By Tafadzwa Masango
CHANGE swept through Zimbabwe on the evening of November 14 2017 and like a ferocious but silent storm, its effects have reshaped Zimbabwe’s political scene.
The resignation of former President Robert Mugabe and the death of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai bought to the fore two new protagonists: President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, while opening a new chapter for democracy, political affairs and the country’s faltering economy.
The scramble for recognition at home and abroad by both President Mnangagwa and Chamisa has had mixed results.
While President Mnangagwa has been fronting the #ZimbabweIsOpenForBusiness mantra which has seen him at various fora across the globe, Chamisa has had to deal with a challenge to his ascendency as the new opposition leader.
At the same time, he has to maintain and cement relationships with the MDC’s foreign donors, whose support had waned post the 2013 elections.
President Mnangagwa’s chances
President Mnangagwa’s practical approach to the economy, which is far removed from former president Mugabe’s politicking, has won him support at home and abroad.
His sensibility which embraces re-engagement with the outside world and seeks mutually beneficial arrangements with both the West and East has seen him earning more friends in comparison to his predecessor.
To the outside world, President Mnangagwa’s message has been that Zimbabwe is moving away from former President Mugabe’s politics and way of doing things.
His ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ theme highlights his willingness to right Mugabe’s wrongs.
President Mnangagwa’s critics have heaped Mugabe’s crimes on his head in a bid to maintain the narrative that ‘nothing has really changed’.
However, since coming into power, President Mnangagwa has focused more on Zimbabwe’s external affairs and is yet to cover significant ground in terms of campaigning; this has given his rival, Chamisa, ample time to sell himself to the electorate.
Many have seen Mnangagwa’s approach as an attempt to lay groundwork for post-election engagements and relations.
That Mnangagwa has been hitting the right buttons and saying the right things to the international community has not escaped the opposition’s attention.
Where the opposition could count on Mugabe to rattle cages, burn bridges and spurn advice, President Mnangagwa has done the opposite.
The opposition is now faced with a ZANU PF which is wooing its traditional backers in the West and this poses a serious threat.
Chamisa last week was quick to warn Britain not to be charmed by President Mnangagwa and not to settle for stability in Zimbabwe, but to focus on governance issues.
Chamisa is right to worry.
President Mnangagwa has managed to thaw relations between Zimbabwe and Britain and other European Union (EU) members.
Countries that had previously adopted a wait-and-see attitude to Zimbabwe are now sending envoys and delegations to engage the new Government.
Such a sight does not bode well for the opposition as it shows that confidence in its ability to wrestle power from President Mnangagwa is waning.
Presently, the divisions in the opposition alliance and within the main opposition party, MDC-T, are placing the odds in President Mnangagwa’s favour.
Chamisa: New face of opposition
Chamisa is the embodiment of ‘Generation Democracy’ in that he is young, educated, savvy and pushing the notion that young people should take up the main space in the decision making tent.
While President Mnangagwa cut his political teeth in the liberation war trenches, Chamisa’s rise came through the student movement.
Those who know him from his student movement days, however, bemoan that the opportunity that came knocking on his door would have been best suited for the late Learnmore Jongwe, a more steady and prolific thinker and orator.
While many find it easier to say the late Tsvangirai was at the root of division and chaos in the main opposition party, after he appointed two additional deputies, as it became apparent that cancer was taking a toll on him, the matter is far more complex.
For years, Tsvangirai was aware of the power dynamics within his executive structures.
He had to appease various sectors including the trade unionists, the academia, business persons, civic society organisations and non-governmental organisations who all played influential roles in keeping the MDC afloat and driving its agenda.
Tsvangirai, much like Mugabe, also faced the leadership renewal hurdle, which resulted in Tendai Biti and many others leaving the party, joining the likes of Professor Welshman Ncube in the political wilderness.
Each time Tsvangirai faced a major stumbling block, he followed Mugabe’s playbook, setting the shock troops on dissenters and naysayers in the form of a youth militia.
As previously alluded to, Chamisa was watching in the background, and seized the opportunity when it came.
