Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A), believes that the country’s ruling Zanu-PF has decided to assassinate MDC-A leader Nelson Chamisa because all its other efforts to destroy his party have failed.
MDC-A officials say Zanu-PF thugs attacked Chamisa’s convoy twice on the campaign trail in recent weeks, once firing bullets into his car, one of which missed him by centimetres. And later, it says, a Zanu-PF- driven bakkie tried to side-swipe Chamisa’s vehicle into oncoming traffic.
Zanu-PF had earlier already orchestrated the eviction of 36 MDC-A representatives from Parliament and the confiscation of its headquarters in Harare and its statutory state party political funding.
But when MDC-A bounced back and Chamisa started to pull large crowds in Zanu-PF’s rural strongholds while campaigning for the 2023 general elections, the ruling party took fright and tried to physically eliminate the party’s popular leader, party officials say.
Gift Ostallos Siziba, the party’s deputy spokesperson, told DM168 that on 10 October in the Charumbira area of the southern province of Masvingo, more than 200 Zanu-PF thugs had attacked Chamisa’s convoy as he was on the rural campaign trail, driving to the second meeting of the day with local leaders. “We thought these were just people raising placards with certain messages: ‘We want jobs’; anti-sanctions rhetoric,” said Siziba, who witnessed the attack. “And we thought that’s okay, there’s freedom of expression after all, freedom of association and freedom to air their discontent around the leadership of the MDC.
“But we then realised these people were armed with machetes, with axes, carrying rubble, basically stopping the convoy, and then they started to throw stones at the president, breaking the windscreen and the side window where the president was sitting.” Siziba said the thugs were dressed in civilian clothes and some wore Zanu-PF insignia. “But some of them were trained militias because of the level of execution of the attack. And when we left, the police then started to follow the president [Chamisa].”
Chamisa’s security detail quickly managed to escort him out of the ambush. But Chamisa had his narrowest escape the next week, on 19 October, the second day of his rural campaigning in Manicaland Province. At about 6pm, as their convoy was entering the provincial capital of Mutare, where they intended to spend the night, bullets were fired at them, Siziba said. The bullets hit both the car in which Chamisa was travelling and an escort vehicle in which Siziba was travelling. They calculated that one of the bullets had missed Chamisa by “a whisker”. If the bullet had been fired about a quarter of a second earlier it would have hit him, said Sibiza. It missed him because the car was travelling at such high speed, about 160 to 180km/hr, he said.
“It was clear that it was a trained sniper,” Siziba added, saying that police ballistics experts who inspected the site confirmed this — though unofficially. And then the following week, on 27 October, a bakkie, which Siziba said was being driven by a known Zanu-PF youth official, had tried to drive on to the verge on the left side of Chamisa’s vehicle — with the intention of side-swiping his vehicle into the path of an oncoming truck, Siziba and the MDC-A believe. Chamisa’s driver moved to the left to thwart the manoeuvre. MDC-A recorded the incident in a video clip.
Siziba said the MDC-A had gone through the motions of reporting the shooting incident to the police but knew nothing would come of it, as the police were in cahoots with Zanu-PF.
Zanu-PF has flatly denied the claims of an assassination attempt and government spokesperson Nick Mangwana called the attacks “dramas” stage-managed by the MDC-A to discredit Zanu-PF and gain international support.
Siziba said these were desperate last resorts by Zanu-PF because its efforts to destroy the party politically had failed. He noted that Zanu-PF had conspired with the courts and the much smaller MDC-T party to evict 36 of MDC-A’s MPs and had also withheld the party funding that the government was legally obliged to give it. “They’ve used the judiciary to weaponise the law against the MDC. The MDC is literally a banned organisation now. So this political violence they have unleashed against our leader is the last tool in the box.”
Fadzayi Mahere, MDC-A communications head, explained how the party had lost its 36 MPs to the much smaller MDC faction first led by Thokozani Khupe and then by Douglas Mwonzora — with Zanu-PF backing the Khupe/Mwonzora faction.
In March 2020, the Supreme Court handed down a controversial judgment upholding a high court ruling that the appointment of Nelson Chamisa as MDC vice-president by the MDC’s founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai just before he died in 2018 had violated the party constitution. This meant he should not have become the president of the party on Tsvangirai’s death, as only a vice-president elected at the party’s congress could, the court said. So the court ruled that vice-president Thokozani Khupe should have become the new leader, as she was the only elected vice-president.
The legalities of this court decision are unclear. But the effect has been that the Speaker of Parliament — a Zanu-PF member — has evicted 28 MDC-A MPs from the National Assembly and eight from the Senate. Mwonzora has seized the MDC’s six-storey headquarters building in Harare with the help of the military, and the government has denied MDC-A the statutory political party funding, which it says it is due, as a party that won more than 45% of the vote in the 2018 presidential election, compared with less than 1% for Khupe, and 88 seats in the National Assembly elections versus just one seat for MDC-T.
On top of that, Zanu-PF has been targeting MDC-A senior leadership with “spurious prosecutions” to throw the party further off balance, party officials say.
Siziba says MDC-A has, as a result of these attacks, become in effect almost a banned organisation. “The intention was to cripple the organisation. But it emerged more strong, more refined and redefined.”
With its parliamentary platform badly depleted and with Zanu-PF “weaponing” Covid-19 lockdown regulations by selectively preventing MDC-A from holding rallies, the former “virtually handed over the party to the people” with its Citizens Convergence for Change campaign, which aims to meet and mobilise “social forces” including students, women, community leaders, traditional leaders and workers. Much of the focus has been on the rural areas, which has rattled Zanu-PF.
One official remarks that at its recent conference Zanu-PF discussed formal agenda items such as how to prevent the MDC from penetrating the rural areas. “How do you talk about preventing MDC penetrating the rural areas when you have freedom of association in the constitution which allows for multiparty democracy?” this official asked.
Chamisa’s visits to Masvingo and Manicaland in October were the start of this engagement with the rural communities and Zanu-PF’s violent response was intended to remind him that the rural areas are still no-go zones for the opposition, Siziba said.
But he insisted the party would not be deterred. “We are a [constitutionally] recognised political party. We are the biggest opposition movement south of the Sahara. So we can’t stop our political programming because of bullets being fired [at] us.” However, the party would exercise greater caution, increasing Chamisa’s security and canvassing support closer to the grassroots down to family level to try to avoid flashpoints like those in Masvingo and Mutare.
Since the attacks, Chamisa has continued to campaign in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East, where he was “massively received”, according to Siziba. This week he was campaigning in Matabeland North and Matabeleland South, which are opposition territories.
“He’s deep in rural areas, travelling more than 1,000km a day,” Siziba said. Daily Maverick