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Taona Denhere: The Life and Death matter for MDC Alliance to rebrand

William Shakespeare, the 16th century English playwright, who once permanently featured on the Zimbabwean Ordinary level and Advanced Level English literature school calendar, once rhetorically asked; “What’s in a name? That we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”.

This is quite instructive in line with the full blown war of attrition that is currently engulfing the opposition ecosystem of Zimbabwe. Necessitated by, the long running saga of who owns the political title deeds and the naming rights for the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDCA) that is pitting two bitter factional political rivals, thus the MDCA as led by Nelson Chamisa and the splinter rival MDCT led by Douglas Mwonzora.

Accordingly, this article has been necessitated by the desperate blitzkrieg and kamikaze approach adopted by Douglas Mwonzora and MDCT when they unsurprisingly and unequivocally declared at their press conference on Wednesday the 12 of January 2022 that they will be contesting the 26th March 2022 by elections under the banner of MDCA and that anyone who will use the acronym MDC will face a stern legal challenge.

This is not a mere empty threat considering how the Judiciary has been weaponized against MDCA. Consequently, I will attempt to argue that with fast approaching by-elections Nelson Chamisa`s led MDCA need to fully grasp that they face an existential threat and a huge political setback if they do not outthink and outmaneuver both the ZANU PF regime and MDCT and come up with a savvy and distinct brand name, by the time they submit the electoral list of their prospective candidates.

The nomination Court seats on the 26 of January 2022. Additionally, I shall take a brief detour in the past and highlight some crucial examples of the battle for naming rights in political spheres of Zimbabwe and thus conduct a comparative analysis on why the Nelson Chamisa`s led MDCA is operating in an unprecedentedly hostile, unforgiving and malevolent political and electoral landscape. Consequently, this places onerous responsibilities for them to be pragmatic,streetwise and think outside the box.

The battle for political naming rights is not a new phenomenon within the postcolonial, political and electoral struggles of Zimbabwe. In January 1980, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole who was once the founding President of ZANU before he was unceremoniously dethroned in 1975 and replaced by Robert Mugabe approached, Lord Soames, who was the governor of the transitional authority tasked to oversee the independence transition of Zimbabwe.

Reverend Sithole sought to petition Governor Soames to stop Robert Mugabe from contesting the 1980 elections under the banner of ZANU arguing that Sithole is the bonafide owner of the name ZANU.

Nonetheless, Governor Soames who was neutral arbiter in this case without much vested interest in the electoral outcomes refused to entertain Sithole`s request and petition. Both Sithole`s and Mugabe`s led ZANUs contested the 1980 elections. However, Mugabe had to suffix his ZANU with PF (Patriotic Front) to distinguish it from Sithole`s ZANU.

Since March 2020, when the judicially modified and constructed MDCT came into existence after the controversial and divisive Supreme Court ruling it has become an open secret that they are the blue eyed boys and the ever obedient lackeys of the ZANU PF government.

This has been demonstrated by the unprecedented number of both partial and highly controversial Judicial and Parliamentary freebies they have been gifted with as demonstrated by the ridiculous awarding of funds due to MDCA under the Political Finances Act to MDCT despite the MDCA Supreme Court challenge, judgement which was reserved in the case challenging this illegal and daylight robbery.

Coupled with the manner, the ZANU PF government allowed the military to assist MDCT to take over the hitherto MDCA headquarters the Harvest House.

In addition to numerous occasions they have been treated with kid gloves and allowed to carry their party political activities such as the controversial December 2020 extraordinary congress despite Covid 19 restrictions which were put in place to outlaw such gatherings.

Coupled with the manner in which they have been allowed to freely conduct their political businesses across the country without molestation or harassment which is a direct contrast to the way Nelson Chamisa and his lieutenants have been hounded, harassed and violently attacked in their rural outreach campaigns.

Therefore, when President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued the Statutory Instrument 2 of 2022, that set the date for the nomination court to seat and also the date for by-elections many political observers were not surprised by the vindictive scorched earth policies of the Mwonzora led MDCT when they dropped another bombshell a few days later declaring that they will be contesting the by-elections under the banner of MDCA.

However, a lot of significant developments had occurred prior to this announcement that raised questionable eyebrows. For instance the letter which was written by Mwonzora dated the 3rd of January 2022, is a significant give away. Because it shows that MDCT was already privy and aware of the impending elections.

Moreover, on the day President Mnangagwa announced the date for by-elections, Mwonzora and his other top lieutenants had surreptitiously and clandestinely visited Mnangagwa who was in the company of Patrick Chinamasa and George Charamba at the State House.

Highlighting, this shows there is a great deal of an unholy alliance between the ZANU PF government and the MDCT. It is pointing to a tag team designed to frustrate, sabotage and defang and declaw the MDCA, as it tries to contest the forthcoming by-elections.

In this multi-prong offensive strategy MDCT will be acting as the lapdogs, attack dogs and the cannon fodder for ZANU PF in destabilizing and disenfranchising the MDCA.

