Friday, August 03, 2018

Zimbabwe Elections: It Was Always Going to Be Too Good to Be True 

Nelson Chamisa’s supporters unleashed an orgy of violence on Wednesday this week in line with a declaration by the MDC-Alliance leader that he would not accept an election result in which he came second best


The violent scenes witnessed in Harare on Wednesday were predictable, except for the timing. There was always a sense of foreboding, that something evil was in the air.

One of the biggest ironies of our recent history is how those who have claimed to champion change and have squandered millions of dollars in donor money have themselves failed or refused to change or embrace it. They seem to have trapped themselves. Time has stood still for them, and they cannot understand the changes and transformation going on around them.

This failure cost them heavily in the just-ended July 30 harmonised elections.

President Mnangagwa’s main rival, MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, refused to acknowledge the changed circumstances since November last year. He pretended as if former president Robert Mugabe was still running the Government and the ruling Zanu-PF party. Chamisa packaged his message accordingly, blaming his main rival for crimes committed by his predecessor. He used a language that Mugabe would have understood only too well, and would have been prepared to match any day.

It was evident Chamisa did not believe in the transformative power of leadership. To him it was not possible that a mere change of guard in Zanu-PF could lead to any significant transformation. He used all sorts of derogatory statements against President Mnangagwa to suggest that nothing had changed even though Mugabe was gone. He only fell short of chanting the old slogan, “Mugabe must go”.

Unfortunately for the opposition, their marriage of convenience was just that – empty. It did not bring out anything new. The campaign message focused on the old sins of Zanu-PF, which people knew about. It did not spell out a new direction, a new vision or new policies to suggest that there was something new in the MDC besides the face of the new leader.

People, on the other hand, saw differently, particularly in rural areas where people had experienced Zanu-PF interface rallies and the acerbic tongue of the former first lady Grace Mugabe still rang fresh.

This time around Chamisa and his party were leading the campaign trail ahead of Zanu-PF. This was new. People were free to wear opposition party regalia without being harassed. This was new. Police did their job of maintaining law and order instead of harassing and arresting opposition supporters. This too was new. Party supporters were free to chant slogans in public and still be free the following morning. Opposition meetings and rallies were now being conducted in the open without waiting for a police clearance or being banned.

All this was unheard of before ED took over. The roadblocks too vanished overnight. But most important is that all these democratic freedoms were being enjoyed well before foreign election observers were invited or were in the country. The transformation was pal- pable.

All this must have diluted Chamisa’s message. While he insisted that nothing had changed since Mugabe’s resignation in November last year, people saw his presence as further evidence that things had changed. It was clear to them that Chamisa himself had not lived their experiences. He was preaching a revolution people were living.

Curiosity and voting

But as word must have spread about his theatrics, more and more people must have been attracted to his rallies in the countryside. They wanted to see the new opposition curiosity. Some could not believe Mugabe and Tsvangirai were no longer leading their political parties. So who was there? Who was this Nelson Chamisa? What did he look like? What was he promising?

They had the land, so what was he bringing? Few could have believed that he could give them title to land his party opposed so vehemently. But they were there too.

To his credit, Chamisa witnessed the crowds. They came in their multitudes. He was impressed. And this got to his head. People will recall that this was the time Chamisa began to talk as if he was the people. From there on he became the people. His thoughts became the people. His personal ambitions became the people.

From there on, he could not boycott the elections because he was the people, he could not lose the elections because he was the people. He could shut down the country because he was the people.

All these were tell-tale indicators that he did not believe anyone else or political party except his own could win free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

Cheering media

He can thank the sycophantic private media for cheering him on in his delusions. They cheered him when he pledged to give his 18-year- old sister to President Mnangagwa if he got 5 percent of the vote in Monday’s elections. They cheered him on when he denigrated women in his own party. They cheered him on also when he launched an irrational war against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and its chair Justice Priscilla Chigumba, asking her to violate the law regarding custody of ballot papers and accusing the learned judge herself of incompetence and arrogance.

They found it unnecessary to censure Chamisa and his co-principal Tendai Biti when they declared they would announce their own election results, something that is in violation of the law.

In fact, since Chamisa stormed on to the leadership of the MDC, he has been treated in these media houses as if he is incapable of making a mistake or poor judgment, including his last-minute embracing of former president Mugabe in the hope of increasing his electoral chances.

Strange as it may sound, when the public media pointed out the anomalies and contradictions, they were accused of being mouthpieces of the ruling party and purveying its propaganda. The judiciary was also accused of bias in favour of Zanu-PF, with Chamisa publicly declaring he would not take his grievances before the courts because he would not get a fair judgment.

Impossible loss

With a cheering media on his side, crowds in front of him, Chamisa convinced himself that he could make no mistake and could not lose an election, particularly against someone who “was new to the job”. He did not see the new man in charge who charmed Zimbabweans with his message of peaceful, free and fair elections, a man who was able within a short time to engage business (foreign and local), and also to reach out to what were considered traditional Zanu-PF enemies and MDC friends.

It was all a dream, too good to be true. Something had to be done to derail the Mnangagwa train.

During his last rallies before the elections, Chamisa made it clear they would not accept a result in which he was not the winner. It was impossible for him to lose. In the event of such an outcome, he would make the country ungovernable.

So his disputing the election results is consistent with his previous declarations that he was the winner even before elections. He is the people.

Having thus resolved, it was fairly conceivable that he would try to spoil the elections. He prepared his supporters to sabotage President Mnangagwa’s message about a peaceful, violence-free elections. The August 1 demonstrations when Zanu-PF had already taken an unassailable lead in the National Assembly and the resultant killing of protestors achieved exactly that. They were meant to sully the elections so that they do not pass the peaceful test. The timing was perfect, just when there was no time to explain anything in the heat of voting. In fact,0 it was like what the international media had been waiting for all along. And the preliminary reports by all foreign observers got coloured by that nicely calculated incident.

For the local private media, it was a bonanza.

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