Nelson Chamisa’s capitulation and the future of opposition politics in Zimbabwe


HARARE – On the 25th of January, 2024 Nelson Chamisa walked away from the Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC). In a thirteen-page statement Mr Chamisa announced that he is resigning as the President of a party he founded almost two years ago citing both infection and infiltration of the party by rogue elements working in cohort with the ruling party. 

Nelson Chamisa latest news: Quits CCC
Nelson Chamisa

He claimed that the party had been hijacked by ZANU-PF using some senior leaders hence it is now contaminated that it was no longer the right vehicle to dislodge ZANU-PF from power, and hence, he had to walk away. 

His resignation came as a result of the internal contradictions that had been occurring since October 2023 when the Citizen Coalition for Change self-proclaimed Secretary General Sengezo Tshabangu instigated mass recalls of the opposition party's members of parliament, senators, and councilors claiming that they have ceased to be members of the party.

The resignation of Mr. Chamisa from the party he formed is without a doubt a momentous event in the history of Zimbabwean politics post-Mugabe. It doesn’t only have an affect on the opposition politics alone but the ruling party ZANU-PF as well. It is a development that has an impact on the life of opposition politics and equally the legitimacy of the ruling party ZANU-PF. 

For the opposition, it is a time to either build and come back stronger or be buried in the political graveyard, and for the ruling party it may seem like a win but it will only give birth to more internal contradictions as there won’t be an external opponent to fight. 

It is not a cause for celebration for them either. It is also an opportunity for another force to emerge and occupy the vacuum created by Mr Chamisa as power loves no vacuum. It is a significant development that has a bearing on the broader body politics of Zimbabwe.

The opposition politics post Morgan Tsvangirai era

One must appreciate the nature and form the opposition politics have adopted since the exit of the opposition icon Morgan Tsvangirai from opposition politics through death in February 2018. 

During the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 it styled itself as a leftist party that represented a socialist agenda but as time goes the party started to move to the right. This was exacerbated after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. 

The opposition politics post Tsvangirai adopted a more confusing form making it difficult to understand what it represents. It started to practice cultist and cannibalistic politics that were centered on individuals rather than an ideology. Opposition politics has often displayed a lack of cohesion and idealogical grounding as they are often being cultivated and irrigated around individuals.

The lack of ideology has led to the opposition politics being detached and out of touch with the general populace of Zimbabwe and its individualist rather than institutional approach has led to the weakening of the opposition political structures at the grassroots level. 

It started to use a top-to-bottom approach making itself prone to infiltration by external forces as it is now just an elite pact instead of the grand coalition which is unified through a common cause.

Mr Chamisa’s big man syndrome

One of the traits that Mr Chamisa has displayed since he took over as the leader of the opposition is his big man syndrome. He seems more interested in building everything around him. He tends to prioritize his influence and power over the development of party institutions. 

Mr Chamisa tends to centralize power and control within the party, potentially neglecting the importance of building strong and sustainable structures. 

This was visible during the then MDC Alliance in his entire leadership and it was far much worse in the Citizen’s Coalition for Change as he adopted a constitution-less, formless and structureless party through his strategic ambiguity. 

That centralized party operations on a few individuals whom he handpicked. Different opinions were not tolerated in the Citizen’s Coalition for Change it was tantamount to selling out. This however robbed the party of an opportunity to come up with a robust tactic and strategy to challenge ZANU-PF. 

While it was an open secret that ZANU-PF will attempt to rig the elections, there seemed to be a lack of strategy in combating the vote rigging as displayed by the failure to deploy agents on polling stations during voting day. 

Even after the damming SADC electoral observer mission report, the party had no strategy or will to pursue the matter of stolen elections.

This approach led to a lack of institutional growth and hindered the overall success and sustainability of the party. By focusing solely on himself and his power, Chamisa alienated other party members and limited their participation and growth within the party. 

In the long run, this could had negative consequences for the party and its ability to effectively dislodge ZANU-PF and this is the major reason why we are where we are today. 

Unless there is a drastic change in his approach, the big man syndrome will always haunt Mr Chamisa in his next moves. As he seemed to be more obsessed with himself than institutional growth.

