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Mwonzora, Khupe: Two sides of the same coin




A MID-TWENTEETH-CENTURY novelist, Nelson Algren, once said: “Never trust a group that claims to work for God, country and liberty, as any or all three are unlikely to be well represented”.

To this sagacity, I might give a Zimbabwean twist and say: “Never trust a group that claims to work for constitutionalism, rule of law and tolerance, as any or all three are unlikely to be well represented”.
Accordingly, the Judicially Modified MDC-T held its much-delayed and long-overdue extra-burial congress on 27 December 2020.

It was euphemised and christened as an extraordinary congress. Nonetheless, it was, to all intents and purposes, a political elegiac process in which the four putschist praetorian guards of pseudo-constitutionalism obituarised and eulogised their dead political lives in the hearts and minds of the opposition ecosystem.

Suffice it to say, the indurate “extraordinary congress” of the MDC-T was a cocktail of disorganisation tantamount to primary school playground tomfoolery. It descended into a dog-eat-dog fratricidal bedlam of four warring parties. The mobocracy which plagued the so-called extraordinary congress played out in real-time in the full glare of the public.

Thus, it became apparent to both concerned and neutral observers that all four presidential contestants were nothing but just power-hungry political rejects. Their touting of constitutionalism was a facade to mask their opportunism and insatiable power-hungry proclivities.

However, in the smouldering wreckage of the crash disaster of the mobocracy that engulfed the Rainbow Towers on 27 December 2020, there was a schadenfreude moment when Douglas Mwonzora emerged as the new sheriff in town for the MDC-T through becoming the controversial winner of the race to become president of the MDC-T.

Therefore, this opinion piece aims to unpack the likely ideological trajectory or lack thereof of MDC-T under the stewardship of Mwonzora. I argue and expose that, just as under Thokozani Khupe, the MDC-T under Mwonzora will not enjoy any ideological realignment. Instead, there is going to be ideological reinforcement of a business-as-usual approach to the politics of puppetry.

Whilst the other three losing presidential contestants were counting their costs and licking their wounds, the official Twitter account of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as well as his New Year’s address was punctuated with profuse congratulatory messages to the controversial winner, Mwonzora.
Through this endorsement, the public concluded that the puppet master was satisfied and happy with his latest recruit.

In a nutshell, the MDC-T “extraordinary congress” provided a puppetry buffet of the four political charlatans and puppets, allowing the puppet master Mnangagwa to pick and choose. He was indeed spoilt for choice.

However, there are significant takeaways and tell-tale signs that the MDC-T congress has the DNA of Zanu PF vested interests. This is demonstrated by the conspicuous and unprecedented showering of state freebies and goodies to the MDC-T which are usually the exclusive privilege of Zanu PF.

For instance, Zupco buses were provided to the MDC-T to ferry their delegates to the venue. This was coupled with the availing of the Harare International Conference Centre to the MDC-T as a plush venue for the elective congress. The unprecedented lavishing of an “opposition” outfit with state-funded trinkets by Zanu PF is obscene. Even Morgan Tsvangirai, at the time he was prime minister in the Government of National Unity, did not benefit from such Zanu PF generosity.

Even Fatger Zimbabwe himself, Joshua Nkomo, was never accorded such red-carpet treatment by a malevolent Zanu PF government. Needless to say, for the past two years the MDC-T under Thokozani Khupe has had an incestuous relationship with Zanu PF.

Thus Khupe was an ever-obedient Trojan horse of Zanu PF. She had performed the role of opposition to the main opposition MDC Alliance exceedingly well. Khupe and MDC-T were the leading instruments in Mnangagwa’s Polad orchestra.

Opposition political parties in both mature liberal democracies and fledgling illiberal democracies are by their very nature adversarial to the governing parties. They are instinctively primed to adopt a very uncompromising oppositional stance to the ruling parties.

Thus they aggressively critique and hold the ruling party to account, both for its omissions and commissions in executing its governmental duties. Hence, in some situations debates in parliaments can descend into volatile and nasty verbal and physical confrontations.

Countries like Taiwan, Ukraine, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have recorded moments when parliament has been turned into a boxing ring. Additionally, in South Africa, the radical left-wing opposition EFF with its brand of disruptive participatory democracy has turned the South African parliament into a volatile theatre of democratic accountability.

Such is the nature of adversarial parliamentary democracy. However, Mwonzora has come out with an unconventional milk toast concept christened as rational disputation which he defines as his political manual for engaging with a hybrid and competitive authoritarian Zanu PF government.

