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Preface ………… 1

Introduction ………… 3

Reflections on Opposition Politics in Zimbabwe: The

Politics of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

Brian Raftopoulos ………… 6

Non-Party Political Actors in Zimbabwe ………… 29

Non-Party Political Engagement with State

Authoritarianism: 1980 - 2005 ………… 34

Strengths and Limitations of Non-Party Political

Responses to State Authoritarianism ………… 46

Future Challenges and Strategies for Non-Party

Political Actors ………… 54

References ………… 62


The Institute has for the past three years worked extensively in Zimbabwe in cooperation with analysts, activists, church leaders, women’s organizations and umbrella groups. Our objective is to build democracy in a society where civil and political liberties are progressively undermined by government, while those democratic gains that have been made over the past few years are being negated. This suggests the need to constantly rethink and develop new strategies in the struggle for democracy.

In 2004, the Institute’s developed a close working relationship with a group of Zimbabwean academics and activists. The initial interaction and discussions were characterised by a candid exchange of views prompting, inter alia, suggestions that this group be regularly convened as a think tank under the leadership of Brian Raftopoulos. The think tank has had a growing impact, both as a unit and through its individual members, in the shaping of perceptions on Zimbabwe in partner organisations, the media and elsewhere. The insights and analyses that emanated from the group have been channelled into a series of publications on the continuing crisis in the country.
The first publication, Zimbabwe: Injustice and Political Reconciliation (Raftopoulos and Savage, eds.) was published by the Institute in 2004 and Weaver Press in Zimbabwe in 2005. The book addressed a range of issues integral to the development of reconciliation as a political and practical instrument of transition in Zimbabwe. The unique value of the book was that it provided a platform for Zimbabwean voices. This in turn, it is hoped, will serve both to inform external players and to create space for democratic discussions within Zimbabwe on ways of taking the nation forward.
The second publication, The Struggle for Legitimacy: A Long-Term Analysis of the 2005 Parliamentary Election and its Implications for Democratic Processes in Zimbabwe, included analyses of certain key areas in relation to the political situation in Zimbabwe, namely the media, the role of the military and the gendered implications of the election process.
The close of 2005 then saw the think tank working towards the publication of a text examining ‘lessons learned’ and the future of democratic politics in Zimbabwe.  The report, The Future of Democratic Politics in Zimbabwe, contains chapters that focus on what has happened since 2000 in a variety of sectors within the country. In looking at each area, the members of the think-tank were guided by three basic questions:

  1. How has the sector performed over the last five years/decade, that is – how has it interacted/dealt with the authoritarianism of the state?

  2. What have been the strong points, weaknesses and limitations of the above approach?

  3. What challenges face the sector in moving forwards? How are they looking to meet these challenges, if at all, and what strategies could they look to use?

The aim was to establish the situation now, before looking at ideal scenarios for each sector’s operation within a democratic dispensation and strategic options for moving the current situation towards resolution.

This publication, Reflections on Democratic Politics in Zimbabwe, is the fourth in the series. It is built from the analyses contained in the report on the future of democratic politics but provides a synthesis of the central issues alongside a detailed study of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Our hope is that, through wide distribution of this accessible text, we can contribute to the continuing debate on the way forward for Zimbabwe.
In its creation of ideal-types – the ideal citizen, the ‘true’ Zimbabwean, the ‘enemy’ that is the West – the Zimbabwean state’s authoritarianism attempts to eliminate imagination and in so doing, empathy. It has triumphed when citizens and groups can no longer remember or imagine alternative dispensations. This report is testimony to the fact that Zimbabweans, despite the devastating impact of the state’s authoritarian hand, continue to seek out alternatives. In so doing, the authors illustrate a commitment to the knowledge that "freedom itself is never the end of the road - only the beginning" (Ignatieff, 1994: 107).


Building opposition politics on the African continent has proven immensely difficult largely because of the oppressive nature of most post-colonial states and the extremely difficult structural conditions under which opposition forces have to mobilise and reproduce their support. In countries that have undergone an extensive liberation struggle, such as Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, the development of opposition politics presents specific challenges. In particular, the strong legacy of legitimacy enjoyed by former liberation movements and their capacity for revived nationalist mobilisation have presented opposition forces with immense obstacles in developing alternative programmatic positions. Moreover, the often-repressive nature of post-colonial states, compounding the longer repressive histories of colonial politics, has presented democratic forces with few precursors of alternative democratic forms. These obstacles must be set within the context of a global political environment that presents strong structural limits on the positioning of post neo-liberal alternatives. It is therefore not surprising that civic and opposition forces on the continent generally and in Southern Africa in particular have struggled to locate themselves firmly within the historical legacies and contemporary demands of their particular national contexts.

