Come July of this year, Zimbabweans will exercise their constitutional right to elect a new government in a harmonised general election. The stage upon which this democratic drama is set to unfold is unexpected and thrilling. 12 months ago, the ruling party, ZANU PF, and the country was under the despotic rule of retired president Robert Mugabe. The former prime minister and modern day freedom fighter Morgan Tsvangirai was at the helm of the Movement for Democratic Change – T. That additional ‘T’ is, in and of itself, the subject of a completely separate post. It would have taken a prophetic pedigree of “Isiaiahnic” proportion to accurately predict that within a 6-month period, Mugabe, under pressure from various corners would unwillingly resign the office of president and not long after that, Morgan Tsvangirai would succumb in his brave fight against cancer. Reality is indeed stranger than fiction.
The sudden, though not unexpected passing on of the MDC-T’s president plunged the democratic party into a leadership, and some would argue a constitutional crisis that has threatened to and perhaps succeeded in splitting the party yet again. As is often the case with founding leaders, Morgan Tsvangirai had not done an effective job of preparing the movement for an existence beyond his own.
Through its own processes at the last elective congress, the MDC-T had elected Thokozani Khupe as vice president and in the event that the president should pass away in office, Thokozani Khupe was supposed to assume an acting role until a special congress. This procedure, which is articulated in the party’s constitution has been a source of great contention and remains a controversial and troublesome issue. More on that later. In spite of the party’s constitutional procedures, one Nelson Chamisa assumed acting leadership of the party and was eventually appointed the president of MDC-T and the main challenger for the presidency of the republic. So who is Nelson Chamisa?
Lawyer, Pastor and The Next President?
Born on the 2nd of February 1978 to Alice and Sylvanus Chamisa, Nelson is a lawyer by training and a member of parliament for Kuwadzana East. According to Pindula, the genesis of Nelson’s political career was at Harare Polytechnic where he was appointed the president of the student representative council. Nelson, a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change, eventually found himself as the MDC National Youth Chairperson and in 2003 became the youngest member of parliament and eventually a cabinet minister, responsible for ICT within the inclusive government between 2009 and 2013. Further to his political career, Nelson is married to Sithokozile Chamisa and holds qualifications in marketing, political science, international relations and diplomacy as well as in governance and development studies.
Nelson is also a theology graduate from the Living Waters Bible College, and it is this credential that has earned him the title of ‘Pastor’. As a direct result of his theological background and personal faith, Nelson and his team have taken to using the #GodIsInIt hashtag to explain and perhaps justify why victory is certain for the young leader. Effervescent supporters of Nelson’s bid such as activist Patson Dzamara also strongly believe and reiterate that victory against the incumbent is certain because #GodIsInIt.
If one is not in the MDC-T inner circle, it is difficult if not a herculean task to discern exactly what #GodIsInIt is supposed to mean, firstly to neutrals, and secondly to yet to be convinced voters. One school of thought suggests that #GodIsInIt means that Nelson has received divine confirmation “in the spirit” that he is to be Zimbabwe’s next president, ceteris paribus. The other, perhaps more grounded perspective, is that #GodIsInIt is the manifestation of deductive reasoning given the performance of the incumbent party and leadership. In other words, it appears to the MDC; there is no way Zanu PF can win because that, cannot possibly be the will of a good God.
The natural consequence of adopting the #GodIsInIt mantra is that it also leaves Nelson and his team open to scrutiny against the implied standards that come with being God’s man in the race. In my non-partisan observation of Nelson and his team, I can safely conclude without prejudice that there is evidence to suggest that “God” may not be as “in it” as Nelson would have us believe.
Is God Really In It?
Fruit of the poisonous tree
In US legislation there is a legal metaphor used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally. The logic of the terminology (according to Wiki) if the source (tree) of the evidence is tainted, anything gained from it (fruit) is tainted as well. This idea is in stark opposition to the notion that “the end can sometimes justify the means”. If #GodIsInIt, one would suppose that there would be no legitimacy or credibility issues confronting “God’s man”. Nelson’s assumption of the MDC-T top post, however, is an embarrassing and public cause for grave concern for all those who have put their faith in the party of excellence in the hope for democratic change.
To further amplify this point, Fanuel Kaseke explained Nelson’s disregard for the constitution in his 27 February article on Bulawayo24 by noting the following; “the truth is there is nothing constitutional about Chamisa’s hungry grabbing of power, this is one of those common scenarios were law plays second fiddle to politics. It’s called tyranny of the majority by Alexis De Tocqueville were the majority prejudice the minority not because the majority is right but just because they are many.”
Kaseke elaborates… “Chamisa claims that the party’s constitution accommodates 3 VPs and l have read one article which cited article 184.108.40.206 as reference to that effect. However the citation actually reads that there shall be a National Executive Committee of the National Council…. This clause has nothing to do with three Vice Presidents and there is not even anywhere in the MDC constitution where it is written. Article 220.127.116.11 reads that *_The National Executive Committee shall be composed of the following office bearers and Secretaries;
(a) President and Deputy President_ it acknowledges the president and deputy president not deputy presidents which means the use of singular refers to one vice president not three. The highest and most powerful organ of the MDC is the congress not Morgan Tsvangirai or Nelson Chamisa or the National Council. According to article 6.2.3 the functions and Powers of Congress shall be:*
(c) Subject to this Constitution, to elect members of the National Council.
(e) To repeal or amend the Constitution; and
(f) To review, ratify, modify, alter or rescind any decision taken by any organ or official of the Party.
The following are the conclusions from these citations
- i) The National Council is given life by the Congress
- ii) Only the congress can repeal and amend the constitution.
iii) Only the congress had power to make lawful the three VP by MT without which they remain unconstitutional and the two appointed VPs die with MT.
