AFTER Zimbabwe’s fast-fading opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by Douglas Mwonzora, failed to field candidates in all constituencies around the country amid reports that it is too broke to pay nomination fees for them, the development marked the death of the party.
It is now awaiting burial at the general elections political cemetery.
The MDC-T failed to pay nomination fees for all its candidates across the country. However, its leader Douglas Mwonzora managed to get US$20 000 to file his nomination papers for the presidential election.
Mwonzora will battle it out with 10 other candidates, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, main opposition CCC Nelson Chamisa and independent candidate Saviour Kasukuwere, a former Zanu PF political commissar, minister and MP in the presidential race.
Mwonzora has no realistic chance against Mnangagwa, Chamisa and Kasukuwere — the three key candidates in the election. Although it is a bridge too far for Kasukuwere to win the election, he might be the X-factor in the poll.
As a result of his party’s failure to even field candidates, Mwonzora will have the dubious historical distinction of being the MDC political undertaker. He will inter in the political graveyard a major opposition which helped to galvanise local politics, resist repression and combat Zanu PF authoritarian rule for two decades.
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.
The party’s contributions to Zimbabwe’s democratic politics was immense, even though its critics described it as a negative ‘unpatriotic’ force. Founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai must be turning in his grave, although he left a problem of succession which erupted soon after his death in February 2018, given what has become of his party.
And hundreds of those who died and whose blood was split for the MDC’s cause might now appear to have died in vain. The roll call of those who died for the MDC is long. The party’s dramatic decline 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 demand 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.
After its formation, the MDC soon found itself in deadly confrontation with President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF who were not used to a strong opposition since the days of PF Zapu and to some extent the Zimbabwe Unity Movement.
From day one, it was labelled a puppet party funded by white commercial farmers and the British and other Western sponsors, but it resonated with workers, given its labour movement roots and ordinary people amid growing social discontent due to political and economic problems. Zimbabwe had begun a turbulent descent into chaos amid demands for reform.
The MDC was a broad church, an eclectic mix of trade unionists, students, political activists, professionals, and farmers, among other groups. Its mission was to challenge Zanu PF and Mugabe for power, which it went on to do effectively until the last elections in 2018.
It was destroyed by infighting which erupted within the MDC-Alliance between party leader 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.
Hundreds of MDC activists were killed, the same fate that had befallen other opposition parties before it. A general election was held on 26 June 2000, and the MDC got 57 seats and Zanu PF 63 seats — just a six-seat difference — despite massive violence. The violence intensified after June 2000, causing further bloodshed.
After that, Zanu PF intensified intimidation, violence and brutality ahead of the presidential election two years down the line. 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 fierce violence and intimidation, as well as an uneven electoral playing field.
The party won 41 seats of the 120 contested seats, which was a massive decline. Soon after that, the MDC split in 2005 due to a fight over participation in the senate election.
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 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.
That congress adopted a roadmap to legitimacy whose signposts and benchmarks saw the final 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 release amid behind-the-scenes negotiations between Zanu PF and the MDC, while the then South African president Thabo Mbeki, who had been engaged for years, brokered new talks at the highest levels.
The talks accelerated after the bloody June 2008 presidential election run-off boycotted by Tsvangirai due to intimidation, violence and killings. Mbeki camped in Zimbabwe to negotiate a coalition agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
After intense negotiations, sometimes day and night literally, on 11 January 2009, Tsvangirai became prime minister. Mugabe remained president. The coalition government lasted until 2013. It brought political and economic stability after years of upheavals, including an economic meltdown and hyperinflation, as well as demonitisation of the Zimbabwean dollar.
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. Zanu PF won massively and the MDC was buried under the landslide amid MDC protests of vote-rigging for Mugabe by Israeli security firm Nikuv International Projects. The party suffered another split in 2014 as secretary-general Tendai Biti broke away to form the People’s Democratic Party.
The MDC had held an extraordinary congress in October 2014. At the 4th national congress, Mwonzora took the reigns as the party’s secretary-general after beating Chamisa in what was said to be a rigged process.
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. Amid a brewing succession power struggle, Tsvangirai became embattled with ill-health suffering from colon cancer. Jostling to succeed him intensified as his ailment worsened.
On 14 February 2018, Tsvangirai succumbed to colon cancer and the MDC national council appointed Chamisa as the party’s substantive leader and the party’s presidential candidate for 2018. This was amid a storm of a succession war between Chamisa and Khupe. The two fought a bruising political before Chamisa seized control of the party.
Tsvangirai was buried at his rural home in Humanikwa village, Buhera, on 20 February 2018. The national council on 23 March 2018 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.
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 MDC1999.
Chamisa emerged as the new leader and ran in the 2018 presidential election against Mnangagwa as a candidate for the MDC Alliance.
Mnangagwa scraped through with 50.8% of the vote. He received 2.46 million votes, or 50.8% 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 left and 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 undertaker — in the forthcoming elections, marking the end on an era. And the end of a gutsy party.