A wave of opposition victories in the Sadc region over the past two years has elicited mixed reactions from political parties in Zimbabwe.
The opposition says this is a sign that the tide was changing in its favour ahead of the country’s 2023 elections, expressing hope that they will sweep the ruling Zanu PF out of power.
Zanu PF has said opposition victories in neighbouring states were meaningless and boasted that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has been endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate, will emerge victorious.
Opposition parties have won in Zambia, Malawi and most recently in Lesotho.
Lesotho’s Revolution for Prosperity, a party set up only six months ago, ended the reign of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress, which have dominated politics in the kingdom since 2012.
Zimbabwe is headed for general elections next year where Mnangagwa will likely face off against his nemesis Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) for the second time following the disputed 2018 polls.
Despite complaints about electoral irregularities such as violence and absence of a credible voters' roll, the CCC has expressed optimism that it will win next year’s elections inspired by opposition victories in the southern Africa region.
The party said it had engaged Sadc and other international bodies seeking their intervention to ensure a level political field that guarantees a free and fair election.
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Chamisa told The Standard in an exclusive interview that the ruling Zanu PF had refused to engage in meaningful dialogue for an electoral pact ahead of the elections.
“They are throwing tantrums. They are too angry. An angry somebody is difficult to engage,” Chamisa said in the wide-ranging interview.
“We just hope that they will cool down soon and they sober up for a national dialogue.
“They can’t wish away a citizens' movement because we are a legitimate citizen voice.
“We are expected by Zimbabweans. We are big in the region. We are big on the continent.”
Zanu PF secretary for administration Orbet Mpofu professed ignorance of CCC’s claims of initiating dialogue with the ruling party.
“I am not aware of any attempt for engagement with Zanu PF by Chamisa,” Mpofu said.
“Zanu PF has procedures and regulations that have to be followed for a dialogue.
“Zanu PF has never set any conditions for a dialogue.
“Our door has always been open for dialogue.
“You are aware of the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) that has yielded results as political parties from across the political divide have met to discuss various issues.”
Polad is a platform set up by Mnangagwa where he meets leaders of opposition parties, who participated in the 2018 elections.
The 2018 elections had 23 presidential candidates.
They include Mnangagwa, Chamisa, Thokozani Khupe’s then MDC-T formation, Nkosana Moyo, Joice Mujuru, Elton Steers Mangoma and Ambrose Mutinhiri, among others.
Chamisa said Zanu PF feared CCC’s dominance especially the inroads made by the opposition party in the rural areas, believed to be the ruling party’s strongholds since the party’s formation in January.
“CCC is everywhere, it has footprints everywhere. Internationally we have earned respect,” Chamisa said.
“We really want to use that when we say we think we have a credible voice.
“And we want to use the credible election for a common goal to build a better Zimbabwe.
“Our biggest objective is to transform Zimbabwe so that we restore hope, dignity and opportunities for all Zimbabweans.”
Chamisa’s CCC claimed most of the urban seats in the March 26 by-elections, including some rural wards.
The by-elections followed recalls of councillors and MPs by MDC Alliance leader Douglas Mwonzora.
In the 2018 elections, Zanu PF claimed a majority of the rural parliamentary and local authority seats, while the MDC - Alliance dominated the urban seats.
In a report submitted at the recently held party congress titled Central Committee Report of the 7th National People’s Congress 2022, Zanu PF expressed concern over waning support in its strongholds.
“In the various by-elections conducted across the country in the five-year period we witnessed a mixed bag of results,” the Zanu PF report reads.
“While there were marginal gains in the urban electoral votes, this remains an area where focused mobilisation strategies should be implemented.
“The critical victories of the party in Gokwe-Kabuyuni, Mutasa South and Epworth constituencies are a testimony of the party gradually recouping and maintaining ground.
“Though the party lost in the Binga North constituency, it gained ground as a record number of votes were garnered in the political history of Binga wherein the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) being quasi-funded by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had been dominant.
“The loss of two wards in the Bulilima constituency to the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change in Matabeleland South Province raised the need for the party to jealously safeguard our territories and to desist from complacency.”
The run-up to the by-elections was marred by political violence that claimed the life of a CCC supporter Mboneni Ncube in Kwekwe.
Scores of CCC supporters and journalists have been injured in Gokwe, Murewa, Insiza and Matobo among other areas across the country in violent attacks by suspected Zanu PF activists who attempted to block the opposition party from campaigning.
Human rights activists and the opposition have expressed concern over the selective application of the law as Zanu PF activists suspected of unleashing political violence have not been arrested.
In July, Abton Mashayanyika declared that Chamisa and his family should be killed while addressing a Zanu PF rally in Mberengwa, Midlands province.
Mashayanyika is still a free man.
CCC legislator Job Sikhala has spent over five months in pre-trial incarceration on charges of inciting public violence in what has been termed political persecution by rights defenders.
Sikhala’s co-accused Godfrey Sithole and 14 other party activists were recently granted bail after spending over 150 days in pre-trial detention.
Electoral watchdogs have warned that the country is increasingly running out of time to implement the necessary reforms that will guarantee violent-free polls.
But Chamisa said there was no political will to implement the recommended reforms.
“It is not a question of time,” Chamisa said.
“It is a question of will.
“So the issue is not about 20 years of incorrigibility or invincibility — false invincibility of Zanu PF and their stubbornness.
“What is critical is the political will to do that.
“We have implored Zanu PF to put the nation first and not to think about petty party considerations.”
The European Union (EU) observer mission made 23 recommendations after the hotly contested 2018 elections, including the alignment of the Electoral Act to the constitution and ensuring the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
In its follow-up assessment on the implementation of the recommendations in May, the EU noted that progress has been slow, especially as the country is due for polls next year, which will likely produce another contested result.
“This country needs a father, a steward. Zimbabwe needs a leader and the leader of a country is not the leader of the party,” Chamisa said.
“That is why we have continued to be on the high road of peace under very provocative circumstances and provoked by Zanu PF.
“They provoked us by arresting our own, threatening our own and even by attempted assassination of our members, but we have never been tempted to drink from the cup of violence or bitterness.”
Under a free and fair political environment, Chamisa said he was ready to accept the outcome of the polls even if he lost.
“If our concerns and inputs are taken on board, if the election comes we will respect the outcome because we want to respect an outcome that reflects the will of the people even if that outcome is not favourable to us,” Chamisa said.
“If it is a true reflection of the true voice of the people and the supremacy of the ballot, we will voice and vote for the people and the supremacy of the ballot, not tamper, question or even oppose the outcome.
“But we know that once the elections are free and fair our victory is certain.
“In fact we are budgeting for a big win. As far as we are concerned, it is going to be a landslide.”