WE are only a month into the new year, but it already feels like it has been long. The political year has started in earnest, lending credence to the counsel of political sages: A day is a very long time in politics.
A lot of significant developments took place within the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in the space of one week and are sure to shift the contours of opposition politics with far-reaching consequences for the future.
My installment this week will focus on trying to understand the implications for the CCC after Nelson Chamisa. In contrast, my next installment will follow Chamisa and seek to explore possibilities in his path.But before I dive into the CCC waters, let me rant for a moment.
Shamelessly taxing the disabled
The full impact of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion minister Mthuli Ncube’s 2024 budget is already being felt by the cross-section of Zimbabwe’s impoverished population. The 2024 budget has brought a biting tax regime. Everything and everyone is taxed. Heavily.
Well, not exactly everyone. The gospel-prenuers in shiny suits go scot-free. I am talking about the latter-day self-proclaimed prophets. They are fear mongers and choristers of grandiose romanticism profiting from the two vanities: fear and hope!
They receive tithes, ‘seeding,’ and other church contributions — extorting money from the meek sheep of their congregation ostensibly on behalf of God. But their insatiable appetite knows no bounds. They also sell anointed water, anointed trinkets, and anointed nonsense! And all this is tax-free.
Amidst all this, there is one group whom Ncube’s hand cannot resist extorting — the disabled. The Finance Minister has introduced what activists are terming “disability tax”.
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As renowned journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono has reported, the government has shamelessly introduced a 15% tax on prescription eyeglasses, hearing aids, Braille reading material, Braille typewriters, Braille wristwatches, motorised and non-motorised wheelchairs, and even crutches.
My kinspeople say, “abana honi banoswanhula nyama mundilo yebhofu” (They shamelessly steal meat from a blind person’s plate).
It is now expensive to be disabled in Zimbabwe.
Opposition focus on self-immolation
One would think these are important issues around, which the opposition can mobilise. But the CCC has abdicated its responsibility of checking the excesses of government. It is missing in action as it is preoccupied — as always — with internal power struggles.
These internal squabbles hit a crescendo when the CCC leader, Chamisa, hit the eject button and exited the party. Clearly, this was not under self-selected circumstances, but his hand was forced by what his supporters say has become a poisoned chalice.
It had become clear that he had lost control of the party at the back of internal institutional inadequacies and political discord that opened cracks for imposter Sengezo Tshabangu with the help of biased courts to capture the party.
Zanu PF could not let the opportunity pass by; they were happily fanning the embers of that fallout. At that point, it was the best political move to make. It was the only move left on the chessboard for Chamisa.
This move has caused ripples across the political spectrum in Zimbabwe. Before we follow this thread further, let me throw another development into the mix. Enters Job Sikhala.
There are no coincidences in politics
After 595 days in pre-trial detention, firebrand opposition leader Job Sikhala was sentenced to a suspended two-year prison term after being convicted earlier in January of inciting public violence.
His release has added to the mix of shoving and jostling in the opposition as he seeks to reclaim his relevance and influence in the space; his supporters have clearly been burning the midnight torch.
I am yet to understand the “Mandela incarnate” narrative — and voice that Sikhala has been possessed by. Is it deep conviction or delusion? There is usually a thin line between the two.
The timing of Sikhala’s release is also quite interesting. Former United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously quipped that, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way”.
Sikhala’s release should also be read in this perspective. If one believes in political coincidences, then one must also believe that Henrietta Rushwaya picked the wrong handbag to the airport, which quite “coincidentally” had six kilogrammes of gold in it.
We will understand how the Sikhala pixels fit into the bigger political picture. All in good time. Let us go back to CCC.
Low down of MPs, councillors staying
What is clear amid these muddy waters is that Chamisa has not requested any elected official to resign their post.
Contrary to popular narratives from social media keyboard warriors, it would seem he expects them to stay put. It would be ill-advised to make such a demand.
The immediate resignation of Fadzayi Mahere should be understood as the desire to advance her political career and put herself in pole position for whatever new outfit Chamisa will create.
The trappings of public office
The motivations and interests of those remaining in their parliamentary and council positions are not homogeneous.
Three types seem to be emerging. There are those who put their all into their election campaigns financially. They invested their family income, savings and are possibly in debt.
They threw their families into deprivation to secure a win for the party. They would expect that the income, benefits, and cushions of public office will enable them to regain their lost personal resources and secure a livelihood for their families, at least for the next five years. Barring Sengezo Tshabangu’s further recalls, of course.
Some are loyal to the people, and the leader
The second group is composed of those who are unquestionably loyal to Chamisa but understand the game principle of occupying space in time.
These are interested in occupying and defending the political space gained so far because quitting will be tantamount to donating those posts to Zanu PF.
Past by-elections demonstrated that Tshabangu is out of his depth. To quote William Shakespeare, “he is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”He is the incarnation of the idiom, “all hat and no cowboy.”
This cohort of CCC officials is also interested in serving the public, especially at the local government level, where the interface between residents and public officials is felt every day in the delivery of public goods and services. They are driven by a sense of duty to the electorate; hence, they will stay.
Others have an axe to grind
The third group is composed of those who have an axe to grind with Chamisa. Over time, they have become aggrieved and disenchanted by Chamisa's inadequacies that have played out in the public for some time now.
To an extent, legitimately so. These inadequacies are also partly responsible for the ensuing crisis in the opposition. These are not interested in following Chamisa to the new movement that he may be putting together.
Some are deluded and think his political career is done. This is a parochial self-pleasuring view.
The others in this cohort understand that it is not Chamisa whose political career is done but theirs. They are preparing to extract whatever benefits they can while it lasts in the next five years.
This group is dangerous. All sorts of morbid symptoms will emerge in this group because that is enough motivation for looting, corruption, and cutting deals with Zanu PF.
The sober view
The abdication of Chamisa from the CCC leadership has opened a leadership vacuum in the party. What you must bear in mind, dear reader, is that CCC is hardly a monolithic entity.
It has many contours and shades. This is because of its foundation, which was made up of a loose electoral alliance of more than four political parties.
The loose coalition eventually morphed into a political party post-2018, first as MDC-A and later as CCC. As such, different factions are angling to take over leadership and dominate the party.
It is, therefore, not surprising that several interim leadership structures have emerged. There is one by Tshabangu that seems aligned with the People’s Democratic Party faction(led by its former president Tendai Biti).
Another is by the Citizens National Assembly, which is aligned with Chamisa’s loyalists, and a third structure is aligned with the MDC green faction (which was led by Professor Welshman Ncube). Other factions, like the Maruva faction, have yet to show their hand.
The political vultures are seen settling the CCC carrion, throwing any short-term prediction of the form and character of the party that will emerge when the dust finally settles into doubt. CCC is in uncertain waters but it is early days still.
This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.
Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. — @NtandoDumani