This was a strategic move to counter ZANU-PF, which is perceived to be a party of the old with nothing to offer the youth. Khupe, while seen as hardworking and politically mature, lacked the charisma required to give the MDC a chance in presidential elections. It’s a pity Tsvangirai didn’t trust his party’s democratic processes to make the right choice.
With Tsvangirai’s death all three vice presidents wasted no time trying to secure the prime position, with Chamisa emerging ahead of the pack. In March 2018 the party split again and the MDC, then under Chamisa, merged with other formations to form the MDC-Alliance. Khupe kept the MDC-T label and contested the presidential elections.
Succession in politics is often less about legalities than political strategy. Tsvangirai’s death robbed the opposition of its best asset. In his absence, the party and the alliance had to be strategic regarding who leads the opposition’s charge forward.
The mood in the country was not only for leadership renewal but generational change, and Chamisa, 42, now represented that youthful front. Even the creation of the G40, a group of emerging young leaders in ZANU-PF in Robert Mugabe’s last few years, speaks to this growing appetite.
Without Tsvangirai at the helm, the trump card from a strategic point of view became the generational consensus against the seemingly renewed ZANU-PF.
One of the MDC’s main weaknesses has been its eclectic nature. There are clearly limits to how long people will stay in an opposition party that is a conglomeration of diverse interests, and maintain a cohesive hold over its affairs in the face of repression.
The conflict between Chamisa and Khupe has played out more in the realms of ambition, entitlement and populism than the greater national good and the MDC-T’s founding values. The two protagonists find themselves trapped in their own realities.
Khupe felt constitutionally entitled and as such could not be convinced to be politically pragmatic. Chamisa was emboldened by the surge in the generational consensus drive and the perception of being anointed by the late Tsvangirai. Thus there were no strong incentives on either side to find common ground and focus on the electorate.
While Khupe celebrates the court victory, she has lost in the political game of numbers. The ruling is unlikely to give her any political mileage.
At the same time, Chamisa and the main opposition have been exposed to be hypocrites paying lip service to democracy and constitutionalism while disregarding their own constitution and using ZANU-PF tactics in succession.
Chamisa’s comeback has to be strategic, and he must rebrand himself. He need not feel tied to the MDC but should rather proffer a real alternative to the controversy and murkiness of MDC politics.
In all this, the struggling Zimbabwean is the clear loser. The electorate is left with no viable alternative that can be trusted to walk the talk when it comes to principles, constitutionalism and rule of law.
COVID-19 restrictions, including an extended lockdown, have robbed the opposition of any chance of staging a mass response through demonstrations or marches in solidarity with their leader.
By Ringisai Chikohomero for ISS Today