By Luke Tamborinyoka
The news last week that the Harare-Nyamapanda highway up to Mutoko ground to a virtual standstill as the people’s President Advocate Nelson Chamisa drove to bury Patson Dzamara, a senior party official, exposed Zanu PF’s chronic headache over the MDC Alliance’s mass-centric traction among ordinary Zimbabweans.
At a time the regime had budgeted that Chamisa and the MDC Alliance would be politically finished due to the well-calculated political assaults and callous pilferage of its human, material and monetary assets, Chamisa’s enduring traction among ordinary Zimbabweans has caught the regime napping.
Since the disputed 2018 plebiscite, it has always been apparent that the country has two leaders—a court President whose legitimacy stems from a contested judicial pronouncement and a people’s President whose legitimacy emanates from the sovereign will of the people.
Chamisa’s overwhelming traction has refused to be locked down, even in the wake of the current restrictions actuated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The highway popularity of the MDC Alliance leadership has shown that Mnangagwa may have won this Presidency in the courts, but the ordinary people have their own President.
Thousands of Zimbabweans along the Nyamapanda highway up to Mutoko mobbed the popular leader in a manner that showed that true legitimacy flows from the people. Following Chamisa’s unparalleled popularity among vendors and the petty traders especially in Murehwa, the regime predictably reacted with the usual lunacy.
They followed up days later and rounded up all the vendors and small -time traders along the highway, arrested and fined them for mobbing a political leader of their own choice, in violation of their political rights as enshrined in section 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
It appears it is now criminal to publicly support for Chamisa and the MDC Alliance. In what could be a first in the history of politics, the police arrested the vendors who had excitably mobbed Chamisa with shouts of “President” a few days before and asked them: “Don’t you know who your President is?” before slapping them with fines of Z$500 each.
While politics is a voluntary industry where the dictum of free and unfettered choice reigns supreme, it appears supporting Mnangagwa and Zanu PF is now enforceable at law. Talk of Command Politics!
The Murehwa debacle brutally exposed the binary of the country’s political leadership. The episode was a tale of two Presidents—-a people’s President genuinely loved by the citizenry and whom they willingly address as such and a Command President foisted on the people by captured institutions that include the police. By turning out to arrest and force the vendors to love and support Mnangagwa against their will, these misguided elements of our police force proved to be just but State-paid miscreants bent on wanton nihilism.
I have personal experience of how Zanu PF takes umbrage at anyone else being referred to as “President”, a title they guard jealously and for which they can do anything in order to preserve, notwithstanding the undeniable fact that there are Presidents of political parties, churches and even burial societies.
On Monday, 14 May 2007, the late Morgan Tsvangirai visited me and several other party activists during our three months detention on trumped-up terrorism charges in the D-class section of Harare Central prison.
When the democracy icon entered the prison compound, there was a deafening din from the frenetic shouts of “President” that came from both prison officials and inmates throughout the prison complex. Since that day, Tsvangirai was “banned” from visiting us at the prison as the sonorous chants of “President” with reference to Morgan Tsvangirai inside the complex made a lot of people uncomfortable.
Yet creating discomfort for Zanu PF’s misguided zealots is not criminal. Nowhere in the country’s laws and statutes are citizens disallowed from making Zanu PF supporters uncomfortable.
In fact some of us derive unmitigated mirth and satisfaction from making this party uncomfortable. Our decision-making matrix is that before we do anything, we ask ourselves the key question: “Does it make Zanu PF mad?” If it does, then it must be done
This is where we differ with Mwonzora, Khupe and Komichi who have made it their preoccupation to give Zanu PF sleepful nights. For some of us, our vocation has always been to give this murderous and clueless party, sleepless nights through the smart politics of ideas, charm and legitimate contestation in a civilised manner far removed from the primitivity of hard, condign power which the regime shamelessly exhibited in Murehwa earlier in the week.
