Narcissism, illusions, dreams and opposition politicians
ONE of the late Professor Masipula Sithole’s classic jokes went like this: “Send two Zimbabweans to the moon, upon arrival, they will form three political parties.”
Sithole was the author of Struggles Within the Struggle, a book that vividly illustrates the seemingly needless infighting and sometimes violent leadership squabbles during the liberation war years, and how these contributed to inordinate delays to the attainment of the ultimate goal of an independent Zimbabwe.
Reading through the book in the context of divisions and sub-divisions that have been taking place within opposition circles can only help one understand that illusions, narcissism and self-seeking among politicians is not something new in Zimbabwean body politic as it could be traced to the beginning of the nationalist struggle.
The reason for these feral fights and divisions were very ordinary… too many of the nationalists harboured vaulting ambitions that made them feel strongly that they had what it took to make them the best of all candidates to make history as Zimbabwe’s founding father.
They should have believed in the adage that a tree that grows in the shade of another will die small.
So started the grinding and abrasions in the crucible of the liberation struggle as these nationalists tried to out-do one another in the race to the coveted State House.
All the frontrunners had a reason to feel they were better than the rest of the pack — they were either highly educated, or at least had to appear highly educated — and they came in all shapes and sizes ranging from the towering Joshua Nkomo to Hebert Chitepo (the first black barrister) to Samuel Parirenyatwa (the first black surgeon), to the charismatic Ndabaningi Sithole, to the respected Leopold Takawira, to the firebrand James Chikerema, the eloquent Robert Mugabe, the erudite Nathan Shamuyarira, the “God-sent” Abel Muzorewa… the list was long and winding and each one of them saw themselves as a gift that the new nation state of Zimbabwe could not afford to miss.
As in all fields of human endeavour, beneath the patina of sunny smiles and artificial respect for one another, there lain deep-seated suspicions, jealous and sometimes outright contempt for one another so it was only inevitable that the nationalist movement started dividing and sub-dividing itself into smaller and smaller paddocks in order to accommodate the particularly personal interests of individual leaders… it resulted in a group of nationalists splitting from Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) to form ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), and later another split from both parties that formed the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI).
Later on there emerged Abel Muzorewa’s African National Council, and the other one briefly led by Nkomo while ZANU was to split to the one led by Robert Mugabe and the other (ZANU Ndonga) led by Ndabaningi Sithole.
This resulted in the 1980 general election being primarily a four horse race made up of Nkomo and his (PF) ZAPU, Sithole and his ZANU (Ndonga), Muzorewa and his United African National Council and Mugabe’s ZANU (PF).
Despite the goal being the same, personal ambitions always seem to make it easy for Zimbabwean politicians to fight among themselves, than to work together.
The post-independent Zimbabwean political landscape is littered with skeletons of too many casualties of delusions of grandeur.
After falling out with then prime minister Robert Mugabe, Edgar Tekere who, as ZANU-PF secretary general was the second most powerful politician in the party, had his post abolished before he was dismissed from government.
After years as a semi-detached member of ZANU-PF, the oddball politician started fondling a dream about sashaying his way to State House. To realise this cosy dream, he formed his own party, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) that contested the 1990 election.
But with a mere 16 percent of all votes (and two parliamentary seats), Tekere had had a chance to test his illusions against the hard realities on the ground and came to the sad realisation that he had overrated himself. Thereafter he tried a string of barren alliances with other opposition parties, and then went into oblivion.
A long-time lone-ranger opposition figure, Margaret Dongo formed her own Zimbabwe Union for Democrats (ZUD) in 1998 but a ruthless drubbing at the hands of the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the 2000 elections that saw her losing her Sunningdale seat effectively consigned her to the political junk-pile where she has been languishing ever since. If she still has any viable dreams, they are most likely about life in the hereafter.
The professor thought being one of the finest mathematicians the country had ever produced could do the arithmetic with the votes in his favour and therefore formed his own political outfit curiously named the Zimbabwe Integrated Programme (ZIP) in 1998.
A few years down the line, the University of Zimbabwe maths lecturer had exhausted his fund of illusions and realised that there was strength in numbers.
He ended up joining the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai in 2006 and went on to become minister of science development during the inclusive government after which he went into a well-deserved oblivion.
After disagreeing with Movement for Democratic Change president Tsvangirai over participation in the 2005 senatorial elections, the University of Zimbabwe law professor, Welshman Ncube, thought it was time to put his education to best use by being his own man, and led a breakaway faction from the mainstream MDC.
Finding actualities on the ground hostile, he thought the problem could be his minority Ndebele tribe so the law teacher hired Arthur Mutambara from the majority Shona tribe (hopefully) to assume a figurehead role as the party’s leader.
However, this did not give the party enough confidence to field a presidential candidate in the 2008 harmonised election from where it emerged with 10 seats, just enough to give it bargaining powers in the resultant hung parliament and the subsequent coalition government.
Disagreements resulted in an acrimonious split with Mutambara who went on to form his own faction of the MDC.
However, the hard truth for Ncube was to come in the July 2013 harmonised election where as his party’s presidential candidate, he got a mere 2,6 percent of the vote and his party emerged empty-handed, save for one proportional representation seat.
Ever since, he has been slowly but surely sliding into oblivion. At least he had an opportunity to prove for himself that the best education does not translate into instant political power.
After being blown off by such accolades as a bright star in ZANU-PF, the most promising politician, the best finance minister and some such, Simba Makoni — who in 1980 had risen to became one of the youngest ministers in government more by virtue of him being related to Tekere than by the strap of his own boot — could not resist the riveting temptation to try his luck and left ZANU-PF to form his own party Mavambo/Dawn/Kusile.
