Chamisa Is Weaker Than He Wants the World to Believe . . . and His Strategy Is Reaping Diminishing Returns

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MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa is reported to have said that he will “doorstep” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa when the latter comes to Zimbabwe in a fortnight.

By Tichaona Zindoga

To doorstep someone is to, quite literally, waylay a person and confront him, giving him little room to change course or avoid you.

We do that as journalists.

An important personality emerges from a closed-door meeting and is either unwilling or unqualified to address the media and a journalist shoves a recorder or mic in the subject’s face and asks questions.

It is like an ambush. It is an ambush; one that could draw an important response in the heat of the moment, or not.

The moment does not last forever. It is, much less, satisfactory. It is ugly enough, too, with the pushing and shoving that attend the security details of high profile subjects.

And to imagine that an opposition leader wants to do this to a visiting Head of State!

It is unimaginable.

But this reveals an important detail, namely that Nelson Chamisa is not enjoying the good diplomatic graces of President Ramaphosa, leader of Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour, regional powerhouse and Africa’s leading economy.

Better diplomatic regard for the 41-year-old leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition would have made for more dignified tête-à-tête.

There definitely have been a couple of love letters sent to the address of President Ramaphosa in Pretoria, but Mr Chamisa’s overtures remain unrequited.

Mr Chamisa has no allies in the region and in Africa. The same letters have not found love from Addis Ababa to Banjul, giving Mr Chamisa the ungainly comparison with a stalker.

Africa endorsed the election of President Mnangagwa in last year’s elections and are not unclear about the rightful leader of Zimbabwe, contrary to the sparse claim of a legitimacy crisis by losers of the same elections who also failed the test of the country’s highest court, coming embarrassingly short of producing the much-needed evidence that they had been fouled in the process.

Ever unhappily for Mr Chamisa, before President Ramaphosa comes to Harare, the leader of another important regional player, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, will be in Zimbabwe to deepen relations with his counterpart, President Mnangagwa.

This is coming on the back of massive regional and continental support for Zimbabwe at last month’s African Union summit, where African countries came to Zimbabwe’s side and its geopolitics.

This was after the opposition and it’s civil society allies had sought to isolate Zimbabwe by hyping alleged repression and human rights abuses that, in no small part, were actually contrived and propped for the cameras to influence global opinion.

The European Union, meeting in Brussels at the time, did not exactly pay the bill.

The 28-member bloc maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe, which it has progressively loosened over the years, but refused the urge to tighten the noose, restore and broaden the old measures, including adding more in President Mnangagwa’s administration.

The EU made the routine review of the measures, something that our diplomatic sources say is meant more for home constituencies of these countries, pending a lot of hygiene issues regarding Zimbabwe’s re-engagement process.

But the stance represents a huge reversal for Mr Chamisa and his allies.

Granted, he will not succeed in doorstepping Presidents Ramaphosa and Masisi, and certainly won’t doorstep the whole EU.

His likely leverage may come from the United States, which maintains harsher sanctions against Zimbabwe and openly backs the opposition, but then Mr Chamisa is unlikely to feel too good about it, as we shall see below.

Safety in his diminishing numbers

Mr Chamisa is a an isolated man.

The only comfort that he has lies in his urban constituencies where he enjoys, even in pockets, cult-like support.

There are people that would worship Mr Chamisa, who took over the reins from Tsvangirai this time last year.

But there is a limit to this. Mr Chamisa likes to keep his followers in a constant state of mobilisation — and agitation — as a bargaining chip.

This serves a dual role. Mr Chamisa sees his followers as some kind of army, nay, militia that is ready to be deployed for a cause. The violent demonstrations that took place in August last year and in January largely depend on this constant state of mobilisation.

Some people will be ready to kill for Chamisa. Or be willing cannon fodder for the ambitious young politician.

He calls them stupid in moments of honesty. Which they are, largely.

These are men and women that Mr Chamisa would like to keep mobilised and be used to intimidate the State through rendering the country ungovernable and dismantling the Constitutional order.

This is not new thinking within the MDC. The late Morgan Tsvangirai tried it, and it did not work and Mr Chamisa at one point remarked on the high cost of the strategy, saying it entailed “walking on dead bodies to State House”.

That was some years ago. How Mr Chamisa now thinks that there could be prospects in this strategy is baffling.

As a matter of fact, there are enough signs that the strategy of sending people onto the streets to negotiate a political settlement is fast reaping diminishing returns.

Firstly, authorities have decided to stamp authorities against anarchy. Two weeks ago, President Mnangagwa gave a stern warning that lawlessness would be dealt with severely.

We understand it is an approach that even has the blessings of the international community and investor countries. With authorities dealing an austere mien to trouble-makers, it is likely that we are not going to see a lot of enthusiasm in that kind of engagement.

Secondly, with the economy increasingly showing signs of improvement and overcoming shortages and price shocks, a key pillar of discontent has been removed.”

