Buffeted by crosswinds from state sabotage, Chamisa launches new party

HARARE – In the short term, the prize is 28 seats in the National Assembly and 119 in local authorities, but you wouldn’t have guessed it as Nelson Chamisa introduced his new party on Sunday.

The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader spoke with urgency, and his supporters displayed the sort of fervour associated with the final day of campaigning before a general election.

Such is the deep sense of grievance coursing through the new party that their driving philosophy has become “us versus them.” While the “us” is easily understood, “them” is a swelling omnibus of political rivals and state institutions that the CCC says are colluding to stop it from organising.

On Friday, 13 supporters were arrested and tortured by police in Harare for driving around town with stickers advertising the rally at Zimbabwe Grounds in the suburb of Highfield. They appeared in court on Saturday but the magistrate ordered them detained until Tuesday, she said she was too tired to entertain their bail applications.

In Masvingo, police arrested 80 CCC activists after they went door-to-door campaigning for a council candidate.

Hours before Sunday’s rally, lawyers filed an urgent court application asking a judge to censure the police after they set tough conditions for the staging of the event – restrictions not imposed on the ruling Zanu PF party. They included demands that the CCC must not “bus” people to the event, a ban on toyi-toying and directing that only 100 people could attend under existing Covid-19 regulations. The CCC said the police demands were unconstitutional and sought to have them overturned.

There was more woe for the CCC as supporters tried to make their way to Highfield. Police set up roadblocks across the city as traffic queues of more than 4km formed in places. Some said police forced vehicles with three or more occupants to turn back. Many abandoned their vehicles and finished the journey on foot.

Public transport – now the monopoly of the state-owned ZUPCO – was scarce, the company appearing to have withdrawn its buses from the routes leading to Highfield.

“We have made a very emphatic statement for change,” Chamisa said as he surveyed the huge crowd of supporters that made it. “They put up roadblocks, grounded buses, denied us airtime on radio and TV but your spirits were not dampened.”

Zanu PF rallies are carried live on television by the ZBC, which is supposed to be a public broadcaster. Chamisa’s supporters not physically present at rallies, on the other hand, must invest in expensive data to hear him through internet livestreams. He was barely into his speech when that too failed. NetBlocks, the cybersecurity and internet governance watchdog said it had observed a “significant slowing of internet service for many users in Zimbabwe… as a major political opposition rally is held in Harare.”

“The incident impacts multiple operators and has prevented live streaming…,” it added on its website.

Chamisa said the CCC was a “completely new party”, rejecting narratives that it was a rebranded “MDC Alliance” – the party of Morgan Tsvangirai which he was forced to abandon last month after it was haemorrhaged by infiltration and splits.

He said every citizen could be a member, including those that left the MDC Alliance to form splinter parties. He warned, however, that they would be given the “back seat” in the CCC “omnibus”. The jibe appeared aimed at Thokozani Khupe, who leads a faction of the MDC-T party and who recently made overtures to find accommodation in the new party.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa seized power in a 2017 military coup promising reforms and an economic boom, but poverty has worsened and the reintroduction of a week local currency has taken a toll on salaries and caused a flare up in inflation.

Every worker should identify with the CCC, Chamisa said, tapping into growing disillusionment with Mnangagwa’s regime. He added teachers, in particular, to the “us” camp.

“Teachers are suffering, workers are suffering. Teachers are not demanding a lot, they are just saying restore us to the pay levels we had under Robert Mugabe, and when Tendai Biti was finance minister. Now teachers are being harassed, and being fired,” Chamisa said.

“We will restore the teachers’ salaries to 2008 levels on the first day in office. And we will incrementally raise it from there.”

Declaring that “the CCC is the next government in Zimbabwe,” Chamisa took aim at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which he said was manipulating the voters roll to favour Zanu PF.

“We will never allow an election that is rigged. Never again is an election going to be rigged. Never again is 2018 going to be repeated.  We will lead from the front this time, and everyone behind,” Chamisa said.

He would reform the police, he said.

“No police officer will walk around with a baton stick with an intention to beat up people. We will do away with roadblocks, we will use digital policing so that our police officers can stay in the police stations to deal with criminals,” he vowed.

Presently, the party’s leadership structure from when it existed as the MDC Alliance had been dissolved. He was just a “conductor” of the CCC “omnibus”, he said.

“We’re starting afresh, we’re starting from zero,” Chamisa said, adding that the party’s supporters would elect the new leadership.

The party would no longer hold primary elections to choose candidates for elections.

“Where we are going, no-one will be able to buy people during a primary. We want citizen councillors, citizen MPs and a citizen president. We want people who are clean, people who are not corrupt, leaders who work for the people, who stand with people, who live among the people, who came from the people and who will return to the people,” he explained.

Yet, Chamisa admitted that a key to electoral success would be to register new voters and make sure they vote during elections.

“We must plant a big field so that the baboon cannot finish it. We might even catch it still in the act. We must win emphatically so that ZEC has no room to fiddle with the numbers,” Chamisa said.

The CCC announced itself last month when it fielded candidates for by-elections due on March 26. Chamisa sees the by-elections, triggered by controversial recalls of MDC Alliance MPs and councillors by the rival MDC-T party, as a dry run for the real prize next year – the presidency.

The spirited attempts to scuttle his first rally by state institutions which should otherwise be independent would have given Chamisa a measure of the difficult hurdles that will be thrown in front of him, but the resolve his supporters showed in Harare on Sunday would have blown wind to his sails.

“We are fighting a monster with our bare hands,” Chamisa told ZimLive after his address. “The stage, the PA system and the posters were paid for by the citizens. The party has nothing, we have been stripped of everything,” Chamisa said, referring to the MDC Alliance’s former HQ in Harare and funding worth US$1.3 million annually which the regime has redirected to a splinter party led by Douglas Mwonzora.

To win in these by-elections, and take over State House next year, the CCC’s finances must improve, and quickly. Another hurdle Chamisa must jump.

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