The Sunday News
Zimbabwean politics, just like common infamous African politics, is remarkable for its lack of policy-driven parties.
Instead, politics orbits around personalities where men like Morgan Tsvangirai, Raila Odinga, and Robert Mugabe have been at the core business of politics in their parties. Everything revolved around them. Some political parties had no distinct identity apart from being synonymous with the party leader; centred on a personality, often times at their whims, these parties faced political oblivion once the leader exited the political stage.
Zanu-PF made a stern decision in November 2017 to retain the party ideals. MDC-T or A was in the same predicament, but they failed to escape the trap thus the nascent struggle and failure to move on from Tsvangirai politics where he became the party, and the party became him. This is evident in the new letterhead of the party, that has substituted Tsvangirai with Nelson Chamisa.
The move invites inquisitions of why the face was put to the palm in the first place, it was a distinguishing signal, representing the MDC faction that revered Morgan Tsvangirai. For the party to adopt a “T” as a signifier of ownership, it was in response to political clashes which were a product of indiscipline and insulting electoral intelligence. When the party became a “T”, we were notified of how personality supersedes ideas and precedes the institution. The passing away of the individual could have been the internment of wrong politics, but the public were treated as “subjects” who are only capable of following individuals and are not allowed to challenge misnomers that had been created by an individual.
The same decision is seen today where the party’s president’s face becomes the symbol of the party. This is a confirmation that “musangano waenda kumawere”, the mistakes of the past haunt them today and the consequences are yet to be seen. Nelson Chamisa’s face as the party’s symbol seals all aspirations of contesting MDC’s Presidency — sleek move, if you ask me. That is what we call managed democracy. The MDC-T is haunted by past failures and it has imported what failed expecting a different outcome.
To the supporters of the party, this symbolising and cult ordination is either a non-event, they are ignorant or it’s both. To understand the character of many of the party’s supporters let me show how many of the voters have been absorbed by what is called the bandwagon effect, a phenomenon in which the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends increases the more that they have already been adopted by others.
In other words, as more people come to believe in something, others also hop on the bandwagon regardless of the underlying evidence.
The definition of a bandwagon is a cart which carries a band during the course of a parade, circus or other entertainment event. The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” first appeared in American politics in 1848 when Dan Rice, a famous and popular circus clown of the time, used his bandwagon and its music to gain attention for his political campaign appearances.
As his campaign became more successful, other politicians strove for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with his success.
Later, during the time of William Jennings Bryan’s 1900 presidential campaign, bandwagons had become standard in American campaigns, and the phrase “jump on the bandwagon” was used as a suitable descriptive term, implying that people were associating themselves with trails without considering that with which they associated themselves.
Agree or deny, the MDC had seen many splits and it was clear that the reason was a contest and conflict of characters competing for popular personality. Zimbabwe’s opposition struggle can be defined as beginning and ending with an individual hence when individuals exit the discussion plain, many are left with nothing or little, to provide policy alternatives. Let me remind many again that the exit of Robert Mugabe left opposition with no mantra; the resting of Morgan Tsvangirai left the opposition with no character to create a dramatic conflict.
The clash of Tsvangirai with Mugabe was like of a hero and a villain in a play, the absence of one means the uselessness of the other (you may allocate roles to each of them). It was coincidentally unfortunate that they both left the attentive politics almost at the same time, albeit in different circumstances.
What becomes exclusively different and important is how each party dealt with the exit of theirs and how their supporters reacted. The actions of both men had a rapturous effect on the common man’s life. Take for instance what had become routine recalls from Parliament by Morgan Tsvangirai and serial witch hunts and deplorable diplomacy by Grace Mugabe in the youth interface denigrating respectable people and capturing public institutions in the run-ups.
All these internal party misnomers created by individuals whose parties were now centred on them. The throngs of supporters had jumped on the bandwagon and wanted to be associated with power in both camps. Aspirations of looting, unscrupulous public appointments and evading justice were secured by these individuals yet this was paralysing good practices in politics.
It’s appalling that many did not see it this way or indecisively thought November 2017 marked the beginning of new politics within Zanu-PF only. I see November and February as symbolic months that were meant to frame new politics of loyalty to institutional ideas not individuals.
It’s further enervating to see how opposition, created and prospered on a personality cult, protracts politics curated around an individual.
When they paraded their Generational Consensus they told many that it is the aspirations of young people to be included in the governance of the country, yet conveniently, the narrative emerges after Tsvangirai and the one who “imposed” himself is apparently fit for a “generational consensus”. Conveniently, that narrative will decide the Presidency in the party which has already been decided before the conference. The one who less understands existing dynamics in opposition politics in Zimbabwe, who is made to believe that the “future” is only in MDC is the bandwagon jumper.
The bandwagon effect occurred in 2018 voting, like it has for the past elections, however, with adverse effects this time.
I am afraid that this time, those excited about jumping on the wagon were the youth, the first time voter who had never voted in their life and are now witness to past wagons that did not arrive at their termini — the cart that has accustomed itself with pounding its passengers, aspiring drivers and is ignorant of road rules. This cart seemingly has attracted a new band, excited of the journey whose outcome, the elders have learnt is callous, definite and deplorable. This is the bandwagon many are seeing in the name of an MDC that has put another man’s face to the party.
Within the bandwagon politics, some people vote for those candidates or parties who are likely to succeed (or are proclaimed as such by the media), hoping to be on the “winner’s side” in the end.
Here now, it is important to decide today, are you going to be a bandwagon jumper or a disciple of your own or party ideas?