The curse of loyalty

Loyalty in politics is a good trait only if directed towards a common cause rather than an individual. It has not been often the case within the opposition circles as so often there has been a closure of internal discourse and discouragement of dissenting voices. 

In the past days, many opposition deployees in both parliament and council have publicly pronounced their loyalty to Chamisa in words but not in deeds. So far, only a few have walked away from their position in solidarity with their leader.

Many have so far claimed that their exit from parliament and council will be determined and decided by their constituents, indicating a lack of cohesion and collective decision-making inside the opposition camp. 

This will massively affect the decision to resign en masse. It seems many are in it for their stomachs, and not to serve their constituents. They are looking to recoup what they used during the campaign, as it was a self-funded adventure. This has left Chamisa with limited, if any, control of its deployees. 

This however brings the question that to whom loyalty must be given, to an individual or the cause, what constitutes the said loyalty? 

Is it resignation from one’s public post? Does it mean those who will not resign are not loyal to whatever or whoever loyalty must be shown to? 

There is no doubt that the coming days will be eventful as people try to answer of these questions in their own way.

It is however important to emphasize that in the struggle loyalty should always be to the cause, and not to personalities or vehicles they lead. In that spirit, respect should always be to principles and values such that we put country first, party second, and self last. 

So, if resignation from parliament is out of virtue of resignation from CCC, it has become crystal clear that the party (if it was ever that) has been hijacked by a faction whose actions are abating the oppression and negation of the suffering mass. 

If it is because they want to be seen as loyal to an individual who we believe is still popular as a leader and it might give them a political mileage, then it will present the same challenges we are facing today. 

Standing with Nelson Chamisa based on principle and ideology is revolutionary, and standing with him based on anything outside the above is populism and dishonesty. That is counter-revolutionary.

Movements should always be built around values, ideas, and collective visions not personalities because anything outside produces exactly what we are fighting against. 

This is how populism has been wired since time immemorial as Paul Collier said “All political 'revolutionaries'—indistinguishable from warlords—use the rhetoric of ‘grievances’ while greed is their only goal.” 

If the opposition does not properly define itself, it risks putting on board people who will continue causing them problems.

Is forming a new party a sign of defeat or resilience?

It should be understood that throughout history, political parties rise, contract, and die. In sociology, there is what we call a movement cycle and in everything it speaks to there is an inevitable stage where the movement dies—either by failure or growing obsolete out of its achievement of intended goals and mission. 

But this stage of death can translate to transition. For example, during the liberation struggle nationalist leaders adopted various groups as a response to many factors that were arising during the liberation struggle. They had to make way for a new transitional system that could deliver decolonization and democratization.

Post the year 2000, the opposition variants have existed to suit different purposes, from championing pluralism in our democracy, constitutional reform, and now bringing back the civilian state and dismantling neoliberalism. 

It is highly doubtable that an ideologically silent outfit like the Citizen's Coalition for Change could achieve that, apart from blocking Zanu PF from getting a two-thirds majority and Emmerson Mnangagwa from getting a third term. 

They succeeded in keeping the one-party state agenda at bay, reactionary as they were. Now it's time for something new.

It should also be remembered that in our history the liberation movement rose from NDP, ZAPU, ZANU, and FROLIZI, to splits of ZANU Ndonga and ZANU Mwenje up to the definitive Patriotic Front which led us into independence in 1980. 

Such transitions and splits are normal in politics, because power itself is an avenue for conflict and disagreement. 

Therefore the experiences that the opposition and Nelson Chamisa face today should not discourage them, but rather educate them on how to sustain a struggle in the face of tribulation while also learning how to build a stronger and more resilient movement. 

Many fear voter fatigue and demobilization. Well, the struggle should always be honestly taught to the masses as a long-distance run and not a sprint. It takes a lot of changes and shifts to dismantle oppression.

The way forward for Nelson Chamisa and the opposition politics

The decimation of the Citizens Coalition for Change by ZANU-PF through Sengezo Tshabangu is regrettable, unfortunate, and most importantly, a sad chapter of Zimbabwe’s democracy which is already frail, if it ever existed. 

The action of the self-proclaimed Citizen’s Coalition for Change interim secretary general has far-reaching political consequences. 

