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Nasty factional fights boil in Mnangagwa’s backyard
TOPSHOT - Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's President and presidential candidate for the ZANU PF party, speaks during his last campaign rally at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, on July 28, 2018. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Opinion

Change your name!: Zanu PF’s new trump card against Chamisa

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REGINALD MURENDO

IN a surprise move, President Emmerson Mnangagwa proclaimed 26 March 2022 as the date for long overdue by-elections.

This should fill in vacancies created through the controversial recalls of elected MPs and councillors by the Douglas Mwonzora-led smaller opposition MDC-T using a cocktail of powers given to him by the courts and through collusion with the Speaker of parliament.

On recalls Mwonzora fired elected officials accusing them of leaving the MDC-T to join the main opposition MDC-Alliance, a political party he now claims is his own. The latter is the party led by Nelson Chamisa, the country’s most popular opposition leader.

Zimbabweans on social media have been clamouring for a change in strategy on the part of Chamisa. They want him to announce a new name and rebrand the party, and some have gone as far as suggesting new names which they say he must adopt.

Predictably, and in what he thinks is a pre-emptive strike at Chamisa, Mwonzora wrote a letter to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) on 3 January, seeking to bar anyone from using the name MDC Alliance.

Mwonzora is a Zanu PF string puppet, and that needs no emphasis. It should be clear to those who observe that Zanu PF wants to destroy the MDC Alliance and one way of so doing is to force it to change its name for Mwonzora and ultimately its own benefit.

Those who claim to be friendly advisers have also taken to social media to campaign that the MDC Alliance must change its name, and do so before 26 March 2022. In a way, the enemies of the MDC Alliance sing in concert with its so-called friends.

It must dawn on everyone that the same strategy cannot serve two conflicting ends. Zanu PF cannot push the MDC Alliance to change its name, and at the same time the MDC Alliance cannot use the same strategy crafted and being pushed by Zanu PF through its able string puppet, Mwonzora and his party. 

Why is Zanu PF through captured institutions, with Zec being Mwonzora’s first port of call to implement that as shown by his 3 January letter, seeking to arm-twist Chamisa to drop the MDC Alliance name?

How does Zanu PF benefit from a change of name if its effect is to clear any confusion on who the true opposition is?

Those of the “friends’ who are pushing this agenda seem to suffer from the usual miscalculation that most Zimbabweans usually do. We seem to think that Zanu PF is stupid, and that it has moments of lucidity where it actually takes action for the greater good.

 Those who think that Mnangagwa proclaimed by-elections, 24 months after the fact because he suddenly realised that he has a constitutional duty to do so, are lost. I will demonstrate why this is so, by tracking through the strategy as it unfolded. 

The first point to note is that Mnangagwa has a serious legitimacy crisis emanating from he ascended to power in Zanu PF and nationally. Zanu PF knows that Mwonzora has never been accepted as the legitimate leader of the main opposition movement. His political career will soon meet its end if in 2023 elections are held. Chamisa is the leader of the opposition, and for as long as he is not in parliament, through his elected officials, that parliament will never command legitimacy.

Mnangagwa and Mwonzora’s alliance evokes memories of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia arrangement consisting of co-opted puppets masquerading as leaders of the black majority. Zanu PF is not stupid.

They are aware of this fact. They are also aware of the fact that if dialogue is the way to go, then Chamisa must be included. So far, attempts using a carrot-and-stick approach through Political Actors Dialogue (Polad), itself a gathering of Zanu PF puppets, have dismally failed.

Chamisa continues to elude and bamboozle them with his silence and his insistence on keeping his cards close to his chest.  Having performed badly in the 2018 presidential election, Zanu PF immediately set out to capture the opposition, civil society and even media.

An application was already pending in the courts challenging the appointment Chamisa after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018. The High Court had ruled that the appointment was invalid and an appeal was immediately noted.

Between the noting of appeals and the determination of the Supreme Court case, Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe had each led different factions of the MDC-T and also parties into the elections, campaigned against each other, and elections came and went.

 In a judgement that dents the credibility of a judiciary further, the Supreme Court accepted that the case had become moot due to the developments outlined. It proceeded, however, to incredibly ignore the mootness doctrine, and installed Khupe as the leader of the opposition party that she campaigned against.

