Nelson Chamisa and Political Expediency

Mike Staresinic is a little known author who largely writes on leadership, and he took time to write an opinion piece in anticipation of a gigantic Nelson Chamisa rise, even concluding that the 40-year-old Zimbabwean politician could turn out to be Southern Africa’s “other Nelson” — daring a comparison between the opposition politician and the iconic anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela. Knowing our own Nelson, he must be feeling really good.

Nelson Chamisa, like many people of his generation, started his political career with student politics, and in his case he was remarkably active as a student at Harare Polytechnic in the late 90s. He became the SRC president then, and organised joint protest demonstrations with students from the University of Zimbabwe.

This writer had started off student politics a little earlier when he was elected SRC president in 1993 at the then Gweru Teachers’ College; now elevated to Midlands State University. The elevation of the teacher’s college to a university is one of the things we gallantly fought for at the time, apart from fighting for such other things like the graduation gown for non-degree graduates from tertiary institutions across the country. Of course, we also fought for more pieces of meat at the dining hall, and additional slices of bread for breakfast, etc.

By the time Nelson Chamisa was leading students at Harare Poly, this writer had moved to the University of Zimbabwe, and we both engaged fairly well in many endeavours to push for not only the welfare of students across the country, but also for social justice and democracy in our country. We were involved in the Constitutional Commission thematic committees in 2000, just like we had been involved in the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly in 1997/8.

Nelson was to later acquire three degrees from the University of Zimbabwe, a BSc Honours in Politics and Administration, BSc Masters in International Relations and a Law Degree afterwards. Remarkable achievement by every means, considering that he had started off with another Bachelor’s degree in marketing through UNISA after his expulsion from Harare Poly.

Mike Staresinic reckons Nelson is “a force of nature as the new Acting President at the helm of the MDC.” This is quite an accolade — pointing Nelson Chamisa towards a perceived predetermined destiny.

A quick look at how Nelson Chamisa became the Acting President of the MDC-T will reveal that the only role of nature evident is the unfortunate death of Morgan Tsvangirai. It appears Chamisa wasted no time in seizing the opportunity provided by his leader’s death to opportunistically road-rail the grieving followers into endorsing him the next in charge. The rushed ascendancy did not lack controversy; much as it was also vigorously opposed by the other two deputies of the late Tsvangirai; with Thokozani Khupe being the most vocal.

It is hard to understand why Chamisa saw it necessary to hold a succession meeting almost concurrently with the announcement of the death of Tsvangirai, especially when one considers the fact that he is meant to be the most popular left among the MDC-T leadership. It looked like a heartless move, a morally bankrupt scheme, and it has not been justified as yet; except to say the deed was constitutional. Others like Mwonzora argue it wasn’t, and they proffer sound arguments too.

Perhaps Chamisa’s hesitation to wait for a special congress best explains his doubts and fears relating to his capacity as an indisputable replacement for Tsvangirai; who remained popular despite many pitfalls of his own making that saw the MDC split several times.

Nelson Chamisa’s last experience of a national congress was not pleasant at all. On November 15 in 2014, Nelson Chamisa contested against Douglas Mwonzora at an MDC-T National Congress. He lost that election by 1 762 votes to Mwonzora’s 2 464, in the process being reduced to an ordinary card carrying member. He left the National Sports Centre in a huff without talking to anyone.

He was later to be co-opted into the national executive committee, and later to be hand-picked as one of Morgan Tsvangirai’s deputies. Thokozani Khupe did not recognise this appointment, and only accepted it after telling Tsvangirai that as far she was concerned as the elected VP, Chamisa and Mudzuri were mere personal assistants to the opposition leader.

Also fresh in our political minds is the fact that leading to the 2013 harmonised election, Nelson Chamisa was the MDC-T’s national organising secretary. He embarked on what he called a “scientific mobilisation” campaign, marred by imposition of candidates and intra-party violence. History now records that Chamisa presided over the worst election result ever associated with the MDC-T, managing only 49 out of the 210 parliamentary seats on offer.

It is true that Chamisa has dedicated almost all of his adult life to national politics, that he is a renowned politician, a lawyer, a seasoned parliamentarian, and was probably the youngest Cabinet Minister in the 2009 Inclusive Government. He is also a charismatic speaker, but often lacks depth in content of speech, often resorting to childish jokes and slurs against perceived political opponents. At one time he thought it was funny to refer to voters from Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe as “people from “Uzumba Marambakufunga”. Literally translated he was labelling these voters “brainless” after they had overwhelmingly voted for ZANU-PF. No leader of depth will ever be tempted to insult the voter.

While Chamisa’s political leadership talent has been extensively talked about, those that have worked closely in leadership with Chamisa tell a different story. It is like listening to people who worked closely with Simba Makoni at SADC, at Zimpapers, and at Mavambo Kusile Dawn. Makoni once came across to the world as a charismatic excellent faced and talented political leader with so much hope, only to falter when given the chance to showcase his potential.

