21 February 2018

Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai, Multi-Party Democracy in Zim


The passing on of Morgan Tsvangirai saw Zimbabweans using their hearts and heads in giving him a huge send-off. Motivated by strong human factor approach to crises, Zimbabweans across the political divide have been immortalising his contribution to multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe.

His legacy in this regard is alive and powerful as ever. Given a fair assessment, the entrenchment of multiparty democracy in our Constitution created a governance dimension which robustly entrenches various political rights.

The late Tsvangirai might not have won a parliamentary constituency in his political career, but participated in a Government of National Unity as the second Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (after former President and first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Cde Robert Mugabe).

He is known as one of the founders of multiparty politics in Zimbabwe, a description which is also made up of individuals like Margaret Dongo and the late Edgar Tekere.

Tsvangirai was also a social justice activist, trade unionist and fighter for labour rights, leader of civil society and so forth. He donated his energies, time and efforts for the cause of the first Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, the MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and the Government of National Unity (GNU).

He can be described as a leader who falls under Weber's charismatic authority or mass democracy as compared to rational-legal authority. From Weber's views on politics and political power, the notion of charismatic leadership is seen as an alternative to total bureaucracy. This type of leadership leads to the formation of a strong parliament and the activity of national political parties.

Multiparty democracy has grown from one or two opposition parties in the 1980s and 1990s to 84 parties, 37 years after independence. Every electoral cycle shows that Zimbabwe is home to several political parties -- some significant and others fly-by-night.

We have heard that the 2018 cycle is likely to produce 84 political parties. Imagine the whole of us jointly electing the next President from 84 candidates as envisaged by the Constitution!

With Tsvangirai at the helm of the united MDC, the turn of the millennium produced a formidable political party to challenge zanu-pf's 20-year dominance in Zimbabwean politics.

It must be stated however, politically speaking, that zanu-pf has been the de facto dominant party in governments since 1980. For those in the field of political science, a multiparty political system can be divided into one party dominated system, two-party dominated and so forth depending on which party controls a multiparty political system.

The two MDC formations, MDC-T and MDC under Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube can be used to describe a three-party dominated government in a multiparty society. The three parties controlled the constitution-making process and also formed a government of national unity between 2009 and 2013.

The leaders of the three parties first met in Kariba in 2007 and came up with the Kariba Draft Constitution which did not see the light of day because the general populace had not actively participated in its production. The three parties contested in the 2008 elections. Electoral violence culminated in the formation of a government of national unity which was facilitated by sadc-appointed facilitators and former Presidents of South Africa: Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

Former President of Zimbabwe, Cde Mugabe became President and the late Tsvangirai was the Prime minister. MDC-M's Mutambara was the deputy Prime Minister.

The three parties consummated their union through a general inter-party agreement called the Global Political Agreement (GPA). This agreement was used to map the constitution-making exercise. It emphasized on the need for the people of Zimbabwe to be involved in the constitution-making process.

A politically-driven constitution was then ratified by the people of Zimbabwe who participated in the referendum where they overwhelmingly voted for its adoption. Under the GNU, the merits and demerits of a multiparty political system can be discussed by auditing the liabilities and gains of the GNU.

The gains include importance of personality politics in resolving conflicts, multicurrency regime, reduced costs of communication, improved access to basic commodities and so forth.

The demerits may include arguments that are steeped in the tyranny of the majority where those who felt the Constitution was bad and not people-driven were not allowed to have their arguments incorporated by the drafters before the Constitution was finally adopted.

So the biggest question we ask as Zimbabwe mourns one of the founders of multiparty politicians is simply this: how do we make sure that party pluralism develops good governance as a tenet of democracy in Zimbabwe?

Of course it is clear in our Constitution that party pluralism is the first listed tenet of good governance. Good governance is in turn listed as one of the founding values or principles of democracy that are found in our Constitution.

But how do we transform a norm into realpolitik? Using the GNU as the starting point, we know that the obvious benefit of party pluralism is that it leads to the creation of variants of the separation of powers doctrine.

The GNU was a symbol of what is called separation of parties in government. This is a variant of separation of powers which is usually limited to the three arms of State which are controlled by the political party in government.

