Zimbabwe’s CCC crisis: Farce turning to tragedy for the opposition
HARARE: The drama playing out in Zimbabwe’s main opposition party could be something out of a farce – as it faces by-elections this weekend with the possibility of its candidates missing from the ballot.
But winning 73 of the 210 constituency seats in parliament, it had still denied the ruling party a large majority.
Then the CCC seemed to turn on itself.
In a startling move it started to expel or recall some of its own members of parliament – something that prompts a by-election.
This was being done by Sengezo Tshabangu, who claimed to be the party’s interim secretary-general.
Hitherto unknown to most people in Zimbabwe, Mr Tshabangu now dominates headlines.
He had written to the parliamentary Speaker in October alleging some CCC MPs had “ceased to be members of the party”.
The CCC leader, Nelson Chamisa, immediately labelled Mr Tshabangu a fake and told the Speaker to ignore the letter.
But it was Mr Chamisa who was ignored as the Speaker duly declared vacancies in the constituencies.
The MPs caught up in the fray went to court to challenge the move, but President Mnangagwa went ahead and announced by-elections in the affected constituencies before their hearings.
This was proof, according to the CCC, that he was confident the judges would go his way – which they did. The courts threw out the challenge and a subsequent appeal on legal technicalities.
An emboldened Mr Tshabangu then began to claim more scalps – dismissing, or recalling, more CCC MPs and local councillors too.
So who is this man behind what seems like political hara-kiri for the opposition – an inside saboteur or a Zanu-PF proxy, as alleged by the CCC?
The ruling party has vehemently denied any involvement in what it calls internal CCC squabbles – though it must be rubbing its hands in glee.
Some say Mr Tshabangu was active in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the precursor to the CCC.
A picture of him with Mr Chamisa has been doing the rounds, which the CCC says proves nothing.
“Anybody can get their picture taken with the [CCC] president,” the party’s spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi told the BBC.
Mr Tshabangu backed out of an interview with the BBC after initially seeming eager. He has, however, spoken to local media.
In one interview, he claimed to be loyal to Mr Chamisa, referring to him as “president” as other party members do.
He said his targets were “criminals around the president”, language that recalls the speech announcing the 2017 coup when putschists said then-President Robert Mugabe’s position was safe.
We all know how that finished up – with a resignation letter ending his 37-year rule.
But Mr Tshabangu’s loyalty has been brought into question after he told parliament that funds meant for all political parties, depending on the percentage of votes they garnered in the general election, be deposited into a bank account he controls.
He says his main beef comes down to how CCC candidates were selected for the August vote.
The 49-year-old alleges the party’s leadership disregarded those chosen by the people during primaries and imposed their preferred candidates instead on ethnic grounds.
In his criticism of some CCC members he has used sexist and misogynistic language – and belittled them by referring to them as girls or boys.
As the saga unfolds, Zimbabweans see all the makings of a split in the CCC, with some blaming Mr Chamisa’s leadership style.
The opposition has a history of division, dating back to 2005 when the MDC split, when Morgan Tsvangirai was in charge, over disagreements about whether to participate in senatorial elections.
Mr Tsvangirai’s death in 2018 prompted further schisms.
Mr Chamisa says Mr Tsvangirai appointed him acting leader from his hospital bed. At his funeral, he announced he was taking over the leadership. But it was regarded as unconstitutional as Tsvangirai’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe, was the rightful successor.
The battle ended up in court and Mr Chamisa lost – deciding to form the CCC last January, a new party meant to be a broad church.
Former MP Paul Themba Nyathi, who now describes himself as a politician-turned-civic activist, was one of the leaders who broke away from the MDC in 2005 and sees Mr Tshabangu as a Zanu-PF stooge.
But he says the current turmoil in the CCC is a direct result of Mr Chamisa personalising the party, though he told the BBC he believed this was an opportunity to reform.
“The people have this faith in him to remove Mnangagwa, but he is destroying the idea of a democratic alternative,” he said.
Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, agrees.
“Chamisa’s personalisation and centralisation of power is the problem. But it can be solved by the party putting together a clear leadership structure and a constitution which governs it,” he told the BBC.
Mr Tshabangu has on several occasions tried to imply he has former senior members of the MDC behind him – especially those absent from the campaign trail this year. But one in particular said it was a “malicious and defamatory” insinuation.
The most serious fallout of the affair, however, has been death of a CCC campaigner – intimidation and violence being common tactics in Zimbabwean elections.
Tapfumaneyi Masaya was abducted in broad daylight in mid-November while campaigning in Mabvuku – an opposition stronghold in the capital, Harare. His mutilated corpse was discovered a few days later.
The constituency had been won in August by the CCC’s candidate, Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi, despite a massive effort by Zanu-PF to take it – including using Floyd Mayweather Jr to woo voters.
The US boxing legend flew into the country on his private jet at the behest of prominent gold dealer Scott Sakupwanya, the Zanu-PF candidate who went on to lose the seat.
“We have more immediate needs here, our clinics do not have medicines, we have water issues, and the $500,000 [£398,000] he reportedly paid Mayweather, whom we don’t even know, could have gone some ways in addressing those issues,” 55-year-old Mabvuku resident Mabel Maposa told the BBC.
However, Mr Sakupwanya is again on the ballot this Saturday. But, as it stands, his main rival may not be – as two days before the poll a court backed Mr Tshabangu’s request that recalled MPs, like Mr Kufahakutizwi, be barred from the vote.
The CCC has launched an urgent appeal at the Supreme Court to get their candidates back on the ballot – and it must rule before Saturday to completely disqualify them.
Zanu-PF has also deployed its big guns to campaign in all nine contested constituencies.
During the last election campaign the party promised an end to power cuts – and for weeks before the vote, Zimbabweans enjoyed a mainly uninterrupted supply of electricity.
A day after the polls, load-shedding, as rolling power cuts are known as locally, was not only back, but back with a vengeance.
Voters may have hoped the same tactic would have been used in the run-up to these by-elections.
But this has not been the case and Zanu-PF’s overriding message to voters is: “This is a chance to correct your mistake.”