The MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa has safely ensconced himself in the party’s most coveted seat, the presidency, but the crown is not sitting comfortably on his head due to the way he ascended to power and the way he has exercised it so far.
His mafia-style elbowing out of the then congress-elected heiress to the MDC throne, Dr Thokozani Khupe, following the demise of the party’s founding leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, the dark-of-the-night provincial congress elections, intimidation and the open violence against perceived opponents which he tacitly backed are all well documented. Yes, he was elected “uncontested” but the way he has gone about filling some national posts has seen him creating fissures in the party and a fertile ground for yet another split despite claiming that he was uniting the party from the rifts of the 2005 and 2014 splits.
The Biti factor
Since the congress, whenever Chamisa is praying, he does so with one eye opened. When he is travelling he constantly casts furtive glances over his shoulder. This is because he has created quite a number of enemies along the way who paradoxically include those who he rescued from their political Siberia when they realised that they were not as politically popular as they deemed themselves to be when they left the party.
Enter Tendai Biti. In chiShona language an expression referring to sleeplessness is kuvata meso dziri nyimo. If anyone is causing Chamisa sleepless nights it is one of his deputies, Tendai Biti. The guy does not hide his ambition to take over the reins of the party and is only waiting for auspicious circumstances to strike. His enterprise has been planned and now only awaiting execution.
Despite regarding himself as the darling of the west, Chamisa seems to be in blissful ignorance of the fact that the local opposition ground is shifting and its dynamics are changing. Take for example, how in the recent past, he was denied visas by the Americans and the British while Biti flies in and out of the United States at whim and will all in the name of promoting the book, Democracy Works – Re-wiring politics to Africa’s Advantage which he co-authored with former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Brenthurst Foundation member, Gregg Mills and American Jewish University President, Jeffrey Herbst. He obviously is advancing his ambitions with the obvious approval of the west. Some dyed-in-the-wool Chamisa blind supporters have dismissed this reality which is staring at them in the face by arguing that Biti has a family in the United States.
Since the congress Biti has insisted that party members and anyone who cares to listen should regard and address him as the First Vice President despite not gathering the highest votes in the vice presidential contest. Is it a secret anymore that Biti was incensed that his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) protégé, Jacob Mafume was removed from the pedestal of prominence provided by the secretary of information’s position and consigned to a less influential position, the secretary for elections where moss was growing and flowering on his predecessor, Murisi Zwizwai’s coat owing to lack of any meaningful activity.
The noisy and sometimes very vulgar utterances that Biti continues to make about his stewardship of the Zimbabwean economy between 2009 and 2013 are paying off. He has managed to endear himself with the party’s western handlers. This contrasts sharply with Chamisa who is only good at dishing out jokes and very silly promises to the electorate for which he paid dearly in the ballot booth on 30 July 2018. Zimbabwe’s main challenge at the moment is not political. It is economical. The West’s new found close relations with Biti are, therefore, not surprising. What use is a national jester to Western powers which are seeking to unseat ZANU PF on the basis of the prevailing economic challenges?
Chamisa’s problems which have almost already sealed his fate are his failure to break from Tsvangirai’s albatross – the failure to win convincingly against ZANU PF on his first attempt last year. This severely depleted his political stock while Biti’s is rising without even participating in the presidential poll. This is because of Biti’s overhyped role as finance minister between 2009 and 2013 as well as his constant statements on the economy which have positioned him as a finance expert when, in fact, he is just an ordinary lawyer with no known outstanding achievements.
One of the key campaign planks on which Chamisa sold himself to the electorate ahead of the 2018 presidential election was his youth. Sadly, this was only of value until the day that he opened his mouth to campaign. His message and crude jokes soon confirmed that his critics were right when they said that he was still a political greenhorn. Irrespective of this, most youths in his party remained faithful to him.
Eleven months down the line the youths should be ruing the day they invested their trust, support and emotions in Chamisa. Yes, he allowed Obey Tererai Sithole to be elected to lead the party’s youth assembly. One would ask why I am referring to Sithole’s election as having been sanctioned by Chamisa in a party that claims to champion democracy. This is because one has to be in good books with Chamisa to contest for any meaningful post in the MDC. The troubles of some elected mayors in Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Masvingo and Victoria Falls after last year’s elections attests to the fact that Chamisa practises “guided” democracy to safeguard and entrench his grip over the MDC.
Despite being a youth himself, Chamisa let down long suffering youths in his party by ignoring them when he filled up national leadership positions after the congress. Instead of appointing youths in the party who have supported the party since time immemorial to some top national positions, he shocked even outsiders by picking total strangers such as University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Fadzai Mahere to the position of secretary for education, sport and culture to the obvious chagrin of other young, long serving supporters of the party.
Another similar case is that of gender activist and non-MDC member, Maureen Kademaunga, who Chamisa collected from nowhere and placed in the position of secretary for public affairs and social welfare to the obvious disappointment of the youth constituency in the MDC.
Creating conditions for a split
In a bid to pacify and contain those national leaders whom he had managed to fend off during the congress such as former secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora and former vice president, Elias Mudzuri, Chamisa brought closer to him senior party members who left the party to form their own in 2005 and 2014. These included Biti and former MDC-N leader, Professor Welshman Ncube at the expense of senior long-serving party members such as Mwonzora and Mudzuri. They were demoted to less influential positions of deputy secretary for international relations and secretary for national affairs respectively.
Already Mwonzora has indicated his disdain for the post which was doled out to him in a veiled Facebook attack on Chamisa last week. Mwonzora indicated that position or no position he would continue serving the MDC but complained that it was wrong for someone to try to rise by bringing down others. Barely a month after the congress, salvos are already being fired.
Chamisa has created conditions for another split if not more. There are too many pockets of aggrieved party members in the MDC and this bodes ill for him. He is facing the consequences of his poorly thought out actions. He is enmeshed in a cobweb which he weaved in the hope of securing his tenure. The politician is set to be hoist by his own petard.
The battle lines have been drawn and the die has been cast. It is now a question of time before the world begins to see the disgruntled party members coalescing and people such as Mwonzora and Biti serving as the nuclei for alternative formations.
The unity which Chamisa misleadingly used to justify rocking the MDC boat for personal and selfish interests is slowly slipping from his clenched hand and soon he will be clutching at tufts of political air. Talk of a house built on a foundation of political deceit and selfishness which soon parts ways with its owner as the truth claims its rightful position.