HARARE – MDC acting president Nelson Chamisa is beating his internal party rivals with the help of his charm and vitality and could harness those gifts to help him successfully run for president, observers and analysts said yesterday.
This comes as the MDC’s top officials are at war over control of the party, with the national council last week electing Chamisa, 40, as acting president, an enthronement that has angered his opposite numbers, vice presidents Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe, who are also bidding to succeed the late veteran and founder leader Morgan Tsvangirai who died on February 14 aged 65 after a long battle with cancer of the colon.
In an electrifying speech at Tsvangirai’s send-off in Harare on Monday, attended by tens of thousands, Chamisa called for party unity to defeat President Emmerson Mnangagwa and to preserve the former prime minister’s legacy — defending his selection as acting president as “perfectly constitutional”.
In his stump speech, Chamisa stayed in constant dialogue with an enthralled crowd, speaking authoritatively and irreverently and leveraging his unique experience with Tsvangirai as the only founding MDC member among those fighting for the party leadership.
“This party is not for individuals in leadership. It belongs to the people,” Chamisa said.
A broader alliance of seven political parties dubbed MDC Alliance formed by Tsvangirai last year to take on Zanu PF has endorsed Chamisa.
The MDC Alliance’s spokesperson Welshman Ncube said Chamisa — who has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, a Bachelor of Science honours degree in Political Science, a Masters degree in International Relations and Diplomacy, a law degree and also graduated with a Degree in Theology — will definitely make a massive impact on opposition supporters and also court neutrals.
“Watching and listening to Chamisa speak at the memorial rally 4 (for) President Tsvangirai today I finally understood why president Tsvangirai told me that giving the MDC Alliance Chamisa would give our people a fighting chance against the Junta,” Ncube wrote on microblogging site Twitter.
This comes as Ncube told an interdenominational memorial service for the late Tsvangirai held at the Large City Hall in Bulawayo last week that the late MDC leader summoned him to his home in a January 5 phone call and told him that he wanted Chamisa to take over as leader of his legacy project. Ncube said Tsvangirai asked him that they continue with the MDC Alliance.
“I asked how we would go about it when he was not around. He then said ‘I will give you Chamisa to lead the whole process’,” Ncube said.
Exiled businessman Mutumwa Mawere tweeted: “Brilliant speech by Chamisa. Sending the right messages. The party belongs to its members. Imagine the same messages permeated in all the spheres of the affairs of all. Inclusivity and convergence key. Diversity is the order of life.”
Analyst and civil rights campaigner McDonald Lewanika said without a doubt, Chamisa was the natural successor.
“Zimbabweans generally have a tendency to limit things to singular forms and sometimes erroneously ascribe single explanations to a complex phenomenon. It is true that there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief and salutes to (Morgan) Tsvangirai, and the people are mourning.
“But the people who have been mourning Morgan, they have also been inaugurating a new leader and advising him to honour Tsvangirai’s legacy and finish the work he started. “
Khupe and Mudzuri have said they were not amused with the haste with which Chamisa moved to seize power through the national council which endorsed him as acting president for the next 12 months.
But Lewanika said people can grieve and anoint a successor at the same time, in the same way that people marched to celebrate the removal of toppled despot Robert Mugabe and welcome a new dispensation in November, at the same time.
“The argument that they did or are doing one and not the other assumes people to be very simple, yet they are not.
“Yes, people are celebrating Morgan’s life, and yes some of the same people are celebrating that his legacy will live on through his trusted lieutenant Chamisa,” Lewanika said.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said Chamisa has certainly demonstrated he is a man who can command a crowd.
“Nevertheless, the MDC needs enigmatic leadership that can mobilise, inspire, lead and build a party that faces huge organisational and leadership challenges.
“No single leader can achieve this alone. The MDC is a modern political party and Chamisa ideally needs a clear and unfettered endorsement from the party’s structures in accordance with our own processes. It appears for some, the MDC constitution is a moveable feast,” Pigou said.
Exiled legendary musician Thomas Mapfumo said Chamisa must be given the chance to lead the MDC
“He is a young person and must be the one to lead the party. He asks very pertinent questions in the House of Assembly and these are the young people that I am saying must be at the forefront,” Mapfumo said.
New opposition party, the New Patriotic Front, constituted of vanquished G40 Zanu PF faction members, said Mnangagwa and his military rulers were paralysed with fear over Chamisa.
“Witchcraft is when you believe the lies peddled by Chamisa haters that he is a Zanu PF project. The coup conspirators are losing sleep over him as they didn’t expect him to be more popular than the Lizard,” the party said.
The MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who is rooting for Mudzuri to take over, has threatened to call an extraordinary congress after Tsvangirai’s burial to choose a new leader for the party. He claims he tried to stop the national council meeting but was snubbed.
Mudzuri has secured the support of Tsvangirai’s main family members.
Besides being backed by 190 of the 215 members of the National Council, Chamisa has secured the support of 10 of the 15 members of the standing committee. Tsvangirai’s widow, Elizabeth, also supports Chamisa.
Relations between Tsvangirai and Khupe soured in 2016 when the late veteran leader appointed two additional vice presidents, Chamisa and Mudzuri, in a move that revived accusations of regionalism, tribalism and gender bias in the biggest opposition movement.
The move was also widely interpreted as a no-confidence declaration by Tsvangirai in his long-serving deputy, who heightened the stand-off by opposing the now late MDC leader’s legacy project for an MDC Alliance, arguing the opposition party does not need a coalition to win an election in the three Matabeleland provinces.
There was also a sense among senior officials that Tsvangirai did not believe Khupe could steer the MDC ship into an election and needed Chamisa’s convivial energy and charisma to energise the base and Mudzuri’s experience and maturity to bolster the cockpit.
The Daily News understands the party has roped in Tsvangirai’s authoritative and respected former advisor Alex Magaisa to broker long lasting unity among the feuding leaders.
Magaisa has the advantage of having the ears of the different camps and is said to be finding common ground.
Chamisa has said the leadership wrangles will end soon.