Thirdly, and tied to the first, the stance taken by the European Union of not compounding measures — even in the face of daunting agenda setting by the opposition — means that there is pretty little now that Mr Chamisa and company can do to leverage international isolation of Zimbabwe.

It will take an outrage of massive proportions to get Zimbabwe on the radar again.

Failure as an alternative government

Nelson Chamisa was at it again at the weekend. He addressed a rally in Gweru (an urban stronghold).

There is one typical take away from his address (well, apart from that bizarre demand that he should be given two years as President in a power-sharing arrangement.).

He told his supporters that President Mnangagwa was failing in his international re-engagement.

Then he says, in the Shona vernacular:

“No one listens to Mnangagwa. Today, if I go to New York and just say the words, ‘Your Excellencies . . .’ Money will be poured (to Zimbabwe). There is something called credibility and if you do not have credibility no one gives you money.

“No international capital pours money down the river; it is put in banks where there is confidence. I told Mnangagwa so.”

He said this to typical cheering and ululation. It was election time all over again.

In the run-up to last July, Mr Chamisa made similar outlandish claims and lies.

He said he had met Donald Trump, United States president. He said he had advised Rwandan leader Paul Kagame on ICT. He said Mr Trump promised him US$15 billion.

The opposition leader promised to build airports in villages of rural Zimbabwe.

Professor Jonathan Moyo calls this “political banter”, meaning we should not take it too seriously.

Unfortunately for Mr Chamisa and his party, they actually do not have a cogent and credible plan for the country, except occasional rants about stolen ideas.

Just last week, the party and its leader were left badly exposed as they did not appear to have an answer to the Monetary Policy Statement announced by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor John Mangudya.

For his part, Mr Chamisa ranted on Twitter about the removal of 1:1 parity between the old bond notes with the US dollar and how depositors ought to be compensated.

Something like that. Of course it was political banter.

On the main, the opposition has failed dismally to show strength of ideas regarding key economic and governance matrices as definitive legs for Mr Chamisa to stand on.

Leadership, succession question

Mr Nelson Chamisa likes to call to question President Mnangagwa’s legitimacy in his political banter. The big irony is that he is an illegitimate leader of the party, having not subjected himself to the rigour of election at party congress.

Very few have forgotten how he used brinkmanship, violence and guile to wrest the leadership from Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe, who were his party seniors. He then gave himself over a year to nestle in the chair.

However, the leadership question in the party has not gone away: Mr Chamisa has been stalked by the real and continuing prospect of someone taking over from him, which he has tried to bat away at every turn.

There is Mudzuri still standing. There is also Douglas Mwonzora. And, yes, there is also Tendai Biti. All these are formidable candidates to torpedo him at congress that is now being held sometime in May,

Mr Chamisa is actually vulnerable at this point.

Let’s leave Mudzuri out for today.

Mwonzora, the current secretary-general, is a man that could beat Mr Chamisa on any day. He did it in 2014. He has the ability to marshal the support of the electoral college, given the dislike that Mr Chamisa faces within structures that he is in direct control of.

Besides, money can easily influence voting behaviour — even on the day — something that has long whispered to have taken place in 2014.

Mwonzora has appeared undaunted by the task of challenging Mr Chamisa.

He presents a dark, coolly confident challenger.

But an even more dangerous challenge comes from Biti, both in the short-and long-terms.

Biti is the apparent favourite of the Americans — MDC-Alliance’s main international backers — and he is not unambitious. He can be trusted to harbour some secret contempt for Mr Chamisa, who is way junior than him politically and professionally.

Biti is known to be snobbish. He even did that with the late Morgan Tsvangirai.

As a political animal, nay cannibal, Mr Chamisa is not exactly safe with Biti.

All this makes Mr Chamisa vulnerable.

The comfort that he can enjoy, even coldly, is the command of goons that profess to want to kill-or die for him, which he can deploy for his internal and external enemies. That is the other purpose of keeping his supporters mobilised as they can be deployed to solve internal conflict.

But this is hollow.

The apotheosis around Mr Chamisa has its own severe limitations. His thugs will no longer be allowed to embark on another orgy of violence to precipitate a national crisis with international implications. Authorities are not going to compromise on that.

On the other hand, his mobs can easily be neutered in a systematic vote that Mr Chamisa will lose.

It has happened before.

Dialogue or die

Mr Chamisa’s weak position extends to the fact that he is not in Parliament right now, while his major internal adversaries are.

His loss in last year’s election — in Zimbabwe’s winner-takes-all system — reduced him almost to an ordinary man.

He is desperate to negotiate power and reverse the losses of the election sweepstake. The position of “Leader of Opposition” was dangled to him, but he rejected it. He wants more.

Mr Chamisa says he wants dialogue that involves power-sharing with the man that beat him on July 31.

His proposal is a two-year rotational system. Whatever inspired that, we are not privy.

We think it is bizarre.

Someone says it is banter.

Ultimately, here is someone who actually have little options to sustain himself politically.

Dialogue could actually save him and eventually couch him as the Leader of the Opposition.

If that is still on the table.