POLITICAL analysts and opinion leaders have expressed mixed views on Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s decision to dump his two-year-old Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), with some suggesting the move betrays weakness and lack of strategic thinking on his part.
BRENNA MATENDERE/ NATHAN GUMA
In a shock announcement on Thursday, Chamisa, who has given President Emmerson Mnangagwa a good run for his money in two tightly-contested and disputed presidential elections, said he is abandoning his CCC party mainly because it has been criminally infiltrated and hijacked by the ruling Zanu PF and its agents.
This followed constant attacks on the party by self-imposed interim secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu who has been recalling the opposition outfit’s MPs, senators and councillors with support of the judiciary.
In separate posts on social media microblogging site X, political analysts and opinion leaders expressed different views on Chamisa’s move.
Academic and publisher Ibbo Mandaza said Chamisa needs more introspection on his latest move.
“It means that Chamisa needs to introspect in the first instance, before he throws another flag. More importantly, he must learn to understand that the opposition in Zimbabwe is bigger than one person and requires broad consultations and cooperation. Unless he does this, it’s virtually the end of the road for him. He won’t be the first nor the last in the history of opposition politics in general,” he said.
Professor of world politics at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, said Chamisa’s act of throwing in the towel showed that he lacked the stamina to withstand the heat when cornered or when the going gets tough.
“No news as yet of another new party, although many expect that. But it raises big questions about his ability to stay and fight big complex battles. Especially complex battles. If you’re President of Zimbabwe you can’t just wake up and leave Zimbabwe when the going gets complex and tough … it is a mistake,” he said.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said with Chamisa having left CCC, Zanu PF which has been supporting the recalls has been left with nothing to hold onto.
“Why is it that Zanu PF and its surrogates are so angry and livid at Chamisa’s move? Well, he left them holding a shell which now has zero value, even regional leaders that I spoke to are laughing at how Zanu PF has been left with a car without an engine,” he said.
Speaking before Chamisa announced he was quitting the CCC, University of Zimbabwe political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Chamisa should have put in place the basics of a political party.
“The cardinal lesson to be learnt by Nelson Chamisa or any other power seeker is that power grows from organisations, the more robust the organisation in search of power, the greater the likelihood of achieving it. In this power game, there is limited latitude for organisational experimentation,” Masunungure said.
“The fatal weakness of the CCC was its organisational amorphousness under the name ‘strategic ambiguity’.”
Masunungure said it is therefore important for CCC to put in place a clear organisational formula that would help avoid confusion and infiltration.
“Thus the antidote to avoiding the kind of mess and confusion that presently envelope the CCC is to embrace the conventional organisational formula i.e., frame a constitution, structure the party according to the constitution, arrange an elect congress, have a known and popularly elected leadership in place, a coherent and known policy platform, have a physical and known address and other organisational paraphernalia. There are no shortcuts to power. In sum, the major and imperative lesson is to be formally organised,” Masunungure said.
Former cabinet minister and academic Jonathan Moyo questioned Chamisa’s strategy of “strategic ambiguity” in which he did not create structures, adopt a constitution or appoint substantive leadership.
“Anyone anywhere who at any time comes up with a political party with no structures and with no constitution, or who makes himself or herself the structure and constitution of the party is his or her own worst enemy.
“Of course, people can come up with as many ghosts or strawman arguments as they want to explain away their own culpability, but while a structureless and constitutionless formation may work for a cultic church, it can never work for a political party. Never ever,” he said.
Moyo said as a matter of fact, there is nothing as easily infiltratable as a structureless and constitutionless political party, “especially one that claims to be officerless and memberless”.
He said a political party like that can never meet the most basic elements of a democratic or progressive formation.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu, on the other hand, said Chamisa had made a good move in dumping the CCC.
“Best move by NC (Chamisa) which some of us called for when Tshabangu’s nonsense started. Zone of struggle for democratisation in Zimbabwe has shifted, you don’t dance in a zone which Zanu PF has created. Redefine your struggle, act at your will. Nothing is going to be achieved in Parliament or councils,” he said.
Mount Pleasant member of Parliament and former CCC national spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere applauded Chamisa for his move and announced that she, too, is leaving the CCC, describing it as a charade.
“There’s no legitimate CCC without our Change Champion in Chief. There’s no legitimate Parliament without respect for the will of the people. I stand by Advocate Nelson Chamisa’s decision and join him in leaving the charade. I remain committed to fighting for true democracy and better lives for all Zimbabweans,” she said.
It is the third time that Chamisa has lost a party.
After having grabbed the MDC-T following the death of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the then co-vice president Thokozani Khupe mounted a strong court challenge and won the legitimacy wrangle to lead the party.
After Chamisa had been appointed leader of the MDC-Alliance ahead of the 2018 elections, Douglas Mwonzora again went to court to challenge his leadership and won the court battle.
Right from the beginning, Chamisa’s leadership of the opposition was on contested terrain, having risen from the ruins of the MDC-Alliance which had roots in MDC-T.
First there were divisions over whether to form a new party or fight to salvage the MDC brand, after MDC-T leader Mwonzora with the help of state actors moved to claim the MDC-Alliance.
Mwonzora took over from Thokozani Khupe who initially contested Chamisa for the MDC-T leadership, by virtue of being elected the party’s vice-president at the party’s congress in 2014.
In July 2016, Tsvangirai, who wanted to manage his succession, violated the party constitution by unilaterally appointing Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as vice-presidents outside congress.
The crisis created by the unconstitutional act has haunted the opposition party and its various mutations since then.
Tsvangirai died on 14 February 2018. His death ignited power struggles over his succession, with Chamisa, Khupe and Mudzuri all claiming entitlement to the party presidency in an acting capacity.
