Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Chinyoka on Tuesday: Chamisa and the curse of legitimacy

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

In the lead up to the Second Gulf War, many demonstrators took to the streets in the United Kingdom with one point to make: the Iraq war was illegitimate.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

The United States’ George W Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair we’re selling the war with one simple line: it was legitimate because Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and posed a threat to peace and security in the world, and had to be removed.

Those woke at the time will never forget General Colin Powell’s presentation at the UN, complete with diagrams and grainy satellite photos, showing what were claimed to be dessert mobile laboratories transporting said WMDs to evade UN inspectors.

Many Iraq watchers argued that the claim simply did not add up. Intelligence officers’ careers were ruined as tit-for-tat against family associates who disputed the existence of WMDs, amid claims that in fact, Saddam Hussein could launch said weapons in minutes. In the United Kingdom, papers claimed, based on testimony from respected scientists, that the dossier on the  existence of Iraqi WMDs had been ‘sexed up’ to suggest a threat that in fact did not exist.

By far the most memorable newspaper article for me from that time was an article written by David Aaronovitch for The Guardian on 29 April 2003, titled: “Those weapons had better be there ……” In the article, Mr Aaronovitch made  the point that since the excuse for the war was that Iraq passed WMDs, the fact that the war was successful should not be enough to satisfy the legitimacy question. Claims had been made about the existence of WMDs, and:

These claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

The recent High Court judgement which found that Mr Nelson Chamisa was not legitimately appointed Vice President then President of the MDC has brought the issue of “legitimacy” into the fore in our national debate. Which is ironic, because ever since he lost the Presidential election in July 2018, Mr Nelson Chamisa has been beating the “legitimacy drum” without ceasing.

According to him, the President is illegitimate despite a ZEC declaration confirmed by the Constitutional Court that he won the election. As the noise about the Mushore J judgment reached fever-pitch this week, many manfully tried to critique the judgement as evidence of judicial capture. That they managed to convince a large part of Mr Chamisa’s followers without offering any credible basis for this claim shows just how polarised our politics is.

While critiquing Mushore J for not following an earlier decision on the same issue, these commentators did not posit an explanation for why in that earlier case the judges weren’t captured, and why they needed to be captured this time. One got the distinct impression that this was another Colin Powell: diagrams and powerpoints signifying a lot less than was claimed.

The one argument I did not see much of is: what happens to Mr Chamisa’s talk about legitimacy if he lacks it himself? Yes, we have been told that he and his party plan to ignore the judgment and go ahead with their congress. A “top lawyer” has been hired to lodge an appeal, presumably in order to suspend the operation of the judgment so that the congress goes ahead.

The appeal will probably then be abandoned, or some resolution will be passed at the Congress condoning the illegalities that have been committed since those double VP appointments by Morgan Tsvangirai. The legitimacy question, in other words, will be televised like Colin Powell’s mobile laboratories.

There is just one problem. Mr Chamisa offered himself for election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. That must mean, I hope, that he has some love for this country. Many of our fellow citizens voted for him, probably believing that he does.

If he is right that there is a legitimacy crisis with the President, and if he thinks that this is a problem for us as citizens, surely he must also consider that it would be terrible for our democracy to also have a legitimacy crisis in the alternative.

As citizens, we must be protected from situations that place us in a situation immortalized by Paul Matavire thus: kunge bhurugwa raTizirai rinoti uko rinorukwa uku rinorudunuka.” We cannot progress as a people if these are our only choices.

To enable his supporters to press the so-called legitimacy argument and presumably allow our democracy to grow, Mr Chamisa must resist the populist instincts to condemn a perfectly sound judicial decision as coming from a “captured” bench.

That not only undermines one of our most important institutions, but does nothing to wash away the stench of illegitimacy that he now imbues. It should be easy to reset, to read through the judgement and see how it can be implemented in a way that captures the aspirations of his claimed 2,000,000 plus members.

After all, 2014 or 2019 structures shouldn’t matter, they should still be part of his claimed 2m plus supporters. And, given the fact that he is confident that he won even the national Presidential election, there should be no question of him losing a simple party election just because the members voting now were elected in 2014 and not in 2019. After all, wasn’t his claim to have been made Acting President done on the basis of members elected to their positions in 2014?

Doing something to implement the judgement is important because once he started throwing around the legitimacy question, Mr Chamisa cannot wash away the stench of illegitimacy.

One of the reasons why supporters of President Mnangagwa are irate about Mr Chamisa’s repeated “legitimacy” claims is not that they have substance (they don’t), but because once such an accusation is made, it is hard to convince everyone that it has no merit. It is like a false rape allegation: once it is made, the accused can never really live it down. “There is no smoke without fire” really gets its meaning from such scenarios.

Much as Mr Chamisa and his supporters can press ahead with their congress as if Mushore J’s judgment did not happen, the consequences for his standing will be catastrophic. If nothing is done to at least appear to address the constitutional wrongs identified by the judge, objective people will never believe anything that Mr Chamisa says on the issue of “legitimacy”. And, more to the point, neither should anyone else.

While a full bench of the Constitutional Court found that President Mnangagwa is legitimate, we now have a judicial decision which confirms that Mr Chamisa is not.

That cannot be wished away by saying “its game on” or hiring “top lawyers” or otherwise pretend that the judgment didn’t happen. It did. As far as the law and majority opinion are concerned, President Mnangagwa is legitimate and Mr Chamisa is not.

And he cannot be playing that card again. To be a good prophet of “legitimacy”, you must yourself not only be legitimate, but be manifestly and clearly legitimate yourself. Anything less would be like someone going around claiming that you  can treat leprosy yet they are leprous themselves. It just does not compute.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Harare based lawyer