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Nelson Chamisa's worst nightmare

19 Nov 2023 at 04:11hrs | Views
ON November 4 2023, the High Court of Zimbabwe issued a judgment in favour of Sengezo Tshabangu in the case of Prince Dubeko Sibanda and others.

The case was filed by former legislators, who were contesting their recall from the National Assembly and Senate by self-proclaimed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) interim secretary-general Tshabangu.

Tshabangu wrote in early October to the Speaker of the National Assembly and President of the Senate claiming that 15 MPs and nine senators had ceased to be members of the party.

He said they must be ejected from Parliament in accordance to section 129(1)(k) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Tshabangu wielding an axe

There is no doubt that the recent High Court ruling has given Tshabangu enormous powers within the opposition CCC party. He now has enough powers to wreak havoc in the opposition party.

The CCC is caught in a catch 22 situation (Ntando Dumani, 2023). Tshabangu is now the Alpha and Omega of the opposition political party. Fall in line or risk being axed, a risk too high to take for many parliamentarians and councillors.

Losing all the benefits that you get for being in Parliament or council is not an option for many.

Forget the false bravado on social media by CCC parliamentarians and councillors, many are Nicodemusly calling Tshabangu begging to be spared. He is wielding an axe, which he has shown that he is willing to use.

Chamisa's dilemma

Tshabangu is the ultimate test of Chamisa's leadership. He has challenged him as no other person has ever done. Concerns have been raised over Chamisa's centralisation of power, where the party is run by a selected few, handpicked by him.

With all that is happening, CCC should pause for a moment to introspect.

Many in the party played along during the election period because it was politically correct to do so. However, this was detrimental to the party, as has been shown by the Tshabangu debacle.

We have heard many people saying the opposition party legislators and councillors should resign en masse. This is too simplistic and a sign of failure to grasp and understand the real politics in the country.

If Chamisa calls for mass withdrawals from Parliament and local authorities, he will be digging his own political grave. He will be playing into the hands of his enemies.

The current political set up in our flawed democracy is binarised and hung on bipartisanship and if one party retreats, the other will move to take all the spoils.

If the remaining CCC MPs resign en masse, Zimbabwe will become a de facto one-party State until by-elections are held. A lot of amendments and laws can be enacted in the absence of opposition party members and the avenues to oppose will be limited and it disadvantages the voters.

Tshabangu is not acting alone. He has handlers in the top echelons of the opposition political party. Take for example his continuous insistence that the party must go back to Gweru elected structures and resolutions, which were made during the MDC-A days.

He did not get any senior position during the Gweru congress. I believe it is because he represents a faction that has been marginalised.

If Chamisa calls for withdrawals, he will wake up to a rude awakening as many of the people in Parliament and local authorities will defy his orders, including those on his side. Tshabangu and his handlers want to make sure that he is humiliated by the people he imposed. They do not want to be seen to be directly elbowing him out as this would most likely anger party supporters.

Chamisa has limited options. His CCC opponents know that he is not brave enough to lead street protests.

However, he has to come out of his shell and provide leadership, otherwise he risks losing more supporters to Tshabangu's faction. He cannot continue to hide behind Bible verses anymore as people no longer buy into faith without action. It is either he leads from the front, or he risks being viewed as a motivational speaker or worse still as just a social media celebrity, who tweets for attention.

Equally, Chamisa has to come to a point where he starts to accept collective leadership and admit to the fact that his ideas have failed. This includes strategic ambiguity.

Chamisa remains the most viable face of opposition currently. However, there should not be any illusion that he has monopoly over ideas and that he can take state power as an individual. This catch 22 moment presents him with the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, reconnect and reorganise with cadres from the movement.

The absurdities of clause 129(1)(k) Section 129(1)(k) allows political parties to withdraw Members of Parliament and senators, whom they say no longer belong to their political parties by writing to the Speaker of the National Assembly or president of the Senate.

The clause was overwhelmingly supported by all political parties during the constitutional-making process as political parties wanted more control.

The constitution does not even provide for the person who can write to the Speaker of the National Assembly or President of the Senate.

Anyone from a political party can write the letter. This has left the burden to know who has such authority to party constitutions. Parties, who operate without constitutions, are at risk of anyone writing to Parliament.

The clause does not request for evidence that the recalled member is no longer a party member. It does not even ask for disciplinary minutes from the said party.

This means an MP or senator is accused, pronounced guilty and sentenced without being heard. This is absurd that a lawmaker elected by thousands of people can just be recalled. The clause gives too much power to parties to affect the welfare of voters without their involvement, making it undemocratic. The recalled MP or councillor is not allowed their administrative right to be heard unless they challenge the recall in the courts of law.

Zanu-PF masters of diversion

Although, the recalls were born out of the CCC internal conflicts, Zanu-PF has without a doubt taken advantage of the situation. The internal squabbles have diverted the attention from the "legitimacy crisis" that was born out of flawed elections.

The internal fights portray the opposition party as unfit and disorganised to govern. It can now be argued that for the stability of the region, it makes more sense to sweep the election crisis under the carpet. Sadc cannot afford another crisis as it is already failing to contain the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zanu-PF has also taken advantage of the recalls to renew its agenda to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

What could have been done?

Section 129(1)(K) stipulates that the grounds for recall are that one ceases to be a member of the party or joins a different party. In his letter, Tshabangu claimed that the MPs had ceased to be CCC members; hence, they were recalled. Therefore, the burden here was to prove that the MPs were still members of the party. The evidence for this is that none of them had renounced their membership publicly or privately, none of them had joined a different party, and none of them had been expelled from the party.

In fact, evidence of their membership is also on record in parliament, claiming they belonged to the CCC led by Chamisa. This is aside from the low-hanging fruit of arguing that there is no holder of the position of secretary-general in the party or to ask Tshabangu to prove his membership.

That was an obvious issue, but it was not enough to persuade the court to rule differently. Furthermore, the absence of the party in the court proceedings made the application even weaker as it was the party that could have declared whether Tshabangu was indeed the interim secretary general or not and also if the said members had truly ceased to be their members.

The party and lawyers made a blunder by excluding the CCC as a party.

What else can be done?

The opposition at the moment should start seeing the urgent need for institutionalising and developing accountability systems that provide clarity on who duty bearers are.

I understand the fear of infiltration, but this can be countered by setting up a counter-intelligence system. They cannot keep agonising about this for 25 years.

The opposition needs to build a base membership that is oriented into the visions and ideology of the party as a means to foster convergence and uniformity in approaches to democratic breakthrough. Most importantly, it must dismantle personality cults because their entrenchment is that which has led us to this point. In short, the opposition should build an institution and execute bold collective actions that shift power to the masses they claim to represent.

In conclusion, Chamisa has been presented with a chance to start trusting other leaders and share power collectively.

Equally, let us accept that the strategic ambiguity approach has failed and we have to try new ones. It is also important that at this time, the CCC must work to close all gaps, which can be exploited by enemies.

It is sad and strange that a party with so many lawyers would run a party, which is the biggest opposition and most popular in the country, without a single document.

They could not produce a party constitution, a register of meetings and even minutes recorded during meetings when requested by the court. One cannot understand how the leadership ended in this situation, running a party like a church meeting under a tree in some bush. Chamisa must now lead from the front, otherwise he will start losing the support base which had faith in him.

Bible verses must now be accompanied by action. He must stop being viewed as a motivational speaker.

Kanhenga is a public intellectual and human rights activist. Matete is a democracy campaigner and founder of project vote.

Source - the independent
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