I MUST begin by apologising, dear reader, for not informing you that I will no longer deliver my instalment weekly as had become the tradition.
I received a few inquiries and some scolding from some readers last Friday after they did not receive their weekly binge of this column. I was even caricatured as a Sengezo Tshabangu of columnists. What an entitled lot my readers are!
You see, the farming season has begun. And, as an intransigent villager, I have joined others in the digging frenzy of pfumbvudza preparations.
You know, our medieval annual festival of back-breaking toil in pursuit of a snake oil solution to food security. But, one must be patriotic and contribute to the national propaganda effort. In light of this important national duty, I will revert to the fortnightly submission of my missive. Anyway, I digress. Let us dig into today’s subject. Pun not intended.
The President has proclaimed December 9 as the date for by-elections to fill the vacancies created by Sengezo Tshabangu’s recall of 15 MPs, nine Senators, and 17 Councillors from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party. I have always desisted from opining on the legal merits of the recalls as I am incompetent in that regard.
Instead, I will apply political lenses to the issue. It is also an academic exercise to split the hairs of legal merit because the horse has bolted and clearly the bigger problem is political and not legal. We must therefore deal with that reality.
Suffice to say that 14 of the recalled MPs are challenging Tshabangu’s legitimacy in the courts and we await the outcome thereof. Should the re-calls stand, it effectively means Nelson Chamisa has once again lost control of the party, and all elected officials of CCC will be beholden to Tshabangu for the next five years.
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It also means the latter can gain control of the party finances from the government, as Douglas Mwonzora did after the fallout in 2018. The consequences of this debacle are far more dire than just the recalls themselves. They will settle who controls the party for the next five years or until the party congress.
We have been here before.
These looming by-elections create a catch-22 situation for CCC. In the immediate, it means any candidate not endorsed by Tshabangu for the by-elections will have the Sword of Damocles hang on their head even if they win the by-election.
Still, CCC will be fielding candidates right into Tshabangu’s basket. If they stand as independents, some may lose their seats, while those that win can become isolated as those who associate with them may suffer the fate of recalls.
If CCC boycotts the by-elections, it profits Zanu PF and allows them to gain more seats on a silver platter, moving them to a possible two-thirds majority in Parliament.
The consequences of that will be worse than the axe that Tshabangu is wielding. To rephrase William Shakespeare’s famous statement: “To do, or not to do? That is the question!”
CCC is faced with an untenable reality - damned if you do, damned if you do not!
What must Chamisa do?
The default logic of the CCC in this situation will be to demonstrate once again who is popular in the party. A contest that Chamisa would win hands down. That, unfortunately, is not the question at hand. That question was long settled and is not in dispute. It, therefore, will be a vanity fair feeding the demons of populist arrogance but with little effect on the political question of the day.
To paraphrase Neema Parvini’s thoughts in the seminal book titled Populist Delusion, “Populism is often seen widely as a vindication of the people over elites…, but the sobering picture that emerges is that the interests of the people have only ever been advanced by a few tightly organised elites”.
There are two questions at hand. One is about the internal elite discord and contradictions. The second is about the amorphous character of the CCC.
It is the convergence of these two inadequacies that has brought CCC to the precipice it finds itself now. The response to these questions, therefore, must be more long-term beyond just the immediate headache of the by-elections.
It must be about regaining legal and political control of the party. The party's survival in the long game means deftly addressing these two questions.
Galvanise elite consensus
In any political movement, elite consensus is key, as Parvini also concurs. While the masses anchor the movement, the elite provide direction and cohesion of the masses.
The current recall saga is not Zanu PF capturing the opposition. Of course, it is profiting from it but it is an issue of internal elite discord and the lack of proper platforms for addressing this discord makes it worse.
The first uncomfortable reality to acknowledge is that CCC is not manna. It did not fall from heaven. The transition did not happen in a vacuum, it happened in a particular context which began with the demise of Morgan Tsvangirai and the subsequent succession politics, which saw Chamisa emerge, with the backing of people like Welshman and Tendai Biti.
The transition to CCC, however, appeared to drop these and other elites like then secretary-general Charlton Hwende becoming side-lined and sometimes humiliated particularly in the candidate selection process. This zero-sum game thinking has brought elite disintegration and serious internal discord.
There has to be an acceptance that everyone who moved away from MDC-A is a victim of the Mwonzora shenanigans and that what changed then was necessarily the name and maybe the content and character of the movement, but not the protagonists nor the goal.
To then the same elite who were instrumental in his rise to power and who because of that fell victim to Douglas Mwonzora’s wild swing of the axe afterwards is to be inadequate in political acumen.
Have your enemies inside the tent
It is a common cause in politics that you do not necessarily have to like each other or even trust each other internally, but you have to work together, nonetheless.
This is achieved by finding a convergence of interests and creating spaces for elite accommodation. Mugabe was a master at this. He could co-habit with his internal rivals so long as it continued to serve the interests of the party.
Former US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tent analogy is apt: "Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”.
Besides that, Chamisa is human and cannot singlehandedly run the party, deliver, and sustain gains for CCC in the political arena on his own.
It is not realistic. This is where the arrogance of popularity must be moderated and allow others, particularly experienced hands on deck, to support you.
Sages in Bukalanga counsel that, ‘tjilume tjin’ompela atjitokomba tjiwulu’ (one man cannot lay besiege an anthill). In other words, no matter how seemingly small a task, there is a need for teamwork.
Strategic ambiguity may have served its purpose to this point, but it is now having a boomerang effect. The amorphous character of the CCC creates a free-for-all all arena where anyone can claim to be anything or everything.
Such a structure is based on the consent of the members and is only as effective as long that consent lasts. That consent is also closely undergirded by consensus. When that consent is withdrawn, and the consensus is lost, it becomes a dog’s breakfast.
At the moment, it is difficult, other than testimonies (which only really work at church) to actually prove that Tshabangu is not the interim secretary-general of CCC.
This is because the burden of proof lies with those who dispute his legitimacy. If it can be successfully proven that he is not the interim SG, reverse logic means that by the same token, it can be proven that Chamisa is not the interim president of CCC.
My point is that without a clear, unambiguous framework and process of how power is structured, distributed, acquired, and exercised, then many more Tshabangu’s will crawl out of many ambiguous holes and claim this or that. This can, therefore be settled once and for all by adopting a constitution and convening a congress. That will close the space for imposters.
It must be noted that the argument that it is Zanu PF that wants CCC to have a constitution and hold a congress is becoming increasingly unconvincing. The majority of CCC supporters at various levels want structures. When CCC adopts a constitution and convenes a congress, it is doing it for itself and not for Zanu PF because it is the proper democratic thing to do.
My last point is a lamentation that a self-proclaimed democratic movement needs to be convinced to institute minimum internal democratic standards! It is a disquieting reality.
The sober view
Tshabangu’s recalls have set the cat amongst the pigeons and created a catch-22 situation for CCC. Responding to this situation requires a long-term outlook, not a patchwork of knee-jerk reactions. Its consequences are more far-reaching than the immediate by-elections that are upcoming.
Political acumen and maturity will be key in addressing the two questions of elite consensus and unambiguous form.
The ball is squarely on Chamisa’s feet.
This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.
Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. — X profile: @NtandoDumani.