Chamisa congress: Much ado about nothing

THE much-vaunted MDC congress has come and gone with the outcome pointing to serious democratic deficiencies in that party. 

By Khumbulani Vodloza Sibanda

 After the High Court ruling that set aside the appointment of Mr Nelson Chamisa and Mr Elias Mudzuri as MDC vice-presidents by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leadership went into overdrive disparaging and scandalising the High Court, describing it as a political court being used by Zanu-PF to destroy the opposition movement. 

A statement released by the party scandalised the High Court, claiming “the choice of leadership of a political party, the world over, will always be the preserve of members of that party. No one, and certainly not a court of law, can choose our leaders.”

One would expect the MDC leadership, which is dominated by lawyers, to appreciate and treat the judiciary with respect and dignity. Scandalising and holding the judiciary in contempt is an uncouth crime. There is a thin dividing line between genuine criticism of court processes and decisions and on the other scandalising them. 

Former Chief Justice, Anthony Gubbay, defined the crime of scandalising the court as being committed by “publication, either in writing, or verbally of words calculated to bring a court, a Judge or the administration of justice through the courts generally, into contempt”. 

What MDC leaders are doing is just deliberately scandalising the court for political expedience. This has the effect of undermining the Judiciary. The conduct of the congress itself left adherents of democracy in doubt as to the party’s commitment to fair play and transparency. Right from the start of the provincial congresses, Chamisa made sure that intimidation and violence were visited upon anyone who dared aspire to challenge him for that party’s presidency. 

On 30 April 2019, violence erupted in Chitungwiza and most of the victims of the violence were believed to be members sympathetic to ousted secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora. Former Chitungwiza Deputy Mayor, Jabulani Mtunzi, and several other party activists seriously injured. 

Mwonzora and his supporters were being punished for daring to challenge Chamisa for the party presidency. Chamisa would personally attend provincial congresses where provincial members were choosing their candidates ahead of the main congress. 

This was gross intimidation and abuse of incumbency. Who would dare nominate other interested members to lead MDC when Chamisa and his violent Vanguard misfits were in the caucuses. No wonder why he emerged uncontested.   Mwonzora eventually withdrew from the presidential race. 

When the main congress was held, vice-presidency aspirants, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, allegedly donated huge sums of money and foodstuffs to the voting delegates. Sources within the party complained that youths were given beer and other monetary incentives to sway their votes towards preferred candidates. 

Chamisa himself complained over the vote-buying spree, saying “these youths are being bought beer and being given money. This is the problem in my party.” When you have a whole party leader complaining of vote buying at a congress, it can only mean that the outcome of that congress does not reflect the real wishes of the voting delegates. 

It points to corruption and subversion of the wishes of the majority. Mwonzora complained that outgoing organising secretary, Amos Chibaya, who was clearly an interested party in leadership changes, superintended over provincial congresses, in the process ensuring that members aligned to Chamisa and his camp emerged victorious. 

How does one explain that Manicaland Provincial Assembly failed to nominate its own Mwonzora for any post, given his performance during the five years he had been secretary-general? This was clearly Chamisa playing chicanery with the processes. Chamisa went on to mock Mwonzora after his loss to Charlton Hwende, saying he should accept defeat in the same manner he did when he lost the same post to Mwonzora in 2014. 

Apparently, Mwonzora and Tapiwa Mashakada left the congress venue before announcement of official results. Voting at the congress was held at night using vehicle lights. Reports indicated that voting for the Main and Women’s Assemblies went into the early hours of Sunday, 26 May 2019, while some delegates were barred from accessing the voting venue. 

Over 2 000 delegates were barred from voting on the spurious grounds that they did not have positive identification. Of the 6 200 delegates at the congress, around 4 000 voted. This disenfranchisement of such a significant bloc of congress delegates could have been engineered to work against Mwonzora and those aligned to him for daring to consider challenging Chamisa for the party presidency. 

How Biti and Prof Ncube, who left the MDC during the reign of Tsvangirai, came back to win top posts, defeating members who remained loyal to the party boggles the mind. The two said a lot of unsavoury things about Tsvangirai when they left to form their own parties. 

For the two to now claim to be fulfilling and safeguarding Tsvangirai’s legacy is a mockery to the generality of MDC membership who remained loyal to the party and stood with Tsvangirai. Chamisa could have used these two to achieve his political hegemony. 

In the case of Prof Ncube, Chamisa is seeking to achieve a tribal balance to appease the Matabeleland region by having one of their own in the top leadership of the MDC. This has nothing to do with Prof Ncube’s competence or merit to deserve the vice-presidency. 

Chamisa is simply seeking to portray himself as a unifier. Unfortunately, this is coming with the threat of a split as the fallen bigwigs enjoy a measure of support across all the provinces. The holding of the MDC congress has clearly demonstrated that making the most noise about democracy does not translate into concrete commitment to its achievement. 

If the MDC cannot organise a transparent and democratic congress involving 6 000 delegates, how can it be expected to govern a complex nation-State like Zimbabwe. The MDC cannot expect to implement democracy at national level while dismally failing to implement same at party level. 

One big lesson from the congress is that the MDC is not  mature for national governance, both from an organisational capacity and competence levels. The party needs to refine its internal democratic practices to immunise them against manipulation by power-mongers from within the party.