Tsvangirai: A legacy embedded in contradiction

Richard Mahomva
Mr Tsvangirai’s last days of re-joining the aged pieces of the opposition ahead of 2018 elections may be seen as the last push of a once mighty movement trying to regain prominence through an old time imagination of relevance.
All the same, this proves the fighter that Morgan was.

Who will continue the fight for him, considering the contested entitlements to his legacy by his protégé?

The foremost figure in Zimbabwe’s opposition politics is gone.

In the sphere of public opinion, his tragic departure has produced a cocktail of sombre, polarised, commemorative and apologetic memoirs.

At the same time, there is no critical ideological follow-up to his venerated credentials – particularly his role as a Sensei democrat of our time and the doyen of trade-unionism.

Essential to these narratives is his heroic stand against a towering figure like Cde Robert Mugabe. This heroism attributed to the latter opposition leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, is linked to a poignant historic phenomenon of our country’s political landscape. Through his celebrated charisma in opposition circles, Mr Tsvangirai’s prominence is associated with the early millennium’s intense nationalist-versus-neo-liberal democracy tensions.

His remembrance by loyal followers has attracted similar tribute even from some inclined to the nationalist political trajectory.

The prevailing open and inclusive celebration of Mr Tsvangirai’s contribution to the political affairs of our country substantiates Zimbabwe’s replenished political culture imbued in tolerance.

Even Government’s emotional and material support to the Tsvangirai family during their time of distress justifies the collective morality of celebrating the life of the opposition leader.

The thesis of political tolerance in a new Zimbabwe is signposted by the monumental visit to his “Highland” by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Little was it known that it would be the last time the two hallmarks of political re-definitions would share hope.

Mourning Mr Tsvangirai has grown to be a national moral obligation. This undoubtedly complements the weight of his role in the nation’s politics.

Therefore, this invites critical appreciation of his legacy against the lasting values of the nation and how his role to the nation can be appraised on the basis of these particular values.

Mr Tsvangirai rose to prominence and earned respect in some circles for challenging the sanguine realism of Cde Mugabe’s drills to defending nationalism.

In that respect, he was viewed as one of the most courageous opponents of the “system”.

His mission to secure the then Government’s guarantees to democracy and human rights was anchored on a neo-liberal narrative to defend “victims” of land reform – whom, in reality, had refused to subscribe to the demands of the land-hungry masses.

This was after Britain had failed to honour its obligation to land compensation terms as agreed in the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979.

Through a Constitution born out of that violated agreement – due to the Tony Blair government’s failure to stick to the principle of compensation; the rise of the MDC was financed by the West.

Therefore, we must be cognisant of Mr Tsvangirai’s underpinning pronouncements to the rhetoric of democracy.

His prominence should be situated in his ability to provide an alternative to the established political orders of the day.

At the same time, his departure should enable the nation to reflect on the extent to which we have achieved democracy as anticipated by our participation in the armed struggle to facilitate the “one man, one vote” principle.

Mr Tsvangirai’s stand against Zanu-PF since the nascent phase of the millennium must serve as one of the major reasons we boast of a pluralist political landscape against the polarised imaginations of our politics only presented in light of hegemony and kleptocracy.

Even against this preconceived notion of Zimbabwean politics’ misrepresentation as being largely centralised, Mr Tsvangirai’s active participation in politics up to the time of his death substantiates a contrary narrative.

We must be fair enough to give due credit to how we have sustained the principles of our liberation legacy in terms of creating a plural political environment where all political actors are given fair play to express their diverse ideological leanings and participate in electoral processes.

As Mr Tsvangirai turns his back against his vocation, he is revered as a trade-unionist par excellence.

This is against the background of the MDC’s formation as a sequel to the labour movement. The party’s founding members were in the grassroots of the labour movement.

Therefore, from inception, the MDC was thought to be a labour interests-inclined establishment.

To those tutored in the nationalist roots of labour movements, Mr Tsvangirai’s ideological charisma was expected to be in the frame of traditional trade unionists.

As we celebrate Mr Tsvangirai, the trade unionist, we must map a future which restores the labour movement to its rightful nationalist mandates.

It is saddening that what Mr Tsvangirai stood for, whose political charisma is misguidedly associated with the “birth of democracy” in Zimbabwe, is being worn out by the factional wrangles in his party.

The drama unfolding at the behest of Advocate Nelson Chamisa’s contested ascendency to the helm of the party’s power structures substantiates MDC’s awakening to realism over normative claims to democracy.

It’s now clear that the centrality of power only associated with Zanu-PF could be also found on the other “democratic” side.

To this end, the beacon of democracy died holding on to power, with no clear succession plan.

The result of this centralised power has been contested claims to his legacy, characterised by a tripartite tug-of-war.

Mr Tsvangirai’s last days of re-joining the aged pieces of the opposition ahead of 2018 elections may be seen as the last push of a once mighty movement trying to regain prominence through an old time imagination of relevance.

All the same, this proves the fighter that Morgan was.

Who will continue the fight for him, considering the contested entitlements to his legacy by his protégé?

Will the opposition’s form remain compact in his wake?


Richard Mahomva is an independent researcher and a literature aficionado interested in the architecture of governance in Africa and political theory. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail.


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  • Mish Mugobo

    You forgot to cover your back against glaring denial of facts which any sane person would critique. What u termed the land reform programme was just an inverted scenario where previous vast and multiple land owners where completely disposessed and the rival camp assumed multiple ownership of farms. The Mugabes being a case in point who have continued to amass land even 17 years after the land reform programe was initiated, to the extent that landless Mazowe people had to be forced off the only pieces of land known to them. We are guided here by the underlying principle of the land reform programe which required a one man one farm scenario. It points to two clear facts: 1- that whoever lost land to the Mugabe authored Land reform programe was victimised as the policy makers did not show any differential behaviour towards land ownership. 2. – that what you term nationalism under the auspices of Mugabe was clear politicisation and abuse of state resources peddling victimisation of nationals by the ruling echelon.
    The talk of pluralism in which all political parties have an equal expression is not a truth as confirmed by the now incumbent’s wish to deliver a free, fair and credible election. Beyond the creation of a pluralist environment, blackhands have been quite visible on the playfields where undemocratic tendencies were implemented, most notably political violence against alternative groupings. Your spot on diction on the term “tolerance” validates political toxicity that was reactionary to a new and democratic discourse ushered in by Tsavangirai and the MDC. We quote his excellency E.D on the notion that rwendo rwaakafamba murume uyu rwanga rusiri nyore. Yes, with all the physical amd emotional harrassment that is replete on images of his brutal handling by the much abused state organs like police and the army it is therefore noteworthy that democracy was a distant imagination in the backgrounds of ZANU PF.