Several Zimbabwe commentators have interpreted recent by-elections as raising the possibility that ZANU-PF’s 42-year-long grip on power is loosening and, come the 2023 general elections, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) will defeat ZANU-PF and President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But these commentators sometimes repeat Chamisa statements in this regard and seem to forget more powerful currents that have always determined Zimbabwe’s elections.
It might be wiser to recognise that the by-elections were more a contest between rival opposition factions in Zimbabwe than one of the opposition versus ZANU-PF – that is, a struggle between the MDC Alliance faction of Douglas Mwonzora and Chamisa and his new CCC party.
Fifteen of the by-elections had themselves been triggered by faction fighting within the opposition.
Anti-Chamisa factions used the letter, if not the spirit, of a constitutional provision by which they could controversially engineer the recall of Chamisa-aligned MPs from parliament, thus eviscerating Chamisa’s influence and power in the legislature. The other vacancies had arisen because of the deaths of four MPs since 2018.
Thus, the 15 Chamisa-aligned MPs, recalled at the insistence of his adversaries, have all been replaced by Chamisa-aligned MPs. So, the anti-Chamisa ploy failed, to Chamisa’s considerable satisfaction.
This was probably the source of Chamisa’s misplaced euphoria, his optimistic frame of mind and overly confident claims about 2023.
Chamisa has certainly emerged victorious in the long-running internecine opposition battle.
But this in no way means he can succeed against the more formidable foe of ZANU-PF/Mnangagwa in the general elections next year.
Furthermore, Chamisa’s pleasure over the poll results indicates he has primarily viewed the by-elections through the narrow lens of his intense personal rivalry with Douglas Mwonzora, with whom he has locked horns over leadership of the main political opposition in Zimbabwe.
Mwonzora now heads the rival opposition party, MDC Alliance, which he captured, cuckoo-like, from Chamisa with the help of ZANU-PF in 2020 — retaining the name of the original party and forcing Chamisa to hastily form a new party, the CCC, in time for the by-elections.
The two men clashed over leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party founded by the late Morgan Tsvangiriai, the first opposition figure to pose a real threat to former president Robert Mugabe.
Infighting and splits have wracked the party since 2005 and intensified after the death of Tsvangirai in 2018.