly.
The MDC failed to field candidates in all constituencies around the country, save for one in Gweru Urban where former Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairperson Brian Dube sponsored himself.
The party was too broke to pay nomination fees for its members and observers say its leadership hid behind a technicality that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had refused the MDC to transact electronically using the swipe system to pay for nomination fees.
This was despite the fact that the party had been consistently receiving funds from the government under the Political Finances Act after it successfully wrestled the party name from Nelson Chamisa through a High Court ruling.
Mwonzora managed to raise US$20 000 to file his nomination papers for the presidential election. He was supposed to battle it out with 10 other presidential candidates but despite his eleventh-hour withdrawal from the race, his name could not be removed from the ballot thereby driving the MDC to the political cemetery.
Mwonzora had no realistic chance against Mnangagwa and Chamisa. The MDC has now been consigned to the political graveyard yet it was once a robust opposition party which resisted repression and Zanu-PF authoritarian rule for two decades. In an interview with The NewsHawks, Mwonzora’s spokesperson Lloyd Damba, however, said the MDC has not perished but rather has drifted into a reset mode where it will strategise and come out stronger.
“The withdrawal of the famous 87 candidates, the withdrawal of our Presidential candidate and even the captured Judiciary will not weaken us but in fact strengthen us,” Damba said.
“At the moment we will go back to the drawing board, the party is now on reset mode. Let me also reassure you that the MDC president as well as the party will remain relevant after this election because of the many things that we predicted will come to frustration and it is not the last election this country will ever have.”
Proportionally, the MDC was one of the biggest opposition parties not just in Zimbabwe but also in Africa. It had become a local, regional and international brand.
It fought for democratic reform and change, albeit without succeeding in taking over power. However, it was part of the government of national unity formed after the violent 2008 elections run off. The party’s contributions to Zimbabwe’s democratic politics was immense, even though its critics described it as a negative ‘unpatriotic’ force.
The party’s dramatic decline was accelerated soon after Tsvangirai’s death without a succession plan.
The origins of the MDC date back to 26 February 1999 when the idea of its formation was mooted and endorsed by over 700 delegates from all walks of life who converged at the Women’s Bureau in Hillside, Harare, for two days.
After some deliberations, delegates set up various committees and sub-committees to examine a whole gamut of Zimbabwean issues and the way forward. Among other issues, they resolved to challenge Zanu-PF politically and fight for political change in Zimbabwe.
The key resolutions were adopted and their implementation led to the formation of the MDC. The working people’s convention steered the formation of the MDC, seven months later at Rufaro Stadium in Harare on 11 September 1999.
On 26 January 2000, the MDC held its inaugural congress at the Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex. Tsvangirai became president and Sibanda his deputy.
A constitution for the party was adopted. Zanu-PF immediately reacted with a torrent of demonisation, intimidation, violence and brutality.
Then President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF were not used to a strong opposition since the days of PF Zapu led by Joshua Nkomo, a luminary of Zimbabwe liberation struggle and to some extend the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, which was led by Edgar Tekere, another giant of the struggle for independence.
From the onset, the MDC was labelled a puppet party funded by white commercial farmers, the British government and other Western sponsors.
But despite such characterisations the MDC resonated with workers, given its roots to the country’s labour movement and ordinary people amid growing social discontent due to political and economic problems.
Zimbabwe had begun a turbulent descent into political turmoil amid demands for reform by the MDC. The MDC was an eclectic mix of trade unionists, church, students, political activists, professionals, and farmers, among other groups.
It was destroyed by infighting which erupted within the MDC-Alliance between party leaders Chamisa and his rival Mwonzora.
On 26 January 2000, the MDC held its inaugural congress at the Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex. Tsvangirai became president and Gibson Sibanda his deputy.
A constitution for the party was adopted. Zanu-PF reacted with a torrent of demonisation, intimidation, violence and brutality.
This resulted in bloodshed and strife. In the MDC’s pursuit for democratic change in Zimbabwe, hundreds of its activists were killed , the same fate that had befallen other opposition parties before it.
Despite massive violence in the run-up to a general election held on 26 June 2000, the MDC garnered 57 seats while Zanu-PF got 63 seats.
The violence intensified after the elections, causing further bloodshed as the country braced for the 2002 presidential poll.
By the time of the presidential election in March 2002, political savagery and murders were commonplace.
