OPPOSITION leader Nelson Chamisa’s gamble to form a new party following squabbles over the MDC-Alliance name seems to be paying off amid renewed interest in the democratic struggle and fresh international goodwill.
Chamisa pulled a bumper crowd last Sunday at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare during his first rally after forming the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), rattling the political landscape where some observers had predicted the demise of meaningful opposition politics in the country.
But Sunday did not only affirm the obvious fact that CCC is the main opposition in the country but also revived debate that Zimbabwe is headed for another electoral showdown in 2023.
Adorned in yellow, having dumped the traditional red and now chanting a different slogan, the palpable euphoria that gripped the Zimbabwe Grounds was reminiscent of the MDC’s formation in 1999.
Sunday’s rally rolled back the years to the MDC led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai which enjoyed public goodwill since its formation in 1999 until the party was rocked by intra-party squabbles.
It was a spontaneous affair, punctuated with music, dance and moments of laughter as supporters congregated in the iconic Zimbabwe Grounds.
With some hanging precariously onto tree branches, while thousands bravely defied police roadblocks to attend the party’s first rally, it was apparent that excitement had returned to opposition politics.
Despite facing major headwinds in the run up to the rally, which include the arrest of over 90 activists in Harare and Masvingo, while the party’s vice-president Tendai Biti was also briefly detained, CCC pulled off a successful campaign launch.
Activating the instruments of coercion before the campaign launch, the state went all out to thwart the rally.
Police statements barring opposition supporters from holding car rallies and strict rally rules were slammed by observers as repressive.
Ahead of the rally, CCC members were also ordered not to chant party slogans or march in procession.
“Your members shall not be involved in toyi-toying, convoying of vehicles of people chanting slogans and singing and disseminating hateful and defaming information. Co-operation with all government agencies is highly appreciated. You are directed to observe and stick to Covid-19 regulations,” the police instructed.
European Union (EU) ambassador Timo Olkonen responded, as saying: “Democracy should be built on a level playing field.”
It is apparent Chamisa’s rally sent President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime into panic as witnessed by several moves to scuttle the gathering.
On the morning of the rally, reports of police blocking various modes of transport from entering central Harare stoked fears of yet another ploy to thwart the gathering.
The throttling of internet connectivity, affecting livestreaming services, was also largely seen as a plot to frustrate the new party.
While Chamisa was barred from busing supporters to the venue, Zanu PF freely bused its supporters to Marondera.
But in the face of authoritarian repression from the state, international goodwill has returned to the opposition party. Ironically, Mnangagwa enjoyed immense goodwill after the military coup in 2017 but soon fizzled out in the aftermath of bloody post-2018 election.
Mnangagwa squandered the international goodwill he enjoyed after the coup. The “new dispensation” façade has come off as shown by human rights violations and the shrinking of democratic space.
Chamisa’s Sunday rally also put his nemesis, MDC-T faction leader Douglas Mwonzora, in his place after his two rallies at Zororo Grounds in Harare and in Bulawayo attracted paltry crowds.
Having succeeded in hounding out Chamisa out of Morgan Tsvangirai House in 2020 and hijacking the MDC-Alliance name, Mwonzora is left with only a shell, observers argue.
Mwonzora lacks grassroots support which his arch-rival enjoys.
After Sunday, there is no doubt that CCC is the main opposition in Zimbabwe.
“OK, it seems the young man has done it. Forget anyone else. he is the opposition now,” Professor Stephen Chan, a prominent political analyst, wrote on Twitter.
While it was never in doubt that Chamisa was the main opposition leader in Zimbabwe, there is no denying that his gamble has paid off.
Before making the decision to form a new party, away from the controversy, Chamisa was caught between a rock and a hard place.
Chamisa faced three difficult options: To contest as MDC-Alliance and clash in the process with Mwonzora’s MDC-T which is fielding candidates under the same name amid their continued cut-throat wrangling; change name and rebrand, or boycott the elections.
Boycotting the elections was not an option as he risked giving away traditional opposition constituencies to Zanu PF which would eventually get a whopping majority in Parliament.
Rebranding would come at a cost as he would lose some supporters along the way, notwithstanding that rebranding is an expensive exercise on its own.
Teething problems are expected as supporters are still coming to grips with the new slogans and party ethos.
It was an urgent exercise that needed to be done before the 2023 elections.
In hindsight, rebranding has been a blessing in disguise as it has infused new energy into the opposition party ahead of next month’s crunch by-elections.
CCC has come at the right time, essentially to keep Zanu PF on its toes as the nation faces a potentially heated plebiscite.
Chamisa’s gamble will fully pay off if he immediately comes up with a party constitution, set a date for an elective congress where a substantive leadership will be chosen and make inroads into Zanu PF territory.
It was a no-brainer that he would pull a bumper crowd, but the rural areas where he is headed to at the weekend are a different terrain.
Zanu PF has gone for broke and will stop at nothing until they win all urban seats so CCC should also meet the ruling party pound for pound.
The gamble is paying off and Chamisa should not squander the goodwill.