This unrelenting scorched earth strategy has come into being upon realising by both the ZANU PF government and the MDCT, that MDCT which is the puppetry trojan horse of ZANU PF, cannot politically survive and stand on its own two feet outside the ZANU PF life support system of the captured and pliant Judiciary and the captured Parliament.

Thus, the political atmosphere on ground running up to March 2022 elections demonstrate that MDCT is staring into a humiliating reality check electoral massacre that will puncture, deflate the self delusional bubble of borrowed robes they have been riding on since March 2020 ostensibly as the true opposition.

This further explains why the captured institutions such as the ZEC, are willing to bend the rules and accommodate the hypocritical, self-serving somersaulting of MDCT to contest elections as MDCA at the detriment of the real MDCA led by Nelson Chamisa despite the illogical and brazen fact the by-elections came about as result of Parliamentary recall for the MPs and Councillors who were ostensibly recalled on the frivolous grounds that they belong to MDCA rather than MDCT.

Needless to say that, there are enough warning signs to show that the MDCT is in cahoots with captured and compromised institutions such as ZEC and are setting up boobtraps and political landmines which they conspire that MDCA would potentially step on the nomination day and probably disqualify and disenfranchise the MDCA from contesting the by elections.

Thus Mwonzora`s 3rd of January 2022 letter addressed to the ZEC petitioned them to bar anyone from using the acronym MDC other than Mwonzora and MDCT. Therefore,the MDCT letter to ZEC together with a press conference made by Mwonzora on Wednesday the 12th January 2022 shows that a potential legal challenge awaits Chamisa and MDCA if they contest the by elections as MDCA. This should be taken seriously by the MDCA inlight of how the doctrine of offensive lawfareism and captured state institutions have been ruthlessly and callously deployed against them over the last two years.

This should spring MDCA into decisive foresighted action and come up with pragmatic strategies and commonsensical approach in rebranding the political vehicle that would spearhead their by-election electoral machinery.

The post November 2017 electoral and political landscape of Zimbabwe has become structurally illiberal and autocratized. All vestiges of rule of law based on free and fair electoral and political contests have been bastardised. Therefore, in terms of rebranding their political vehicle, the MDCA needs to have a double consciousness.

They need to put themselves in a position of both the MDCA and that of the twin axis of evil of ZANU PF and MDCT and hypothetically think and rehearse, how would their oppressors react and think if they launch and rebrand their political vehicle in this particular way.

This will enable MDCA to be two steps ahead of their oppressors. It also enables them to come up with contingent and viable plans if Plan A or Plan B get sabotaged by either ZANU PF or MDCT. Such that they won’t continue to be pigeon holed for easy rich pickings of authoritarian consolidation by both the ZANU PF and MDCT.

Knowing the callous nature of the autocratic beast they are up against. Therefore the MDCA in terms of announcing their new political totem, they need to borrow from the advertising concept of ambush marketing or ambush advertisement. Which was developed by marketing strategist Jerry Welsh. That is, they need to do ambush branding of their new political totem.

Thus, they will need to keep it as a highly closed guarded secret and only to reveal the new name moments away from submitting nomination papers at the nomination courts. By doing this, they would have caught both the ZANU PF, ZEC and MDCT off guard and put them on the defensive. Thus mitigate the risks of them being disenfranchised on by-elections.

It is abundantly clear that MDCA desperately needed to participate in the forthcoming by-elections by any means necessary. This is largely due to the fact that over the last two years, they have spent most parts on the political ropes being bludgeoned and receiving hammer blows from ZANU PF, MDCT and the captured Judiciary and the Parliament.

Therefore, these by-elections provide them with a rare opportunity to turbocharge and reinvigorate their political movement and reclaim their lost glory and political and parliamentary territories. Accordingly, that is why it will be politicide and self-defeating if MDCA does decide to boycott these by-elections.

It will be akin to the MDCA cutting its political nose in order to spite its political face. The thought of boycotting should not be entertained at all or whispered within the MDCA power corridors. In our Shona cosmology they say you should never surrender and abandon the ripe maize field to the baboons.

Therefore, MDCA rebranding is now a non-negotiable life and death issue that must be holistically, wisely and maturely pursued, because the future of the democratic struggle and democratic resistance depends on what MDCA will do between now and the 26th March 2022.

Needless to say, that the very legacies of MDCA political martyrs such as Morgan Tsvangirai, Talent Mabika, Tichaona Chiminya, Tonderai Ndira and the 200 who died during the June 2008 presidential runoff rest on MDCA to contesting these by-elections.

These martyrs and other MDC democratic stalwarts such as Gibson Sibanda, Fletcher Dulini Ncube, Mike Auret, Trudy Stevenson, Rebecca Mafikeni are turning up in their graves upon realising how the Harvest House, the hitherto citadel of democratic resistance and democratic struggle has been desecrated and reduced into a brothel of performative politics of puppetry and tomfoolery by Mwonzora and his trade union of puppets.

Therefore, rebranding and contesting these by-elections by MDCA is an opportunity for them to rekindle the democratic resistance flame and to recapture the founding spirit and ethos of the MDC of 1999.