This follows that after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai the party was supposed to simply invoke article 9.20.1 which reads that in the event of the death or resignation of the President, the Deputy President assumes the role of Acting President, pending the holding of an Extraordinary Congress that shall be held to elect a new President, where the Extraordinary Congress is to be held no later than a year from the death or resignation of the former President.
The above clauses illume that; In the event of the death of the President the vice president becomes the acting president not that the VP is appointed by the National council. According to article 9.21.3 the national council can only elect a member of the national council in the event of death or resignation not anyone of the National executive which renders article 16 as invalid which many have been using as a justification to the move by the national council to select Nelson Chamisa.
#GodIsInIt? I think not!
An Unholy Alliance
In order to understand the tension surrounding the formation of the MDC Alliance and it’s #GodIsInIt implications, we turn to non-other than Wamagaisa and the #BSR he published on August 12, 2017. Magaisa explained that “it is not surprising that there is a faction within the MDC-T which is not amenable to the MDC Alliance. This group seems to have coalesced around the then Vice President Khupe. But to most MDC watchers, this is not a new problem. It has deep roots in what may be called the Battle for Bulawayo, where there has been a long-standing rivalry between the MDC-T and the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube, ever since the split in 2005. The MDC-T has invariably prevailed in Bulawayo Province, winning all available seats in 2013.
The performance of the MDC led by Prof Ncube has also diminished significantly in the Matebeleland region since the heights of 2008. By density, Bulawayo certainly has a strong claim as the MDC-T’s strongest point nationally. The MDC-T leadership in that region takes credit for these successes. The battle is often framed as between those who stayed and remained loyal to Tsvangirai and the party and those who deserted and broke away in 2005 and 2014. At a regional level, those who remained do not see any value in those who left. Those who remained regard the return and accommodation of those who left as a betrayal of their loyalty. It is worse if those who left return to occupy more senior roles than those who remained.
All this was foreseeable. Writing in February of that same year Magaisa had warned, “In some cases, where a grand coalition would include players who might have left the main party, the arrangement might be seen by others as accommodating betrayers. This is a problem which the MDC-T faces, since some of the potential coalition partners are former leaders of the party who left on different occasions. The subordinates who remained will be saying to Tsvangirai that they served the party loyally and accommodating former colleagues in senior roles in a coalition might be regarded as a betrayal.” It was a reminder to the leadership of the MDC-T of the hurdles and challenges they faced in their efforts to reunite with their erstwhile comrades.
This is precisely the challenge that is now playing out within the MDC-T. The MDC Alliance has brought back Ncube and Biti, who had previously left the party to form their own political formations. While this is hailed by many as a great move to reunite the old party, nevertheless, within the party, a section of the members are uncomfortable with this arrangement. This is why despite excuses, Khupe and others boycotted the launch of the MDC Alliance at Zimbabwe Grounds. It is highly unusual that 3 of the most senior members of the party would choose to stay away from the launch of an important coalition. It is a clear sign that there are conflicts within the MDC-T over the new coalition. For Khupe and allies looking at it through regional lens, there is no value added by Ncube and others who left the party.
Kaseke, of the constitutional clarification adds this thought; “Khupe has a legal moral obligation to fight for what is right whilst Mudzuri and Mwonzora seem to have conceded to politics. Chamisa’s loud social media youthful fanatics do not constitute the greatest population of voters. The highest number of voters are not in Harare something they might forget. As we watch the drama unfold the greatest fear should be that key partners in the MDC Alliance, in the absence of Morgan Tsvangirai, will try to recapture the MDC through the Alliance.”
#GodIsInIt? I have my doubts!
The Movement FROM Democratic Change
I will not go into examples that are in the public arena of Nelson’s own tenuous relationship with matters of fact or misogyny as I am sure he will be fairly tried for his rhetoric in the court of public opinion. Outside of the constitutional violations and the unholy alliance, there is one more frustrating trend I would like to highlight which concerns me as it pertains to the #GodIsInIt style of politics and it is the fact that the MDC-T, under Chamisa, is now more akin to a mega church than a serious political movement vying for top posts in the country.
Circulating images of Nelson ‘laying hands’ on church congregants may seem like a good idea in the moment but when that is coupled with autonomous decision-making as ‘guided by the spirit’ it is a recipe for autocracy. If Nelson holds strong personal convictions in his personal faith, that is a good and noble thing and could perhaps make him a better leader but it cannot be the mechanism or justification for decision making in a party with the size, influence and constitution that is found within the MDC-T.
Letting leaders do what they want because they sense it ‘in the spirit’ is how cults are formed. #GodIsInIt creates language that moves the MDC AWAY from democracy NOT towards it because only one man can supposedly hear from God. It means “God’s man” cannot be challenged. Although Zimbabwe is a de facto Christian nation, our constitution recognises the State as a secular republic and thus upholds the rights of all Zimbabweans of diverse faith, ethnic and lifestyle backgrounds. The president also represents and serves those people.
All in all, one would not expect a party that was founded on democratic principles and self-styled as the party of excellence to break its own rules to accelerate an “obvious outcome”. The right thing to do, by the movement’s constitution, would have been to allow the members to choose their own leaders against the backdrop of the tragic loss of the founding father of the party through an extraordinary or special congress. This is their constitutional right as members of the party!
Is God REALLY in it? I REALLY have my doubts! God is not mocked for whatever a man sows that shall he also reap.
- Munya Hoto is a Digital & Content Strategist, Marketing Leader, Tech enthusiast and conference speaker. He is currently leading Digital Strategy at @TheFoundryTeam