WHEN Robert Chapman entered Zimbabwe’s highly polarised political fray, some critics called him a “Zanu-PF project” aimed at dividing the youth vote.
His admirers referred to him as an alternative to main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. Chapman’s entry for some signified the end of era of politics dominated by liberation war stalwarts.
Zimbabwe, like most African states, is a youthful nation. So naturally, such a demographic group will have a say in the polls.
Approximately 67.7% of Zimbabwe’s 15 million total population is under the age of 35.
According to a 2022 Afrobarometer survey, large majorities of Zimbabweans registered to vote and intend to cast their ballots in the 2023 general elections, but young citizens are considerably less likely than their elders to report being registered, and only slightly more than half of 18- to 35-year-olds say they will probably or definitely vote.
Chapman’s strong social media presence helped him attract attention.
With nearly 25 000 followers on micro-blogging site Twitter and a website, Chapman’s strategy was to use social media as the contemporary alternative to Jürgen Habermas’ public sphere.
Outside social media, he was also engaging. He attended business meetings organised by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and would project himself as a pro-business liberal leader.
During a campaign trip to Bulawayo in February, he surprised his followers with his command of the Shona language, complete with a perfect accent, a divergence from his elitist twang.
After the rally, Chapman and his team bumped into sportswriters who were in Bulawayo to cover West Indies’ Test cricket tour of Zimbabwe.
They were having the staple meal next to the scribes, in a modest restaurant in central Bulawayo.
The two groups exchanged pleasantries, and then one of the reporters asked Chapman if he was confident of being the next president of Zimbabwe.
Chapman quipped: “I am the winner, guys, no doubt. Shiri inozongofa (a popular Zimbabwean street lingo meaning that a doomed opponent will always lose in the end).
Charmed followers called him “Obama lite”, making reference to his eloquence and mixed race identity.
To appeal with the downtrodden, he played up how he grew up as an orphan under the watchful eye of his grandmother in Chinhoyi.
But the former Sinoia Primary and Chinhoyi High learner was far from being poverty-stricken.
He attended boarding school at former “Group A” schools in the late 80s and 90s before leaving the country, in pursuit of better economic prospects.
Soon after President Emmerson Mnangagwa proclaimed 23 August as the election date, the country’s polling season swung into motion.
But before that, Chapman’s Democratic Union of Zimbabwe was on a nose dive. The party’s spokesperson, Taona Muchemwa, threw in the towel after accusing Chapman and other senior officials of dictatorial tendencies.
In his resignation letter to the party president and secretary-general, Pishai Muchauya, Muchemwa cited dictatorship by senior party members. He claimed that all decisions are passed by few individuals, much against the party constitution.
“There is victimisation of members during and after meetings by top executives,” Muchemwa said.
He also claimed that DUZ had diverted from its founding principles.
“Funding and resources are only known by the principals as the party has been personalised.”
Well before that, the youthful leader was in the press for the wrong reasons: he was accused of defaulting alimony on his estranged wife, something he denies.
Earlier on, Chapman rejected a request by senior CCC official David Coltart to join forces with the main opposition.
After Chapman announced that he was running for president because people are “tired of living in poverty and that prosperity is possible,” Coltart challenged Chapman to join the opposition party for the greater good.
“At the outset I wish to affirm your Constitutional right to stand for President. My only questions, Sir, are: One, do you realise that all you are going to do is divide those opposed to Zanu PF, which benefits Zanu PF and no else? Two, why not rather join and strengthen CCC?” Coltart said.
In response, Chapman claimed he already tried to join the CCC but was given an unsatisfactory answer.
“Already tried and was told I would be given ‘goat skinning’ duties. Seriously, I was actually told this, lol. See you on the campaign trail!” he said.
After announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race, he promised his followers that he would regroup and reorganise for future polls.
“I would like to personally thank all those who worked hard and remained true to our cause for an alternative option to the political landscape of Zimbabwe,” Chapman said.
“As I and we all reflect on this moment, the tough lessons allow the opportunity to build back better and wiser. I look forward to campaigning on the ground with all our successfully nominated candidates and remain committed to improving the dialogue about building a better Zimbabwe.”
As for now he seems to have lost steam and his name will not be on the ballot paper despite making utopian promises.