PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new charm offensive to woo his rival by creating a formal “office of the leader of the opposition” leaves MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa navigating potentially the most treacherous terrain of his nascent political career.
So far, his response and that of his and the party spokesperson show that Chamisa could be suffering the indecision of a step child – if he washes, he is wasting water and soap, if he doesn’t, he is dirty.
Mnangagwa has dangled a carrot, and the youthful opposition leader is right to view this rather unusual and suspicious offer – as more like a double-edged sword.
If Chamisa decides to accept Mnangagwa’s offer, he risks being described by a contingent of his hardline followers as having sold out, and will face a daunting task at the party’s upcoming elective congress next year. If he decides to decline the offer, he risks being described as immature and retrogressive by the millions of impoverished Zimbabweans who wish to see an end to the political polarisation that has characterised the country’s political landscape.
But acceptance indicates that Chamisa acknowledges Mnangagwa’s victory in the July 30 elections. He would also lose the big stick of illegitimacy that he has used to beat Mnangagwa at every opportunity.
Mnangagwa desperately needs legitimacy to make his ‘big bang’ economic plan work and unlock foreign capital to the southern African country that had become a pariah under former President Robert Mugabe. He has staked his political future on reviving Zimbabwe’s moribund economy, getting the youth to work again and making the country a middle class economy by 2030.
Zanu PF has already set the agenda, propagating the view that the office of the opposition leader will allow greater inclusivity in the running of the country and allow progressive “checks-and-balances” in the administrative architecture.
Is the offer being made in good faith, is the question no one seems able to answer. This is because throughout his political career, and by his own account, Mnangagwa is very calculating, displaying the patience of a crocodile and striking when the time is just right, earning him the moniker “Ngwena”.
Not many would have taken on the political chess master that is Robert Mugabe and won. The late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was one of the most astute politicians this country has ever produced, but even at his best he could not play at Mugabe’s level. Mnangagwa, albeit with the help of the military, took Mugabe on and lived not only to tell the tale, but to lord over him too.
Lessons from the inclusive government of 2009-2013 show that for Zanu PF, retaining power is the paramount objective. At the same time, if he stays on the sidelines of national politics, Chamisa risks falling out of national consciousness and make the task of unseating Mnangagwa and Zanu PF much more difficult in 2023.
So Chamisa is caught in the jaws of the crocodile. His next move will determine just how good a swimmer he is.