‘Teachers, students, workers, political parties and churches must come together’
Celebrations … Nelson Chamisa acknowledges MDC supporters as he arrives for MDC 20th anniversary celebrations at Rufaro Stadium on Saturday, September 28, 2019
HARARE – Nelson Chamisa hailed the MDC as “the bravest, strongest and most consistent” party as the opposition movement marked its 20-year anniversary at Rufaro Stadium on Saturday.
Chamisa said the MDC bore scars from its opposition to Zanu PF over the years, with dozens of activists dead in calculated murders whose perpetrators have not been held to account.
“They can kill our supporters and our leadership, but they can never kill an idea whose time has come,” Chamisa said as he promised supporters that “change is coming, change is around the corner.”
The 41-year-old, who took the reigns following Morgan Tsvangirai’s death from cancer in February last year, said President Emmerson Mnangagwa had to dialogue with the MDC to resuscitate Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy.
“The two political forces must come together and dialogue,” Chamisa said referring to Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF party, even as he maintained that “we don’t want to share power, we want to share ideas.”
“Ours is a national democratic revolution with different phases. The first phase was the liberation consensus of our country from the Rhodesian regime. The second phase is the democratisation of the country, to say let’s have democracy. The third revolution is that of transformation which we are fighting for now,” the MDC leader said.
The MDC rode on the back of growing anger against Zanu PF as the promise of independence from colonial rule faded, with lack of jobs and growing repression taking root.
Zanu PF has sought to frame the MDC as a creation of western countries intent on reversing its policy of land reforms, dramatised by the often violent seizure of farms from white land owners starting in 1999, the year the MDC was formed.
“It’s a false narrative,” Chamisa said. “They say the MDC is sponsored from the capitals of western countries. No. The MDC is sponsored from your kitchens; is sponsored from the capitals of your bedrooms, and is sponsored from the streets. We are genuine and indigenous, 100 percent local.”
Several western diplomats sat in the VIP tent, listening to the MDC leader who spoke mostly in Shona to thousands of supporters dressed in the party’s red colours.
Chamisa said the party was “very clear about our rural focus”, a strategy to penetrate Zanu PF’s stronghold in the farmlands and village outposts, even as he maintained that Zanu PF was abusing government departments to keep the rural poor beholden to it largely through food disbursements and abuse of traditional leaders.
Despite the setback, he said the MDC was “half government and half opposition”, pointing to its control of almost all urban councils in the country where it enjoys majority support.
“You have to be visible and hold constituency feedback meetings,” he urged his MPs.
The MDC gained a foothold in parliament in 2000, winning 57 of the 120 seats. In an electoral field largely staked against it, Tsvangirai outpolled former leader Robert Mugabe in 2008 but election officials said he had fallen just short of the 50 percent plus one vote required to be declared president.
Tsvangirai boycotted a subsequent run-off election after dozens of supporters were killed in a military-led crackdown, as Mugabe went on to clock 37 years in power before he was toppled in a 2017 military coup.
Many Zimbabweans who celebrated Mugabe’s ouster now say he was better as the country goes through a crisis of unprecedented joblessness, runaway inflation, fuel and electricity shortages, low pay and unaffordable prices.
“Some are saying we should forget about 2018 and focus on 2023,” Chamisa said of last year’s election in which Mnangagwa was controversially declared winner with just over 30,000 votes.
The MDC says the election was rigged.
“I can assure you we won’t go into 2023 without resolving 2018. 2018 is where 2023 is. We would be repeating the cyclical issue of disputes. We’re not going to allow that. We’ll be unveiling a programme for reclaiming out 2018 victory,” Chamisa said.
The MDC says it wants dialogue with Zanu PF to agree on key election principles before the next general elections in 2023.
“There’s a problem in this country. Human rights abuses are out of control,” Chamisa said, flagging the recent kidnap of a doctors’ union leader by suspected state security agents.
“The opposition is seen as the enemy. Mnangagwa must look at the ideas we have,” Chamisa said. “Let’s go to national dialogue and stop thinking sanctions are the problem. The biggest sanction on the country is bad governance.”
Chamisa said an MDC government would abolish the Zimbabwe dollar and return the United States dollar as the main currency until the country has built sufficient confidence for a new currency.
He maintained that his party was a clear choice for voters on the respect for human rights and furtherance of personal freedoms.
Police banned opposition protests last month but Chamisa warned that the MDC would be unleashing “unstoppable protests”, telling Mnangagwa: “Even if you pretend to be headstrong, you will come to the negotiating table. You won’t go anywhere. We hold the keys.”
Chamisa urged regional countries to apply pressure on Mnangagwa to pursue the path of dialogue. “An unresolved political crisis in Zimbabwe is a burden on the region,” he said.
The MDC would be seeking to build united front to force Zanu PF to change course.
“The country is broken. All progressive forces must converge,” he said. “Teachers, students, workers, political parties and churches must come together. It’s no longer a party issue. Even those in Zanu PF and government, it’s time to join hands and work for a new Zimbabwe.”
In a final flourish, Chamisa got roars of approval as he asked the MDC supporters: “Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you willing to die for your rights?”
Writing in the Zimbabwe Independent, Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London who specialises on Zimbabwe, said the MDC had “travelled a long, arduous journey in which it has gone through several transitions”, but he questions if the party has managed to set its stall ideologically.
“The MDC remains without a clear ideological position through which it can sell itself as a real alternative to the ruling party; to the effect that even latter-day opposition parties in other countries, like the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa, have provided good examples of truly ideologically clear movements,” Chan said.
“Failure to articulate its ideological standpoint has also impacted its policy propositions with regards to the economy, among other propositions, where Zimbabweans are calling on the opposition to provide an alternative,” he added. Zimlive