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Tafi Mhaka: From Jonathan Moyo to a ZNA coup: Is MDC-A losing the plot?

By Tafi Mhaka

In as far as establishing strategic public positions and viable political relationships go, MDC-A president Nelson Chamisa has increasingly demonstrated a lack of strong, measured judgment.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

In June 2018, he very unwisely boasted about reportedly gaining former President Robert Mugabe’s single vote, right when he should have instead focused on criticising the old man’s widely discredited rule and whipping Zanu-PF at the July 31 polls.

Then, right when he should have been scheming to dump the losers of Zanu-PF’s factional fights in the proverbial dustbin of history, Chamisa fast-depreciating reputation became entangled with former First Lady Grace Mugabe’s lofty political ambitions and a freshly formed National Patriotic Front, a predominantly disgruntled lot of former Zanu-PF officials and supporters. 

The inexplicably odd, ill-advised and regressive development didn’t, however, come to a rapid, welcome stop. 

It grew legs.

Big, strong legs.

After Mugabe passed away in September 2019, Chamisa lavished effusive praise on him, seemingly forgetful about the thousands that died on Mugabe’s orders in Matabeleland in the 1980s.

He conveniently forgot about the thousands of lives destroyed and lost in political violence waged by Zanu-PF militia and the millions that remained relatively poor, subjugated and marginalised by Mugabe’s bad governance and a disputed election in 2013.  

Yet Chamisa didn’t only embrace Mugabe’s tainted legacy publicly, he cultivated a most questionable relationship with Jonathan Moyo. The expelled former Zanu-PF politburo member is now reportedly a prominent MDC-A supporter and Chamisa confidante.

It is a stunning and previously unthinkable understanding for both Moyo and the MDC-A faithful: Chamisa actually has no particular problem with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. 

This is, to no end, extremely disappointing.

It is also a shocking public betrayal of the MDC’s founding mission. The party was especially formed to fight Zanu-PF and to establish a new and progressive democratic order. 

It shouldn’t be used as a convenient stopover for Zanu-PF nomads, and it mustn’t become an ahistorical and ideologically unsound political outfit.

Yet, it is, unfortunately. 

The self-serving, widely indiscriminate political manoeuvring adopted by Chamisa in the last 24 months, has inevitably spread to an impressionable MDC Youth Assembly. It has joined the illiberal fray and displayed an equally disturbing lack of astute political judgment and understanding of progressive democracy and contemporary politics. 

The MDC Youth Assembly on February 27 reportedly designated President Emmerson Mnangagwa a ‘security threat’ and called on the ZNA to restore the ‘legacy’ it promoted as justification for Mugabe’s removal in November 2017.

Does the MDC Youth Assembly believe that another coup would further the MDC-A’s political ambitions?

That ZNA generals view the MDC-A as a potential ally?

That removing Mnangagwa would help bring an end to Zanu-PF’s long, murderous and corrupt rule?

That the army’s recurring interference in civilian affairs is not a recipe for disaster?

That installing a new Zanu-PF president will help to restore basic medical services, revitalise industry and improve life in Zimbabwe?

This, coming right after Moyo described Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga as a supposedly ‘hands-on, pragmatic and decisive’ leader, in a widely published interview, begs the question: what is going on?

Why, after the hail of bullets that rained down on his family home in November 2017, would Moyo speak glowingly of Chiwenga in 2020?

Whatever is happening, Chamisa can’t go on complaining about Mnangagwa’s massive failings while pretending Mugabe’s deposed government ever covered itself in economic, democratic or human rights glory.

He can’t go on establishing problematic political relationships with Mugabe era characters like Moyo and Patrick Zhuwao.

It leaves him looking so confused and dishonest.

And the MDC-A Youth Assembly can’t advocate for democratic change while simultaneously calling for a coup and the establishment of a second military backed dictatorship.

It is indefensibly naïve, short-sighted and ridiculous, but wholly understandable, because a fish rots from the head down.

The current inactive and deplorable state of the misfiring MDC-A is merely symptomatic of Chamisa’s unfolding inadequacies and several failings as party president.

He might be affable, charismatic, eloquent and popular, but Chamisa is struggling to stay the course and convince wavering, dissatisfied Zanu-PF supporters that the MDC-A is a viable option for progressive political change: he’s struggling to win parliamentary by-elections.

Downplaying Mugabe’s dismal human rights record and embracing Moyo lends the improbable impression that the MDC-A is not different to Zanu-PF in practice or wholesale substance, it is just short of capable political strategists and communication specialists within its professional ranks: winners like Moyo.  

And the MDC-A Youth Assembly’s call for the army to remove Mnangagwa demonstrates a growing, simmering lack of steadfast belief in the opposition party’s quest to achieve power on its own terms.  

Still, as everyone knows, the ZNA is no admirer of opposition politics.

It would not remove Mnangagwa as president, simply to help Chamisa and the MDC-A to power, or to advance Zimbabwe’s democracy. 

Hardly.

It would do so to consolidate Zanu-PF rule or possibly introduce a military leader for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history.

Either way that would be just another example of the military complex’s well-established propensity to wilfully subvert the people’s will and protect its undue influence and extensive business interests. 

Moving forward, Chamisa must reflect on the MDC’s founding in September 1999.

Why was the party formed?

Why is it struggling to impact change?

And why is Zanu-PF still the ruling party?

It is time to abandon placing faith in cheap, expedient politics and instead focus on plotting a fresh, powerful and inspiring path to power. 

Indeed, Chamisa must fight to dismantle the despicable, unjust and unworkable system established by Zanu-PF, not fight to become a part of it.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in us, is scheduled to be published in 2020. Follow him at @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

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