Intimidation and rigging, the Chamisa way

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By Seewell Mashizha

In Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”, Almustaffa the prophet, wonders out loud, “If this is my day of harvest, in what fields have I sowed the seed, and in what unremembered seasons? Put simply, there must be a trail in everything. With regard to Chamisa’s petition in the ConCourt, it is pertinent to make certain observations that are material to the way the harmonised elections went. 

That Chamisa embraces violence as a means to an end goes without saying. Following his statement about mobilising “the people” to protect their vote against the ConCourt if it should throw out his petition, Patrick Chinamasa, ZANU-PF secretary for finance observed that Chamisa’s statement was completely bereft of any legal grounding or basis, and that it built similar well-documented utterances and threats of his throughout the campaign period.

Chinamasa pointed out how Chamisa had declared himself winner long before the polls and before the votes had been counted. At the same time Chamisa threatened the country with untold consequences if the vote went against him.

Following certain dramas inside ZANU-PF, the poisoning of Emmerson Mnangagwa, his firing from his posts in the party and government and his subsequent flight into exile in South Africa, there was an intervention by the military. Operation Restore Legacy is now known in some quarters as the November revolution.

Nelson Chamisa cut a lonely figure in and out of Parliament after being out-maneuvred by Douglas Mwonzora in the fight for the prestigious Secretary-General post. Tsvangirai appeared to have put the young politician to grass and his political star in the MDC-T hierarchy appeared to have waned.

The similarities in the fortunes of two men who later became the main contestants in the presidential election of 2018 are imposing. Chamisa was acutely aware of the coincidence between his being jettisoned and the same happening to Mnangagwa in ZANU-PF. Later he strove to engineer more coincidences.

Mnangagwa came back not too long after he had had to flee into exile. Debate about whether or not there was a coup in Zimbabwe will go on for some time. The generals who choreographed Mugabe’s removal cited the army’s constitutional mandate to protect the country’s constitution.

This was a completely different succession scenario from what had been envisaged. What the world did not fully understand is the fact that the soldiers are political soldiers who were always a part of the liberation movement. Their interest in the well-being of ZANU-PF could not be legislated out of existence.

For many years, the MDC-T had used the Mugabe-must-go mantra as its campaign platform. Thus, when efforts to remove Mugabe became national in character, the opposition joined in. Willy-nilly, by doing so, they, in fact, supported Operation Restore Legacy and, by extension, the change that came with it.

This was probably done in the hope that a transitional Government of National Unity (GNU) would come into being. This, of course completely missed the point. The whole thing was always essentially an internal ZANU-PF convulsion. Upheavals in organisations and institutions are not uncommon. Let alone where political parties are concerned. In some ways everyone was ZANU-PF during Operation restore Legacy.

It was therefore, not surprising that Mnangagwa chose to finish his predecessor’s term as demanded by the constitution, and did so with a team of ZANU-PF cadres. At this point, contradictions began to emerge in opposition circles with quite a few now appearing to be fighting in Mugabe’s corner by talking about a coup.

Welshman Ncube even spoke about this at rallies. Although this stance was something of a paradox, it brought to the fore a subterranean relationship that had been silently brewing. Nelson Chamisa’s business relationships with Mugabe eventually blossomed into a political alliance between the two, clandestine at first and public later.

Separate press conferences by Mugabe and Chamisa, well after the expiry of the campaign period, was a well-coordinated act designed to bring about a last minute vote swing towards Chamisa. The formation of the National Patriotic Front (NPF) was a move coordinated by the ousted G40 elements of ZANU-PF and the young Turks of the MDC-T, Chamisa included. It was supposed to dent ZANU-PF’s support base and diminish its numbers severely.

Chamisa was prepared to go to all lengths to assume power in both the MDC-T and the then fledgling MDC-A. Nothing was going to stand in his way, not even the severe illness of his boss, Morgan Tsvangirai. He was less concerned about Tsvangirai’s demise than he was with grabbing power.

In an attempt meant to checkmate Operation Restore Legacy, the self-styled militia commander then brought the MDC-T vanguard to centre stage. With the cooperation of Shakespeare Mukoyi, Chamisa was able to either mete out violence or threaten it to silence any dissension among the ranks of both the MDC-T and the MDC Alliance.

The vanguard thugs had no reservations about who to humiliate and insult and was decidedly sexist in its orientation. Some of the most uncouth language was reserved for any females perceived to have displeased Chamisa. Thokozani Khupe, Jessie Majome and Priscilla Chigumba were called all sorts of unprintable names by a Chamisa praise-singer group that thought it sniffed power close by.

Mnangagwa outmanoeuvred the MDC-A by talking peace, love and unity and by promising free, fair and credible elections. Thus, the violence mantle went to Chamisa and the Alliance that he led. Chamisa did not do himself any justice with his utterances and actions. His “troops” nearly burned alive senior members of the party at Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral at Humanikwa Village in Buhera. This episode was followed soon after with an attack on the Thokozani Khupe-led faction of the MDC-T at its offices in Bulawayo.

The sum total of Nelson Chamisa’s rantings on almost a daily basis was to depict him as a rowdy and power-hungry person. While he spoke constantly about ZANU-PF rigging the elections, it was he, in fact, who was attempting to rig the elections by not so subtle means. His campaign was premised on intimidation and violence.

Chamisa intended to impose himself on voters through stirring fear in them. He would make the country ungovernable, he said. The infantile reasoning behind this was that he could only lose if the election was rigged. Chamisa also claimed to be in possession of an antidote against rigging. Mnangagwa extended wide invitations to international election observers. This further amplified democratic space to levels hitherto unknown.

The Alliance had long signalled its intentions to intimidate the voters by calling upon the United States to extend ZDERA. Chamisa and Biti seemed over the moon about being called “Sir” by white politicians in London. Sanctions are, by definition, violent because of what they do to a country and its people. For that reason no level of intimidation can surpass this cannibalistic tactic of voter mobilisation. The electorate was supposed to love its tormentors and demonstrate this by voting them in.

Everyone in ZANU-PF was supposed to wither, wane and die, politically. Mnangagwa was not thought to be a factor. The petition to the Constitutional Court must be seen in this light. In the view of the Alliance, the script before the nation is all wrong. Chamisa should have been the undisputed winner. Accordingly, the result had to be challenged.

However, the challenge was mounted in a rather pedestrian way, the learned gentlemen constituting Chamisa’s legal team notwithstanding. Despite the existence of clear procedures and time lines, Chamisa missed some of his deadlines. In addition, his papers had rudimentary errors including the misspelling of the names of some of the respondents cited.

There were many who thought Chamisa’s petition was futile and that he was beaten fairly and squarely. Eddie Cross, a long-time member of the MDC-T and one-time economic advisor to Morgan Tsvangirai had this to say:

I think this election, despite all criticism, it was the best election since 2000. We were allowed complete freedom to go where we wanted with no police interference and very little violence. We had freedom of speech, freedom of association. I think this campaign was much free than other campaigns and I think to be frank the election results will be very difficult to contest.

Amongst Chamisa’s faults is his narcissism. At rallies he behaved like a rap star, dazzling the crowds with his often contrived rhymes, but seemingly forgetting how in most cases rhyme sacrifices content and message. This is why Eddie Cross laments the fact that Chamisa replaced the party with himself.