One of the emerging discourses around the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe centres firmly on the hitherto untested leadership qualities of Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC-Alliance.
Chamisa wrestled the leadership of the opposition movement following the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in February this year.
Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, was a seasoned political campaigner and contested elections since 2000, a year after he formed the Movement for Democratic Change as a worker-based political party.
However, Tsvangirai’s death in February this year, left a leadership vacuum occasioned by an uncertain succession leading to a contestation for power that eventually split the party between Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe, the elected vice president under Tsvangirai.
Chamisa’s faction is no doubt the bigger by numbers.
Many expected him to nestle nicely in Tsvangirai’s place and lead a united and strong opposition front.
That has not happened.
Many would have expected him to have a wide appeal based on some notion of “generational consensus”, but that has not happened either.
He is proving to be a maverick and divisive and erratic character.
That is a flaw – and it is a tragic flaw.
It will be useful to fully explain the context of Chamisa’s political career and how, today, his leadership,or lack thereof, is coming under scrutiny.
Chamisa belongs to a generation of politicians that grew out of the student movement of the 1990s, which witnessed the growth of civic and social movements in response to the growing socio-economic problems in Zimbabwe, which largely stemmed from the failed experiment with structural adjustment and austerity measures.
The student movement, the church, constitutionalists and labour later formed the backbone of the MDC, led by Tsvangirai, and Chamisa became one of the rising stars of the new political movement.
He led the youth wing of the party and was always tipped to rise — as indeed he did — as he became organising secretary of the party before being set back in aspiring for high office when he lost elections for the post of secretary-general in 2014.
The loss reduced him to an ordinary card carrying member before party leader gave him an unelected role on policy research later to be followed, in 2016, by his controversial appointment as one of three vice presidents in the party.
After the death of Tsvangirai, Chamisa literally wrested power (remember events at Harvest House and in Buhera, during Tsvangirai’s funeral) away from his challengers in Khupe and one Elias Mudzuri.
There is a reason to believe that Chamisa saw destiny in leading the opposition party.
And many others once saw a bright star in him, something which even envoys like those of the United States, noting that outside Tsvangirai and Chamisa, talent was thinning in the opposition.
Yet with Chamisa having assumed leadership and getting into his first national election, hard questions are now being asked of him.
He has just lost his virginity.
As an aspiring President of the republic, he is under the microscope.
One of the areas that he has been judged on is his public posture as he outlines policy and espouses his philosophies.
He has been found wanting.
Once seen as charismatic, Chamisa is being exposed to be as vacuous as he is mendacious; and lacking serious articulation of policy.
Of course, he has zero philosophy, at least as he has shown so far, in his sea of political banter that has actually made a mockery of the sympathetic views previously held that he was an intelligent person.
Some key examples that have exposed Chamisa include his claims about the so-called bullet trains, spaghetti roads and village airports; his lies about meeting the Nkomo family and the latest storm around placing a wager of his sister (real or imagined) ahead of elections, which has divided opinion and is trending as we write.
Chamisa is now being held up to scrutiny because he is aspiring for higher office. Apart from his non-supporters, Zimbabweans feel obliged to test the character and substance of Chamisa as a leader.
He is not convincing.
It is also emerging that a mistake had been made in classifying Chamisa’s ability to lie with a straight face and cheaply entertain audience of his fans as charisma.
National leadership requires more robust questions on a leader’s seriousness, honesty and uppity.
Under this test, Chamisa is unravelling.
Unfortunately, the youthful politician lacks depth both of character and intellect to absorb the pressures that come with scrutiny.
What is worse is that he appears to lack credible advisors, but has surrounded himself with admirers and hangers-on whose worst attributes appear to be a readiness to worship Chamisa and the cult of personality.
One of the major pitfalls of Morgan Tsvangirai was his poor choice for company.
Chamisa could be worse, and may not even have half of his predecessor’s advisors, including from political, communication and academic spheres.
Chamisa’s freestyle rallies where he has demonstrated an open-mouth-shut-mind streak could actually be a sign of his leadership deficiency and lack of advisors.
Unfortunately for Chamisa, who has many enemies in the party and in the academic circles, some of whom, admittedly, could be envious of his rise, no one will interrupt him as he makes a mockery of himself.
He is set up for failure — a prospect that he still could have faced had he subjected himself to an extraordinary congress following the death of Tsvangirai. Now his enemies and internal opponents laugh as he sleepwalks to failure.
It is conceivable that after the election — and that’s a count of 90 days and under — the party may experience yet another leadership crisis paving way for yet another split.
A loss, which is highly likely, will precipitate the fallout, having convincingly exposed Chamisa and brought him crashing to the ground.
There is our bottom dollar for it!