Nevertheless, “rational disputation” is, in reality, quintessentially designed to mollycoddle and appease the crypto-fascist Zanu PF government. It will undeservedly give the Zanu PF government an easy and smooth ride in the National Assembly without vigorously checking and counter-balancing it.

Thus “rational disputation” is political euphemism for politics of elite co-option, elite pacting and Zanu PF-driven elite opposition. Additionally, “rational disputation” is a self-serving vehicle for incorporation into the state-subsidised gravy train of elite patronage.

The raison d`etre of the controversial Supreme Court ruling that ordered the holding of this shambolic and amateurish MDC-T congress was premised on the Leninist dictum: “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”. Therefore, Mwonzora is the latest Zanu PF Trojan horse in authoritarian consolidation and power retention shenanigans.

It was William Faulkner who once remarked: “The past is never dead, it is not even past”. Therefore, there is nothing new under the sun in terms of the political chicanery obtaining in the corrosive Zimbabwean polity.

Thus the political, parliamentary and constitutional chicanery of creating a pliant, obedient and bogus opposition by the Zanu PF government was in fact perfected in the crypto-fascist right-wing political laboratories of both racist Rhodesia under Ian Smith and apartheid South Africa under Pik Botha and FW De Klerk.

Accordingly, the Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi constituted the shock troops and attack dogs of the National Party that deployed them to terrorise and destabilise the ANC during apartheid struggle. Similarly, the modus operandi of the Mwonzora-led MDC-T will be more or less the same.

In the build up to the 2023 elections, the MDC-T’s role will be to act as an agent saboteur for Zanu PF. Under Mwonzora, the wily fox of political chicanery, the MDC-T will be more ruthless both covert and overt in destabilising the MDC Alliance and derailing the democratic process on behalf of Zanu PF.
It is common knowledge that in the unforgiving couldron of winner-eats-all competitive electoral politics there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Political competitors, especially hybrid competitive authoritarian regimes like the Zanu PF government, do not provide political and parliamentary favours to their competitors out of Father Christmas-like benevolence.

Therefore, Mwonzora just like his predecessor Khupe, will be perpetuating the politics of puppetry by appeasing the Zanu PF government. There will not be an ideological realignment of this politics of puppetry under Mwonzora. Instead, there is going to be ideological reinforcement of Khupeism under Mwonzora.

Therefore, it is not by accident, but by design, that there is deafening silence from the MDC-T, and lack of dissenting voices from MDC-T after the latest round of extrajudicial and extra-legal persecution and unlawful arrests and detention of pro-democratic activists such as Hopewell Chin’ono, Job Sikhala, Jacob Mafume and Fadzayi Mahere.

This script is one written for the MDC-T by their puppet master, Zanu PF. That is, they must “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”, when the Zanu PF government is abusing state institutions and innocent citizens.

Thus, the MDC-T will be a vital cog in sanitising the excesses of the regime and providing the facade of a properly functioning parliamentary democracy to the outside world. Thus rational disputation will be the oil that will be lubricating Zanu PF’s de facto one-party state.

Furthermore, Mwonzora will likely take a front row seat at the Polad gathering of political rejects and losers. There is greater likelihood that once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, we will be seeing Mwonzora and his team under the instructions of Zanu PF embarking on a charm offensive in the capitals of the Global North.

They will be pleading for the lifting of the regime of targeted sanctions imposed on Harare by Washington DC. This assignment will be a mission impossible for the regime acolytes as they will hit a brick wall because Washington provided a clear roadmap for the removal of sanctions, which is simply constitutional and institutional reforms.

In the end, Mwonzora’s controversial elevation as the head of the MDC-T is just a question of old wine in new wine skins. Therefore, there will be an unbroken cycle of politics of puppetry from Khupe to Mwonzora.

That is, under Mwonzora there is going to be another episode of puppetry on steroids. His so-called “rational disputation” philosophy is both ideologically and institutionally bankrupt insofar as radical and progressive oppositional politics is concerned.

As such, the MDC-T will continue to be cannon fodder in the authoritarian and power consolidation brinkmanship of the Zanu PF government.

The corrosive incestuous relationship between Zanu PF and MDC-T will continue but with devastating collateral damages on the democratic and constitutional infrastructure of Zimbabwe.

Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer. He has scholarly interest in social justice, distributive justice and globalisation issues.