It'll be a 'rough' campaign, says Zimbabwe opposition leader

Tuesday February 21 2023
Chamisa addressing a press conference

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Nelson Chamisa addresses a press conference in Harare. He says Zimbabwe's presidential elections, whose date is yet to be announced, is going to be rough. PHOTO | JEKESAI NJIKIZANA | AFP


His name is whispered on the streets of the Zimbabwean capital Harare or said behind hands cupped over mouths.

Five months before the next election in Zimbabwe, many voters are avoiding utterance of the name Nelson Chamisa in public when talking about the main rival to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“The Southern African country is more and more like a "dictatorship.” Nelson Chamisa told AFP.

His Citizens' Coalition for Change (CCC) party is bracing for a "rough" presidential and legislative election campaign against Mnangagwa, known as "the Crocodile", for his ruthless cunning.

Date yet to be set

A date is yet to be set for the election, which is expected to be in early August.


But the odds are stacked up against the opposition.

"It's going to be a rough campaign. Hard hat equipment is necessary." said Chamisa in Harare.

He said it was quite a hostile environment and they needed to be equipped for it.

“Even with polls looming, his party CCC still has no formal structures for fear of being infiltrated.” according to one party official.

Sitting in a leather armchair much larger than him, Chamisa, known in the streets as "Mukomana" (the young man), puts up a determined and combative face.

But he admitted that his room to manoeuvre is narrowing in the face of a regime he described as a corrupt dictatorship.

“Zimbabwe's electoral process has always attracted controversy; littered with rigging and manipulation.” he said.

In power since independence

He claimed Zanu-PF, the ruling party of Zimbabwe, which has been in power since independence in 1980, distributed land or food aid to rural communities that voted for it to ensure continued loyalty.

Chamisa added that in towns mostly controlled by the opposition, Zanu-PF used all sorts of strategies to discredit local municipalities similar to tyrannies and dictatorships all around the world.

"It's the DNA of Zanu-PF, they don't believe in service delivery, in performance, in accountability and responsibility," he claimed. 

Assassination plot

But Chamisa is "determined to win against all odds" despite coming under criticism, including from within his own camp, for failing to encourage young Zimbabweans to register to vote in a country where elections are characterised by low turnout.

"It will be a tough campaign, but we are tougher," Chamisa said.

"We've had over 63 of our meetings cancelled over the past week," said Chamisa, adding that hundreds of others have been obstructed by police or Zanu-PF supporters in recent months.

The Zimbabwean Government strenuously denied the allegations, with Mnangagwa saying earlier this month that Zimbabwe was democratic and has held elections without fail over the past four decades. 

Mnangagwa said the contest was open to everyone and added that the elections would be merrier with more candidates contesting for the presidential seat.

The CCC, however, is conspicuously absent from state media. 

"I have not appeared on state media, radio or newspaper for the past seven years," said Chamisa, since the coup that ousted long-time leader Robert Mugabe in 2017 in favour of Mnangagwa.

"I only appear when they are saying something on my behalf, but they don't give me an opportunity to say my side of the story.” he added.

Chamisa was a target of what he calls an assassination plot in 2021 when shots were fired at his convoy. 

He said a bullet ripped through the left rear seat of his car where he normally sat and was lucky to be alive.

A senior and outspoken CCC lawmaker, Job Sikhala, has been in prison for eight months without trial for allegedly inciting violence. His numerous applications for bail have been refused. 

Two other members of parliament were arrested in January, along with two dozen people who were at a meeting at a private house.

“The persecution continues,” Chamisa said.