ED and his lackeys have certainly hit a new low in their barbaric politics of capture. I can state with confidence that Morgan Tsvangirai is turning in his grave, given that State security agents that brutalised him throughout his political life are now getting unfettered access to sit through meetings inside the iconic building at 44 Nelson Mandela that we named after him in honour of his selfless service and dedication to the country’s democratic struggle.
For Tsvangirai was a man I knew so well, having had the privilege of being his spokesman for 10 years until his death in 2018. He must be flinching in his grave that his legacy has been sold out by those now comforting with the dictator in the very building that bears his iconic name!
But that is a story for another day.
For Mnangagwa, if the people don’t love you, then you must bludgeon them. Or arrest them as he did to the innocent vendors in Murehwa whose only crime was to publicly show their support for Chamisa and the MDC Alliance.
Mnangagwa’s discomfort with Nelson Chamisa is politically understandable. It is public knowledge that Tsvangirai’s name was already sufficiently embedded in the national psyche when he died in February 2018, having been the MDC President for almost two decades and having given the regime a run for their money.
When Tsvangirai died some 160 or so days before the 2018 election, the regime budgeted that the MDC Alliance did not have anyone within their ranks to match his popularity.
In any case, they reckoned the MDC did not have sufficient time to effectively market a new Presidential candidate in just five months. Having twice lost to Blessing Chebundo in Kwekwe, Mnangagwa was afraid of facing Tsvangirai in the Presidential election. After MT’s demise in 2018, ED had reckoned the MDC was finished as a significant political opponent.
But he was in for a rude shock. Even if one were to go by ZEC’s own rigged figures, which they incredibly revised three times only after the MDC Alliance had lodged a petition after the poll, Chamisa polled 2,1 million votes, almost twice the 1,2 million votes that Tsvangirai had polled in the 2008 when he defeated Robert Mugabe and in the 2013 elections as well.
Morgan Tsvangirai had never surpassed the 1,2 million mark, though of course the electoral body had tinkered with the figures. This simply means that in a mere five months, even by their own disputed figures, Chamisa almost doubled Tsvangirai’s 1,2 million mark and that explains the regime’s scorched earth policy and the current desperate onslaught by foul means to utterly destroy Chamisa’s brand. Now they have reached the laughable extent of arresting vendors simply because they support him and the MDC Alliance.
The regime is now so desperate it is fighting everyone including lawyers, journalists, the church, the region, South Africa, the United Nations and the AU.
And now even the vendors from Murehwa and Mutoko are enemies!
In fact, so desperate and fearful of the unknown is the regime that it is now even at war with itself, as evidenced by the expulsions of Killer Zivhu, Cleveria Chizema, Godfrey Tsenengamu, Jim Kunaka and Tendai Savanhu, among others. There is blood on the political dance-floor as this inept and malevolent regime spiritedly engages in a monumental blood-letting exercise even against itself.
Yes, they are now doing things unto themselves in what could be a marked but crude form of political masturbation!
The Murehwa duel with vendors shows that Chamisa’s traction has given the regime a chronic headache as the young politician has simply refused to die, both literally and politically. The vicious body blows against the MDC Alliance—including stripping the party of its headquarters, its government grant, its elected MPs and councillors— were all calculated to ground the people’s project.
But if anything, the political stock of the people’s project has gone up, judging by the crowds that thronged the Harare-Mutoko highway to have a glimpse of their preferred leader who has not only remained standing despite vicious blows but has given Mnangagwa and his acolytes chronic headaches and insomnia.
Mnangagwa claims he is President by dint of legality arising from the pronouncement by the Constitutional Court. But some of us have always argued that legality is not legitimacy. In fact, there are times when legality and legitimacy are mutually exclusive as evidenced by the fact that the apartheid in South Africa was legal but not legitimate.