The Zimbabwean crisis has brought these problems into sharp focus largely because the crisis of the state and the economy has magnified these issues on a grand scale. Confronted with a strong former liberation movement, led by a leader with enormous prestige on the continent, civic and opposition forces have had to face the combined obstacles of an authoritarian nationalist state constructed through the legitimacy of the liberation struggle, in a rapidly shrinking economy that has comprehensively undermined the structural basis for the reproduction of broad social forces in the country. Moreover, in the short term, this scenario has not engendered a spirit of reform in the ruling party. Instead observers have witnessed the intensification of repressive rule and the continued marginalisation of opposition forces, with the military taking on an increasingly prominent role in all spheres of the state. Additionally, the growing repression of the state is centrally linked to the intense succession battle currently unfolding in Zimbabwe’s ruling party, as the latter seeks to look at its future beyond its president, Robert Mugabe. This predicament has resulted in a more general malaise in the state where policy issues have become captive to internal struggles within ZANU PF. As Eldred Masunungure has written:
The succession struggle is all consuming and here lies ZANU PF’s single weakness at this juncture. Virtually everything in ZANU PF and Government is being interpreted in presidential succession terms. The policy dissonance arising from this debilitating struggle has become a big threat not only to ZANU PF but to the nation as a whole (2006: 5).
As the country slips deeper into economic crisis and international isolation, the opposition forces have to develop new non-violent ways to confront the regime. Thus far, as this report shows, the civic and opposition forces have tried a range of strategies to oppose Zimbabwe’s ruling party. These have included strikes, stay-aways, demonstrations, public meetings, regional and international lobbying, the use of both national and international legal instruments, censure from various international bodies, limited international sanctions, and pressure from the Zimbabwean Diaspora. These measures have, in different ways, caused problems for the regime, but neither singularly nor collectively have they been able to bring about political reform.
The continuing, though faltering capacity, of the Zimbabwean state to wield the instruments of coercion against opposition forces, and the central location of ruling party support within the armed forces and intelligence services, has led to a growing reliance of the Zimbabwean state on force for political survival. This process has engendered both fear and despondency within the Zimbabwean populace, and presented the democratic forces within the country with perilous terrain on which to mobilise support. As the independent media, labour unions, constitutional movement, women’s movement, civic alliances, human rights organisations and churches have struggled to place democratic and human rights questions on the political agenda through peaceful means, the state has systematically closed down these spaces and asserted its right to exclusive control of the political agenda.
Notwithstanding the many setbacks that the democratic forces in Zimbabwe have experienced, the post-colonial civic movement in the country has had a remarkable history. Emerging as it did from under the wing of a dominant nationalist party, and for the first decade largely subsuming its activities to a complementary role, the civic forces developed, from the late 1980’s and in particularly in the 1990’s, into an autonomous and critical force, demanding the expansion of democratic spaces and greater state accountability. Moreover this movement introduced a more expansive and inclusive language of human and civic rights into the national political discourse - a language that had been marginalised in the dominant discursive practices of nationalist politics. These civic interventions have been critical to the process of expanding the political imaginaries of Zimbabwean politics, and notwithstanding the current setback in the civic and opposition movement, have introduced a framework of accountability that will not be easy for the state to erase and which will serve as an important resource for the revival of democratic politics in the country.
One of the major lessons learned in studying the development of democratic politics in Zimbabwe, is that alternative movements are necessarily built within particular national contexts and often these movements reproduce and assimilate aspects of the undemocratic cultures they are attempting to challenge and transform. As the paper on the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shows this process has been all too apparent in the crisis that has debilitated this movement. Problems of accountability, violence and organisation have led to an uncomfortable similarity between the politics of the opposition and that of the ruling party. Part of the explanation for this disturbing trend has been that the repressive conditions under which the opposition has had to operate have necessitated a certain measure of commandism in opposition structures.
There is certainly some truth in this assertion. The crisis of responding at every turn to various forms of state harassment has proscribed the opportunities for more open forms of popular involvement. However, what is also apparent is that the political opposition has not expended sufficient organisational and intellectual resources to the development of alternative political modes of organisation and participation. The central focus on the capture of state power has diverted energies away from developing democratic forms of mobilisation, organisation and participation. Moreover the mode and language of expressing political differences have readily drawn on the political culture of the ruling party. These developments have been a major setback for the democratic struggle in Zimbabwe and will need to be more consciously addressed in repairing the damage resulting from the recent debacle in the MDC.

As we survey the terrain of political contestation it is very difficult to be sanguine about the options open to civic forces and opposition political parties. The spaces for peaceful democratic politics have been ruthlessly eliminated, and the state appears set to discourage any prospects for national political dialogue. Under these conditions the democratic forces will feel an increasing sense of frustration and strategic blockage, tempted to lock themselves into ritual calls for redundant strategies with little organisational capacity to deliver on such claims. In such circumstances, one of the ways forward is to stop and critically review the state and activities of the civic and opposition movement, and closely examine the balance of political forces determining the operating environment of such forces. It is hoped that this report and other publications produced in this series will assist in this process.

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