TAONA B DENHERE
THE historic Zimbabwe Grounds in the poor but vibrant township of Highfield in Harare occupy an important place in the political historiography of Zimbabwe as they have acted both literally and figuratively as the electoral battleground for the heart and soul of the country.
Zimbabwe Grounds acted as the launchpad and springboard for the 1980 general elections that followed a protracted liberation struggle.
It is on these grounds that the three main African political protagonists launched and spearheaded their final star rallies before the March 1980 general elections, the first to include the majority black electorate since Zimbabwe’s colonialisation in 1890.
The main contestants in the 1980 elections, namely Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF, Joshua Nkomo of PF Zapu and Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the UANC, gathered there to make their return from war to engage the people.
It was a spectacle. Mugabe’s 1980 star rally reportedly had 120 000 people, Nkomo 100 000 and Muzorewa “Hurudza” star rally attracted 90 000.
Mugabe and Zanu PF eventually won a landslide.
Since Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner said “the past is not dead, it is not even past”, it was essential to take a brief detour into the past in order to recontextualise the significance of the inaugural political star rally of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa held on 20 February 2022 at the Zimbabwe Grounds.
The CCC is a new political kid on the block, which was midwifed from the inevitable collateral damage inflicted upon Chamisa and his key allies by their erstwhile comrades-turned-arch-nemesis in the now judicially-constructed MDC-T, which also bizarrely claims to be the MDC-Alliance that was led by Chamisa.
This is the mess and madness that forced Chamisa to form a new party, CCC.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Proclamation 1 of 2022 under Statutory Instrument 2 of 2022 set the tone of electioneering into full swing.
Mnangagwa and MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora last week held their star rallies in Epworth and Highfield respectively. The CCC also held its rally in Highfield.
It is important to unpack and analyse these political developments and their implications in the short to medium term.
Political statement of intent
While Mnangagwa held his rallies in Epworth and Marondera, where people were bused in, Mwonzora’s rally in Highfield was a non-event. It exposed him as a charlatan with no meaningful political base and electoral agenda beyond his Zanu PF-backed shenanigans to fight fellow opposition comrades.
Mwonzora leads an opposition party which is more opposed to the opposition than the ruling party. And the electorate has seen through his deceit and has reacted with disdain and boycotts.
By contrast, Chamisa has survived the siege from Mwonzora and Zanu PF to launch a new party that has re-energised his social base and given him a new momentum that he had lost since the rigged 2018 presidential election that some say he won, but the result was stolen.
Prior to the CCC star rally, significant legal and political roadblocks as well as violence were put by the Zanu PF government to neutralise the organisational and mobilisational capacity of his party. The idea was to make it difficult for Chamisa to organise a big rally that would show who the most popular politician in the opposition, and indeed the country, is.
The repressive police clearance letter for the rally put restrictive measures such as banning the CCC from busing its supporters from other constituencies; preventing them from toyi-toying and sloganeering or singing and marching in large numbers, and also having vehicular convoys.
These police restrictive measures were not imposed on either Zanu PF when it held their Epworth and Marondera rallies nor on MDC-T when it held its Highfield and Bulawayo rallies, which highlighted selective application of the law once more.
CCC activists were also arrested two days before the rally and barbarically subjected to frenzied beatings by the police in a bid to stop them from attending the rally.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, the day of the rally, Harare and Chitungwiza residents woke up to a plethora of police roadblocks mounted across the main roads and byways that punctuate the length and breadth of the city.
The images that filtered through the social media showed massive traffic jams and vehicular gridlocks moving at snail’s pace designed to prevent mass movement of people towards the Zimbabwe Grounds. This repressive tactic is reminiscent of the same oppressive dirty tricks employed by both the colonial Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa governments to limit citizens’ freedoms of movement, assembly and association that were severely curtailed. This is what they did when they tried to contain and immobilise the organisational and mobilisational capacities of the anti-apartheid liberation movements.
