Leader of Zimbabwes biggest opposition party, Nelson Chamisa is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Harare, Thursday, March, 8, 2018. Chamisa is a charismatic lawyer and trained pastor who seeks to capitaliize on goodwill towards his deceased predecessor and highlight the past of his militarty backed opponent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
The pattern almost looks the same. Huge rallies attended by thousands. God being on their side. The only way they can lose is if the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front rigs the elections.
This is not 2018 but the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai in 2013.
According to Phillan Zamchiya, who followed the MDC-T election campaign for three months in 2013, one of the reasons why the party lost was because of Nelson Chamisa, then the party’s organising secretary.
Zamchiya, in his paper entitled: The MDC-T’s (Un) Seeing Eye in Zimbabwe’s 2013 Harmonised Elections: A Technical Knockout, says the party ignored the advice from its technical team which was set up by Tendai Biti who was the party’s secretary-general and widely considered as Morgan Tsvangirai’s number Two and instead listened to Chamisa who was the party’s organising secretary.
Zamchiya says party leader Tsvangirai chose to listen to Chamisa than to the technical team in 2013 and predicted that he would get 65 percent of the vote. He ended up with 34 percent.
Chamisa, who is now at the helm of the party, says he will get 70 percent of the vote, if elections are not rigged.
Tsvangirai was 61 and ZANU-PF leader Robert Mugabe was 89 in 2013. Chamisa is 40 and Emmerson Mnangagwa who took over the leadership of ZANU-PF from Mugabe is 75.
Tsvangirai said: “I do not want to take advantage of my contestant’s old age but Zimbabwe will go down in the Guinness book of records if they vote for a 90-year-old. Yesterday’s people cannot solve today’s problems”.
Chamisa whose age gap with Mnangagwa is even wider than that between Tsvangirai and Mugabe says the same thing about Mnangagwa. He is yesterday’s man.
But for Chamisa it is not only Mnangagwa’s age that will alienate him from voters, he also argues that Mnangagwa is incapable of turning around the country’s fortunes because of his long association with Mugabe.
In the 2013 elections, Chamisa was convinced that the MDC-T would win because: “God showed me in my dreams that Morgan Tsvangirai is going to win with a close margin, between 53 and 56%. The small towns are the ones that are going to make a difference, not the big towns. I have since told Tsvangirai this”.
Chamisa is in the hot seat now and he says “God is in it”.
Mnangagwa is using the God factor too. He says “the voice of the people is the voice of God” though he has been using less and less of this sticking to his new mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business” instead.
Chamisa, who is also a pastor, even went a step further during the 2013 campaign and was so convinced that the MDC-T would win that he said: “There is a spiritual dimension to this aspect; that is why no single rally has flopped. I have not eaten for the past three weeks. I have not even taken water. God is amazing, my voice is still OK and my body is still in shape. I am satisfied. As organising secretary, I have run the best campaign ever with meagre resources.”
He has upped this is his own campaign. He and his leadership are fasting three days a week. And indeed, people have been flocking to his rallies, huge crowds that must be shaking ZANU-PF.
But as Zamchiya noted “most of Tsvangirai’s campaign rallies were vibrant, exciting and well attended; they were electrifying confidence boosters”.
The same applies to Chamisa’s rallies at the moment.
However, Zamchiya also noted: “Behind the ecstatic and well organised MDC-T rallies – events that were ‘more like weddings’ – there were also simmering divisions within the MDC-T over primary elections and the internal distribution of campaign resources.
These divisions cost the party dearly as some 28 candidates left the party at the last minute to contest as independent candidates thus splitting the vote.
Already Chamisa has failed to solve the simmering differences with former vice-president Thokozani Khupe. The party has now split. Though are 90 days or so away both factions are going by the same name though Chamisa also head the MDC Alliance.
It has happened before and the faction that finally bore Tsvangirai’s name won. Can Chamisa do the same?
In the 17 years that Tsvangirai was at the helm of the party, he was more popular than the party itself and he walked away with more supporters at every split and garnered more votes in three major presidential elections than all his legislators combined even in 2008 when the MDC-T won more seats than ZANU-PF.
Chamisa’s party and his supporters have written off Khupe but what should be disturbing about the Khupe case, is how many people within the Chamisa faction really support her but have stuck with Chamisa because of the numbers behind him?
The other simmering division is the one that will be caused by the insistence on keeping the women’s and youth quotas coupled with the accommodation of candidates from the Alliance partners.
Masvingo provincial chair James Gumbi has already fired the warning shot. Gumbi warned Chamisa not to field Alliance candidates in some constituencies like Bikita but Chamisa did not address the issue. Instead, he dictated the solution. Did Gumbi and the people he leads accept the arbitrary ruling?
Indeed, Chamisa is not the only one facing a possible backlash. His main opponent Emmerson Mnangagwa is also facing stiff resistance from former colleagues mainly Joice Mujuru and the recently formed National Patriotic Front which even argues that he does not qualify to contest because he is not a citizen of Zimbabwe, while his “sister” also from the same party says he is unelectable and will have to stage another “coup” after losing the coming elections.
But Mnangagwa has one big advantage- incumbency. His party also seems well-oiled financially, so well-funded that it afforded to exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and conducted mock elections country-wide for its primary elections. There were hiccups indeed, but the fact that it managed to organise something of that magnitude as a party says something.