HARARE – The announcement that the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has transformed into a political party was met with mixed reactions.
Apart from the misgivings over converting a civil society organisation into a political entity, the outfit faces a problem of identity in Zimbabwean politics.
Zimbabwe is a pretentious democracy; the political space remains thorny but the formation of political parties is permissible.
Lovemore Madhuku, interim leader of the new party, described the party as a social democratic movement.
I do not intend to discuss the rights and wrongs of turning a civil society organisation into a political party.
Rather, my point of departure is that the party will struggle to establish distinct political and ideological identity.
This arises mainly from the problem of hegemony.
President Robert Mugabe has ruled the country for nearly 34 years now.
Because of this lengthy tenure, organised opposition will always fall under what I would call Mugabe-Must-Go (let’s brand them MMGs) parties.
In other words, the identity of these parties is shaped primarily by a fight against an age-old hegemony. In the process, their ideological identities become less visible.
These are parties which, upon formation, will chiefly be identified, within the public imagination, as organisations with the primary mission of removing Mugabe from power, without offering any unique ideological identity from existing opponents.
In other words, such parties will struggle to establish distinct identity unless they are, for instance, say a Green Party, with a specific environmental agenda.
The NCA as a political party could not focus on a narrow and, of course, transient theme of constitutionalism; once a constitution that suits its expectation is put together, the party would then lose relevance.
It has thus, identified itself as a social democratic movement, a perfectly legitimate ideological pursuit.
It could be argued, however, that within the MDC’s broader democratic change agenda, there would exist a social democratic aspiration.
It is unlikely that such nuances as “social democratic” will have any unique appeal. The NCA will simply fall within that MMG-democracy nexus that the MDC already occupies.
Thus, the NCA will find political space but will struggle for any distinct ideological identity. It does not help also that it has past association with the MDC.
Despite the heavy electoral defeat recently, it would appear the MDC will remain intact although, as I argued in the past, it needs leadership renewal.
It still has a social base, a number of MPs and councillors.
The MDC remains the current vanguard of the MMGs, peddling democratic rule. It is unlikely the NCA will offer anything markedly different.
Without a distinct identity, and a seemingly resilient opposition still in place, the NCA might struggle for relevance.
Under the circumstances, it will only serve the purpose of vote-splitting, defeating the agenda of removing Mugabe from power and the promise of democracy.
What will the NCA offer other than the promise of removing Mugabe and democracy?
Perhaps it would be wise to invest intellectually and financially in the best hope that exists to achieve that goal, rather than establish parties that fail to distinguish themselves, substantially, from one another.
It might be better to negotiate leadership changes in the MDC and retain a strong opposition with the best chances of achieving regime change.
This might sound undemocratic insofar as it limits pluralism, but it might be pragmatic.
Zimbabwean opposition politicians seem to have huge egos and underestimate the task of dislodging Zanu PF from power; the reason a unity pact failed before the last election.
Zanu PF is an intransigent beast; it is the one that has been adept at stalling democracy. It has utilised both reverence and fear to numb a nation.
Beyond Zanu PF rule, the prospects of democratic rule are brighter; no other ruling party will be able to suppress the democratic desires of a people oppressed for too long.
Such party simply won’t draw the same reverence and fear.
But removing Zanu PF from power and realising real democratic transition might require unified approaches for now rather than disparate agendas.
Perhaps when such change occurs and Zimbabwean politics ceases to be viewed within the dominant frame of fighting against hegemony, parties can assume recognisable ideological differences.