Phase one of the takeover was complete, and ably assisted by an acquiescent judiciary.  In phase two, Zanu PF, using Khupe, proceeded to create vacancies in the national assembly and in councils through recalls targeted at elected MDC Alliance officials. Some elected officials quickly defected to the Khupe, later Mwonzora outfit, and were saved from the chop.

Instead of proclaiming by-elections, the Covid-19 pandemic was used as a convenient excuse. No elections could be held as the government was battling the coronavirus and voting was feared as having a super-spreader effect.

In the interim and despite the feigned fear of the pandemic, Mnangagwa continued to hold rallies, address large gatherings and the ruling party continued with its work unabated.

 The pandemic existed as an excuse to avoid constitutional obligations and curtail freedoms and rights of others, but somehow seemed to abate when it was convenient to Zanu PF. 

The electoral vacancies opened up the stage for phase three of the plot, namely the mistaken participation of Chamisa in by-elections intended to bring him back into parliament as a minority opposition leader.

Having been removed as leader of the main opposition in parliament, Chamisa now returns as a minority opposition leader. Zanu PF knows that Chamisa, under whatever moniker, will win the by-elections and overwhelmingly so.

These by-elections will not give him the status of leader of the main opposition on paper. The strategy depends on this. 

 If Chamisa agrees to change the name of his party before 26 March 2022, it is predictable that there will be the name MDC Alliance on the ballot, as there is already an MDC Alliance in parliament under Mwonzora, with the collusion of the judiciary, Zec and the Speaker. 

 Assuming that Chamisa wins the majority of the seats as a new party, he automatically becomes Mwonzora’s junior in parliament. He will also lose his right to claim that Mwonzora has effectively hijacked the MDC Alliance, and that will remove the greater portion of the doubt hanging around Mwonzora.

 It will also give basis to say if at all Chamisa was party leader in the MDC Alliance as he claims, then he abandoned that position and formed a new party.  In any future dialogue, Chamisa will be a junior member of the opposition, having only the right to speak for the few seats handed to him by Zanu PF on 26 March 2022.

 He will have been effectively installed as a junior to Mwonzora. This will also allow Zanu PF and Mwonzora a legitimate platform to “defeat” Chamisa in parliament through voting.

This includes the real possibility that Zanu PF does not want the 2023 elections and may be pushing for a government of national unity and delayed elections through constitutional amendments.

Chamisa will not have the right to say he was excluded as his members in parliament under the new name would have lost.

The ultimate goal is to recalibrate the results of 2018 and remove the stink that both the ruling party’s leader, Mnangagwa, and the leader of the opposition, Mwonzora, created by Zanu PF, only exist because of a pliable judiciary. Chamisa is needed in this game, and the by-elections are the bait. 

 If I was Chamisa, I would be alive to the bigger picture and the possibility that Mnangagwa does not want elections next year. An angry man has never been a wise man. We may be angry at how the elected officials have been bastardised and how Mnangagwa has rendered all three arms of the state completely useless.

Mnangagwa counts on that anger in the final phase. Electoral law reforms needed for free and fair elections have not happened. It is to blow hot and cold for Chamisa to demand electoral reforms and then jump at the first opportunity to participate in inconsequential by-elections.  The 26 March 2022 elections are nothing in the greater scheme of things.

Chamisa does not need by-elections to test his suitability by the electorate. Anyone who holds a contrary view at best has no idea how the electorate in Zimbabwe operates and thinks. That advice is premised on a false basis.

 If at all someone needs by-elections to test the waters, it is the party whose leader performed dismally in the 2018 elections despite his own party doing well in other constituencies. Mnangagwa is that person!

No real benefit is served by insisting on getting into parliament just under a year before general elections. If the members of his party who were recalled wish to get into parliament, let them do so as independents with his blessing. A change in name, though an attractive way to go, will serve Zanu PF more than the MDC Alliance. This has always to me been an obvious strategy, yet Zanu PF has proclaimed by-elections nonetheless.

 Where Zanu PF is concerned,  it is better to try and see how something benefits them as a basis to understand why it has been done.

To those who give advice on public platforms and claim to be friends, be wary of friends who proclaim both your problems and their solutions on platforms where the enemy has easy access. 

Those who are calling for a change of name must worry that their advice fits well into the Zanu PF strategy.

When two people with polar opposite intentions do the same thing, they must be wary that they are pursuing different agendas from apparently similar positions.

*About the writer: Reginald Murendo is a lawyer and political analyst.

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