Guest article by The Observer
Over the past few days, we have seen some troubling developments in the opposition parties, which should concern all Zimbabweans as we approach the 2018 elections.
The most obvious cause for concern is the wanton violence that seems to have pervaded the MDC following the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. First we saw violent attacks on MDC Deputy President Dr Thokozani Khupe and Secretary-General Douglas Mwonzora by cadres loyal to Nelson Chamisa at the funeral of former leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Then, at a party press conference last Thursday, Chamisa supporters harassed journalists who dared to question their leader, causing one foreign journalist to write that she no longer feels safe attending MDC headquarters, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa to describe the event as ‘deplorable’.
The latest example of this violence came on Sunday with attacks on Dr Khupe and her followers at party offices in Bulawayo that left several party members severely injured.
The graphic images and videos from the attacks that are circulating in the social media should leave us in no doubt that this wave of violence is organised and being carried out by a ‘militia’ fiercely loyal to Nelson Chamisa, which seems determined to nullify any criticism or questioning of their leader.
One might have expected a party claiming to be democratic and non-violent to come down hard on these incidents. However, anyone expecting such a response was left disappointed by the limp reaction of the party leadership, best expressed through Tendai Biti’s shocking comment that “we are a violent society. That’s what we know.”
At the same time as the MDC leadership were essentially condoning violence committed in their name in Bulawayo, 400 km away in the Blue Roof mansion, another ‘opposition’ was plotting.
Soon after a meeting between former President Mugabe and former Minister of State Ambrose Mutinhiri, it was announced that Mutinhiri will lead the New Patriotic Front party. So far, few details have been released about the NPF – we know little of its policies, its vision and its manifesto – but what we know so far is enough. This is a party whose raison d’être is to reverse the changes that occurred in November 2017, presumably by returning Robert Mugabe to power, or worse still, his wife.
This should leave us under no illusions about the party’s real purpose. The NPF is little more than a front for Grace Mugabe, Jonathan Moyo and their discredited cabal formerly known as G40, to try and regain control of our country.
The common thread between these two events – the violence of the MDC and the launch of the NPF – is that it reveals an opposition that is stuck in the past, and is unable to grasp the fact that Zimbabwe is changing. The NPF wants to return Zimbabwe to how it was before our revolution in November. They are explicit about that. The MDC, though calling for change and progressive policies, appears to believe that violence is an acceptable way to realise this change in the new Zimbabwe. Though these two opposition parties may have differing visions, they are misguided.
What these two parties seem unable to grasp, is that Zimbabwe has changed in the last few months. For evidence of this, we only need to look at President Mnangagwa’s Facebook page over the past few days (as if that sentence isn’t evidence enough of change!). On Sunday, he issued a post congratulating Nelson Chamisa on his selection as opposition leader, committing once again to a positive and peaceful election campaign. On Monday, he spoke to church leaders emphasising the sacred shared values of peace, love, unity and forgiveness. And on Tuesday he released a video in which he directly addressed pressing questions from members of the public, explaining his actions to the people of Zimbabwe.
Here is a leader that understands, and embodies, the new era. While others embrace violence, he preaches peace time and again. While others vilify and attack their political opponents, he congratulates them and embraces them. While others seek to silence dissent and criticism, he answers it head on. And while others seek to refight the battles of the past, he refuses to divert his attention from the future.
With the election campaign coming up, I call on our opposition leaders, be they Grace Mugabe or Nelson Chamisa, to join our president in embracing the new era.
Let all leaders renounce violence, focus on the future, engage with the public, even those that disagree with them, and commit to a peaceful and forward-looking campaign.