Indeed, legitimacy and legality are not always mutually inclusive. The two are not Siamese twins. In the industry of politics, legitimacy does not reside in a court judgement. In politics, legitimacy flows from the free and sovereign expression of the people, as the Murehwa vendors aptly demonstrated through their roadside chants of adoration to a political leader of their choice!
There is an element of jealousy in Mnangagwa’s vicious arrest of the Murehwa vendors. ED only knows too well that he is unable to charm any roadside crowd. Apart from the condign politics of raw, hard power and coercion, the man cannot wow any crowd.
Indeed, Mnangagwa’s vast political and cerebral emptiness is astounding. The man simply exhibits no natural political presence wherever he goes. Last year, , he dismally failed to lure a crowd the size of an average class to the anti-sanctions rally that was billed for the National Sports Stadium, even after incentivising each starving Zimbabwean with a two piecer and a soft drink at the stadium entrance.
On stage, ED is simply soporific—his arid speeches often lulling the usually coerced crowds into deep slumber. He is given to delivering lullabies disguised as speeches. Outside the utility of brute force, Mnangagwa is bereft of any iota of political charm. Coercion is his political lifeblood. The totemic, dangling scarf is significant as it symbolises that his fickle and paltry followership is only tied and conjoined to him by patronage and the shared values of murder, thievery, avarice and unbridled corruption.
But perhaps the story of the week is Mnangagwa’s reversal of the land reform programme, whose irreversibility is adequately captured in a Constitution written by the people and affirmed in a referendum by almost 94 percent of Zimbabweans.
In his desperate bid to lure scarce capital from global financial institutions controlled by the West and the US, Mnangagwa has reversed the land reform in one fell swoop. Unbeknown to him, it’s a no win situation in the two constituencies because the Western capitals he is attempting to charm are today more concerned about his trampling of citizen rights while the indigenous blacks are shocked that he wants to take back their land, instead of undertaking a cogent and comprehensive land audit as well as giving deserving farmers title deeds so that land becomes a bankable asset that is able to produce food for the nation.
Giving the people of this country land was always morally correct because land was at the core of our liberation struggle, only the land could have been repossessed in a manner bereft of the chaos and senseless murders we witnessed in 2000. But otherwise, we are all agreed on the principle that the people of this country should own their land.
In my other life as a journalist, I remember the late Eddison Zvobgo, never one to miss the opportunity for giving witty remarks that journalists so often crave for, explaining that the senseless murders of white farmers had tainted a justified and legitimate national programme. In his capacity as the Zanu PF legal secretary and following the murder of white farmers, Zvobgo famously remarked in a brilliant quote that sent newspaper headlines screaming:
” We have turned an otherwise glorious revolution into a bloody and __racist_agrarian_ enterprise .”
No sane Zimbabwean can dispute to the efficacy, justifiability and rationale in giving land to the landless citizens of this country without discrimination.
While compensation for improvements on the land may be important and is covered by the Constitution, what is far more important for most well-meaning Zimbabweans is a comprehensive land audit, fair distribution of land to real and deserving farmers as well as to the majority of poor but landless citizens, a cogent land distribution, use and tenure system as well as giving title deeds for the farms so that land ceases to be dead capital. That way, we can increase food production and become Africa’s breadbasket once again.
The plight of the former farm workers and the question of who will foot the bill of compensation needs to be soberly looked at, outside the emotion that usually carries the day on all discussions to do with land in this country.
In the meantime, the arrest of the Murehwa vendors aptly captured the crisis of legitimacy currently gripping the country; the crisis manifesting itself through the binary of a people’s President loved by the people including roadside vendors and a Command President foisted by the captured, coercive institutions of the State.
Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He is a multiple award-winning journalist who was once elected and served as the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.
Tamborinyoka served as the spokesperson for almost 10 years to the country’s democracy icon, Morgan Tsvangirai, until the latter’s death in 2018. He is an ardent political scientist who won the Book Prize for Best Student when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.
You can interact with him on Facebook or on the twitter handle @luke_tambo.