Memory, Identity and Power in Contemporary Zimbabwe: Movement for Democratic Change Electoral Narratives and Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front Counter-Discourse.

AuthorGwekwerere, Tavengwa
PositionZimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Report

Since its formation in 1999, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) framed its political agenda in terms of delivering what it termed "a new Zimbabwe" (MDC Manifesto, 2018, p. 1). On the other hand, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) entrenched itself in an anti-colonial discourse that applied emphasis on defending so-called gains of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle (Mugabe, 2001) which culminated in independence in 1980. As advanced by the MDC, the idea of a new Zimbabwe identified ZANU-PF as the author of the socio-economic, cultural and political challenges afflicting the southern African nation (Bond & Manyanya, 2002; Raftopoulos & Phimister, 2004; Raftopoulos, 2006, 2013; Hammar & McGregor, 2010; Mhanda, 2011; Alexander & McGregor, 2013; Mpondi, 2015; Bratton, 2016). The MDC rode on the back of mass disgruntlement with hyper-inflation, unemployment, de-industrialization, pulverization of the professions, desiccation of lines of credit, international isolation, poor service delivery and state-sanctioned political violence to indict ZANU-PF as a former liberation movement that had lost grounding in the people-centered and freedom-affirming principles that accompanied its birth and development in the 1960s and 1970s. In the unfolding of these dynamics, the MDC carved a niche for itself as the only source of the solutions to the challenges facing Zimbabwe. This idea gained traction when the MDC won 55% of the vote in the Constitutional Referendum of 2000 and 57 of 120 contested seats in parliamentary elections of the same year. The same voting patterns characterized presidential elections of 2008 that Robert Mugabe (ZANU-PF) lost to Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC) and had to be rescued by the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) since Tsvangirai's percentage of the poll as declared by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was not adequate to enable him to form a new government. In all these elections, the MDC came close to becoming the third political party in southern Africa to unseat a founding, post-independence African regime. Precedents to the history that the MDC came close to making in Zimbabwe were set in Zambia by the victory of Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multi-Democracy (MMD) over Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1991 and in Malawi by Bakili Muluzi's United Democratic Front (UDF) when it triumphed over Kamuzu Banda's Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1994. To contest an MDC electoral onslaught anchored in such a history in the run-up to the July 2018 elections, ZANU-PF emerged with a counter-discourse in which it depicted MDC as unelectable while marketing itself as coterminous with change, peace, inclusion and development.

This article examines the intersection of memory, identity and power in the unfolding of the ZANU-PF quest to re-brand following Mugabe's ouster through a military coup in November 2017, his replacement by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the rise of Nelson Chamisa to the presidency of MDC and ZANU-PF's awakening to the challenges associated with recourse to violent coercion as a strategy of manufacturing consent (Moore, 2008; Tendi, 2010). It argues that with Mnangagwa's rise to power, post-Mugabe ZANU-PF had to contend with the realization that the presidential candidacy of its new leader in the July 2018 elections was hamstrung by the decades he spent as Mugabe's chief enforcer and errands boy.

Infamous for presiding over the massacre of thousands of Ndebele-speaking Zimbabweans for ostensibly harboring members of Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) who were reluctant to be integrated into the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) in the early 1980s (Tendi, 2014), and the orgy of violence that preceded the 2008 presidential run-off, Mnangagwa's rise to power in ZANU-PF meant that the erstwhile revolutionary movement needed re-branding to survive its first post-Mugabe elections. Part of that re-branding required ZANU-PF to foster a more attractive image of itself as democratic and progressive within the parameters of the mantra "Zimbabwe is open for business" ( This undertaking manifested in ZANU-PF's harnessing of memory and reframing of its own identity and that of the MDC in ways that enabled it to seek refuge in historical denialism and selective amnesia on the one hand, and discredit the MDC as incapable of originating sound policies and realizable promises, on the other. As this article evinces, ZANU-PF's reframing of memory and identity engendered a narrative of regime innocence in which everything that went wrong between 1980 and 2017 is blamed solely on Mugabe. This counter-discourse empowered ZANUPF to claim proprietorship over face-of-the-change-that-will-deliver-Zimbabwe identities that had previously been monopolized by the MDC. We investigate the operationalization of this counter-discourse using ZANU-PF's 2018 Manifesto and political rally pronouncements of the party's senior officials such as President Mnangagwa and Vice President, Retired General Constantino Chiwenga.

