Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader has insisted that his party is ready to participate in forthcoming elections, despite the rigging and repression he said was already under way to keep President Emmerson Mnangagwa in power.
Chamisa, president of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), the main challenger to the ruling ZANU-PF party, also said the extent of tyranny in the south African nation was worse than under Robert Mugabe, the late dictator.
“Mugabe pales into a little example of dictatorship when you look at what’s happening now,” Chamisa said in an interview with the Financial Times of London.
His CCC is the successor to the Movement for Democratic Change, whose late leader Morgan Tsvangirai once led the challenge to Mugabe. Chamisa re-established the opposition just over a year ago after it lost the MDC name to another group in a court battle that analysts say has helped ZANU-PF to divide its opponents.
Chamisa, 45, dismissed calls for a boycott of the August vote, despite widespread doubts over the process’s credibility.
“We will not allow ZANU-PF to have a free lunch, we will not allow dictatorship to have a free rein. We have to fight for change and we must give citizens the right to choose their leadership,” Chamisa said.
“Surrender is not an option . . . boycotting ourselves is not an option.”
The vote will be the second in Zimbabwe since the 2017 coup that toppled Mugabe and installed Mnangagwa. He narrowly defeated Chamisa in a violence-marred poll the following year after pledging to make the hyperinflation-wrecked economy “open for business”, but soon reverted to old oppressive ways.
Zimbabwe’s parlous state has been fed by the collapse of a revived local currency against the US dollar, stoking inflation. The country remains locked out of financial markets because it has failed to clear billions of US dollars in old arrears to international creditors.
Activists have pointed to several flaws in the election process ahead of this year’s vote. Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has declined to publish the voter roll, a common practice in democracies, insisting that to do so would breach privacy. There is also no provision for the millions of people who make up Zimbabwean diaspora, who have been forced into exodus by the country’s economic collapse.
Chamisa also highlighted the repression of opposition to Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF, pointing to the detention without trial of Job Sikhala, CCC vice-chairman held on charges of inciting violence. Dozens of party rallies and meetings have also been banned or disrupted, he added.
Some critics in Zimbabwe have accused Chamisa’s party of lacking focus, compared with its predecessor.
Chamisa said its “structureless structure” was a response to the repression and that it was paying off, with new members joining amid a mass drive to register voters.
“We’re bigger than we were,” he said.
He said the CCC was preparing “agents” to monitor thousands of Zimbabwe’s polling stations as part of efforts to counter ballot rigging. Opposition groups have increasingly turned to this strategy in African elections, although it requires intensive ground organisation.
“We’re everywhere,” Chamisa said, adding that the grip ZANU-PF was traditionally perceived to have on rural voters was overrated.
“That army [of polling agents] is ready,” he said.
Recent revelations in an Al Jazeera documentary series about high-level political and central bank ties to gold smuggling have added to the voter anger in Zimbabwe.
Undercover reporters recorded individuals allegedly discussing how to launder proceeds to benefit Mnangagwa and his family. Police have said they are investigating, although the president has been publicly silent over the issue. The central bank has denied wrongdoing.
Chamisa called for a full international forensic audit of the central bank and supply chains across Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth in response to the revelations. This should include diamonds and chrome, as well as the assets of the growing “lithium mafia,” he said, referring to Zimbabwe’s deposits of the critical battery metal, which have attracted interest from Chinese mining groups.
The CCC leader said the proceeds of the smuggling were now being deployed to secure support ahead of the polls.
“The gold they’re looting: they’re now bringing back in very funny ways, buying the votes,” he said. “We’re telling people: ‘don’t accept this’.”- Financial Times