ZANU-PF and President Mnangagwa will use this opportunity to consolidate and concentrate power through constitutional amendments as they will now get their two-thirds majority in parliament enabling them to amend the constitution. 

They will seize the opportunity to prolong their stay in power. The destruction of the legitimate opposition also marks a one-party state a terrible situation for the country.

With or without the presence of opposition members of parliament the ruling party will establish a one-party state as they will have effective control of the house, government, and judiciary making the presence of the opposition parliamentarians inconsequential. 

However, this has always been the plan by ZANU-PF, as they feel like they have the divine and moral authority to rule over Zimbabwe until eternity. This has taken a new form post-Mugabe, as the ruling party moves to annihilate the opposition political parties by all means necessary or unnecessary.

We must take stock and evaluate where mistakes were made. The implosion of the Citizen’s Coalition for Change was just a matter of time, as it was predictable from the onset. 

Nelson Chamisa and his allies made terrible mistakes by failing to build an institution and practicing exclusionary politics. 

There was a lack of collective and transparent decision-making within the movement. It appeared like a personal project as more often those with different views were quickly dismissed and told to 'go form their own party.'

ZANU-PF saw this and exploited the situation. No one can blame them, it's politics after all. 

Although it is easy and convenient to put all the blame on ZANU-PF, Nelson Chamisa and his colleagues must self-introspect. 

They are also the co-authors of their misfortunes. 

It is now difficult to convince anyone that Nelson Chamisa can wrestle power from the ruling party. 

They seem to lack the tactics and capacity to do so, as a matter of fact, Nelson Chamisa himself is now just viewed as a preacher or motivational speaker as he continuously conveys gospel verses on social media platforms. 

It is going to be a huge task to convince people to register, or even vote for Chamisa in 2028, what would be his third attempt.

Going forward, Nelson Chamisa must consider forming a grand issue-based movement that is anchored on a certain ideological belief. 

It must also be inclusive of all political players, civil society groups, churches, students, workers, vendors, and all progressive forces who have values that align but this can only happen if Nelson Chamisa realizes the importance of collective leadership. 

While Nelson Chamisa remains the best foot forward as he is the one with popularity, he and his allies need to understand that he can't remove ZANU-PF alone he needs others as popularity alone isn't enough to remove the ruling party. 

He might have to try and work with others, some whom he may not like but needs. 

There is a need for progressive forces to unite not necessarily sharing party positions but a common goal. Progressive forces must unite in their diversity to fight ZANU-PF in the streets, on international platforms, and at the dialoguing table. This is the only way to take on ZANU-PF.

2024, will be a crucial year for the future of opposition politics and the future of democracy in Zimbabwe. Nelson Chamisa and other progressive forces need to go back to the drawing board. 

A change of a name or colour without a change of tactic, strategy approach, and most importantly mindset will amount to nothing. He must learn from his mistakes going forward. 

As for those moving to form a new outfit, it is important to learn from previous mistakes and build a new system with rules, values and that which is centered on collective visions and grievances instead of personalities. 

A collective ideology should be coined and taught to all leaders and rank and file. Leadership should be collective and inclusive. Power and accountability should be devolved through an organized and solid structure that ensures there are checks and balances to manufacture confidence in the grassroots and public.

As he takes time to retreat and as his comrades prepare to join him, Nelson and his team should start to map their foreign policy and build political capital on the internal political front. They should be clear and strategic about who their friends are. 

For example, there was no reason to fail to engage other regional political parties, governments, and civil society organizations (based on their ideological persuasion). 

International solidarity is a product of deliberate mobilization and engagement. Even during the liberation struggle ZAPU and ZANU had representatives in every country who engaged with black governments to solicit Solidarity. They even had internal and external leadership.

Conclusively, fidelity in a revolution should always be to the vision and principles for a collective struggle. 

Nelson Chamisa still has a chance to lead, however, if he fails to learn from his past it will be important for the new generation to answer a historical question that the previous generations answered so articulately and eloquently in 1975 during the liberation struggle as they determined the fate of Ndabaningi Sithole which culminated in the Mgagao Declaration. 

It is the same question this current generation is faced with, “is Nelson Chamisa good enough or the right person to lead the opposition politics or not? It is an answer that the current generation ought to answer for themselves as Frantz Fanon said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

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