ZANU PF is such a dominating, larger-than-life political party that for the last couple of decades virtually any article published about Zimbabwe’s political malaise has focused on Zanu PF. But the revolutionary party did not come to be the ruling party in the southern African country–with well-nigh monopolistic control of the nation’s media to boot–by means of wealth, corruption, or willpower alone. On the contrary, Zanu PF’s lasting dominance at the polling booth goes beyond the alleged rigging and media and information control.
A very large minority among the Zimbabwean population actually continues to greet Zanu PF with intense hatred and widespread ridicule. Zimbabwe, despite appearances, is not a naturally pro-democratic country. Rather, the success of Zanu PF is explained by the fact that the opposition and those who call themselves proponents of democracy in the country have of late fallen into an angry, impotent slumber. This is because, over the couple of decades, Zimbabwe’s so-called pro- democratic politicians have become increasingly inept at representing this segment of the population–or at formulating constructive policies that would make it possible to convert the popular discontent with the political system into electoral success. If Zanu PF has succeeded in monopolizing public discourse, for example, then this is partially owed to the incapacity or even unwillingness of Zimbabwe’s opposition politicians to defend democratic norms. To understand the roots of today’s Zimbabwe is, at least in part, to understand the roots of the weakness of today’s Zimbabwe’s opposition politics.
The programmatic weakness of Zimbabwe’s opposition politics, in turn, has to be seen in a larger African context. To be sure, a lot of specifically Zimbabwean factors have shaped the specifically Zimbabwean phenomenon of Zanu PF. But they could not have prevailed if the supposedly pro-democratic opposition was-self-satisfied about a Pyrrhic victory in the cultural field, yet lacking a popularly appealing economic program–still retained a strong sense of purpose.
The control of almost if not all urban areas by the opposition –is an excellent example of the pro-democracy sentiment that still persists in some parts of Zimbabwe. In recent elections, We witnessed venues and stadium in the urban areas filled with nearly as many people as the towns have residents. The attraction, however, was not a football match, but rather the hard-hitting political humor and verbosity laden speeches from opposition leaders.
Each outlining the failures and the corruption in Zanu PF.These rallies had speeches directed against Zanu PF and its leaders, whose government was being roasted to bitter laughter and redemptive applause. Here, the seemingly silent opposition to Zanu PF was out in force. Yet, this overwhelmingly pro-opposition audience did not grant its most approving laughs or its most demonstrative applause to policy articulation or lack thereof by these opposition leaders. Rather, it was most emphatic when they despairingly railed against Zanu PF.
The full stadiums we witnessed in the urban areas in the past elections were emblematic of the larger “silent” opposition to Zanu PF’s dominance in Zimbabwe: the big city crowds drawn by the opposition may have ridiculed Zanu PF, but the real targets of disgust should be the toothless opposition politicians who supposedly represent them in the urban councils in major cities and towns who continue to blame central government for blocking them from delivering clean water and running the cities and towns under opposition controlled municipalities. ( Harare and Bulawayo for example have been under opposition control for decades yet these major cities lack in all areas of service delivery. The opposition still blame central government) what then are they doing about it other than shift blame?
Pro-opposition voters in Zimbabwe have indeed had ample reason to feel betrayed by their political leaders. Over the last four decades alone, the Opposition in Zimbabwe has been divided into a confusing multiplicity of parties, umbrella organizations, and electoral coalitions that puts to shame the struggle for this so-called democracy.
Yet, all these groupings have one thing in common: for reasons of both programmatic lethargy and persistent corruption, no recent opposition party has managed to convince and mobilize its base.
The Republic of Zimbabwe has of course never exactly been free of corruption. The dominating figure of Zimbabwean politics post independence have been marred or tangled in corruption one way or another indeed many hold the view that Zanu PF has ran a cynical political machine, which was animated largely by corruption.
In this light, the most frightening thing about Zanu PF’s unopposed success dominance is not that it is owed exclusively to special Zimbabwean factors. To be sure, both the degeneration of Zimbabwe’s public discourse and the inefficacy of the Opposition parties are far more extreme than in any other in the southern region of Africa. But this, sadly, might be emblematic of the growing crisis on the African continent and opposition politics.
If the main opposition party in Zimbabwe should rid itself of Nelson Chamisa , its hapless leader of the moment, and somehow find a politician with the charisma of Julias Malema or Bobi Wine, it could win the next elections. But would this even be possible in a climate where the public invest so much emotion into an individual as opposed to the organisation and cause?
That is another question entirely.
In the end, Zanu PF’s dominance is owed not only to the shambolic state of opposition politics; more worryingly, the shambolic state of the so-called pro democratic movement is, in turn, owed partially to the toothless political opposition with programs that are high sounding and utopian far removed from African realities.
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