MDC and politics of denial psychology and deflection

Nelson Chamisa

WE are a pretty impressionable people. We all like to say that we are independent, free individuals who make up our own minds, but the reality is that we are heavily influenced by the company we keep. Therefore, we need to be very careful with how we create our inner circle and what advice we embrace.

Following the Supreme Court judgment on the Elias Mashavira, MDC/Chamisa case, I wrote a legal analysis which was published in the Zimbabwe Independent on May 5, 2020, in which I interrogated the court’s arguments in making their determination. I also articulated the enforceability of the order and its consequences on the MDCAlliance, despite denials by its leadership. I explained how the MDC-Alliance was a direct bi-product of the original MDC left by Morgan Tsvangirai, and unconstitutionally usurped by Nelson Chamisa. I further wrote that even if the MDC-Alliance was a political party, it would still be impacted by the judgment.

In my analysis, I explained how the reinstated leadership led by Thokozani Khupe would be legally entitled to recall members of the National Assembly, senators and councillors elected under the MDC-Alliance banner, as they had been a component of the MDC reinstated by the Supreme Court. I advised that Chamisa and his MDCAlliance outfit, had two options, to abide by the judgment and unite the party, or to form a new party divorced from the MDC.

While Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube and David Coltart went on Twitter and held press briefings, claiming that the judgment had nothing to do with the MDC-Alliance as it is a distinct political party unrelated to the MDC, whose judgment had been handed down by the Supreme Court, my analysis then, has since come to pass.

The MDC-Alliance has now been embroiled in devastating turmoil of huge proportions. It was evident for any legally literate individual that disaster was coming to the MDC-Alliance, despite its leadership, ironically filled with legal minds, denying this glaring truth.

Thus the MDC-Alliance is engulfed in or is employing what social scientists would call “denial psychology”, coupled with “psychological deflection.” But what do these phrases mean?

Denial psychology

Denial psychology is a person’s act of denying reality as a way of avoiding a psychologically uncomfortable truth. It is essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. Denial psychology is built around understanding denial as a coping mechanism, along with the way it impacts people and their deeds and relationships.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, denial is a defence mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality. When one uses denial as a defence mechanism, it can easily become a way of lying to oneself or to others. While it might seem easier in the moment, the reality is that it can cause one to develop maladaptive behaviours and unhealthy relationships with others.

Denial psychology is a trait that has been quite evident in both the leadership of the MDC-Alliance across the board, and some of its aligned political, legal and media pundits, which has sadly cascaded to its religiously subservient membership and some of the citizenry.

The noise made by both the leadership and aligned pundits, that the judgment had no effect on the MDC-Alliance, was clear denial psychology. While they made noise denying it, in my analysis I correctly opined that the judgement would have consequences on them, and it is coming to pass.

Soon after the judgment, instead of making sober legal arguments in their criticism thereof, and work to contain the damage done, they went into denial mode, yet they knew very well of the impeding devastating ramifications on their political outfit.

Unfortunately, the storm, whose impeding disastrous arrival they have been denying, has hit home and has now caused pandemonium within the MDC-Alliance, and they now employ psychological deflection, by blaming external forces for fomenting their discomfiture.

While Zanu-PF is capable of anything in destabilising the opposition, the MDC mess is a self-inflicted roughhouse, and blaming external forces for its legal cobweb is psychological deflection.

Psychological deflection

Psychological deflection is described as a narcissistic abuse tactic used to control the mind and emotions of others, and is also a coping mechanism strategy. Individuals who use this seek to mask their own impulses by denying their mistakes and failures, projecting them on the people around them or most commonly their adversaries.

Human beings have a natural tendency to be proud of their achievements and share their positive results with others. But when it comes to failure, we usually attribute it to external factors: the system, the judiciary, the government, the other faction etc.

This is because our ego develops a selfdefence system that prevents us from acknowledging that we are wrong, thus making us feel less responsible for the consequences of our own actions or omissions. MDC-Alliance leaders have been employing psychological deflection, by blaming Zanu-PF, the judiciary and those in the MDC who have decided to follow the Supreme Court judgment.

In this article, I will go through the political, legal and constitutional miscalculations that Chamisa and the MDC-Alliance leaders have been making, while blaming external forces for their own faux pas.

The Art of War

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, in his book, The Art of War, wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

From my observations, the MDC-Alliance fits the third scenario. They know, neither themselves nor their enemy. They have been succumbing in every battle, even when they are at an advantage, because they know neither themselves nor their enemy.

