By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online
The euphoria which surrounded the birth of Zimbabwe's main opposition party six years ago is being replaced by disillusionment on the part of many of its supporters.
Some MDC youths are impatient for change
Only a year ago at a mass birthday party in Harare, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai told thousands of supporters: "We are on the winning track. Zimbabwe is on the verge of massive and decisive change."
But that optimism now appears misplaced.
"By now, I was sure we would be in power," one MDC activist told BBC News Online.
"We were complacent, we thought it would be easy," he said.
Just six months after the MDC's launch on 11 September 1999, President Robert Mugabe suffered his first - and still only - national election defeat in a referendum on a new constitution.
But that set-back only stirred him into action and the MDC has been unable to loosen his grip on power.
The opposition says he used violence and rigging to narrowly win elections in June 2000 and March 2002. In 2005 polls the MDC dropped back further.
"The MDC has succeeded in maintaining the hopes of Zimbabweans that change is possible, said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, which is pressing for a new constitution.
"But it has achieved nothing tangible. There has been no change of government, oppression has got worse and the economy has collapsed."
He says there has been a lack of strategy in the MDC leadership, which has been outsmarted - and literally outfought - by Mr Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.
A woman in Harare, who says she wants a change of government, admits: "Zanu-PF is better at long-term planning than the MDC.
"The MDC just react and by then, Zanu-PF is already far ahead."
But Mr Mugabe has certainly done everything in his power to make life difficult for the opposition to operate.
The MDC complains that elections are rigged and street protests are brutally suppressed by the security services.
Mugabe has pulled out all the stops to remain in power
Security and media laws have also made life much more difficult for the opposition.
All political meetings now require police approval, which is rarely given to the MDC.
All foreign correspondents have been expelled and the only privately-run daily newspaper closed down, so the MDC has trouble getting its message out to the electorate.
They tried to organise a "final push" - mass street protests to bring down Mr Mugabe - in 2003 but the security services succeeded in stamping these out.
In such circumstances, it is certainly not easy to see how to defeat Mr Mugabe, except for hanging on and waiting for the economy to deteriorate to such an extent that he is unable to remain in office.
This has always been Mr Tsvangirai's back-up plan but living standards for Zimbabweans have got worse and worse and this has not yet led to a change of government.
"People are impatient and disillusioned," the activist said.
Rampant inflation has eroded the buying power of the Zimbabwe dollar since 2000.
Mr Madhuku is one of those who called for popular protests to bring about change.
He says the MDC abandoned mass action too quickly after the failure of the "final push."
"If people are not prepared to suffer, they won't get change. More oppression is the only alternative."
But people are intimidated. The MDC activist says: "It is difficult to organise marches now. People are afraid."
The MDC previously hoped that regional leaders would put pressure on President Mugabe to introduce electoral reforms before the parliamentary elections earlier this year, as part of a new promise by Southern African leaders to raise the standard of democracy in the region.
Tsvangirai want African leaders to put pressure on Mugabe
But Zimbabwe's neighbours have always been the most reluctant to criticise Mr Mugabe, who they see as a hero of the fight against colonialism.
The party initially said it would not contest the 2005 election unless reform were forthcoming - but reform never materialised and the MDC eventually put up candidates regardless.
With its options more and more limited, the MDC is once again divided over whether Zimbabwe-style elections represent a path to change - or whether the party's participation can do no more than grant legitimacy to an election that the government will never allow it to win.