During the last internal election, Chamisa lost the contests for the post of secretary-general to Douglas Mwonzora. Tsvangirai accommodated Chamisa as a way of saving face, but it was obvious to many Chamisa was not favoured by the supporters.
His rise to deputy-president, together with Elias Mudzuri, set tongues wagging given the ‘two men were not elected’.
Thokozani Khupe, who was the elected VP, lost political clout and currency as a result of the elevation of Chamisa and Mudzuri and was never to recover from that move.
Chamisa the presidential candidate
Chamisa has two boats to steer, the MDC-T and the MDC Alliance, and the two, while having a symbiotic relationship, have somewhat different interests.
It’s also important to note that the Chamisa brand is basically about his youthfulness and while it was amusing at first, the screeching halt that this gravy train came to a week ago in the UK certainly shocked the majority of his supporters and advisors.
Chamisa and his ‘faction’ are pushing the #GenerationalConsensus which as explained by Pride Nkono is: “An independent movement of young people in colleges and universities, the unemployed, young professionals, those in the church, young informal traders and those in farming communities, which is mobilising fellow youths to register and vote for (the MDC Alliance presidential candidate) Nelson Chamisa in the 2018 elections.”
The opposition, however, is failing to comprehend that age is a minor factor when it comes to governance issues.
As a young politician thrust into the spotlight, Chamisa still has a lot to learn.
His rallies are the quintessential addresses, characteristic of a newcomer to national politics.
Punctured by a burst of overexcitement and the eagerness of a child who cannot believe that today they have been given a place at the grown-ups table, Chamisa seems to say whatever comes to mind without really processing the consequences of his words.
His promises of bullet trains and airports in rural areas, coupled by his failure to articulate his policies exposes his lack of depth.
His attempts to compete with President Mnangagwa expose a childish-like mentality which has been further proved by his ‘throwing the toys out of the play pen’ after the thrashing he recently received in the UK.
When it comes to dealing with the international community, Chamisa has been working on the premise that as an opposition leader, he enjoys some political currency because ZANU PF had become a political pariah.
He failed to understand that ZANU PF reformed itself from within and turned a new page.
Chamisa thinks by singing from Tsvangirai’s hymn book, doors will be opened and carpets rolled out for him in capitals across the world.
It is such mis-steps and failure to gauge the political mood that exposes him as a novice.
Of note are Chamisa’s attempts to style himself as ‘Africa’s Barack Obama’ because of the ‘lawyer thing’ and the young age at which they entered politics, but the similarities certainly end there, for Chamisa is no Obama.
Obama is a remarkable orator and usually spoke off the cuff, while Chamisa badly needs a speech-writer because his foot-and-mouth continues to find each other in odd situations. Interestingly, Obama was always with his wife, Michelle and yet many Zimbabweans are yet to catch a glimpse of Mrs Chamisa, nor have we heard Chamisa mention his wife.
In Shona there is the saying: ‘Moto wemapepa’, and in the Queens language, they use the idiom, ‘fizzle out’.
That is how best I can describe the path Chamisa has taken.
With no sound policies, credible election platform outside of – ‘I am young and not ZANU PF’ – and lying left right and centre, he will soon learn the hard way.
His only salvation, if one can call it that, is to create trouble in order to force the postponement of elections and another power-sharing arrangement.
As a leader and ‘pastor’, Chamisa seems to have misplaced his moral compass.
He has no qualms in lying and when caught, instead of apologising, he adds more lies.
His treatment of women leaves a lot to be desired.
Several weeks ago, his militia hounded female journalists at Harvest House.
Before that, they had beat up Khupe and her supporters and threatened to burn her inside a hut in Buhera, and to date, Chamisa has not apologised.
On Khupe, he lied on ANN7 that ZANU PF supporters dressed in MDC regalia were responsible for the Buhera fracas.
Recently, he said they were MDC supporters and had been dealt with.
So which is which?
Can Chamisa win?
My reading of the situation is that Chamisa does not want a general election.
A leader who came in through the backdoor, used violence to silence opponents and critics and refuses the holding of primary elections cannot wake up and want to take part in national democratic processes, when he does not entrench the same in his political party.
