When Nelson Chamisa seized control of the MDC from the heiress apparent, Dr Thokozani Khupe in February last year while his predecessor, Morgan Tsvangirai’s body was still lying in a South African funeral parlour, Tsvangirai’s name never departed from his mouth.
Taking advantage of Tsvangirai’s absence, he claimed that the late opposition politician had anointed him his successor even though outsiders knew that Tsvangirai had appointed Chamisa to only superintend over the MDC Alliance portfolio while he was seeking treatment for the colon cancer which had afflicted him. Former co-vice president Engineer Elias Mudzuri was charged with leading the MDC party.
Realising the present threat from Khupe, who was elected at the party’s 2014 congress, and Mudzuri, Chamisa even invoked the biblical mantle metaphor when he claimed that he was temporarily wearing Tsvangirai’s jacket (mantle). Put differently, he was connected to Tsvangirai through the metaphorical mantle. Figuratively, a mantle is a garment representing authority or status. In some cases it can even be thought of as affording protection. At the time Chamisa badly needed protection from senior and grassroots party members who questioned the unorthodox and shameless manner in which he seized control of the party.
To boost his mantle claims he dusted off some old photographs of him and Tsvangirai back in 1999 and early 2000s at some meeting or the other. He gave them to some of his hangers-on to spread on the internet via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. This was intended to create the impression that he was the closest to Tsvangirai, and therefore, deserved the party throne more than anyone else. To his credit, he was where Tsvangirai was most of the time except, of course, when the late politician was at high seas spending the West’s dollar with women. This, however, did not entitle him to succeeding Tsvangirai without facing competition from other deserving party members.
Those who are familiar with the biblical story of prophets Elijah and Elisha will remember that when Elijah was whisked away to heaven by a whirlwind, Elisha cried out, “My father, my father...” This gives insight into the kind of relationship that existed between the two prophets. Given that Chamisa, like Elisha, followed Tsvangirai one would not be far off the mark to imagine him crying after Tsvangirai on his death as a political father.
If Tsvangirai was a political father to Chamisa in local tradition Chamisa would have been a political sarapavana (a relative who assumes care of a family upon the death of a father) which implies a very close relationship. A sarapavana is not picked from any village member, but usually from the deceased man’s brothers or very close relations.
An irresponsible sarapavana
While in the chiShona tradition being a sarapavana does not mean a successor husband or father, it comes with a responsibility to look after the deceased’s family by providing for them when necessary and attending to their anxieties and concerns.
Although Chamisa managed to use his closeness to Tsvangirai, outright mafia-style tactics and tearing the party’s succession rule book to shreds to land the MDC’s top post, he has failed dismally to carry out the responsibility that comes with playing a sarapavana. Yes, being a sarapavana does not mean being a successor, but given Chamisa’s position and long history with Tsvangirai he has a moral obligation to check on Tsvangirai’s family every now and then. Even in death, Tsvangirai’s figure continues to tower tall in the MDC but this seems not to mean anything at all to the politically immature Chamisa who is still revelling in his newly acquired toy – party power.
Two events readily come to mind in this regard – the Tsvangirai memorial service and the issue of a Tsvangirai litigant who has set his sights on putting the late opposition leader’s Strathaven house under the hammer following the non-payment of agreed fees for services rendered to Tsvangirai ahead of the 2013 harmonised elections.
Ahead of the 4 May 2019 memorial an appeal for contributions to fund the event was made and a list of the contributions made by some senior MDC members exposed the fact that, like Chamisa, all they were interested in was exploiting their past association with Tsvangirai to land plump posts in the party. Some people such as Morgen Komichi, then a vice president in the party, contributed a measly US$10.
The only people who contributed meaningfully are people such as Theresa Makone, former secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora and Mudzuri. Were it not for Government, the event would have fallen flat on its face to the embarrassment of Chamisa and company. Some MDC trolls were quick to justify their failure to raise money and Government’s intervention by stating the Tsvangirai was a senior civil who deserved Government support without backing the claim with relevant legislation. It is not Government policy to support private events such as memorial functions – not even for national heroes. This was just a once off decision which has nothing to do with Tsvangirai’s benefits as a former Prime Minister. Only Manasa, Tsvangirai’s young brother, heartily appreciated President Mnangagwa and Government for the timely gesture.
The distress calls of an abandoned party hero’s family
A month after the memorial the Tsvangirai family is in another distressing situation. The late politician’s Strathaven house could be sold to settle a US$204 000 debt owed to one Moreprecision Muzadzi for putting together a political deal in which some 2013 opposition presidential elections candidates agreed to pave way for and support Tsvangirai’s sole candidature. Although he went on to lose the poll to former President, Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai incurred the debt for the good of the party.
Instead of the world reading in the media about Chamisa and senior party officials working frantically together with Tsvangirai’s family to come up with a payment plan and put in place fund raising initiatives, the Tsvangirai family fronted by Manasa is on its own – again. The MDC bigwigs are still belching and rubbing their tummies from celebration parties, following the recent elective congress where they landed powerful party posts.
Unable to bear Chamisa’s treatment of the family any more, Tsvangirai’s son, Millicent took to twitter to express his dismay with Chamisa and his executive.
“Am really troubled in my heart by the way the MDC party leadership is treating us. Our Strathaven mansion is now on the verge of being sold (and) you are nowhere to be found. Ingawani my father Morgan Richard Tsvangirai was playing a role during his time,” he tweeted.
While most people were obviously touched, some MDC supporters such as Pedzisayi Ruhanya went into the typical opposition mode and resorted to its default response to criticism. He questioned the newness of Millicent’s twitter handle and, as to be expected, dismissed it and the message as the work of the CIO. To the MDC, anything that rubs Chamisa and the party the wrong way has to be from the CIO. No wonder the party has come to be known for its unenviable perennial electoral loss tag.
To Ruhanya, despite the doctorate degree that he holds, one cannot open a twitter account and use it to express their frustrations with a party that evidently does not care for its founding leader’s family unless someone has put him to it.
The debt matter aside, Zimbabweans are yet to encounter media reports of Chamisa visiting the Tsvangirai family check on their welfare so that the party may assist. If anything, he has allowed the party’s largely youthful members to disrespect Tsvangirai’s family. When Millicent attempted to thank President Mnangagwa and Government for chipping in with assistance for the memorial service he was booed at his own father’s memorial service at his own home by some visiting mindless MDC youths.
Prior to the event, the Tsvangirai family had requested that any would be attendees should not put on any party regalia but this was blatantly disregarded. The impressionable youths turned up in regalia largely depicting Chamisa’s image. Ever the happy consumer of worship and fulsome but baseless praise, Chamisa did not admonish anyone for disrespecting the Tsvangirai family’s wishes.
An uncaring leadership
In the one year that he has been in power Chamisa has exposed himself for what he is – a power monger who was prepared to use Tsvangirai’s name to land the MDC leadership position without any qualms. The MDC leadership should hang their heads in shame.
During the run up to the MDC elective congress some senior members offered 10 head of cattle towards the event in anticipation of some posts but were conspicuous by their absence when the Tsvangirai family was scrounging around for resources for the memorial service. This is the kind of leadership into whose hands Tsvangirai left the MDC.