Repression intensified as the economy collapsed under the weight of mismanagement, corruption and targeted Western sanctions. Zimbabwe also became a pariah state.
In 2005, the MDC participated in the parliamentary election under protest which was against a background of violence and intimidation, as well as an uneven electoral playing field.
The party won 41 seats of the 120 contested seats, which was a decline from the 57 it won in the 2000 elections.
Soon after that, the MDC split in 2005 due to a dispute over its participation in the senate elections. One faction said it was strategically important to participate in the poll to keep democratic gains, while the other argued it was not only a waste of resources but doing so would also not advance the central strategic objective of the party, that is bringing Zanu-PF hegemony to an end.
Post the 2005 split, from 16-19 March 2006 the MDC held a watershed congress. The congress adopted a roadmap to legitimacy whose signposts and benchmarks saw the collapse of the Zanu-PF monolith and the termination of that party’s political monopoly.
Following the historic March 2008 general elections in which Tsvangirai won the first round of polling against Mugabe in the presidential election, on 25 August 2008, the MDC officially took control of Parliament.
It elected the then acting national chairperson Lovemore Moyo as speaker of Parliament, a post held by Zanu-PF since independence in 1980.
Due to Mugabe’s defeat, results of the presidential election took six weeks to be released. When they were eventually released the MDC’s Tsvangirai had won 47.9 percent of the ballots against Mugabe’s 43,2 percent but they had to go to for a runoff election since the first round had failed to produce a 50 percent plus one majority for either candidate.
The run-off election was marred by violence which resulted in the death of several MDC activists and supporters.
Tsvangirai withdrew from the elections leaving Mugabe to be declared the winner of the sham run-off election.
The run-off electoral victory was not internationally recognised, culminating in negotiations brokered by then South African president Thabo Mbeki. After intense round the clock negotiations, on 11 January 2009, Tsvangirai became prime minister.
Mugabe remained president. The coalition government which lasted until 2013 brought political and economic stability after years of upheavals, including an economic meltdown and record hyperinflation.
That was the best period of economic recovery and stability in Zimbabwe since 2000. Meanwhile, the MDC held its third national congress in April 2011.
Apart from the new national executive and national council, Mwonzora and others rose through the ranks into the standing committee. Mwonzora became secretary for information and publicity. Following the government of national unity, general elections were held on 31 July 2013 and Zanu-PF won with a landslide amid MDC protests of vote-rigging.
The MDC suffered another split in 2014 after secretary-general Tendai Biti broke away to form the People’s Democratic Party.
At one point it was also led by Arthur Mutambara. Job Sikhala, who is currently in political detention for over a year, also broke away and formed his own MDC99. The MDC had held an extraordinary congress in October 2014.
At the 4th national congress, Mwonzora took the reins as the party’s secretary-general after beating Chamisa. Tsvangirai later appointed Chamisa, together with Elias Mudzuri, as vice-presidents on 16 July 2016. Given that Thokozani Khupe was elected at congress as the only vice-president, the party then had three vice-presidents.
Tsvangirai became tormented with ill-health, suffering from colon cancer resulting in a succession power struggle, as his lieutenants Jostled to succeed him.
On 14 February 2018, Tsvangirai eventually succumbed to colon cancer sparking a fierce battle to succeed him.
As Tsvangirai was being buried at his rural home in Humanikwa village, Buhera, on 20 February 2018 chaotic scenes took centre stage as MDC supporters rallying behind Chamisa attacked his rivals Khupe and Mwonzora.
On 23 March 2018 th MDC’s national council fired Khupe and several other senior party officials. This resulted in yet another split within the MDC, this time within the MDC-T which was led by Tsvangirai until his death.
The other MDC faction was led by Welshman Ncube. Chamisa emerged as the new leader and ran in the 2018 presidential election as a candidate for the MDC Alliance against Mnangagwa . Mnangagwa scraped through with 50.8% of the vote.
He received 2.46 million votes of the 4.8 million votes cast while Chamisa got 2.14 million votes or 44.3%. Mnangagwa needed to win by more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote, which he barely avoided by 31 000 votes.
Amid renewed in-fighting in the MDC Alliance, Chamisa lost the party to Mwonzora and he formed the Citizens’ Coalition for Change, now the main opposition party in Zimbabwe.
All this illustrious MDC history, including the good, the bad and the ugly, will soon be buried by Mwonzora — the party’s political marking the end on an era and the end of a gigantic party.