The camera catches Zamchiya from behind. No polite critic, he argues that ZANU-PF are military. They are guerrillas, he says: “If people are not prepared to die, to go to prison … you are not going to take power away from this regime, believe me or not.”
He might have qualified that ZANU-PF is especially so after the coup, when the pro-Mugabe ‘intelligentsia’ faction was dumped.
Once a student leader severely battered during the early struggles for Zimbabwe’s democracy – as is true for Chamisa, the film shows – Zamchiya knows of what he speaks.
The tortured polling agents filing affidavits about their beatings as they posted ballot reports speak eloquently of that plight. However, the film is silent about how ill-prepared they were for their crucial task. The deceased 1 August demonstrators, angry at the deliberately slow counting of the vote, speak for their last time. The timid commission of inquiry into their deaths muted them further.
President’s filming of those moments is classic. It’s clear why a good documentary can beat the stills. Watch very closely as the officer claps the back of the soldier who shot at the dispersing crowd.
A chaotic street scene featuring half eight soldiers in camouflage and a policeman. One soldier has kneeled and is shooting his rifle. Behind him another has his hand up to slap him on the back, laughing.
Yet Zamchiya’s challenge, if pursued, could have raised more questions of the film’s unfolding events.
Like what other forces shaped this moment? During Rhodesia’s white rule the liberation armies’ military pressure forced the racist regime to the negotiating table. This would not have happened without the West because of the Cold War. But the West’s post-1989 enthusiasm for democracy-lite waned. By 2017 it seemed the once opposition-friendly Brits were backing the sluggish thug Emmerson Mnangagwa who took over the country.
Or the context of how the original opposition’s trade union roots disappeared due to devastating de-industrialisation after the fast track land reform started in the early 2000s – leading to the opposition party’s takeover by lawyers and neo-liberal fantasies.
Lawyers do argue well. Thabani Mpofu’s valiant, expertly filmed, attempts at the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe to challenge the vote counting amounted to nothing in the end. It was pleasurable, though, to watch electoral commission bosses and judges trying not to squirm.
But those who adored Nielsson’s previous film Democrats and its hero, the lawyer Douglas Mwonzora, will know that he has become a leader of a splinter opposition faction allegedly working with ZANU-PF. They will wonder how long this move brewed.
The Movement for Democratic Change’s earlier splits, patched up in the alliance only as elections approached, are ignored too. So too Chamisa’s rapid and contested moves to the top of the party after former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died.
Those 45 minutes could have offered much more meaning. Aside from avoiding Chamisa’s religious side President could have screened its footage of Chamisa’s press conference in the wake of ZANU-PF’s chaotic coup consolidator, as 2019 began.
Dead: at least 17 demonstrators and bystanders. Raped: the same number. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF ‘youth’ set the opposition headquarters alight. The charred walls said it all. They would answer the question of why Chamisa’s pursuit of free and fair elections will not go far in 2023, but also why there are no other choices.
President zooms in on the moment at the cost of the big picture. Zooming out could have helped.
By David Moore for The Conversation