Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, February 04, 2005

MDC without choice
The biggest non-news story this week was the MDC's decision to retract their boycott of the upcoming Zimbabwian elections and announce their involvement. Their decision was based on the simple fact that (a) they simply had to participate if they wanted to keep their party operational and (b) they had been outplayed politically by Mugabe.

In terms of the first point, the MDC is at its core an opposition party. Its members face great hardships in declaring their support for the MDC, with their only expression being the elections. Since the 2000 election, Mugabe and his henchmen have done a great deal to break the back of MDC support through the selective delivery of food rations and sheer political brutality. Hunger and poverty have the ability to very expediently alter people's perceptions of the political and moral high ground, and ZANU-PF has exploited this very well. The result is that the MDC has shed much of its support base in the face of these hardships, and the hard-core support that remains, can only express their support in an election year. Should the MDC remove its participation from these elections, the party would undoubtedly find a support base that feels betrayed and deceived. Progress after the elections would be incredibly difficult with a weak support base that felt like they sacrificed much for a party that left them at the altar.

Secondly, the MDC based their boycott on the fact that elections were rigged, and their renewed participation only on election transparency comparable to official SADC standards. What Mugabe did was to make some improvements (including giving permission to independent election observers) which made some strides, but still fell short of SADC standards. By design, these changes are visible and communicable ones, which without entirely hampering Mugabe's ability to interfere with elections, give him the ability to convince the Zimbabwean people that he is bending over backwards to ensure "free and fair" elections. This paints the MDC into a corner, as they cannot maintain their boycott without being perceived by the Zimbabwean people as being the ankle-biting trouble-makers that Mugabe has tried to paint them as.

Undoubtedly, even if there were to be free and fair elections, one would envisage that the MDC would face a hammering anyway, such is the climate of fear that Mugabe's henchmen have managed to create. The heady days of 2000 must feel a long way off for Morgan Tsvangari. The fact that Mugabe dropped the appeal against Tsvangari's treason verdict just goes to show that the MDC leader is a shadow of his former threat.