CHAMISA: Aug 23 election a ‘choice between good and evil or life and death’
By The Financial Times
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa portrayed Zimbabwe’s looming elections as a clash between “good and evil” as he assured supporters that an end to the southern African nation’s economic agony would come at the ballot box.
“I know you’re worried . . . the army won’t allow us to take power after we’ve won the elections, but you mustn’t be,” he said as he launched his presidential campaign in the city of Gweru late last month.
“We’re going to win in spite of everything,” he stated, framing the August 23 contest as a “choice between good and evil or life and death”, with God on the side of change.
But despite his confident talk, Chamisa, a 45-year-old pastor and lawyer who leads the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), faces a huge challenge as he seeks to end the rule of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Zanu PF party.
Triple-digit inflation, a wrecked economy and simmering fury at the looting of Zimbabwe’s resources since Mnangagwa replaced long-time dictator Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, are just some of the factors driving the case for political renewal.
But the CCC has instead faced new forms of State repression and paranoia that has worsened since the first post-Mugabe poll in 2018 — when Mnangagwa was declared the winner in the contest with Chamisa and the army shot protesters who said the vote was rigged.
Last month, the CCC came close to losing the city of Bulawayo, a long-time stronghold, by default after a court ruled it had been too late filing nomination papers, even though the electoral commission had said it was on time.
As a result, Zanu PF candidates, including finance minister Mthuli Ncube, would have stood unopposed until Zimbabwe’s supreme court reversed the decision and reinstated the opposition candidates this week.
Such uncertainty has prompted the opposition to warn that the political environment was more hostile now than under the late dictator.
“Even at his worst, Mugabe never tried to brazenly remove opponents he knew he would lose against from the ballot paper,” said CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere.
Chamisa said in an interview with the Financial Times in April that extensive rigging and repression were underway to prevent his party from winning, but that he would “not allow dictatorship to have a free rein”.
Mnangagwa’s government has also locked up dozens of opposition party members and detained activists, journalists and others accused of dissent.
In 2018, the opposition “would have had a reasonably good chance to triumph, had the political and electoral playing field been fairer and freer”, said Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the Mass Public Opinion Institute, a Zimbabwean pollster.
Five years on, “the playing field is almost hopelessly asymmetrical”. The main opposition has even been forced to give up the name it fought under for years when led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change was the primary challenger to Mugabe.
Zanu PF was obliged to share power with the MDC from 2009 to 2013 after international negotiations over disputed elections. This high point for the opposition ended when Mugabe restored his grip through another vote widely seen as suspect, but it was a period when Zimbabwe’s economy lived up to its potential for rapid growth.
Recent years have been characterised by turmoil and fragmentation.
“What we’ve seen in Zimbabwe over the past five years amounts to a brutal crackdown on human rights, especially the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Khanyo Farisè, deputy director for southern Africa at Amnesty International.
MPOI polling has indicated a slim lead for Mnangagwa over Chamisa, but this also reflects the culture of intimidation. Large numbers of those polled declined to give a preference and many said they feared election violence.
The Gweru rally was one of only a few by Chamisa’s party that have not been blocked by police, including a previous attempt at a campaign launch.
Chamisa has proposed ditching the collapsed local currency and restoring the US dollar as the main currency — making official what is already happening in many everyday transactions — as part of his pledge to turn Zimbabwe into a $100bn economy within a decade.
But critics see his economic projections as outlandish, given they would mean returning to double-digit growth rates.
They also say Chamisa was slow to choose candidates for simultaneous parliamentary elections, a strategy he described as “strategic ambiguity” to defeat undercover agents of Zimbabwe’s security forces.
Masunungure said Chamisa’s well-founded wariness of the security apparatus had veered into “pathological fear of infiltration” and limited his party’s organisational capacity on the ground.
“The brutal reality is that a combination of a hostile operating environment, as well as [Chamisa’s] personality, have made the party far less prepared” than Zanu PF, he said.
Divisions in the opposition have also compounded the challenge of ousting Mnangagwa, with another party using the MDC brand appearing on ballot papers next month.
Yet Chamisa supporters are keeping the faith. At the Gweru rally, Godfrey Karembera, a 42-year-old self-styled “prophet for change” clad in a long yellow robe, blessed members in a mock religious ritual using a matching yellow staff.
It was, he said, an exorcism of Zanu PF “and all the other bad spirits that are an impediment to the coming of change in Zimbabwe”.