Nelson Chamisa: Democrat or fledgling fascist?

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THE display of camaraderie and coalescence between Nelson Chamisa and chanting legions at Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral is one of the most disconcerting spectacles in recent times. Amazingly, it seems to have escaped Chamisa that as soon as the rowdy MDC-T brigades at the burial heeded his instruction to stand down they unequivocally confirmed his culpability regarding the violence that ensued. This is something that is totally out of sync with a party that is supposedly seeking democratic change. That MDC-T publicist Obert Gutu has left the party speaks volumes.

The presence at Tsvangirai’s funeral of Kenya’s Raila Odinga, a man given to disruption and melodrama is of some significance. Although Odinga has tended to escape the censure that the West executes so generously in most other cases, it is an open secret that he and his lieutenants generated a large measure of the violence that followed that country’s general elections in 2007. To hear Odinga talk about sharing notes with the MDC-T in its current trajectory is somewhat ominous.

There is a very real possibility of Kenya’s most recent electoral debacle being played out in Zimbabwe this year. Certain precedents make that scenario more than likely. For instance, after the 2007 events and subsequent interparty negotiations Raila became prime minister. Come Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections and the aftermath, Tsvangirai too became prime minister in 2009.

That Raila and Tsvangirai were buddies can bear some repetition. This was the context in which the two men compared notes as a matter of course. One needs no imagination to understand Raila’s relationship with the MDC-T for what it is – advisory! In a coinciding of like-minded misrepresentation, Raila speaks of the second liberation of Africa while Chamisa calls Tsvangirai the doyen of democracy.

Chamisa recently vowed to quit politics if he does not win the 2018 elections and become state president. This is Chamisa at his theatrical best. He is reminiscent of Mr. Grimwig, the farcical Dickensian character in “Oliver Twist.” Mr. Grimwig supports his every assertion by threatening to eat his head. Chamisa savours his ‘win’ so much that he says he will quit politics if the office of President eludes him. In both cases, the assertion is false and time may yet disabuse Chamisa of his smugness.

The grounds of One Commando, before Tsvangirai’s body was ferried by helicopter to his rural home, were the scene of a spectacle never seen before. Youths in military-type boots, berets and fatigues stood at attention throughout the procedures. Only the bugle to sound ‘The last post” was missing. Curiously, in the videos of the occasion, an army band was playing ‘Nzira dzemasoja,” the ZANLA oath of conduct based on Chairman Mao’s guidelines for waging a people’s war.

And Nelson Chamisa, a.k.a. Comrade Wamba Dia Wamba, a.k.a Cobra, the “commander-in-chief” took it all in with some gloating. One wonders what the underlying objectives of the paramilitary display were. But if the intimidation and assault of some of his rivals is anything to go by, the world has had a preview of what is looming – a violent election campaign. President Emmerson Mnangagwa at every turn talks about a peaceful election. Conversely, Chamisa is preoccupied with outwitting the other claimants of the MDC-T crown by all means necessary. Truly Machiavellian!

Neither ZANU nor ZAPU, prior to the armed struggle, had uniformed youths ready to pounce on dissenters, the inter-party violence of the time notwithstanding. The MDC-T’s uniformed brigade is more or less a facsimile of Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts whose role it was to cow down other parties in Italy. Since Mussolini designed the prototype of fascism, he became the role model of subsequent fascists. Hitler’s storm troopers were modelled along the lines of Mussolini’s Blackshirts. And whenever some mischief was required they set it in motion. Chamisa appears to have embraced this model.

As Morgan Tsvangirai lay fighting for his life, Chamisa the pastor and the politician only had the seizure of power on his mind. What exacerbates the issue is that Chamisa’s concerns and actions even after the passing on of his boss seem to assert his mantra, that of the end justifying the means. Chamisa is likely to use violence to make everyone in the MDC-T toe the line. People opposed to Chamisa’s unconstitutional power-grab may have left it too late and have thereby given Chamisa the mantle by default. There is talk of going to court over the violence issue, a violence that is difficult to understand given the claim by many that Chamisa has the numbers.

