SOCIAL research is by its very nature a manipulated facility through which a funding body seeks to shape its primary goals and achieve its aspirations. Therefore, since societies are neither static nor frozen entities, research can be carried out over and over again on the same issue to keep both the essence and the dynamics of social transformations illuminated and under grip.
For that reason, in the research field nothing can be taken for granted and those who do will do so to their own peril.
Perhaps nothing best illustrates this than the Freedom House survey which was released last week and saw the traditional beneficiaries of such surveys emerging as villains while the usual villains became the beneficiaries as Zanu PF and the MDC-T dramatically traded places. Among other developments, the survey found that the MDC-T’s appeal on the ground was waning considerably while Zanu PF had gained some ground. Some of the reasons given for the MDC-T’s decline in popularity were that they are too far removed from the voters and more of a ‘palace’ as opposed to a people’s party.
The MDC-T, having grown used to favourable surveys and perhaps convinced that, as Susan Booysen, says, they were Crown Princes not deserving of any opprobrium, and perhaps lacking the appreciation for the nature and therefore functions of research, naturally found the survey’s conclusions unacceptable.
The undeclared but long practiced strategy to be sympathetic with the MDC-T has made the party behave not like human beings who, when being observed, will adjust their actions to hide their flaws but like fish in a glass who will carelessly dive and swim about oblivious to the scientist’s eye.
While the report itself clearly explains the reasons for the research outcomes, further speculation may still be in order. The previous surveys may have tried as much as possible to capture the mood of the masses correctly and yet it is possible too that they may have been manipulated to be sympathetic to MDC-T possibly because of the subjective nature of surveys and the unannounced collective strategy to prop up the MDC-T at all costs.
It will be foolhardy to disregard the possibility of past manipulation in favour of the MDC-T when we know all too well that the media, including respectable local and international news organisations, the civil society and academics have been prepared to risk their reputations by routinely glossing over the party’s flaws. This collective strategy was sensible because the MDC-T were, right from start, under the onslaught from the public media who denied them space to air their views and sell their agenda to the electorate.
However, this time around, and perhaps owing to growing misgivings about the MDC–T leaderships’ lethargic approach to politics, the Americans might have instructed the researchers not to tinker with the report but instead let it speak for itself and bring out the raw reality so as to allow the US government to formulate future policies towards both the MDC-T and Zimbabwe on the basis of concrete research. One of the intended purposes of the research could be for it to serve as proof to the MDC-T that by entering into the GNU, a product of President Mbeki’s philosophy, they had messed up.
Another possibility is that, owing to Wikileaks’s recent exposes which unmasked an elaborate and global US espionage system, the number of willing agents on the ground may have dwindled, meaning that surveys such as this one must now fill in the gap by being as truthful as possible. There is a possibility, therefore, that this survey marks a shift from the past where the Freedom House surveys were solely meant to shore up the MDC-T while the CIA agents like Sydney Masamvu were on the ground to gather sound and precise intelligence. This time around, so it seems, the survey had to play a double function. Those who are familiar with the US foreign policy will know that it is not brain-free to link the Freedom House to the White House. Nor is it mischievous.
These possible machinations which are embedded in US foreign policy naturally stand to be lost to the MDC-T, which over the years has demonstrated its lack of capacity to grapple with policy issues as the party is largely driven by the momentum of events as opposed to clearly laid down policy programmes.
Whatever the interpretations, the latest survey throws light into the politics of the MDC-T in a way that justifies more scrutiny of the party. Interestingly, the survey vindicates my previous blog which, by way of cursory observation of the behaviour of MDC-T leadership, found that the party may have ‘diminished’ and remained stuck in the 2000 hype. And that the ‘vultures were circling above’.
There are indications that the MDC-T is living in urgent times and action is needed not tomorrow but now if we are to remain with another strong party with a chance to offset or even simply frustrate Zanu PF. The first course of action to take will be for the party to accept home truths about their glaring failings. The second course would be to begin to change the way they operate. It is vital to reclaim control of the MDC-T which has been mortgaged to foreigners such as the US diplomats and British intelligence.
While the international community had an obligation to chip in and help in the expansion of the democratic space which grew ever more narrower due to Robert Mugabe’s totalitarian project, the worrying trend will suggest that the strategic direction of the party has been taken away from the rightful people who started the democratic project and has been surrendered to foreign actors who are answerable not to the MDC-T but to their own governments.
Gradually, the MDC-T has become a global and floating party with the real politics being played in the embassies and the European cities as the alienated members are being reduced to peripheral roles of blowing red whistles, waving red cards and adorning T-shirts. Come election time, these same people are asked to shut their minds and vote for corrupt, opportunistic and half-baked candidates – as long as they are MDC-T.