The party only managed to field him, as a presidential candidate, in the 2008 harmonised election. He gleaned a measly 8,3 of the vote, which earned a reputation as a spoiler from both sides of the political spectrum.
Having learnt the hard lesson in the 2008 election, in the 2013 poll Makoni knew better than embarrassing himself further, so he did not present himself as a presidential candidate but as a Parliamentary candidate, backed by Tsvangirai’s MDC-T in Makoni constituency in Manicaland. He lost and his party emerged from the elections empty-handed.
Thereafter Makoni and his party have existed more in name than anything. One can only wonder if Makoni still nurses any illusions about his popularity.
A mere 0,74 percent of the total share of votes in a presidential election cannot be said to be a promising start to anyone who dreams of being a tenant at State House. This is what Dumiso Dabengwa, the leader of a revived ZAPU, learnt when he participated in the 2013 harmonised elections.
After testing his popularity with the electorate, the former Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) intelligence supremo should be debating with himself whether the whole exercise is worthwhile. It should be realities on the ground that has gotten him to talk more and more about the need for an opposition coalition.
After being a guest leader of the break-away faction of the MDC, which subsequently blessed him with an opportunity to become the country’s deputy prime minister during the inclusive government, the robotics professor, Arthur Mutambara tried to wrestle power from his master, Ncube, leading the two to be estranged to this day.
At the end of the coalition government, his faction — which had broken from a faction that had broken away from the original MDC — suffered a stillbirth as it did not have grassroots support of its own.
With his vast education, Mutambara has sadly sunk into well-deserved political oblivion.
After the Tsvangirai share of the MDC placed second to President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF for the umpteenth time in the 2013 elections, the erudite lawyer, Tendai Biti, along with the party’s deputy treasurer Elton Mangoma thought the problem was with the party’s little educated leader, Tsvangirai.
The duo decided to suspend and dismiss him, but in the resulting tug-of-war saw another splinter group being formed, the MDC Renewal Team.
Biti learnt on his first rally held in Manicaland when only about 50 people turned-out for a leader who hopes to lead the country one day that it was not an easy walk as he had initially thought. Ever since, he has devoted most of his energies to fighting internal leadership squabbles within his MDC Renewal Team, which has since seen Mangoma splitting away to form his own party.
Appearing increasingly more of an analyst than a politician, the washed-up Biti should certainly be clear about how (un)popular he is on the ground.
Eton Mangoma is the newest kid on the block, just having formed his own party, the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe as he fled from MDC Renewal Team where he has been suspended on allegations of a conduct unbecoming of a leader.
He insists that his party has a “new narrative”, whatever that is supposed to mean to the voter.
That Mangoma is a politician with vaulting ambitions cannot be disputed, just as it can also not be disputed that he is yet to test the reality of his own illusions.
If there is one career opposition politician who deserves to be taken least seriously, then Job Sikhala should be the one.
But one thing that he should be commended for is possessing churchyard wisdom that helps him put realities before personal pride.
After breaking away from Ncube’s MDC to form an outfit that he called MDC99, he quickly realised that he was no longer even treading the political waters, but actually sinking and he hurried back “home” to the Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC.
The Zimbabwean political stage has not had a shortage of its own spice of comedians and other purveyors of comic relief.
Sungura musician Hosiah Chipanga thought his humorous lyrics and outlandish dancing style could lure the much-needed votes into the back pocket and turned his own church, colourfully named the Messiah’s Apostolic Prophetic Inspired People’s Institute (Mapipi), into a political party.
But the artist-cum-preacher had challenges raising money for the nomination court as well as the required minimum number of seconders for his nomination to sail through.
After his 2001 invention of a sadza-cooking machine eponymously named a Gwatamatic, William Gwata started having fertile illusions of his own. He was brainy enough to end up at State House, he told himself.
So he formed his own party, the Christian Democratic Party that went on to field two candidates in the March 2008 harmonised elections in which 233 people voted for it.
That politics is not sadza-cooking-and-eating business should be one of the lessons that Gwata should have learnt from his brief sojourn into politics.
Langton Towungana, a Victoria Falls-based schoolteacher was a surprise presidential election candidate in the 2008 elections, where he obtained 0,6 percent of the vote, placing fourth and last. He claimed that he had been sent by God to serve the country.
Egypt Dzinemunhenzva and Urayai Zembe
Egypt Dzinemunhenzva and his African National Party tried their luck in a few elections before sinking into oblivion. The same as Urayai Zembe and his Democratic Party.
Other little political parties, like ZANU (Ndonga) which has been rocked by internal leadership fights since Sithole’s death in 2000, are just hard to be taken seriously on the national stage.
ZANU-PF has of late been off-loading several of its senior politicians—including former vice president Joice Mujuru — accused of plotting to unseat President Mugabe — further swelling the ranks of opposition politicians.
Many of these politicians still believe they still have the popularity they enjoyed during their days in the ruling party and are yet to get a platform to prove it or simply embarrass themselves as several before them.
Only last week Tsvangirai announced that he was ready to work with Mujuru and other former ZANU-PF members in the quest for political change in Zimbabwe.
Could reality be sinking in among Zimbabwean opposition leaders?
It remains to be seen if after putting their best and failing so dismally the politicians would resign and accept whatever station fate has reserved for them in life — just like a child who starts school with the intention of becoming a pilot, a doctor or a school teacher might eventually happily settle to life as a garbage collector, a plumber or a street vendor — and a reign of common sense will prevail in opposition politics and provide an ideal ground for a united opposition in Zimbabwe… just as what happened in countries like Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and others where sworn enemies eventually teamed for common good.
In the meantime Zimbabwean politicians will continue to dream and seek platforms to put those dreams to test.