Zimbabwe: Will the MDC Alliance led by Chamisa need to rebrand?

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Friday, 14 January 2022 17:08

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa gestures while addressing a rally of his Movement for Democratic Change party in Harare
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa gestures while addressing a rally of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in Harare, Zimbabwe, July11, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Within Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance faction, the MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora, has announced it will field its candidates under the banner of MDC Alliance, a name used by Chamisa’s party in the upcoming by-elections. In response, will Chamisa rebrand, boycott the polls or keep the MDC Alliance banner?

After suspending by-elections for more than a year citing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has set 26 March as the new date for by-elections.

The nomination court to register candidates will sit on 26 January, leaving Chamisa with only less than two weeks to decide the stance he will take in terms of the party name.

‘Mwonzora, Mnangagwa’s puppet’

Deaths and recalls led to 133 seats in parliament and local authorities becoming vacant.

Mwonzora has been working with Mnangagwa to destabilise the MDC Alliance.

Working with the local government minister July Moyo and speaker of parliament Jacob Mudenda, Mwonzora called out MDC Alliance leaders who were critical of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) policies in parliament and councils.

With the help of the police, Mwonzora snatched the party headquarters and all party properties in Harare as well as the party funds that are allocated to political parties that reached at least 5% of the constituency elections in the 2018 general polls.

Mwonzora and his camp have vowed to use the banner of the MDC Alliance in the by-elections and do not want any other MDC factions to use that name, including Chamisa’s.

“We believe that the electorate knows what the MDC Alliance is despite that there is a group that has been trying to confuse them to believe that it is a political party. We are the MDC-T, a leader of the MDC Alliance electoral party,” says Witness Dube, MDC-T spokesperson tells The Africa Report.

“We are going to field our candidates in that manner because this is what we agreed [on] with our MDC Alliance partners.”

Mwonzora has been in and out of the state house to have closed-door meetings with Mnangagwa.

Rebranding

There have thus been repeated calls from MDC Alliance supporters for Chamisa to change the party name.

Unfortunately, ZANU-PF cannot capture Chamisa’s supporters and hand them over to Mwonzora. A party name can be done and shared even in a week’s time, more so in the age of the internet.

Citizens Convergence for Change party was one of the suggestions from the masses.

Late last year, Chamisa embarked on a tour in the ZANU-PF’s heartland: the rural areas to consult supporters on the way forward for the MDC Alliance, including the party name.

Chamisa even took to Twitter in what appeared to be a consultation with his supporters on the colours the new party should adopt.

Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, says Chamisa is a victim of political repression and captured institutions, including the courts and security.

“Unfortunately, ZANU-PF cannot capture Chamisa’s supporters and hand them over to Mwonzora. A party name can be done and shared even in a week’s time, more so in the age of the internet,” he says.

Kudakwashe Munemo, a political analyst, says rebranding is a good option.

“The long-overdue option is to rename and rebrand the party in consultations with the masses, who are in a position to distinguish between political opportunists facing the dust bin and the people’s representatives,” he says.

Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, says Chamisa could still claim victories if he changes the party name.

“If Chamisa announces a party name today, he is likely to win over 70% of the seats on offer at the by-elections,” he says, adding that for Chamisa to win there is a need to ensure cohesion in his party and consensus on strategy and approach for participation.

Saungweme says Chamisa needs to make certain that the process of electing candidates is democratic and inclusive.

MDC Alliance not giving up their party name

Despite support to change, inside sources say Chamisa and his camp are not standing down on their party name and they plan to field their candidates under the banner of the MDC Alliance.

The battle has been taken back to Mwonzora and remember these are by-elections and Nelson Chamisa can afford to test the waters, cause confusion within the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Mwonzora camp. The real struggle is in 2023.

MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere would neither confirm nor deny this development.

“On further matters, we will make an announcement at the appropriate time. The people know who their leaders are,” she tells The Africa Report.

“As political actors, we will bring our A-game hand to this and every election. There will be no confusion. And as we do so, we continue to demand action on reforms,” she adds.

Tweets by various MDC Alliance top officials appear that they are not giving up their party name without fighting.

Mukundu says sticking to the MDC Alliance name is not suicidal.

“The battle has been taken back to Mwonzora and remember these are by-elections and Nelson Chamisa can afford to test the waters, cause confusion within the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Mwonzora camp. The real struggle is in 2023,” he says.

Perhaps not changing the name now is a tactical move, to preempt capture of a new name, says Saungweme. But come 2023, Chamisa will need to change the party name.

“At the end, it is the symbols that matter and the face of the president. Chamisa has the political capital that other presidential candidates do not have,” he says.

“Regarding 2023, he just needs to register a new party name, mobilise his structures and revamp a sense of institution in the party. He has lots of political capital. He also needs to work on cogent strategies to politically defend and reclaim the vote once stolen by ZANU-PF.”

But Munemo argues that since the electoral body and all institutions are captured by ZANU-PF, the MDC Alliance is not going to win the fight for the party name.

“It is suicidal, the court process will replay itself and a repeat of the judgements may be highly likely in favour of the MDC-T,” he says.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options