By Tafi Mhaka
When Nelson Chamisa rode roughshod over the MDC-T constitution in a bid to succeed the late Morgan Tsvangirai as president of the party in February 2018, he didn’t quite anticipate the extensive political damage such an unconstitutional, at times violent, highly divisive and obviously undemocratic grab for power would have on progressive politics in Zimbabwe.
Today, the chickens, as they say, are coming home to roost for Chamisa and the MDC Alliance. Indeed, today, most surprisingly, he stands dumbfounded, angered, disappointed and plainly embarrassed by a Supreme Court ruling that he should have anticipated.
Chamisa, in a statement published immediately after the Supreme Court confirmed the High Court’s decision that declared him an illegitimate leader, was breathing fire. He claimed a “dictatorship always ultimately falls and so shall it be with all those who connive with it!”
They just might.
But his erstwhile rival Thokozani Khupe’s claims to the MDC-T presidency have been vindicated and this sets the stage for a dramatic political capitulation on Chamisa’s part.
Lest we forget that in 2018, pundits and observers alike warned the MDC-T National Council had flouted its own constitution by appointing Chamisa as interim president without holding an electoral congress.
Many also warned that simply standing in opposition to ZANU-PF didn’t give the MDC-T “leadership” licence to unleash violence on party rivals or disregard laid down party regulations.
Indeed, from Gukurahundi to a ghastly health sector, Zanu-PF has erred unendingly, mercilessly and unforgivingly, but its widespread failings shouldn’t lend legitimacy to an MDC leader ditching democracy repeatedly, deliberately or arbitrarily.
In February 2018, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said, “It will be difficult bordering on impossible for the MDC-T and indeed Chamisa and his alliance partners to talk about return to constitutionalism as a campaigning tool when they themselves have failed that test dismally.”
Chin’ono also asserted, “It will be impossible if not ridiculous for them to accuse ED of being a coup leader when they have done the same thing, grabbing power by any means necessary.”
The “Chamisa Chete Chete” crowd that endorsed the political illegalities of 2018 have undoubtedly been badly exposed for what they really are: undemocratic pretenders.
While it has appeared to stand for democratic change, especially given the incredibly low bar set by the military and political shenanigans that ushered President Emmerson Mnangagwa into office, the MDC Alliance’s many problematic actions portray a party operating at odds with universally accepted tenets of democratic change.
To be clear: should Zanu-PF be booted out of power by Chamisa and company, it is not a fully-fledged democracy that they seek to install and buttress while behind the levers of power, it is the pursuit of an intolerant, personality-based authority, right at the expense of establishing a strong, progressive democracy.
Indeed, things will never be the same for the MDC Alliance and MDC-T or possibly whatever new MDC political entity prevails from the slow-burning embers of yesterday’s legal denunciation.
However, it certainly is, after the acrimonious breakaways led by Professor Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti in the past, further unquestionable proof of the MDC’s fundamental, headstrong organisational reluctance to fully embrace democratic ideals and avoid falling prey to fanatical populism.
Tuesday afternoon, much like the past few months, was awash with heated, pounding attacks on the three alleged “sellouts” and “charlatans”: Khupe, Douglas Mwonzora and Morgan Komichi.
But Chamisa can’t blame everyone but himself for this unfolding political disaster.
In 2018, he failed to respect the rule of law as enshrined in the MDC constitution.
And his disruptive actions, predictably, invited the intervention of the High Court and ostensibly laid the groundwork for the formation of POLAD.
So deflecting to Khupe’s membership of POLAD, as evidence of her “treachery”, misses the point altogether.
Chamisa’s unapologetic, hasty lust for power has lent Zanu-PF an unmerited helping hand.
Indeed, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is a big win for Zanu-PF.
So despite strong messages of defiance claiming that “Zanu PF is living in perpetual fear of President Chamisa” and yesterday’s ruling doesn’t really matter, it actually does.
Zanu-PF never ceases to impress when handed an opportunity to question or blemish the MDC Alliance’s commitment to the rule of law and democratic change.
It will, as usual, milk Chamisa’s crushing loss and forever castigate his 2018 power grab.
That really is the biggest loss for progressive politics in Zimbabwe.
The MDC has unwittingly ceded the moral ground and change motif to Zanu-PF.
It has, again, against all odds, shot itself in the foot.
So while everyone is livid about the adverse ruling and the timing of its delivery amid the Coronavirus shutdown, Chamisa should have sought power the right way anyway.
He has a massive following and Khupe garnered just 45 000 votes in the 2018 election.
However, she remains a powerful symbol of Chamisa’s original illegitimacy and the MDC-T’s propensity to use violence to settle internal scores.
What’s more, the MDC Alliance must realise that preaching to the choir is hardly helpful.
It must instead strive to win over indecisive, hardpressed and disappointed Zanu-PF supporters.
And it must demonstrate that it certainly is a movement for democratic change, and the most viable party for the future.
But it won’t make inroads in Zanu-PF rural strongholds if it remains riddled with internal conflict and Chamisa’s widely despotic tendencies.
That will just help to prolong the ruling party’s lengthy hold on power.
More so, with 2020 lost to the Coronavirus pandemic, Zanu-PF has acquired plenty of breathing space.
That’s right, 2020 is all but lost.
Chamisa must change his ways or risk losing everything in 2023.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.