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Zimbabwe: Will Douglas Mwonzora’s MDC survive the August 23 elections?

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on June 12, 2023 15:44

 © File photo of Douglas Mwonzora, leader of oppsotion party MDC-T(AFP photo/Jekesai Njikizana).
File photo of Douglas Mwonzora, leader of oppsotion party MDC-T(AFP photo/Jekesai Njikizana).

The 23 August elections could result in the total demise of Zimbabwe opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Douglas Mwonzora, according to analysts, as many voters perceive MDC as a puppet of the ruling party.

“The upcoming elections are likely to end Mwonzora and his camp’s political careers,” Romeo Chasara, political analyst and lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, tells The Africa Report.

Since its formation in 2000 by the late Morgan Tsvangirai at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic problems, the MDC had swiftly gained momentum as Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. With Tsvangirai at the helm, it entered an uneasy coalition government with then-president Robert Mugabe after the second round of elections in 2008.

But its fortunes foundered with infighting, and after the death of Tsvangirai in 2018, Mwonzora wrested the fractured MDC from stalwart Nelson Chamisa, who ran the MDC Alliance party.

Mwonzora captured the symbol of the party, the MDC headquarters in Harare’s Central Business District, with the help of Zanu-PF, the judiciary and the support of police, sealing his fate as a Zanu-PF proxy, says Nairobi-based Zimbabwean political analyst Tinashe Gumbo.

“A major weakness of the MDC is that it was also destroyed by internal squabbles, which resulted in former deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and key members like Elias Mudzuri breaking away from the party,” Gumbo tells The Africa Report.

Chamisa went on to form his own party, now the main opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in 2022.

Zanu PF appendage

“After gaining control of the MDC, Mwonzora’s political career has been nothing but an appendage of Zanu-PF than being the ruling party’s opponent,” he says.

Analyst Gumbo tells The Africa Report that voters have lost faith in the MDC, and the party name is now tainted.

“They have tried to distance themselves from Zanu-PF…going forward, Mwonzora must make a strategic withdrawal from Zanu-PF and show voters that the MDC is there to oppose the ruling party,” says Gumbo, adding that the MDC made a mistake by focusing more on destroying Chamisa.

“They used various institutions like the judiciary and police in fighting Chamisa and wasted time, which they could have used to build their opposition party. This resulted in their loss of public support,” Gumbo tells The Africa Report.

Mwonzora has been used as a pony by the ruling Zanu-PF party to frustrate Chamisa and his CCC party, he says.

“Evidence has been there for everyone to see that his ascension to the helm of the MDC leadership position has been through assistance from the captured Zimbabwe police and Zanu-PF,” Chasara adds.

Losers at the ballot box

He and other analysts predict that Mwonzora will lose badly in the upcoming August elections, especially after his public humiliation in the nationwide by-elections in March 2022, where voters went to the polls to select parliamentarians and council seats due to deaths and dismissals.

MDC gained no seats and failed to get 10 votes in any constituency where there was a by-election.

Chamisa’s CCC party went on to win the majority of seats despite being only a month old. One way Mwonzora has tried to remain relevant was by disputing the delimitation report, says Chasara.

“No wonder. He is very much vested in challenging the delimitation report to avoid elections so as to give his political career a lifeline,” he adds. The delimitation report challenge was dismissed by the Constitutional Court on 9 May.

Gumbo says people cannot understand whether the MDC is in support of the government or not; neither do they understand whether Mwonzora’s party wants elections or not.

Mwonzora’s act of recalling MDC Alliance legislators affiliated with Chamisa from parliament and local authorities further destroyed the MDC, Gumbo adds.

“Voters have not forgiven the MDC for the recalls that happened. This stalled progress in constituencies where MPs and councillors were recalled, which resulted in several unnecessary by-elections,” he says.

Political funding

In April, the British House of Lords debated issues pertaining to Zimbabwe where Lord Jonathan Oates described Mwonzora as a ruling party project to deter Chamisa from opposition politics.

“In those elections (26 March), the main opposition party was denied the right to use its own name or to access the public funds it was entitled to,” Oates said of Chamisa’s MDC while referring to political funding allocated to political parties through the Political Parties Finance Act.

In March this year, Zimbabwe’s Finance Ministry disbursed ZW$1.5bn through the Political Parties Finance Act. Zanu-PF received ZW$1bn, and the MDC got ZW$500,000. The government said Zanu-PF got the biggest chunk of the funds after garnering 70.03% of votes in the 2018 elections, while Mwonzora’s MDC got the funds after garnering 29.97% of the total votes.

However, it was the MDC Alliance party led by Nelson Chamisa that contested the 2018 elections. Mwonzora’s MDC has been getting political finances from the fiscus since 2021 when he took over the MDC.

Is Mwonzora the victim?

Lloyd Damba, Mwonzora’s spokesperson says the MDC leader is the victim, after suffering several attacks on social media perpetrated by Chamisa’s CCC.

“It seems people are totally blind to the venomous attacks that Mwonzora and the MDC have suffered on social media from Chamisa. This narrative that we are afraid of elections comes from the CCC,” Damba tells The Africa Report.

“We do enjoy a lot of support throughout the country, and we are not a party that can be wished away. We have been facing media onslaught and vilification from our noisy cousins (CCC) and our erstwhile nemesis, Zanu-PF,” he adds.

He says that for the past 24 years, MDC is the only party that has meaningfully challenged the ruling Zanu-PF party and has had its members killed by Zanu-PF, which means they cannot be its proxy.

Instead, Damba says Chamisa’s CCC is the one that is being used by Zanu-PF to destroy Zimbabwean opposition politics.

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