WITH MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa fighting on two fronts — an internal battle for the control of the party with Thokozani Khupe and the closure of democratic space by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration — analysts say it is prudent for the 42-year-old to discard protests as a strategy.
Chamisa, who has refused to accept Mnangagwa as the legitimate leader of the country following a heavily disputed 2018 election, together with his supporters, have been itching to swarm the streets of Harare to force the Zanu PF leader to the negotiating table in the face of deepening political and economic crises.
He also has been keen to mobilise thousands of his followers to attend rallies as a show of power against Khupe, who became acting MDC-T president on account of a Supreme Court ruling in March which annulled Chamisa’s ascendancy to the presidency of the country’s biggest opposition party in February 2018.
But with the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the lockdown restrictions that have been imposed globally, gatherings have been banned in Zimbabwe.
Amid complaints by political and civic activists that Mnangagwa was taking advantage of the lockdown that bans gatherings of more than 50 people, analysts who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday suggested that Chamisa should start thinking outside the box if he entertains any hopes of continued political relevance.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Chamisa’s options are so limited that his only effective way out is to wait until the lockdown has been relaxed.
“I feel pity for Chamisa and the MDC Alliance because they are boxed in a manner that thinking outside that box is virtually impossible.
Zanu PF and the government are taking full advantage of the lockdown to decimate their political rival.
“There is little scope for Chamisa to robustly respond because he cannot mobilise for demonstrations and until the restrictions have been limited, the party finds itself in an invidious position. Perhaps Chamisa has to consider social media as an alternative, but then again it may not be as widespread as he would want. He cannot mobilise beyond social media.
“He has been appealing to Sadc and the United Nations, which has condemned the rights abuses and persecution of the opposition, but beyond that, what else can they do?” Masunungure said.
The last two weeks have witnessed the arrest of several MDC Alliance activists, including the three youths who were recently allegedly abducted — Joana Mamombe (MP), Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri.
Lawyers were also arrested, among them, Chamisa’s attorney, Thabani Mpofu, amid widespread condemnation of Mnangagwa’s administration both locally and internationally, yet the MDC Alliance has not been visible beyond social media denunciation — thanks to the lockdown restrictions.
Another analyst Admire Mare suggested that Chamisa should discard his confrontational approach and pursue the path of appeasement.
“The Zimbabwean issue requires dialogue despite the intractable nature of political polarisation. Any political strategy must put peaceful means at the centre of the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis. Whilst it’s a democratic right to use peaceful demonstrations to raise issues, there is also a need to complement it with frank discussions with various actors. At the end of the day, Zimbabwe must be the one that wins rather than politicians or political parties,” Mare said.
On the other hand, political analyst Maxwell Saungweme blamed Chamisa for getting himself surrounded by people who lack political strategy, leading him to be legalistic even on issues that are purely political.
Saungweme observed that the youthful politician had seemingly abandoned the people who matter in politics — the grassroots.
“Chamisa has the people’s goodwill and political capital, but has no strategy. He depends on an elite clique of advocates and lawyers in MDC Alliance who give him meaningless legal advice on purely political issues.
“He must go back to the people, the political structures and consult them and then take the way forward from the people and not what his lawyer friends tell him. Otherwise, he appears not ready or willing to govern, but content with noise making and maintaining the status of being the most popular opposition leader,” Saungweme said.
But Chamisa believes the problems he is facing were engineered by Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF in its quest to destroy its biggest political challenger in history — the MDC Alliance.
He claims Zanu PF is behind Khupe, who has since taken over the MDC headquarters, the symbolic Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House and recalled four MPs aligned to Chamisa from Parliament.
Several MPs have since defected to Khupe, who is organising an extraordinary congress in line with the Supreme
Court ruling to elect the party leader. The congress is pencilled for July 31.
Zanu PF has vehemently denied involvement in the MDC factions cacophony, that haS seen the two sides suing and counter-suing each other in the courts.