Nelson Chamisa on Thursday vowed to “lead from the front” in what he described as a “peaceful and radical” face-off with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to force him to yield to the MDC’s demands for political dialogue to solve Zimbabwe’s mounting problems.
Launching the MDC’s new policy document, RELOAD, in Harare, Chamisa maintained that elections held in July last year had been manipulated, and the MDC would now resort to street protests and diplomatic pressure to bring change.
Making reference to the arrest of the party’s deputy chairman Job Sikhala on subversion charges for calling for Mnangagwa’s “overthrow”, Chamisa said resisting an illegitimate government was a duty.
“The world over, illegitimate governments are always fought. What makes people fight illegitimate governments is because they don’t derive their authority from the constitution and from the people. Doing so is not a crime, it’s a duty of every citizen,” Chamisa said.
“Wherever you go, we have a duty to perform that historic task, that revolutionary mandate to make sure that we have a legitimate government per the constitution, per the people.”
The MDC leader has snubbed a political dialogue initiated by Mnangagwa, which has been attended by smaller parties. Chamisa says he wants a neutral mediator with an African Union and United Nations mandate.
With Mnangagwa appearing reluctant to accede to the MDC’s demands, Chamisa said the MDC was planning street action to apply pressure.
“We’re going to have a peaceful and radical engagement with the problems of our country including confronting what has to be confronted in terms of the constitution. The constitution allows for a demonstration. Leaders are changed through political pressure, and also through an election. Where an election fails to do its mandate, political pressure becomes a necessity as in our circumstances,” said Chamisa.
The MDC leader said they would invite trade unions, churches, and like-minded parties to “come together to build political pressure using peaceful citizen action.”
Saying the MDC would move with urgency, Chamisa said Zimbabwe was facing a “catastrophe”. Shortages of electricity, bread, fuel and water in cities have put Zimbabweans on edge, the MDC leader said.
“Zimbabwe is burning. The country is in the throes of a serious political and socio-economic crisis. The resolution of this crisis has become a matter of extreme urgency. It is clear that soft-landing the crisis has to be done to avert an impending and inevitable implosion. Zimbabwe is heading for a disaster, it’s facing an abyss. Bold steps must be taken to avoid catastrophe,” he said.
Dialogue with Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF was “an imperative, a necessity”, Chamisa said. But if that failed, the MDC would go into the streets. Opposition protests in August last year and January this year were crushed after Mnangagwa deployed the military, killing over two dozen people.
He added: “If you’re able to save lives, to have a dialogue to resolve the key questions of your country, why can’t you do that?”
A gulf still exists between the MDC and Zanu PF over the dialogue process. Mnangagwa maintains that he has invited every opposition party to his process being led by the Peace and Reconciliation Commission. His supporters also say Chamisa must recognise Mnangagwa as the legitimately elected leader before a sit-down.
“We want dialogue that is bankable and irreversible,” said Chamisa. “It must be scaffolded, underwritten and guaranteed by the international community and the people of Zimbabwe. There must be a mutually accepted facilitator and interlocutor. We’re not going to accept this thing of Mr Mnangagwa of bringing his own appointed commissions and saying they must be adjudicators. They can’t. They don’t have the stamina, national or international, to be able to withstand the kind of political conflict that is there.
“In any event you can’t have dialogue of people who are like-minded; dialogue is between those who’re disagreeing. Our fundamental disagreement is that Mr Mnangagwa was not elected, he’s saying he was elected so we must resolve that. He has said drop the legitimacy issue, I’ll not drop it because that’s my trump card to my dialogue with him.
“If he’s saying he’s legitimate and I accept that he’s legitimate, why should I dialogue with him? He would go ahead and lead the country, and I would lead the opposition. The issue of who has been given the mandate must be resolved first.”
Mnangagwa’s government, under pressure from the international community over the army deployments, has bought new weapons and uniforms for riot police in anticipation of trade union strikes and MDC protests.
Chamisa said he was under pressure from supporters to “give a signal”, but he warned that any rash actions would play into the hands of Mnangagwa’s shock troops and lead to more bloodshed. He pleaded with supporters to trust him on the timing of the protests, which he vowed to lead.
“Timing and strategy in any struggle is the preserve of your strategic unit, and the strategic unit is the leadership. Once you try to democratise strategy, it ceases to be strategy, it becomes foolishness. We’re very clear on when the struggle has to be executed to the benefit of our people. We will lead from the front, we will provide the necessary leadership, but it has to be done on our terms, our timing, not on the terms and timing of our opponents,” he said.
“We know what the opponent is planning. They’re planning to do things that are wicked. But we want to minimise the effect of their wickedness so that we maximise the goodness of our strategy to achieve change for the people of Zimbabwe. Change is coming, victory is certain.”