By Lulu Brenda Harris
THE recent fracas at the MDC-T Bulawayo provincial offices is another example of the rising intolerance exhibited within local politics. These violent incidences taking place internally in MDC-T have renewed concerns about the spectre of violence in Zimbabwean electoral politics.
In a precursor of today’s politics, these clashes stemmed from the different factional sides that are both aiming to lead the oppositional party.
Provincial structures said to be loyal to the MDC-T vice president, Thokozani Khupe who were in a meeting this Sunday discussing the contentious party’s leadership hierarchy were attacked by alleged supporters of Nelson Chamisa, who was recently announced as new party leader after death of Morgan Tsvangirai.
The attacking group threw stones inside the building where the meeting was hosted. As a result some party members were injured and had to seek medical attention. Vehicles belonging to some members were also damaged, including one that belonged to a journalist.
Whilst these skirmishes were taking place, Chamisa, with other MDC Alliance coalition partners, was holding a rally in Chinhoyi town.
Images and disturbing footage of the beaten victims went viral supporting the assertion that ‘aggression’ is how the MDC-T is choosing to deal with internal issues. Because of this, the party has been thrust in turmoil with violence becoming a likely direct result.
Its root cause, is the succession debacle left unsettled by late party leader – Tsvangirai, who when was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in 2016 handpicked two more party vice presidents (Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri), in addition to the one (Khupe) who was already in power.
Tsvangirai’s move was said to guide the succession plan instead it has brought more chaos and instability in the party. Khupe maintains she has the party’s constitutional mandate to succeed and be the MDC-T leader because she was elected at the party’s three consecutive congress meetings unlike Chamisa who was handpicked.
However, after Tsvangirai’s death the MDC-T national council met and declared Chamisa as leader of the party and the MDC alliance, meaning he will the presidential candidate to go head to head with incumbent Zanu PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Due to such resolutions that seem to be made arbitrarily, violence has reached a fever pitch in the MDC-T. It is also puzzling to think why some MDC-T members think violence against others is an acceptable means to preserve their rights.
Two weeks ago, in one of the ‘worst’ single episodes of MDC-T violence, during the burial of Tsvangirai at his home village in Buhera, a group of youths attacked the vice president – Khupe and Secretary General, Douglas Mwonzora, accusing them of fanning divisions in the party. Khupe and Mwonzora sought refuge in a hut, which their attackers tried torching with matches. After the incident, Khupe said luckily for them it drizzled and fire could not start otherwise they would have been killed.
The vice president claims she still has not recovered from that violent attempt on her life that took place in Buhera. She said her voice box was affected after hiding in that hut, which was filled with smoke for three hours.
Questions have been asked and speculations flying, as to why Khupe, who has been constitutionally arguing her case, has to suffer the brunt of the violence.
Is it because Khupe is a woman, comes from Matabeleland, a region some think has been politically sidelined and that she belongs to the Ndebele ethnic group while her rival, Chamisa is male, comes from Mashonaland and is part of the dominant Shona group.
If that is the case, for a long time, women have not been regarded as serious political contenders, as they are demonised, made to shun political and public life. Even though political party constitutions may read that women should have equal chances as their male counterparts, reality shows that to achieve equitable and equal representation of women in access to and participation of public office, which is their political rights – without discrimination, continues to be a challenge.
Looking at these scenarios, these questions arise: does Khupe’s rival think violence is positively associated with political power? In fact is political violence positively related with the political power enjoyed by those in authority in MDC-T and other political groupings that have engaged in violence before?
Does the popularity of a candidate such as Chamisa in MDC-T embolden party supporters to resort to violence against those who are against him?
This may sound extreme but why do individuals in power think their authority gives them the right to attack and weaken their opposition?
Look at the ruling party, Zanu PF. It used violence as retaliation to the electoral fortunes of its opposition, especially in 2008. The ruling party stands accused of using its institutional authority to systematically target and weaken its opposition.
However, on the other hand, political violence may not be linked to political power because violence is possible when there is competition for political control, but looking at these scenarios mentioned above, that sounds unlikely.
A history and pattern of violence
Zimbabwe has a history of violent conflict especially during the electoral season. This season is often dominated by chaos between opposing sides, which attest to the high levels of intolerance that exist in society, societies that call themselves civilised.
Political and social violence in Zimbabwe is real. To name a some: Gukurahundi, the land reform programme, Operation Murambatsvina, the 2008 political violence, these incidents show that violence is a constant real threat in the country as thousands perished, displaced, hundred abducted, killed and many more were injured.
These incidents also point to patterns of political violence and there is no doubt that this 2018 electoral season will also be marked by violent conflict surrounding politics and elections, where the threat and repeated violence remains important features of efforts to suppress divergent views. These clashes taking place in MDC-T represent another example of ‘normalised’ violence surrounding elections.
Turning back to the MDC-T the lack of intra-party democracy and weak party institutionalisation is to blame for this violence. The party should find rational means to solve its internal strife and take decisive measures to deal with its leadership crisis.
It is also now up to the electorate and general citizenry to make sure they play their part in checking how their candidates conduct themselves and shun violent practices.
The long history of violence in Zimbabwean politics should caution citizens against those who incite violence and denigration of others. Because such incitement does in fact, risk the resumption of ugly historic violent patterns.