Zimbabwe’s very own ‘destruction boys’ (Chamisa and Tendai Biti) have been open about their conviction that ZANU PF cannot be removed from Government through conventional means – elections – and they would very much favour an unconstitutional manner.
Biti, in particular, is always attempting to sell some form of transitional authority (TA) as the way to go.
Unlike Chamisa, he has zero political currency.
His party, People’s Democratic Party, has all but dissolved and he needs Chamisa now more than ever, if he is to remain politically relevant.
Chamisa is a means to an end, hence Biti’s push for a TA, where he hopes to come out with a portfolio.
Chamisa, on the other hand, knows he can’t succeed where Tsvangirai failed.
He may put up the bravado of someone who has the election in the bag, but the reality is, he is swimming in unchartered waters and knows he is out of his depth.
In December, Biti and Chamisa appeared before the US Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations and their statements exposed their agenda.
Not only did they seek to maintain the façade that President Mnangagwa was no different from Mugabe, but painted him as a worse version.
The goal in all this was for the US to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe and thus give the opposition an edge over ZANU PF.
The present rhetoric of boycotting elections, demonstrations and diplomatic offensives are all intended to maintain the Tsvangirai era narrative that ‘ZANU PF is evil and is the root of challenges in Zimbabwe’.
This narrative is unfortunately more difficult to sustain because donor fatigue set in in 2013 when the MDC lost an election many regarded as free, fair and credible.
Note that Chamisa has been holding rally after rally across the country.
At one rally he said he did not need the public media to cover him because ‘he had a more powerful tool’ – social media.
Then he backtracks and claims all sorts of conspiracies.
All the while the electorate is watching.
His failure to unify his party in the wake of Tsvangirai’s death will serve as a dark mark against his future endeavours.
The opposition alliance that Tsvangirai struggled to put together is also facing challenges as some within his party are itching to contest in constituencies traded off to Alliance partners.
Unlike the MDC of the late 1990s which was an amalgamation of various interests with a common cause, ‘remove Mugabe’, the Alliance lacks the momentum and common purpose.
The inclusion of ZANU PF rejects that came out of the Gamatox and G40 factions demonstrates the desperation on the part of Chamisa.
The US vs Britain
President Mnangagwa has promised to compensate former white commercial farmers and this would bring to an end the bilateral row between Zimbabwe and Britain.
From the get go, the whole hullabaloo over Zimbabwe was as a result of Britain’s knee jerk reaction to the land question.
The land question has been addressed and now is the time to move forward.
The Americans, in typical style, jumped into the clash wanting to side with their cousins because this provided the US with an opportunity to protect its interests and punish Zimbabwe for past ‘transgressions’.
Remarkable is that the US over the years took a lead in all attacks against Zimbabwe, including attempts to place Zimbabwe on the UN’s agenda, attempts to coerce SADC to intervene in favour of the opposition and when all else failed – sanctions.
However, on the ground, the US is on business, building its biggest embassy in Africa, in Harare.
The MDC seems to hold the notion that the US sanctions will be removed once they come into power.
This is its trump card.
In the opposition’s thinking, sanctions make President Mnangagwa the unattractive choice to the electorate.
It forgets that despite sanctions, ZANU PF has been winning elections.
The US’ agenda can be gleaned from various statements and hearings concerning Zimbabwe.
At one time, the US establishment spoke of moderates and hardliners, and made it clear it would have preferred the moderates fronted by then VP Joice Mujuru to take over.When Mujuru was pushed out of the Party, Jonathan Moyo was seen by many as a US project to push out the hardliners and see a more pliable leadership that did not strongly embrace the ethos of the liberation struggle taking over.
One can deduce that President Mnangagwa can implement reform after reform, but the Americans will still find fault. Their greatest fear is losing out to the Chinese, hence this attempt to place the reforms for sanctions removal carrot.
Chamisa’s threat of chasing out the Chinese once coming into power should be read as a way of seeking to curry favour with the Americans.
President Mnangagwa’s #ZimbabweIsOpenForBusiness embraces all politically and economically, while Chamisa’s #GenerationConsensus is exclusionary and fails to articulate that one can no longer survive by wearing economic blinkers in a world interconnected as a result of massively increased trade.