The next few months will see Nelson Chamisa’s leadership and organisational skills, whatever they may be, being subjected to frequent scrutiny. This is inevitable when looked at against the background that the MDC-T in 2013 was practically emasculated under Chamisa’s watch as organising secretary. The party garnered a miserly 49 seats out of a possible 210. Chamisa was also soundly beaten to the post of Secretary General by Douglas Mwonzora.

In recent times Chamisa has been twitting left, right and centre and behaving like a child with a brand new toy. In his mind’s eye he is already ensconced at State House. That could well be the case, but he underestimates his rivals at his own peril. If naivety gets the better of him, he will never know what hit him. In the days ahead, the electorate will want to know who Nelson Chamisa really is and what he stands for. A number of questions must be answered around such issues as his high-handedness as well as his unethical and insensitive demeanour in situations where empathy is best. If his rivals become bolder, there might be hell to pay for the violence he is allegedly unleashing against other party stalwarts.

Somewhere, in one of his novels, Chinua Achebe writes about a foolish fly that follows a corpse into its grave. I find myself attracted to the possible analogy between Chamisa and the injudicious fly. He seems unable to avoid the precedents set by Morgan Tsvangirai when he deployed his hit machine against the likes of Trudy Stevenson and Elton Mangoma, to name but a few. Like the self-serving Napoleon in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” Chamisa uses rowdy party youths to silence opposition and exert compliance. Disaffection in the MDC-T hierarchy is self-evident. A house built on a weak foundation cannot stand. Will the MDC-T edifice be able to withstand the self-inflicted blows it is currently enduring?

The downside of Chamisa’s profile may be regarded by others as his self-centredness. Some accuse him of being a disruptive schemer who is also a backbiter. They assert that this inclination earned him the nickname “Cobra.” One has to wonder what would have happened if Learnmore Jongwe had not pressed the self-destruct button that ended his interest in the world and its concerns.

At the time that Tendai Biti quit the MDC-T to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chamisa is said to have deceived Biti into thinking they were leaving together. But, no sooner had Biti quit than Chamisa began to gun for the post of Secretary General of the MDC-T. However, as we now know, he had reckoned without Douglas Mwonzora who beat him past the post by 2464 votes to his 1764.

Other things that demean Chamisa’s stature and which become the chinks in his armour include his callousness and utter lack of respect for the dead. He owed it to Morgan Tsvangirai to be respectful and more circumspect in the circumstances. To be preoccupied with how to take over the presidency while his leader lay dying, and go on to disrespect his burial by turning it into a show of power is like adding salt to injury.

Our people say, “Afa anaka” (The dead can do no wrong). Accordingly, a funeral in Africa is not by invitation. Rather, it behoves everyone to pay their last respects to the deceased regardless of any fallouts there may have been between the deceased and significant others in the past. George Charamba, the presidential spokesman, is a nephew of the Tsvangirais and Chamisa himself is George Charamba’s son-in-law. Hence his oft-repeated claim to be allergic to ZANU-PF is mere grandstanding. These things, however, may not matter so much to someone whose head is in the clouds.

The social media milieu is awash with pro-Chamisa spin-doctoring, none of which addresses the critical issues pertaining to his tainted behaviour before and after Tsvangirai’s death and just what he has to offer. Some dissenting voices suggest that Chamisa has the makings of a dictator and a demagogue. Let the case be what it may, but if all that Chamisa has to offer is his younger age, as in the case with Odili in Achebe’s “A man of the people,” the 2018 harmonised elections will yield a mighty discombobulation in those who swear by his name.

In Zimbabwe’s present circumstances we might have to countenance Chamisa’s ascendancy. Nevertheless, we must ask just how safe democracy can be with one driven by expediency.