Once a party has been removed from its original grounding to a global catch-all party, it becomes vulnerable to varying external interests and agendas which have nothing to do with the ordinary members; and the core members and activists are ultimately isolated. It seems that the MDC-T has never come to terms with the reality that most of the people who vote for them are not necessarily their members or MDC supporters per se; they may well be angry and hungry people who know that there is money in the MDC-T.
For many people, being in the MDC-T is a job and less about contributing to the democratic project. Over the last four years, the anger which fed the MDC-T craze has subsided as members watched in horror as the foreigners were taking over their party.
The broader civil society which should naturally carry the democratic movement’s conscience and serve as an unofficial advisory board, has been cowed too. The intellectual community, which should be playing the role mortgaged to the diplomats, has been bullied and reduced to the level of street supporters instead of effective analysts. Honesty and truthful intellectual discourse is in short supply. It is no longer useful to listen to the likes of John Makumbe because he has become hopelessly compromised. Makumbe is now a walking cassette whose content is the usual diatribe against Mugabe and his retinue; and blind praise for Tsvangirai. It may be worth considering for the MDC-T to strengthen the synergies with local democracy activists and some strategic public officials who are broadly in sympathy with the opposition without expecting them to be bootlickers.
The MDC-T long lost the management of their image and with it the confidence to assert themselves on major international issues. During the struggle against colonialism, African liberation movements like the ANC earned the international attention of the media through the eloquence and candidness of their leaders. Much as they relied on liberal sponsorship, they successfully retained their independence to be able to assert themselves. With regards to the MDC-T, the opposite is the case and two issues illustrate this. First, there was the incident where a British broadsheet printed an article under Tsvangirai’s name when he had nothing to do with it. Secondly, the issue of sexual minorities was thrown at him as a way to turn over his image which stood to suffer in the western world because he had agreed with Mugabe.
Indeed, the MDC communications department can afford to be grossly incompetent because all their work has been taken by the powerful international public affairs experts and lobbyists who have connection to the Western media houses. The MDC-T must roll out a clear and effective communications strategy led by people with backbone and drive; people endowed with talent and high-end education to match the onslaught from the official media. This willingness to outsource certain strategic and key departments of the party alienates the core membership leaving them idle without anything concrete to do. The consequence is that ordinary people end up with nothing to identify the party with.
It will be in the interests of the MDC-T to accept that the view that they are puppets of the West is no longer anything to joke about but that it is at the centre of the growing wave of misgivings sweeping across Africa. The MDC-T media team should begin to work at ways of Africanising the party and stop forth-with to appear to be taking advice from diplomats and never from locals.
Like the intellectuals, the local journalists have long lost their liberty to be critical about the politics of the MDC-T; all they must do is to be praise singers; recipients of fellowships; and watch the role of critical analysis being taken by writers from other countries such as Stephen Chan who don’t have to fear being labelled as CIO agents.
Now, might ask, what lesson do we derive from these observations? The answer is simple: Zimbabwe needs yet another coalition government. Both the MDC-T and Zanu PF are dangerous to Zimbabwe and neither of them should win an overwhelming majority. MDC-T because it is a party which while it traces its origins to the genuine frustrations and hopes or dreams of Zimbabweans the leadership has over the years parcelled away too much ground by outsourcing key primary leadership functions such as the strategic direction of the party which has been taken over by certain diplomats. In other words the party is riding a wave whose genesis it cannot articulate and whose destiny it cannot even guess. This is dangerous for the country. For example, if the MDC-T were to come to power, Zimbabwe will easily turn into something of a DRC where international spies and ambassadors, as told by Michela Wrong in her book ‘In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz’, can trigger coups and assassinations to achieve regime change willy-nilly. Zanu PF because it is a party run principally on the basis of unwritten but real bigoted laws and policies which have, through carefully and intellectually driven social engineering, been successfully infused into the popular sentiment in a way that has had an acidic effect on the national mindscape while hiding behind a façade of nationalism. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the lethal nature of this Zanu PF strategy of unwritten but real policies and laws than that some of the people today who think they are anti-ZANU are themselves ZANU in both spirit and in deeds. For example, Zanu PF has repeatedly stood firm on one of their bigoted unwritten laws which is that only Zanu PF people shall be interred at the National Heroes Acre and yet the MDC-T people routinely knock at the Zanu PF door to beg for some of their people to be interred there as if to confirm that those people were indeed Zanu PF even though they were MDC-T members. Even the West don’t realise how, on numerous occasions, they have been helpful to Zanu PF.
It is clear, therefore, that in order that each of these parties are unable to push through all their prejudices and weaknesses, neither of them should win an overwhelming majority and that’s why the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, Job Sikhala’s MDC-99 and Dumiso Dabengwa’s ZAPU, who are curiously treated as ‘other’ in the survey, are necessary. These three parties must each grab a couple or more seats to save us from Zanu PF and MDC-T. In other words, the Freedom House survey is good for the country.