MDC Electoral Narratives: 1999-2018

The advent of the MDC in 1999 presented ZANU-PF with its most formidable electoral opponent since 1980. Unlike Patriotic Front-Zimbabwe African People's Union (PF-ZAPU) which won 20 of 80 contested House of Assembly seats in the 1980 elections in which ZANU, as ZANU-PF was known then, walked away with 57, the MDC won 57 of 120 House of Assembly seats in 2000, and all but trounced ZANU-PF in the 2008 harmonized elections. Its potential to unseat ZANU-PF became apparent in the 2000 constitutional referendum when it garnered 55% of the poll to prevent ZANU-PF from adopting a new national constitution. With a support base that encompassed the nation's working class, the unemployed and university students, the MDC thrived on electoral narratives of socio-economic, cultural and political change. In these narratives, ZANU-PF came in for criticism as a former liberation movement that had failed to live up to the agenda of the liberation struggle of the 1960s and 1970s. The narratives cited the ease with which the ZANU-PF establishment resorted to strong-arm tactics and the arrogance at the heart of its relations with the people, drawing attention to the need for an alternative political dispensation. With Morgan Tsvangirai as its chief exponent, MDC electoral narratives tore into the petit-bourgeois inclinations of the ZANU-PF regime and its self-proclaimed identity as a people's regime. The narratives focused on ZANU-PF's immersion in corruption, nepotism, regionalism and ethnic chauvinism, stressing that the advent of independence in 1980 had left Zimbabweans at the mercy of "a new network of repression, more formidable than the one under colonial rule" (Turok, 1987, p. 7).

They challenged ZANU-PF's self-celebration as the only patriotic force in the history of Zimbabwe, the reference it always made to its heroism in the anti-colonial struggle and its attempts to claim exclusive ownership of that struggle. Thus, from the onset, MDC electoral narratives in Zimbabwean politics disputed what the opposition party understood as ZANU-PF's polarizing political praxis. The slogan, "Chinja Maitiro" (Shona) / "Guqula Izenzo" (Ndebele), an exhortation to reframe one's political orientation, captured the party's commitment to running the country differently if elected to power. As a rallying call for change, the slogan encapsulated MDC visions of a new Zimbabwe that ZANU-PF stood accused of having failed to bring into existence since taking over from Ian Smith and the Rhodesia Front (RF) in 1980.

With Chamisa's ascendancy to the presidency of MDC, the party's electoral narratives retained much of the thrust of its formative years, bolstering it with promises of extensive scientific development. In partnership with other opposition parties such as Tendai Biti's People's Democratic Party (PDP), Welshman Ncube's splinter of the MDC, Jacob Ngarivhume's Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) and others ahead of the July 2018 elections, MDC electoral narratives evoked possibilities of bullet trains, spaghetti roads, technological advancement, state-of-the-art airports and hospitals, devolution of power, smart agriculture and cordial relations with the international community. As spelt out in its 2018 election manifesto, New Zimbabwe Pledge for a Sustainable and Modernization Agenda for Real Transformation (SMART), MDC electoral narratives underscored the need to create "an inclusive, socially just, prosperous, tolerant, transformative and democratic developmental state in which people have equal opportunities to pursue happiness" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. ii). The manifesto also pledges "to fulfill the unfinished agenda of the struggle of the working people of Zimbabwe as defined at the 1999 Working People's Convention" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. 11). In his opening remarks to the manifesto, Chamisa summarizes the MDC's electoral narratives as anchored in the need to "present an opportunity for Zimbabwe to turn a leaf from the dark ages of uncertainty and despair to a new dawn of hope, certainty and thought leadership" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. v). He commits to taking steps "to release our country from the status quo of straddling from one crisis to another" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. v) and moving with speed "to stop the bleeding of Zimbabwe with the hope and aim to make it a great jewel once again" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. v). The manifesto notes that the challenges facing Zimbabwe trammeled "inclusivity, transformation, opportunities and prosperity" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. 1) and created "a big gap between us and our peers in neighboring countries" (MDC Alliance Manifesto, 2018, p. v). In the light of these challenges, MDC electoral narratives in post-Mugabe Zimbabwe revolved around five key pillars, namely:


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