MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s plans to roll out protests in the wake of Friday’s decision by the Constitutional Court (Con-Court) to uphold President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s hotly-disputed victory in last month’s polls might spectacularly backfire, social and political analysts content.
They also believe this action is misdirected and a wrong strategy because whipping up emotions will not get him to State House, at least for now.
On Saturday, Chamisa told a media briefing: “It is a constitutional option (demonstrations) and very viable. We have demonstrated two or three times successfully without any problems. We just want to put mechanisms to make sure that we don’t have people who come and disrupt our programme. I can tell you we have the right to demonstrate. This is going to be one of the routes which we are going to take among others.
“Victory can’t be certain twice, victory was certain before election and secured during the Election Day. We won, what we are doing now is protecting that victory; we will continue to pursue democratic means to make sure that result is respected. We cannot afford five more years in this kind of hardships, people want answers.”
Chamisa said they are ready to sacrifice their lives in defending people’s votes.
“They think that perhaps they will intimidate people like myself but I am dead already, by merely challenging dictatorship you have signed a death warrant so they can’t kill me twice. We are very clear and we are not going to be intimidated that’s why we are ready for any eventuality they can’t run the country by terror.
“The legal door is not the only door to happiness and democracy, there are many other doors, and the political doors are going to be opened very soon using our Constitution. We have the right to peaceful demonstrations and protests that is going to be done in the shortest period of time.”
Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika said if Chamisa wants to fight on, it is well in his rights to do so, but the consequences of such actions must find him prepared.
“Politics is also the art of the possible, and at the moment the cake he says he won’t share with Mnangagwa is actually a cake that he doesn’t have — he has nothing to share.
“A real danger is that this need for continued resistance will not be matched by a similar appetite from his supporters and Zimbabweans in general, who see this presidential fight as lost and would like to move on to focusing on how to survive under the Zanu PF regime and continuing economic challenges.
“Zanu PF will push the narrative that he is petty and a sour loser, while others will see him as an unrepentant fighter for his just desserts.
“At the end of the day it is about Chamisa staying in touch with the pulse of a people, who are generally not known to be persuaded to the kind of radical positioning he is pitching.
“Zimbabweans have been known to be risk averse and the likelihood is that the onward march to challenging the presidential results through mass action, which has already proved to be not just futile but also fatal, will be a march that he will make with less and less people.
“History has recorded that Chamisa believes he won the election but was cheated out of victory, the legal process denied this claim but the court of public opinion largely agrees with him.
“If I were Chamisa, I would bank the public sympathy and turn it into future political capital — attempting to spend it now through mass action will prove to be a waste, and come across as lacking the political maturity to roll with the punches, taking your hits and living to fight another day,” said Lewanika.
He added that Zanu PF and its “varakashi” will portray this as intolerance and a total disrespect of political and democratic processes that Chamisa entered into willingly and knowing the odds against him.
“It will feed into a bad narrative that Chamisa cannot lose, and believes that everything but a win for Chamisa is a wrong outcome — such traits are not attractive and will begin to undermine the formidable political capital that he had built over the last six months.”
Media and political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the right to protest is constitutionally-guaranteed and protected.
“As a political strategy the MDC Alliance must however, consider its effectiveness in achieving the desired end. In my view Chamisa must keep his power base energised through mobilisation and political awareness.
“The Con-Court case is sufficient basis to seek electoral reforms that could make the 2023 election far better. Age is on Chamisa’s side and all he needs are equally capable lieutenants to prepare for the next election.
“The MDC Alliance must use its presence in Parliament to monitor Zanu PF actions and use its dominance in urban councils to address residents’ issues. Political mobilisation is more sustainable than protests.
Political analyst Piers Pigou said protests are not unexpected tactics in the circumstances, but they must be tied to a clear strategy that pushes a reform programme tied to constitutional deficits, realignment, institutional reform and that holds Mnangagwa to his reform commitments as laid out in GoZ presentation in DC in April.
“Peaceful protest is important expression, but can Zimbabwe’s security forces be trusted to act professionally. This is a major worry after post-election events.
“Mnangagwa says his door is open to Chamisa. He is now president and must proactively reach out, not sit his hands.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said after running a successful campaign on a shoe-string budget and “you garner over two million out of five million votes and for some reason your victory is stolen, and you go to the nation’s apex court you knew was captured and lost, the logical thing to do is not mobilising people to oppose a court decision. That will border on illegality.
“What I would advise Chamisa if I was in his inner-circle is to use whatever resources and popularity he has now to do the following: quickly call all party leadership at all levels to a strategic retreat and genuinely reflect on what happened, where the party did well and areas in need of improvement, including 2013 lessons not learnt from. Then do a party elective congress, have a proper leadership structure, formalise a party name, go to rural and urban areas to set and strengthen structures. Then start selling your message of alternative policies and approaches to your supporters first so that they know exactly how different you will be from the current regime.”
Saungweme said let the mobilisation for an action be bottom-up and not top-down. “Top-down protests tend to be urban-based and negate the views and wishes of where the bulk of the voters are — rural areas. “With the level of organisation shown by the MDC Alliance during polls where they could not field council and MP candidates in all constituencies and polling agents at all polling stations, unorganised demonstrations will not be sustained and will fizzle within a few weeks, if not days, with blood of the innocent people potentially lost from heavy-handed State responses.
“Zimbabwe is our home and leaders should be acting in manners that build national cohesion than dividing us. Look at the November 2017 coup; it was a Harare thing that did not get buy-in from people in the rural areas, hence contributed to Mnangagwa’s poor showing in the presidential poll.”
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said: “As human rights activists we do not prescribe what political strategies political leaders should take save to note that the route to approach the Con-Court is enshrined in the Constitution, just like the right to peacefully demonstrate which is protected by section 59 of the Zimbabwe Constitution.
“Whichever political strategy one pursues, it is important that the rule of law and human rights are protected in the process. The violence and use of excessive force by the security forces on August 1 should not happen again.”
Elections Resource Centre director Tawanda Chimhini said demonstrations are a constitutional expression of political rights.
“The decision by the opposition to use such an option in the aftermath of the decision of the Con-Court is an opportunity for the new administration to exhibit the respect for the rule of law and protect the Constitution. The option to demonstrate must also be approached with the necessary responsibility to abstain from any action that may be deemed as illegal. Regardless of what options political stakeholders take, Zimbabwe must definitely find a sustainable way to extricate itself from a cycle of failed electoral and democratic processes. “All options adopted must put Zimbabwe first,” said Chimhini.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said without a doubt it is within Chamisa’s democratic rights to express himself on both the outcome of the election and the court.
“This is important in highlighting the reality of captured public institutions in Zimbabwe and the need for the continuation of the democratic agenda. Everyone gave the Zec and the courts the benefit of doubt but these institutions do not seem to have lived up to their duties satisfactorily. In light of this reality, the Constitution affords citizens, including the aggrieved MDC Alliance leadership, political rights to campaign for a cause which their conscience justifies.
“As you can see, the MDC Alliance has taken varied post-election strategies to put its grievances on the table, including that they will approach the African Commission for Human and People’s rights to protest the outcome of the Constitutional Court. Chamisa is right that in all this struggle, there is need to mobilise and explain to the people how he thinks they have been shortchanged because in the final calculation the people matter going forward.”