However, this oppressive delay and dirty tactic was an exercise in futility as it failed to dampen the spirits of CCC supporters.
In the early morning of that day, multitudes of CCC supporters could be seen jovially singing, dancing and sloganeering while marching towards the Zimbabwe Grounds. Despite the police roadblocks, an endless yellow stream of CCC supporters flowed in and converged into a mighty Zimbabwe Grounds sea of people.
The fearless grassroots support base of the CCC managed to breach the police roadblocks and thousands made their way to the Zimbabwe Grounds where Chamisa addressed a huge rally which sent a loud and clear message to Mnangagwa and Mwonzora that he is the most popular politician in Zimbabwe.
Many believe that if a free and fair presidential election is held in Zimbabwe anytime, Chamisa could actually overrun Mnangagwa to a landslide.
The atmosphere inside the ground was euphoric and carnival, filled with voluntary and infectious jubilation and excitement. Video footage showed some people perched on trees trying to be part of the historic moment. This was quite reminiscent of the same atmosphere and anticipation that greeted both Nkomo and Mugabe when they held their respective triumphant return star rallies in February 1980 in the same venue.
This further demonstrates that Chamisa and the CCC have won the battle for hearts and minds within the opposition political ecosystem despite having spent the last two years in the political wilderness after the vindictive and unjustified parliamentary recalls by Mwonzora and the MDC-T.
There were also live-streaming feeds on social media which had viewership and listenership of nearly 14 000. This was in direct contrast to the MDC-T’s Pelandaba rally in Bulawayo which had a mere 70 viewers and Mnangagwa’s Marondera rally which had a paltry live-streaming audience of 91 viewers.
Due to the massive turnout by both the denizens and the netizens for the CCC star rally, as expected the Zanu PF government disabled and sabotaged the livestream networks. Telecoms regulator Potraz denies this, but the evidence suggests sabotage.
Nonetheless, Chamisa’s rally was a political tour de force. It clearly shattered the illusion and the fallacy that Mwonzora and the MDC-T were a more popular and credible alternative opposition.
The CCC’s marvellous feat also send shockwaves through the corridors of power as it showed that it was delusional of the authorities to think they would degrade and finish off Chamisa by helping Mwonzora to seize the MDC headquarters, get the state funds due to the opposition party and recall his MPs.
Consequently, Chamisa’s massive political showing fast-tracked Mwonzora and the MDC’s headlong plunge into political oblivion. Moreover, this robust organisational and mobilisational demonstration by the CCC and Chamisa has set the tone and drew the political and electoral battlelines between the CCC and the Zanu PF.
Apart from showing who is the main opposition between the CCC and MDC, the forthcoming by-elections would also be a dress rehearsal and curtain-raiser for the ultimate 2023 general elections showdown, which will pit Mnangagwa against Chamisa again.
In 2018, Mnangagwa was at the height of his popularity after removing the late former president Robert Mugabe through a coup, but now his popularity ratings have dropped significantly due to his leadership, policy and governance failures.
The political statement made by Chamisa and the CCC last Sunday has not gone unnoticed by the Zanu PF government. We are going to witness state-sanctioned systematic pattern of repressive violence and a weaponised judiciary deployed against both the top leadership and the rank-and-file of the CCC.
Having realised the futility of its initial plan to immobilise and neutralise Chamisa through propping its puppet trojan horse in the MDC-T, Zanu PF will default to its factory settings: Violence and brutality.
Greek media scholar Alexandra Boutopoula once famously said: “They tried to bury us, but they did not know that we were seeds”.
The Frankenstein show of political, organisational and mobilisational force by the CCC at the Zimbabwe Grounds aptly shows Chamisa and his key allies are still a formidable political force to reckon with, notwithstanding various state-orchestrated plots in the past two years to politically neutralise and emasculate them.
Chamisa remains the man to beat, not Mnangagwa’s lackey Mwonzora.