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Of humour, fair analysis and healthy competition in the 2018 plebiscite

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YOU hear Zimbabweans say they can now speak freely about anything and anyone. If true, that is something that we must commend and encourage. Accordingly, Nelson Chamisa is, like others, fair game in this matrix.

Pious people assert that calling upon the Lord’s name in vain is a mortal sin. This is something that the ebullient advocate and pastor, Nelson “Wamba Dia Wamba” Chamisa, is undoubtedly very familiar with. It is similarly dangerous to conjure up conflict in order to appear to gain ascendancy in similar fashion to that of a rival presidential candidate.

MDC-T rallies chant the fearsome “Tshisa Mpama, Tshisa! Chisa Mbama, Chisa! Guqula? Izenzo! Izenzo? Guqula!” Chamisa has a problem with click sounds and ends up saying, “Gukula. He is probably unaware in Bulawayo it is taboo to pronounce “Bulawayo” as “Bhuruwayo.” Nevertheless, Chamisa’s phonological hiccup can be endearing. We make this observation by way of light-hearted banter only. God knows we need some humour, even humour at our expense. Advocate Chamisa occasionally has recourse to humour, especially in parliament. That means that, like Joseph Chinotimba who he sometimes aims barbs at, Chamisa can handle jokes at his expense. A few such jokes regarding his magical bullet trains and abracadabra tactics are doing the rounds.

What may not be so amusing however, is the violence that is latent in MDC-T slogans given that “Tshisa Mpama, Tshisa” implies a violent slap in the face. The glee with which Chamisa’s vanguard applies itself to the task of meting out physical damage to discordant voices is frightening to say the least. We might be subject to more of the same, now that MaKhupe is claiming the mantle of the authentic MDC-T for her faction.

When the call and response slogans are done there is always some kind of disturbance, and right on cue too. As if driven by a preconceived choreography, Chamisa then pontificates about just how exemplary and well-disciplined real MDC followers are. It seems lost on him that his frequent admonition of his storm troopers always has the opposite effect. It confirms the rampant indiscipline within the rank and file of those who swear by the gospel according to Pastor Nelson Chamisa. Certainly Obert Gutu and Abednego Ncube will confirm this. Shadowy figures like the sexist Morgan Komichi (He once ranted about the need for women to always be in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant) and the hawkish Lovemore Moyo whose upturned nose depicts him as one always sniffing for chance opportunities, make the next few weeks quite intriguing. It will be interesting to see how things finally pan out.

A Shona proverb talks about “kurumwa nechekuchera” in reference to instances of self –inflicted pain and/or harm. Imagine digging up say, a snake from inside a hole in the ground and imagine someone putting their arm inside and getting bitten. They cannot blame anyone but themselves. Interestingly, the MDC-T even before Chamisa’s day, always looked for a bogeyman and found one ready one in ZANU-PF.

Chamisa’s favourite terror toy, the so-called “Order of the Vanguard” makes him a kind of latter-day enfant terrible, like Baby Doc Douvillier in Haiti. This blemish in Chamisa’s character which so often leads to a breakout of violence streak was recently highlighted by rival MDC-T president, Thokozani Khupe, at her rally in Bulawayo where she announced the parting of the ways with Chamisa. Khupe said:

Today, we boldly declare that we are the MDC and always shall remain the MDC that believes in not only respecting but also strictly upholding the party constitution as well as the party’s founding values, principles, character and culture. Going forward, we hereby immediately dissociate ourselves from any members of the MDC who are resorting to the use of wanton violence, intimidation and thuggery as tools for political mobilisation. Additionally, we also unreservedly and unashamedly declare that we are not going to be part of any political formation that doesn’t abide by the dictates of the MDC constitution.

The inclination towards schisms and breakage seems to be something that is deeply embedded in the MDC’s DNA. The party cannot seem to help itself and has tended to operate in terms of binary perceptions whenever conflict has arisen. It always is an either/or situation graphically depicted in fanciful language. The party calls itself the party of excellence even as it comes unstuck at the seams and dutifully cites how it is driven by the dictates of democratic best practices. These claims are made even as Chamisa’s militia bashes perceived rivals and literally almost commits murder.

Disillusionment among former partners has begun to set in with even a hitherto captive Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) voicing its concern over recent incidences of recurring episodes of political violence Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the MDC-T.

ZESN director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, recently appeared before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Peace and Security where she argued that it was time for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to be assigned powers of legislative oversight to enable it to exert full power when issues of political violence arise.

Chipfunde-Vava observed that the country’s elections have over the past been marred by violence. The ZESN director argued that in order to be seen to have held credible elections, it was vital for citizens to enjoy such fundamental rights as freedom of assembly, freedom of expression with whoever may be wanting to contest an election or vote for any candidate being free to do so.

She asserted that it was necessary for Parliament to repeal executive powers in the electoral law since the President is also an interested party in terms of the outcome of the elections. Chipfunde-Vava further suggested that ZEC should be accountable to a committee of parliament rather than to the minister “who is also a contesting candidate” in the impending elections.

The ZESN director did not address the fact of members of a parliamentary committee such as was advocating being also prospective candidates in the elections and being therefore interested parties as well. She also criticised what she described as the concentration of polling stations in the rural areas as opposed to their concentration in the urban areas. This she did without addressing the pertinent demographic issues and thereby willy-nilly betrayed the political leanings of her organisation. In the elections of 2008 ZESN had some 11 000 “voter educators” in the field. The official stance of the voter educators was that they were carrying out their civic duty of voter education when in fact they were clandestinely doubling as party activists for the MDC-T. In that election, ZESN circulars and letters sent to people on its mailing list, were often quite overtly partisan. This time around ZESN appears to be making an attempt to break with tradition and censure violence without at the same time naming who the perpetrators are. Conversely, in her presentation Chipfunde-Vava readily cited the executive.

It will be interesting to see how ZESN and other such civil society watch dog bodies conduct their business after the election date is proclaimed, particularly once ZEC activates the provisions of the cumulative amendments to the electoral act up to and including Number 85/2013 on the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.

In terms of the cumulative amendments, media houses, both print and electronic, are not to give coverage to any candidate who advocates violence and hate speech with such words as “octogenarian” and “puppet party” being proscribed.

Further, all political parties wanting to place advertisements on radio and television as well as in the newspapers are to be allowed to do so provided that they pay for such services and provided also that their advertisements violate none of the agreed codes of conduct.

That the conduct of parties, individuals and candidates as they go about the business of getting elected has begun to go under the glare of public scrutiny goes without saying. As parties design, manufacture and distribute party symbols and regalia it is important that these are never deployed for combative purposes. Rather they should be deployed in the context of healthy competition and that competition should be accommodating of justifiable outcomes. Parties and individuals with grievances should take these to the appropriate court of the land. Indeed there are precedents of this happening and cases of the recounting of the votes as directed by the courts; Bulawayo and Marondera are cases in point.

The mantra for the 2018 elections is arguably that of free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Critically all parties to the elections must subscribe to this mantra and be seen to walk the talk. Being sanctimonious in a situation where everyone is more or less culpable will serve little purpose.

In 2013, for instance, there were accusations and counter-accusations of electoral irregularities across the political divide by losing candidates. Agreeing on a road map will obviate the possibility of a poisoned post-election atmosphere and allow the country to forge ahead with business of getting on and getting ahead.