During the liberation war, Zanla received weapons from different communist and socialist states. In 1978, they received arms, in the form of a Soviet-type cheap submachine gun called Papasha or Pepesha in local lingo. This weapon was a kind of submachine pistol, which was not effective in real combat situations. The Zanla command, realising the weapon’s inadequacy to face the enemy in the battlefield on the frontline, decided to keep this weapon in storage and in use in camps in Mozambique.

While there was a shortage of weaponry as trained fighters outnumbered the available weaponry, the commanders knew their enemy, and decided not to risk their forces by sending them with such weapons to the battlefront to be defeated and annihilated. They instead opted to maintain the war with the reduced effective weaponry they had.

They only deployed these Pepesha pistol guns in 1979 in liberated zones, where there was little or no chance of engagement with the enemy. For the civilians in these zones, there was no difference between wellarmed comrades and those with Pepeshas. This is called strategy, as surmised by Sun Tzu. Zanla knew its enemy, and knew itself, and succeeded in the war against Ian Smith.

Now coming to the MDC, which is now calling itself the MDC-Alliance, the democratic, constitutional and legal missteps they have made along the way are detrimental to the fight against Zanu-PF, because they appear to know neither themselves nor their enemy, hence the multiple splits and intra-party conflicts.

The split between Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube marked the first indication of constitutional transgressions. This was repeated when Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma were expelled from the MDC followed by Job Sikhala. All these times, the MDC employed denial psychology and psychological deflection, blaming their former colleagues of being Zanu-PF elements.

The greatest chance ever to slip through the hands of the MDC to engineer change in Zimbabwe was in the period between 2009 and 2013, when MDC won the elections in 2008, but was deprived of taking over State House at the hands of the military. This led to a stalemate which resulted in the Government of National Unity (GNU) in early 2009. Instead of pushing vehemently and consistently for political, electoral and security sector reforms during this period, the MDC cabal slept on the pickings of high office and forgot their purpose.

This was a chance they must rue, and may never regain. While they credit themselves with reviving the economy during this period, including the reduction of the cost of mobile phone sim-cards, credited to Chamisa, the truth is that the economic decline was reversed by the introduction of the multi-currency regime by Zanu-PF in February 2009, just before the GNU, following the rejection of the useless and inflationary Zimdollar notes by kombi drivers and touts. The introduction of the multi-currency regime stabilised supply and demand, and brought about sanity in the economy.

While Biti managed the economy on the “we eat what we kill” mantra, and reduced government spending, he did nothing to stimulate productivity and exports, to bring the economy back on track. The economy remained consumer driven, without any foreign currency generation.

In 2016, Tsvangirai appointed Elias Mudzuri and Chamisa, ultra vires the MDC constitution and against rational and legal advice from lawyers like Alex Magaisa, Eric Matinenga and Douglas Mwonzora. When later confronted with questions on succession about who would takeover should anything happen to him, Tsvangirai, in an audio released on social media, was explicit that Khupe was the constitutionally elected vice-president who would automatically take over.

Following this, the biggest constitutional goof that the MDC made, was the imperceptive support of the unconstitutional power takeover by the military in November 2017, which ushered in exiled Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose ascendance to power they now call a coup de tat. As a party with a contingent of lawyers, and which portrays itself as democrats, they failed to stick to constitutionalism, in the hope of being included in a power sharing matrix.

I remember writing an article expressing my dismay, when Chamisa, a lawyer, was interviewed on CapiTalk Radio’s Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa, and professed that the removal of Mugabe was a miracle. A miracle really? He did not even consider that as a lawyer, he was obliged to consider the constitutionality of the power grab, which was evidently a coup d’etat, as well as an intraparty feud.

At the time, not even the human rights lawyers aligned to the MDC spoke against the military abuses during the period. The only voices I observed were from David Coltart and Brian Kagoro, who called it a de facto coup d’état, which should not have been supported by the MDC. To me, this exposes the MDC leadership as opportunists, who have no respect for democracy and constitutionalism. They disregard constitutionalism as long as it leads them to power, and proclaim it when it is convenient for them.

It is undisputed, that Chamisa unconstitutionally usurped power a day after Tsvangirai’s death, and everything took a different direction, dividing the MDC, post Tsvangirai. This is some hard truth which both Chamisa himself, his colleagues in the MDC-Alliance and wayward pundits in his corner refuse to admit was the cause of all the current misadventures. They pretend it never happened. They have tried to peddle the idea that the Mashavira case is moot, as they seek to deny and forget the illegality. But Justice Bharat Patel was clear: such unconstitutionality cannot be allowed by the courts, because of the potential proximity of the incumbent to constitutional state power. Denial psychology continues to rule over their minds and actions.

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Chando is a lawyer, political analyst and commentator on international law and politics. jonathanchando@gmail.com