How Chamisa and Mwonzora handed Zanu-PF Bulawayo by-election win
The MDC lost the ward 28 by-election in the suburb of Cowdray Park to Zanu-PF, which gets a foothold in the overwhelmingly MDC-run local authority.
ZimLive understands a cocktail of failures led to the defeat last Saturday – from failing to campaign effectively, fielding double candidates, candidate imposition to leadership splits at the top of the party ahead of a congress on May 26.
The result was a "stark reminder of the urgent need for far-reaching root and branch reforms and renewal set to kick-in at congress," Chamisa said Monday in his first reaction on Twitter.
He added: "Leadership excesses and conduct that resulted in the party donating a seat to our opposition is regrettable. This is the last of it!"
The by-election was called following the death of councillor Hapson Nyasha Ncube, in December last year. Ncube won the ward with 8,514 votes in July last year, beating the Zanu-PF candidate Kidwell Mujuru who polled 3,632 votes.
In the weekend election, a total of 4,369 votes were cast, 18 of which were spoilt. Mujuru polled 1,899 votes out ahead of the MDC Alliance's Nomagugu Mloyi who secured 1,229 votes. Mujuru becomes the only Zanu-PF councillor in Bulawayo's 29-member chamber.
Mloyi was not the MDC's official candidate, however. Collet Ndhlovu, who polled 221 votes in the weekend election, was the party's choice. The unpopular local bar owner and step father of the late councillor allegedly called police to disrupt voting in a primary election in Cowdray Park on February 21, the eve of the sitting of the nomination court.
He had good motivation. A letter dated January 23, 2019, and signed by MDC secretary general Douglas Mwonzora declared him to be the party's candidate in the by-election, even before a primary election was held.
Mzonzora said he signed the papers at the time because of a "clampdown against our members and the state of emergency that was there" following nationwide fuel price protests on January 14.
"It was impossible to gather people to do a proper election," he explained.
At the nomination court on February 22, Mloyi persuaded MDC officials that she too should be allowed to file her nomination papers pending a primary election. The loser of that election would then withdraw their nomination.
The primary election was then called for the party's office in the Bulawayo city centre on February 28 amid protests by Mloyi and her supporters. Ndhlovu, who operates commuter omnibuses and financed his campaign, was able to transport his supporters into the city, gaining an advantage on the less-resourced Mloyi who wanted the election held in the ward. Ndhlovu won the primary election by 135 to 70 votes.
Questioning the party's internal democracy, and urged on by the local party, Mloyi reneged on the promise to withdraw her nomination ensuring the party would have two candidates.
In a letter dated March 5, MDC chairperson Thabitha Khumalo, a Mwonzora ally, wrote to Mloyi informing her that she had been expelled from the party, and that Ndhlovu was "the only authentic candidate" of the party.
As a candidate however, Ndhlovu found no traction. MDC supporters had not forgotten how Ndhlovu, then the incumbent councillor, was contested by his stepson Ncube in a bitter MDC primary election in May 2018, which he lost after his followers attacked his challenger. When Ncube died, Ndhlovu was heckled at the burial and even accused of having a hand in his death.
Bulawayo's ward 28 councillor Collet Ndlovu & 6 MDC T members will appear in court tomorrow charged with public violence. Councillor Ndlovu was suppose to contest primary elections against his step son when violence broke out. #Asakhe pic.twitter.com/WA1RJvtkYX— Zenzele (@zenzele) May 21, 2018
Cowdray Park residents also accuse him of stealing from them. In one scheme to buy commuter omnibuses, he allegedly got hundreds of residents contributing some money, but when the vehicles came he put them to his own use and refunded the residents from proceeds of the operation.
There was another scheme in which residents contributed money to acquire earth moving equipment which Ndhlovu said would be rented out at a fee to construction companies and individuals involved in Cowdray Park expansion. That too did not materialise.
A week before the election, a man was stabbed in one of Ndhlovu's bars in the suburb. Locals say his beer businesses cause a lot of noise and are fuelling violent crime.
"When everything is analysed, it was a self-inflicted defeat for the MDC," said journalist Zenzele Ndebele who covered the race.
"Ndhlovu, added to his baggage, was seen as a candidate for the Mwonzora faction in the party. So you had a lot of adjustment with voters looking to Mloyi as the candidate favoured by the party leader Nelson Chamisa, although she too doesn't appear to have much gravitas.
"Added to this, Mujuru was an MDC member until 2014 and given the chaos in the MDC candidate selection, you found some voters who would otherwise vote for the MDC giving their votes to him."
Ndebele also believes the MDC should have shadowed Vice President Kembo Mohadi's visit to the ward for a rally to support Mujuru, which he says indicated just how badly Zanu-PF wanted to win in Bulawayo.
"There was complacency, and the fights for the party leadership played out in Cowdray Park. The party's base was not motivated to go out and vote. It does not really change much in the balance of things in the council but Zanu-PF wanted a result to grease their propaganda machine, and they got it," Ndebele added.
Chamisa, in interactions with MDC supporters on Twitter, blamed their defeat on what he called a "leadership problem".
"On this one, the voters did not even punish us but just allowed our foolishness to do that bit. We have had a serious invisible hand which we have since discovered and are about to cut off. It's a leadership problem and we are dealing with it. We will definitely put a stop to it all," he said.
Urging patience from supporters, he said they would find a solution to the divisions at the two-day congress in May.
"A mass organisation is not a speed boat but a huge ship. We navigate with a cool mind. It's all systems go beyond this historic congress. We mean business. We mean progress. I am seeing a smooth flight beyond this turbulence. This temporary turbulence is just teaching us to fly at a different altitude. It is well," he maintained.
Urging another supporter to "take heart", Chamisa – who is braced for a challenge by Mwonzora at the congress – said the MDC was "in a difficult transition within".
"Certain habits must be dropped, forgotten and even punished. A new culture must be birthed. These are some of the birth pains we have to endure. You will smile soon," he promised.