President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party are in panic mode because of the resilience of opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa.
The youthful leader has survived everything thrown at him. This includes rival parties working in cahoots with the State to snatch CCC’s resources, judges’ adverse rulings; abductions of party members by suspected State security agents; police arrests and brutality; and violence meted out by Zanu PF thugs.
Can Chamisa turn his huge following — unemployed youths, workers in the informal sector, business leaders and civil servants — into votes, seeing as all these groups are suffering under the current economic malaise?
On February 20, CCC — formerly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance — held its official campaign launch rally in Highfield, a high-density suburb in the capital, Harare.
As usual, the State used the police and the military to mount roadblocks in a bid to restrict access to the venue. Social media was awash with videos allegedly showing police beating up CCC supporters.
Several campaign rallies in Harare, including that of CCC vice-president Tendai Biti, were also disrupted by Zanu PF supporters.
The police banned Chamisa from bussing people from outside the province to attend the rally. Meanwhile, the ruling party continues to organise its own events at the taxpayer’s dime. Despite this, Chamisa told his cheering supporters: “I declare that CCC is the next government in Zimbabwe.”
- Chamisa party defiant after ban
- Village Rhapsody: How Zimbabwe can improve governance
- News in depth: Partisan police force persecutes opposition, shields Zanu PF rogue elements
- Chamisa chilling death threat bishop defiant
He vowed to prevent a repeat of irregularities witnessed in the disputed 2018 election that saw Mnangagwa voted into office after toppling the late former President Robert Mugabe the year before.
Uneven playing field
Eldred Masunungure, a Zimbabwe-based professor of political studies, says Chamisa has shown remarkable endurance in the face of great odds and a grossly uneven playing field.
“It is a puzzling fact that despite the total and unrelenting assault on Chamisa and all he has and stands for, he is still breathing politically,” says Masunungure.
“It appears as if the ruling party has been investing less in its organisational robustness than in decimating the organisational and reputational infrastructure of Chamisa” and his MDC-Alliance — now reincarnated as the CCC.
However, can Chamisa deliver the votes needed to bring change to Zimbabwe?
On March 26 last year, 133 parliamentary and local government seats were up for grabs. Most of the elections were to replace MDC Alliance Members of Parliament and local councillors recalled by the breakaway opposition Movement for Democratic Change — Tsvangirai (MDC-T) of Douglas Mwonzora, which Chamisa’s supporters accuse of having links with Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF.
Historically, the opposition has performed well in the cities, while the ruling Zanu PF garners more votes from rural areas. Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, expects a similar outcome this time around.
“There will be a replication of the results that we have seen in that past – […] the CCC will dominate in the urban areas and Zanu PF will still scrap through its use of the rural vote,” Mukundu says.
“This is not necessarily because the rural vote has the freedom to choose which political party to support, but because of vote-buying and organised violence, which is a key Zanu PF election strategy.”
Zimbabwe’s electoral environment, he says, “remains lopsided in favour of the ruling party not only in its illegal appropriation of State resources, but [also] its abuse of […] State security machinery to attack the opposition.”
Last year, in neighbouring Zambia, opposition party leader Hakainde Hichilema beat incumbent Edgar Lungu because of what political analysts say was a huge turnout of voters, particularly young people.
Masunungure says Chamisa “. . . has a huge popular base of young, enthusiastic and even zealous followers”, but “anecdotal evidence suggests that a large proportion of these are unregistered. To get votes, Chamisa needs voters and this is most likely to be his Achilles’ heel”.
“He should resist the temptation to be mesmerised by the huge numbers that turn up at his rallies if the bulk of them are unregistered,” says Masunungure.
“A zealous but unregistered voter is dead political capital and Chamisa should guard against this by ensuring that all his eligible supporters are registered and then go out to vote. In electoral politics, the key to State House is via registered voters who turn out to vote.”
Zanu PF has been using its propaganda machinery, including State media, to lay blame on the opposition, which has nominally been in charge in most urban areas for two decades. However, the powers held by elected officials in city councils are largely ceremonial, with most executive power firmly in the hands of central government, which is controlled by Zanu PF.
Mukundu says the opposition is unlikely to be swayed by government propaganda. “The people are tired of the failed promises, the poverty, underdevelopment and suffering that they have gone through over two decades under Zanu PF,” he says. “This is not going to change.”