Under the GNU, we also get to understand that one party may be dominant in government. For instance, former President Mugabe was the head of State and Government (and also Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces) and controlled the other arms of the State. It must not be forgotten however that the doctrine of separation of parties enabled both the MDC and zanu-pf ministers to control different key ministries such as Finance for MDC and Defence for zanu-pf.

Under comparative constitutionalism, the GNU in 2009 was different from power-sharing governments in other countries which are seen as the normal after every election. Put simply, it is a given in some countries that two or more political parties must share the positions in government such as the head of State or Government.

The head of State could be a President from one party and the head of Government could be the Prime Minister from another party. But for the late Tsvangirai, he wrote his name under the doctrine of separation of parties.

MDC could not rule alone, and zanu-pf could not do the same because there was an electoral gridlock that could have destroyed our social fabric as a polity. No wonder Tsvangirai has been described in several circles as the 'Father of democracy', 'Face of opposition politics and democracy in Zimbabwe' and so forth.

Professor Madhuku described him as the man who brought multiparty politics and real social justice in Zimbabwe. President Mnangagwa's Government has also assisted the Tsvangirai family in repatriating and giving Tsvangirai a state-assisted funeral.

This was only made possible because of Tsvangirai's personality appeal to political rivals. A strong argument is always made in realpolitik that good governance and democracy can only be effectively realised in a polity if the ruling party in government is challenged by a strong opposition. No wonder it has been shown above that party pluralism is the first principle listed under good governance.

Quick notes will show that after 1999, Zimbabwe witnessed serious active participation of citizens in constitutionalism. Firstly, the Movement for Democratic Change Party (MDC) led by the late Tsvangirai worked with civics such as the National Constitutional Assembly before it had turned into a political party, in moving people to support a people-driven Constitution in early 2000s.

This culminated in the rejection of the Constitutional Commission Draft, popularly called the Chidyausiku Draft, because the late judge, Godfrey Chidyausiku led the process.

Under Tsvangirai's leadership, the united MDC won several seats in parliament, and controlled several urban councils. We must however highlight that a mixed form of local governance saw MDC dominating the council but would frequently be controlled by the Local Government Minister who was from zanu-pf as the governing political party.

I may not go into specific details in this article on poor governance in most urban areas, which was mostly emanating from the power tussles between the Minister for Local Government and the urban councillors. Suffice to mention that service delivery was usually suffering from this power matrix.

Tsvangirai also presided over the split in the MDC in the first decade of the millennium over election participation. During Tsvangirai's lengthy tenure as the President of the united MDC and later MDC-T, and five-year tenure as a government official, a lot of positives can be noted on the fields of economic development and political engagement.

Politically, the emergence of the MDC avoided a one-party State system, but not a one-party dominated government system. MDC-T remained a formidable opposition even after the split that led to various MDCs like MDC-Mutambara/Ncube, MDC-99, MDC Renewals, and other offshoots from the MDC such as PDP.

We should not forget the role of political parties like Mavambo/Dawn/ Kusile of Dr. Simba Makoni in preventing MDC from winning the 2008 elections or zanu-pf from losing the same elections in an article such as this, which audits multiparty politics in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai also brought unity to Zimbabweans after the elections in 2008. Although the GNU was described as a marriage of convenience in some circles, it created a broker framework for making a homegrown Constitution and a largely peaceful election in 2013, which was won by zanu-pf.

But Tsvangirai leaves a party which is experiencing fissures. While the MDC-T is still experiencing serious party fissures, zanu-pf is in the post-faction stage. The 2018 election is again going to be the litmus for the role of opposition parties in promoting multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe.

As we celebrate the legacy of Mr Tsvangirai, Zimbabweans must not forget the values, and human rights which protect political rights in Zimbabwe. We must be prepared to freely choose our political leaders as envisaged in the Constitution. We must continue embedding the peace-building efforts of individuals like Tsvangirai and engagements efforts of leaders like President Mnangagwa. In all this, goodness is the only investment which pays.

Sharon Hofisi is a lecturer in Constitutional Law and Politics.


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