Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa’s attempt to establish a one-party state has failed

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Tuesday, 5 April 2022 08:36

Zimbabwe Opposition Rally
A young girl holds a placard with the name of Zimbabwean main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa during his rally in Harare, Sunday, Feb. 20,2022. Chamisa drew thousands of people at his first political rally since forming a new party weeks ago, as the country gears for elections that had been postponed due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe's by-elections in which President Mnangagwa hoped to silence opposition leader Nelson Chamisa have produced the contrary. With his resounding victory, Chamisa is imposing his new party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), as the clear political opposition in the country. It also dismantles the power base of MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora, accused of being a ruling party-funded spoiler.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, since 2018, has been working in league with a splinter opposition group leader Douglas Mwonzora to destroy the main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and establish a de facto one-party state in Zimbabwe.

At the recent by-elections on 26 March that were marred by political violence, vote-buying, biased State media coverage and unfair treatment from the police, Chamisa’s party CCC clinched a victory, winning the majority of the 150 parliamentary and municipal seats which were up for the contest.

The CCC was formed by Chamisa in January 2022 following recalls of his Members of Parliament and councillors by Mwonzora. Mwonzora’s control of the MDC-T faction of the opposition is regularly accused by other opposition leaders of being financed by the ruling party to disrupt the political process in Zimbabwe.

Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst, tells The Africa Report that the by-election results re-establish Zimbabwe as a solid two-party state and that the attempt to reconfigure this has been a failure.

“The electoral outcome re-confirms Zimbabwe’s geo-political map: [Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front] Zanu-PF’s political hegemony in the rural areas and the main opposition’s (CCC) dominance in the urban settings,” he says.

The CCC contested in this local election, a dry run contest to the general polls in 2023, without resources such as party offices and political funding as those resources were given to the Mwonzora led MDC by the ruling party via the police, judiciary and the State.

Chamisa remains a threat to Zanu PF. The ruling party has not managed to create a de facto one-party state which is what they sought when they created an opposition which they led in the form of Mwonzora’s party.

Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, says the result of the by-election is a confidence booster for Chamisa that his 2018 general election support base is still intact.

“This is a settlement in terms of the oppositional fights that we have seen for the past two years. So, finally, there is a settlement by the voters who have determined who they want to see in Parliament,” he says.

Power balance

Farai Gwenhure, a political analyst, says after the by-elections it is clear that Chamisa is a force to reckon with in Parliament.

“Chamisa has also got back the big opportunity to push his agenda for electoral and political reforms in Parliament which had been taken from him since 2018,” he says.

Gwenhure says Chamisa is now an alternative after Zanu PF did not succeed in establishing a one-party state in the country.

“Chamisa remains a threat to Zanu PF. The ruling party has not managed to create a de facto one-party state which is what they sought when they created an opposition which they led in the form of Mwonzora’s party,” he says.

Some of the notable CCC leaders who are back in Parliament after parliamentary elections include former finance minister Tendai Biti who has been fighting and exposing corruption, outspoken politician Job Sikhala and Charlton Hwende.

Masunungure says Mnangagwa failed to destroy opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

“The strategic goal of the incumbent regime was to skew the balance of power in its favour by decimating the opposition using Mwonzora who had been assisted in capturing the iconic MDC party. The 26 March by-elections restored the historical balance of power,” he says.

What is next for Mnangagwa?

Zanu PF invested resources in the recent by-elections from state buses to ferry people to rallies, favourable treatment by the police to biased State media coverage.

Mnangagwa snatched two parliamentary seats that were won by the opposition MDC Alliance in the 2018 general polls-one in Epworth, a town 17km southeast of the capital Harare and Mutasa South constituency in Manicaland Province.

Chamisa’s CCC also grabbed a constituency in Kwekwe, a town in Mnangagwa’s home province.

This is where one CCC supporter was stabbed with a spear to death by Zanu PF thugs following an attack on supporters who were waiting to be addressed by a youthful and charismatic leader Chamisa.

Chamisa speaking at a press conference in Harare on Monday says that “Zanu PF is abusing traditional leaders across the country” to intimidate voters in rural areas.

Gwenhure says Mnangagwa, who ascended to power in 2017 through a military coup that ousted his mentor Mugabe, is most likely going to be scared about the internal politics more than the CCC.

“He is in power not necessarily people voted for him in 2018 but he is there because he is a product of the military coup. He is worried that Chamisa has support. That support might mean there will be internal unrest within his party and more importantly the electorate who are the power behind the throne. So, they might start thinking of an option because they might see Mnangagwa as a liability,” he says.

Mwonzora’s political burial

All the seats in the by-elections were shared between CCC and Zanu PF.

Mwonzora, despite the support from Zanu PF, failed to get even a single seat.

Admire Mare, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Johannesburg, says Mwonzora’s days are numbered.

The people are angry because of how he tried to decimate the opposition. His approach hurt Chamisa’s people more than it is to Zanu PF supporters. Yet people know that the current poverty is because of Mnangagwa’s administration.

“He is feeding from the trough for the last time unless he joins the ruling party on another of those appointments. His waning political fortunes cannot be salvaged. He will be buried politically and electorally in 2023. As for now, he can eat the last political supper,” he says.

Mwonzora still has MPs in Parliament under his party but recalling them could have an impact on the funds for political parties that he is currently receiving from the State.

The MDC-T leader, who was against the by-elections, tried to convince Mnangagwa to delay the  date of the local elections and called for dialogue with the President to push for a power-sharing deal.

Gwenhure says Mwonzora was buried the moment the date of the by-elections was announced.

“The people are angry because of how he tried to decimate the opposition. His approach hurt Chamisa’s people more than it is to Zanu PF supporters. Yet people know that the current poverty is because of Mnangagwa’s administration,” he says.

Mukundu says the last nail in the coffin will be put in place for Mwonzora and the MDC in the 2023 general polls.

Speaking at a press conference in Harare on Monday, Mwonzora vowed that he is not politically dead but admitted he “got our strategy wrong”.

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