Elections in Zimbabwe are only a year away, but a newly-founded opposition party is already optimistic about its chances. In the meantime, a controversial new law could pose a threat to civil society.
Zimbabwe has a new opposition party. The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) is so new that its website isn’t even finished yet, full of dummy text where its political goals should be.
But although it was only registered in January 2022, the CCC already had its first taste of success in late March, winning 19 of the 28 newly allocated parliamentary seats in by-elections.
“I can tell you that what we have just done is a teaser,” party leader Nelson Chamisa told reporters. “[We are] putting the nation and the world on notice that CCC is the next government. There’s nothing that will stop us from forming the next government.”
The goal for 2023: A two-thirds majority in parliament
Chamisa has set an ambitious target for the election scheduled in April 2023: “We’re on this march to a two-thirds majority in parliament come 2023.”
Emmerson Mnangagwa is the third president of Zimbabwe since the country’s independence 42 years ago. The ruling ZANU-PF party veteran was closely linked to longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in 2017. Like his late predecessor, the 79-year-old also governs with an iron fist. Many in Zimbabwe say things have gotten worse under Mnangagwa, and have now pinned their hopes on the new party.
Is the CCC really a new party?
In 2018, 44-year-old Nelson Chamisa was already the top candidate of the then-main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance. The original MDC was founded in 1999 and has since witnessed numerous spin-offs. Along with Chamisa, several other party members have also switched to the new CCC.
The MDC brand has simply worn itself out, says prominent Zimbabwean analyst Alex Magaisa. He was formally the office manager of MDC Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai during the coalition government from 2008. Today, he teaches law in the UK.
Magaisa is confident the CCC will gain power from ZANU-PF: “The CCC has brought in a fresh kind of energy,” he told DW. “It is attracting young people and there we are also seeing a huge participation of the diaspora in rising funds to support political activities at home.”
He admits that securing a two-thirds majority is an ambitious goal. But a simple majority is by no means impossible.
“It is a strong party that has the capability of winning power from ZANU-PF,” he says.
But analyst Gibson Nyikadzino — who often lends his comments to the state-controlled Zimbabwe Herald — believes the CCC is a new party on paper only.
“They don’t have a constitution, for instance, they don’t have a manifesto, they don’t have — or rather they didn’t have — primary elections when they were selecting their candidates to represent them in the by-elections and they did not go for an inaugural congress,” he told DW.
However, Nyikadzino also believes that the CCC will take on the old role of the MDC and will be ZANU-PF’s main competitor in April 2023.
New NGO law stirs controversy
Meanwhile, opposition civil society is still in an uproar over another issue: At the end of 2021, the government announced its intention to regulate certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) more strictly in the future. In doing so, the government wants to give itself far-reaching powers — meaning it could even replace the leaders in organizations it accuses of illegal activities.
The change in the law hasn’t yet been officially decided. But domestic and foreign NGOs are already up in arms.
Members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) are also alarmed. “From an international perspective, this is going backwards in terms of restricting civic space and it will have a severe impact on the funding to the non-profit sector in Zimbabwe and the government itself,” ZLHR spokesperson Fiona Iliff told DW. “The health sector will be severely impacted and the education and sector and humanitarian organizations will also be severely restricted.”
Alex Magaisa points out that — from his point of view — Zimbabwe is an authoritarian state.
“There is an authoritarian regime that is constantly trying to curtail civil rights,” he says. “The new NGO law is a nefarious piece of legislation designed for rigorous actinon against civil society organizations.”
For their part, the government rejects such accusations. It refers to its fight against two areas of crime for which Zimbabwe isn’t yet known: Money laundering and the financing of terrorists.
“We are not just prescribing a law where there is no need,” government spokesperson Nick Mangwana told DW. “There is a need. People have nothing to panic about. The law is simply there to regulate and close loopholes that are there and could be abused and that are being abused by civil organizations and other foreign powers to influence our politics and processes.”
How free are elections in Zimbabwe?
Many NGOs and Zimbabweans critical of the government often make such accusations against the ruling ZANU-PF and the institutions it controls.
The NGO Freedom House currently gives Zimbabwe only 11 out of a possible 40 points in the political rights category and points to unfair competition to the detriment of the opposition. The country’s recent by-elections sparked criticism of the Electoral Commission and its electoral rolls from various sides. And the rising CCC opposition party has complained of harassment during its own election campaign.
Lawyer Alex Magaisa hopes that from now on, the regional African and international communities will “keep a watchful eye” on what is happening in Zimbabwe over the next year.
“Because this is what Zimbabwe needs,” he says. “Zimbabwe needs a legitimate outcome of its electoral processes so that it can restore relations within the community of nations around the world.
Privilege Musvanhiri contributed to this article.
Edited by: Benita van Eyssen