Gweru, Harare – Zimbabwe’s main opposition has elected Nelson Chamisa as its next president and a new team of national executive in its first congress since the death of its revered founder, Morgan Tsvangirai.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) elected Chamisa unopposed, boosting a party plagued by infighting since Tsvangirai’s death and battered by an election defeat.
Tsvangirai appointed Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as party co-vice presidents before succumbing to colon cancer in February 2018.
Chamisa, 41, then took the party helm, becoming its champion in the first presidential elections since the authoritarian Robert Mugabe was ousted.
He lost the historic ballot to incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, an outcome that he says was rigged.
The biggest casualty at the MDC Alliance’s elective congress in Gweru, Zimbabwe, at the weekend is outgoing secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora.
Mwonzora was initially earmarked to challenge for the party’s leadership at the congress but failed to get nominations, leaving party leader Nelson Chamisa uncontested.
As such, he reverted to defend his position against a Chamisa ally, Charlton Hwende, and Fortune Daniel Molokele. Hwende emerged the winner with a resounding 2,099 votes to Mwonzora’s 721, while Molokele was third with 577.
The vice-presidency was a predictable affair, with Tendai Biti and Prof Welshman Ncube joined by Lynette Kore as the third pick.
David Coltart is the new treasurer-general and the chairman is Thabitha Khumalo, her deputy being Job Sikhala.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s daughter, Vimbai, was elected women’s assembly secretary-general in her absence.
Meanwhile, guest of honour Ugandan musician and leader of the People Power Movement political party, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, performed a version of his Uganda … sleeping mama land at the congress on Sunday.
He substituted “Uganda” for “Zimbabwe” and bellowed, “… Chamisa we are the future, we are the change we badly need. We are the leaders of the future, and the future is today,” as the MDC Alliance’s delegation at the high table stood up to join the firebrand Ugandan MP.
Chamisa joined the performance, chanting, “Put your hands up if you love Chamisa, and put your hands up if you love the MDC”.
In his address, Bobi Wine said Zimbabwean and Ugandan opposition politicians are fighting the same cause against tyranny that has led to heartbreak.
“The story of many African countries has been a story of unfulfilled hopes and broken dreams… you are all familiar with our history. Our people have dreamt of a new day, only to go back into the darkest of the night. We gather here in Zimbabwe to witness the sad story of unfulfilled hopes,” he said.
Speaking at the congress, Chamisa said the party would push for early elections to solve the economic situation because, “five years is too long”.
In response, home affairs minister Cain Mathema said the government would not hesitate to put down any uprising.
“Our law-enforcement agencies are under full orders to exercise their full, lawful authority and might to guarantee peace and calmness for and at all times. Such reckless threats made against any constitutional order in any part of the world require and invite a vigorous response,” he said.
The results coming from Ascot Stadium indicate that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has produced the following leadership during its electoral process that happened throughout the night.
President: Nelson Chamisa
Vice Presidents: Tendai Biti
Lennet Kairenyi Kore
Secretary General: Charlton Hwende
Treasurer General: David Coltart
Chairperson: Tabitha Khumalo
Deputy Chairperson: Job Sikhala
There has been an outcry from some losing candidates who are alleging vote rigging and stuffing of ballot papers.
One of the losing candidates Douglas Mwonzora on Sunday tried to question if the structures of 2014 were going to be allowed to vote according to a National Executive Committee resolution.
Analysts who commented on the results congratulated MDC and said the party had managed to put together a strong team.
Human Rights defender Dr Pedzisayi Ruhwanya said, “The best MDC leadership line up since formation in 1999. Well done Nelson Chamisa for running a credible congress that produced solid and credible leadership. You have shown the world how to run elections; no shenanigans, manipulation etc.
“Those who did not make it in the MDC Congress in Gweru like Dougie, Komichi, Molokela have not lost.
How the MDC leadership lead by Nelson Chamisa strategically deploys these people will show the strength of both the leadership and the party. Their contributions are required.”
After the blow of July’s election loss, Chamisa may have the political winds behind him as the new MDC chief.
Zimbabwe’s economy, which the 76-year-old Mnangagwa has vowed to revive, is once more an explosive issue, with shortages of fuel, a cash crunch and rising inflation.
But whether the youthful Chamisa can appeal to a broader audience as this crisis unfolds is unclear.
“His popularity cannot be disputed – he is popular broadly within the MDC,” Chitanga said.
“But I’m not sure he has worked on his other traits as a leader of such a huge movement to a point where he inspires confidence to different sections of society.”
About 10 000 delegates and guests attended the conference in the central city of Gweru.
Formed in 1999, following a conference of labour, church and civic society and students groups with trade unionist Tsvangirai as founding leader, the MDC is the largest opposition party the country has known since independence in 1980.
It is the only party to have posed a sizeable challenge to Zanu-PF’s grip on power, often in the face of violence.
In the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections but failed to garner enough votes to be declared winner.
He withdrew from the runoff, citing attacks on his supporters by Zanu-PF militants and state agents that left around 200 people dead and thousands of people displaced.
Despite its prominence, the party has a long history of division.
It first split over whether to contest in senate elections in 2006, again in 2013 in the aftermath of general elections and most recently in internecine feuding over Tsvangirai’s succession.
Earlier this month, the high court, petitioned by a party district official, declared that Chamisa’s appointment as party vice-president by Tsvangira had been illegal.
The MDC says the ruling is a Zanu-PF machination ahead of the congress, and has lodged an appeal.