Those that worked closely with Makoni say the man wants to have his way always, knows it all, and wants to be surrounded by praise singers.

Those that have worked with Chamisa say the same things about the man, and even nickname him Cobra for his deadly backstabbing reputation. He promised Tendai Biti that he too was leaving the MDC-T when the former left to form PDP because of differences with Tsvangirai. It is said he wanted stalwarts Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma to leave the MDC-T so he would remain the only glorious one around Tsvangirai. Good move Nelly. You nailed it.

Now Chamisa is wooing Biti to rally on his side in his battles with Khupe and Elias Mudzuri. Of course, Biti is no longer a threat because he is tainted heavily after failing to get his political outfit off the ground. He can now be tamed and accommodated into Chamisa’s grand plan.

First it was Welshman Ncube, Gibson Sibanda, Gift Chimanikire, Job Sikhala and others to leave the MDC in 2005, then came the second round of Biti, Mangoma and others. Nelson Chamisa would often play the middle line, and would align himself with Tsvangirai once the dust settles and the numbers show that Tsvangirai still held fort. He is a very shrewd politician, and that must be given to him.

What Chamisa now hopes to rally people around is his age. He wants to replace the “Mugabe must go” mantra with “We want Young Blood.” Chamisa has even called it a “Generational Consensus,” whatever that means. He has hastily opened a Facebook page for it.

People who hail from student activism are well networked, from the days of Arthur Mutambara, Edgar Mbwembwe, Munyaradzi Gwisayi aka Enock Chikweche, Tinomudaishe Chinyoka, Tamuka Brian Kagoro, to Learnmore Jongwe, Fortune Mguni aka Daniel Molokele and to Nelson Chamisa himself.

But the University of Zimbabwe has at its best 10 000 students at a time, with about 2 500 of then graduating each year. While the influence of these graduates in the intellectual community is indisputable, one has to concede that a national election is far more complex than electing students into ZINASU or SRCs.

The former students from the University of Zimbabwe belong to different generations as well. Arthur Mutambara is a legend of student politics. When he tried to ride on this and take over Welshman Ncube’s MDC the result was largely disastrous, much as it provided him the unlikely, but lucky opportunity to become a Deputy Prime Minister by the backdoor. Even that did not end well.

This writer hails from the University of Zimbabwe, and can say we know each other very well. We are connected, we stand by each other, we are passionate about Zimbabwe, and we are ambitious. This is what Nelson Chamisa will try to tap into, added to his youth wing at the MDC-T, plus of course students from other universities and also other tertiary institutions.

Mike Staresinic thinks Chamisa is now up against “ZANU-PF provocateurs, saboteurs, spies and bad guys, a rotten bushel from top to bottom.”

Events at Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral will reveal that in fact, Chamisa is backed and surrounded by a coterie of bad guys who are indeed a rotten bushel from top to bottom. They assault relentlessly; deride, ridicule, insult and humiliate Tsvangirai’s own mother, and they beat up whoever they think disagrees with Chamisa. ZANU-PF on the other hand is so far very civil and friendly to Chamisa, with its own chairperson harangued at the hands of the thuggish Chamisa supporters, with no equal measure of response at all from ZANU-PF.

Staresinic is of the view that the violence and chaos around Tsvangirai’s funeral was normal process that will phase out with time. In the African culture there is nothing normal about disrespecting the dead, nothing normal about beating up others at someone’s funeral, nothing normal about jockeying for someone’s position while they are on their deathbed. Such uncultured conduct will not just phase away in our culture. There are consequences for greedy actions in disrespect for the dead.

Recently, Chamisa misfired when he and Biti went and called for more sanctions against the country to the Americans. He followed that up by cheaply lying that he had met Trump and had been personally promised $15 billion in aid money should the MDC win this year’s election. He never met Trump or anyone else near the racist and rogue America politician, who just days earlier had described African countries as “sh*thole countries”. Chamisa simply lied to impress the crowd, presumably made up of ignorant cheerleaders.

It is ambitious for Staresinic to imagine that Southern Africa will have a reincarnation of Mandela in Chamisa, much as the two are of course namesakes. One needs a lot of fanaticism to be convinced that the Chamisa will win against ED Mnangagwa in 2018. Rationale and logic speaks otherwise.

Chamisa has little depth in speech, is cultured in protest politics, not so deep in policy, and prefers to surround himself with mediocrity so he can be the shining light among half idiots. The thuggish hooligans that were beating drums in support of Chamisa are such rogues in appearance that no sane leader would ordinarily want to be associated with.

A number of talented young people have told terrible stories about working with Chamisa. He does not like shining lights around him, they say, and he is likely to prefer a structure where everyone looks up to him and him alone.

The good thing is that Chamisa has rejuvenated much of the MDC-T energy and that will make election 2018 more exciting. There is now an opposition to talk about. We will be there in the trenches together. Good luck.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.

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