THE swift allocation of funds under the Political Parties Finance Act to the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC- T by the government clearly reveals the aim by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF to decimate the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa, which finds itself in sixes and sevens as the 2023 general election nears.
The allocation of nearly ZW$60 million to Mwonzora at the expense of the MDC Alliance follows a Supreme Court ruling which recognised Thokozani Khupe as the legitimate successor of the late founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and interim leader of the party.
The ruling last year determined that MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s rise to the party’s presidency was irregular. Khupe then lost the party leadership to Mwonzora during an extraordinary congress held in Harare earlier this year.
At least 80 councillors have also been recalled by the MDC-T, drastically weakening its control of city councils in various cities.
To further degrade the opposition party, six MDC Alliance members of Parliament including its vice-president Tendai Biti were recalled in March this year.
The lower House announced the recall of six key legislators at the behest of little-known Benjamin Rukanda, who purported to be secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
However, Biti appealed the court ruling. His recall has since been reversed, although his return to Parliament still faces obstruction. Mwonzora has also moved to take over the name and symbols of the MDC Alliance.
The lack of funding for the Chamisa-led opposition party will further cripple its activities at a time the party has already been struggling financially as evidenced by its failure to field polling agents in all the constituencies during the disputed 2018 harmonised elections which Mnangagwa won by a wafer-thin 50.6%.
It is also shown by its continued failure to set up grassroots structures countrywide, which has proved costly at election time and could return to haunt the party come 2023.
The MDC Alliance led by Chamisa finds itself not only without funding but also without its headquarters, which was taken over by MDC-T with the help of security forces last year. The party has resorted to begging for funds from its members as it battles to stay afloat.
Efforts by the party to reintegrate and increase its support base has been stifled by the government’s weaponising of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health minister, late last year banned the holding of by-elections to fill vacancies in Parliament and local authorities for as long as Covid-19 remains a formidable epidemic.
Chiwenga promulgated a statutory instrument amending the Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) Regulations to enforce the ban.
This was after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had announced that by-elections would be held in December last year.
“These regulations may be cited as the Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (Amendment) Regulations pursuant to subsection (2), the holding of any by-election to fill a casual vacancy in Parliament or in local authority is for the duration of the period of the declaration of Covid-19 as a formidable epidemic disease, suspended, and if such vacancy occurred while such declaration is in force, no part of the period from the date of such vacancy to the date of the end of declaration shall be counted for the purpose of section (158 (3) of the Constitution,” Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020 reads.
Analysts say the move is also meant to dash Chamisa’s party’s hope of reclaiming the seats it lost as a result of the recalls.
Given that the Covid-19-induced ban on by-elections is indefinite, this will also hamper the MDC Alliance’s impact as an opposition party with the harmonised elections in 2023 looming.
However, this has not stopped Zanu-PF from its restructuring process ahead of its congress next month.
In plans to further stifle the opposition, the government is looking to introduce the Patriotic Bill.
The proposed law will criminalise and impose stiff penalties on private correspondence by “self-serving citizens” with foreign governments or any officer or agent.
The Bill “prohibits any Zimbabwean citizen from wilfully communicating messages intended to harm the image and reputation of the country on international platforms or engaging with foreign countries with the intention of communicating messages intended to harm the country’s positive image and/or to under its integrity and reputation”.
This is in response to the severe global condemnation of the Zimbabwean government after the successful #ZimbabweanLivesMatter social media campaign driven by the opposition and civil society activists.
Mnangagwa’s regime has descended heavily on any attempts by the opposition to hold demonstrations, with protesters either being beaten up severely or jailed. The Mnangagwa regime accuses the MDC Alliance of trying to use demonstrations as a tactic for overthrowing a constitutionally elected government.
This has resulted in the assault and abduction of opposition members and even comedians have not been spared the state’s vicious crackdown.
Several MDC Alliance officials have been arrested, including the party’s vice-chairperson Job Sikhala, spokesperson Fadzai Mahere, Harare West MP Joana Mamombe and Biti, with some of them still fighting their cases in court.
The MDC‘s response to the government-sponsored assault leaves a lot to be desired with seemingly no co-ordinated response on the ground to match its rhetoric that it will successfully counter Mnangagwa’s tactics to weaken the opposition ahead of the watershed elections in 2023.
Nothing illustrates this more than a tweet by the opposition party in July this year when it said that it had what amounts to “silent strategies” to deal with the government-sponsored attacks against them.
This drew widespread condemnation, including a sharp rebuke from prominent author and government critic Tsitsi Dangarembga.
“I really hope you don’t expect the nation to evaluate on silence. If so you may have a rude surprise,” she pointed out on Twitter.
“Many of us prefer policies, projection and strategies to mumbo jumbo in this tweet. It is very discouraging. How can silence factually be golden? This isn’t a poetry slam.”
MDC Alliance party structures in Bulawayo have also been hard hit by infighting. This has resulted in the party setting up a commission to probe the infighting. It has recommended that the party’s provincial executive be dissolved and replaced by a four-member interim committee, further weakening its ability to focus on stemming the government-sponsored tide against it.
The propping up of Mwonzora by Mnangagwa to weaken Chamisa will have very little impact in terms of the country’s political dynamics, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“The Zanu-PF government has multiple agendas and has clearly identified its old enemy the MDC Alliance as its chief rival and it would like to decimate it but simultaneously appearing to be bolstering the MDC-T led by Mwonzora clearly knowing it has no ghost of a chance to posing any threat to Zanu-PF,” Masunungure said.
“The recent report by research think-tank Afrobarometer has clearly shown that there are only two main parties in Zimbabwe, which are Zanu-PF and the Chamisa-led MDC Alliance and that is likely to remain despite a bonanza given to MDC-T. It is now embedded in the country’s political psyche that if you are politically aligned you are either Zanu-PF or MDC Alliance led by Chamisa. I don’t think Zanu-PF will succeed in changing the allegiances of the MDC Alliance supporters. The two-party landscape is unlikely to change.”
Masunungure however warned Chamisa against complacency and taking his support base for granted, adding that he should change the name of the party.
“Chamisa and his party should not sit on their laurels and this is where the issue of the party name comes in. I’m on record as having said that the party is better but off without that MDC tag. It has no value addition. It may be historically relevant, but in these times of fights over the nomenclature of the party and so on it is a distraction.”
“Chamisa should take advantage of his enormous political charisma to come up with a new name and within weeks and months all his supporters will know that the MDC Alliance is for Mwonzora and this is our new name. The sooner he does that, the better.”
He said the Chamisa-led opposition outfit should strengthen its grassroots, describing it as “woefully deficient” in terms of strategy.
“The MDC Alliance has grassroots throughout the country, but they are shallow. The challenge is to strengthen its grassroots to be effective and credible to be able to dislodge Zanu-PF. Zanu-PF has deep roots; that’s the difference.”