In May 2019, the High Court ruled that Chamisa was illegitimately acting as the MDC-T leader, declaring his appointment as vice-president and subsequent appointment as president null and void.
This placed the party in Khupe’s hands before she was dislodged by Mwonzora, who seized party funds and headquarters with the assistance of state actors, before recalling some MPs and moving to claim the MDC-Alliance from Chamisa.
Party insiders however say Chamisa was keen to break away from the MDC’s toxic past and distance himself from its legacy issues, so he pushed for the establishment of the CCC.
Chamisa however did not use the traditional route of having a general consultative meeting, going to congress, adopting a constitution, choosing office bearers and establishing structures.
“This meant that he was the only recognisable leader although he was not given a mandate by congress. Initially, party officials thought they would assume the same roles and positions from the MDC-A, but Chamisa shot down the idea,” a senior official said.
“Congress elects people to key positions such as the president, chairperson, secretary-general, treasurer-general and spokesperson, so it meant that Chamisa was everything in one. In order to have a semblance of a structure, he appointed Amos Chibaya as organising secretary, Fadzai Mahere as spokesperson, Gift Siziba as deputy spokesperson and later Promise Mkwananzi as spokesperson, but the decisions were unilateral.
“Ahead of the elections, Chamisa also abandoned the primary elections and came up with an ambiguous selection process, which was open to manipulation and imposition. Veteran opposition leaders such as Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube were controversially sidelined or elbowed out through this process,” the official said.
“There was an imposition of candidates throughout the country, but the problems were magnified in Bulawayo because of divisions between Chamisa and key Bulawayo figures such as Ncube and Khupe. Tshabangu spoke out against the imposition during the selection process. The confusion resulted in chaos during the nomination process.
“These divisions created fertile ground for the problems in the party today, which state actors, Faz and Zanu PF, are now exploiting to destroy the opposition.”
Faz and Zanu PF are now riding on these problems and sponsoring bitter officials such as Tshabangu to destabilise the party.
Taking advantage of the lack of constitution and structures in the CCC, Tshabangu at first recalled 15 MPs and eight senators, ascribing himself the post of interim secretary-general. He then recalled more.
Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda accepted Tshabangu’s letters using the same loophole.
In a live chat with broadcast journalist Ezra “Tshisa” Sibanda, Tshabangu insisted that he will continue using his role as a national interim secretary-general to make further recalls.
He said he had to appoint people from Bulawayo to sign for candidates who will participate in the by-elections so that there are no double candidates.
History of opposition problems
In 2005, the decision on whether or not to participate in the Zimbabwe senatorial elections led to a split of the MDC after the late leader Morgan Tsvangirai tried to impose a boycott of the polls.
The MDC had announced in mid-2004 that it would not participate in any further elections in Zimbabwe, until it believed a free and fair vote could take place.
However, on 3 February 2005, the then spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi told a news conference: “It is with a heavy heart that the MDC has decided to participate in the elections … This is a decision based primarily on the demands of our people”.
The MDC’s top six were unable to agree on the issue, and so the debate went to the MDC national council on 12 October.
They voted 33-31 in favour of contesting the election (with two spoilt papers).
However, Tsvangirai told the Press that the debate was tied at 50-50, which included proxies sent by Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh, alleging that these were not recognised by then secretary-general Welshman Ncube, giving him different inaccurate figures.
Tsvangirai overruled the vote, arguing that it was no use contesting an election where the electoral field “breeds illegitimate outcomes and provides for predetermined results.” He argued that the Senate of Zimbabwe was part of the 17th amendment, which the MDC had opposed in Parliament.
The party subsequently split into two groups: one led by Tsvangirai, and another by his deputy Gibson Sibanda with the support of Ncube, Gift Chimanikire and spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi.
The pro-Senate group had one more member in the National Assembly at the time of the split.
However, senior members of the pro-Senate faction subsequently defected to MDC-T led by Tsvangirai, including its chairperson Gift Chimanikire, Blessing Chebundo, the member of Parliament for Kwekwe, the environmental secretary and Binga member of Parliament Joel Gabuza, and Senate candidate for Tsholotsho Sam Sipepa Nkomo.
The pro-senate faction had the bulk of its support in Matabeleland, the party chose academic Arthur Mutambara to lead their party.
In July 2016, the then MDC-T Tsvangirai failed to properly handle his succession and violated the party constitution by appointing Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as vice-presidents outside congress which had been held in November 2014 at the City Sports Centre in Harare.
Tsvangirai was dragged to court by party activists seeking the nullification of his appointments.
The plaintiffs, Patson Murimoga and George Rice, argued that by picking Chamisa and Mudzuri as his deputies, Tsvangirai violated the party constitution.
The MDC-T leader resultantly had three deputies, including his long-running second-in-command Khupe, who felt betrayed and sidelined by his boss.
Lawyer Zivanai Macharaga for the litigants said the MDC-T leader breached the party constitution which says his deputies must be elected at congress.
When Tsvangirai died on 14 February 2018, power struggles erupted over his succession, with Chamisa, Khupe and Mudziri all claiming entitlement to the party presidency in an acting capacity.
In May 2019, the High Court ruled that Chamisa was illegitimately acting as the MDC leader, declaring his appointment as vice-president and subsequent appointment as president null and void.
This followed a High Court application by a Gokwe-based party member, Elias Mashavire, who challenged Chamisa’s ascendency in the party, saying there was no extraordinary congress following the death of party leader Tsvangirai.
The state went on to support Khupe and she got the mandate to grab the party’s Harvest House headquarters and funds allocated by the government through the Political Parties (Finance) Act.
Chamisa later decided to form the CCC but, again, blundered by not convening a general consultative meeting, congress and crafting a constitution.