Zimbabwe: Will New Party and Yellow Color Recharge Opposition Leader Chamisa’s Fortunes?

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Nowadays yellow is a widely hated symbol in Uganda as it belongs to Gen. Museveni's NRM ruling party. In Zimbabwe opposition leader Chamisa hopes it will turn his fortunes.

[The View From Zimbabwe]

For Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the big question for years has been: “To re-brand or not to re-brand,” as it looks hopefully forward to the national elections of 2023 which are likely to be fiercely contested.

For several years, the entire project of renaming and identity overhauling was a no go area for the Movement of Democratic Change–Alliance (MDC-A). It was in short a hard-hat area. But the dynamic political environment and the fierce internal struggles and other factors saw the MDC, one of the most formidable opposition party to ever emerge iZimbabwe, undergo a series of splits and reorganizations.

In the past few years, a small splinter group led by Douglas Mwonzora, with little real political base fashioned itself the MDC-T, appropriating the name of an earlier, more powerful movement once led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai. This group has tactically used the legal route to strip the most popular opposition movement in Zimbabwe, known as the MDC Alliance, of its headquarters, public funding, and the parliamentary seats it won in the 2018 elections.

The Douglas Mwonzora-led splinter group went on to claim charge of the main MDC–Alliance from the Thokozani Khupe group which was claiming that Mwonzora is not fit to be president of the party after he aligned himself with the MDC Alliance. The fight over the name has been dirty, creating serious image problems for the main Nelson Chamisa led MDC–Alliance, which was also battling to retain the name.

The MDC Alliance was formed by several political parties in Zimbabwe before Mwonzora claimed that he had wrestled the name from Chamisa. The fight over the name turned the whole opposition party in Zimbabwe into a circus. All this gave the ruling Zanu PF party a huge opportunity to shine and sell its life-size image at its own rallies.

The fights over the name threatened to weaken Zimbabwe’s once widely feared political opposition force even further. But the youthful and charismatic Chamisa went for the real deal for his political party and went yellow from the traditional MDC red colors which once haunted Robert Mugabe’s rule. At a time when enthusiasm for politics is usually low, Chamisa oscillated the stakes and announced that he had formed a new political party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), promising to beat his main rival, Zanu PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa in the 2023 poll.

“We have left everything. We are now yellow. We are number one in the country. Champions are fought by mediocrity. You can’t stop us. Number one. It’s a done deal. The citizen is back at the center. One man one vote,” Chamisa said, at a Jan. 24 news conference. “It’s not going to be easy … Citizens turn the turbines of a nation. Every Zimbabwean must be organized for change.”

“A new great Zimbabwe is being born. We are here, we are having a new entity and new organization. We have left the past. We represent new hope, joy, freedom. We represent ideas, solutions … A vision that spells glory to everyone,” he added. 

Chamisa’s new political party will now parade through the streets and at its rallies–T-shirts and trucks decked out with the yellow colors and a new symbol. “We have lost everything except ourselves. If you want MDC Alliance, take it. We cannot be sold. Our conviction to bring change to Zimbabwe is unshaken, it’s indomitable. We keep moving forward. The people have told us to leave the dirty past. We have listened to the people. It's key to deliver the platform of transformation. Those other people came after our name … and we said take it,” Chamisa said. “We will go for the side meal (by-elections), as a starter. The main meal is in 2023 and we are ready. The people have spoken. They want change. We want a new game in town.”

Opposition parties in Zimbabwe are often too chaotic or divided to take on former liberation movements such as Zanu PF. In Zimbabwe, following the death of its founder – Morgan Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change was unable to pull itself together for key elections.

Internal party chaos even undermined the coalition of opposition parties. Unprofessionalism within the parties and factionalism have dragged opposition politics down in the past.

All this made the voting public struggle to see opposition parties as viable alternatives. The re-branding, re-naming and re-designing of the MDC –A elicited mixed reactions.

“The party needed a complete overhaul of its corporate practice and values. Re-naming or even the formation of a new party was long overdue,” said a Harare based political commentator.

“This was a difficult task for Chamisa given the nature of Zimbabwean politicians and expectations of the public. It was a sink or swim. A professionally executed re-branding effort can make a significant difference in a major national election. 2023 will be the real test for Chamisa’s new party.”

Others were not comfortable with the new changes. “While the launching of the new party is welcome and refreshing to the MDC reputation, it will create some challenges in a situation where many members are not literate and reside in the rural areas. The challenge is not insurmountable though, people will need to note the changes ahead of the 2023 election,” Cris Moyo, a Chamisa supporter said. “The gains far outweigh the troubles and our supporters have only one year to adapt to the change and identify with Chamisa, the party, the colors and the symbols. Let’s hope there will be no more splinter groups to rock the boat.”

Critics of Chamisa raised several issues.

“Have you ever asked yourself why the rallying cry of CCC will now be? What exactly do new colors and symbols stand for? What emotions does it inspire in old and especially new members? What hope does it kindle in the hearts of the teeming millions who follow the party?” said a journalism trainer at the University of Zimbabwe.

“Doing away with the name MDC is one step in the right direction but key structural issues regarding how to manage differences and building a movement or party stronger than individuals remain key sticking points. How do you start a political party whose logo has a portrait of an individual? All this can be a short-lived thing.”

All major political movements in Zimbabwe including Zanu PF have had their major share of internal rifts, violent jockeying for advantage and power and messy fights in the courts.

It’s only the 2023 election that will provide the real test of the popularity and stamina of the political parties.

Colors, rebranding, renaming, new slogans and symbols - are not always a guide to future performance.

Touching base with the supporters before the 2023 elections, organization, numbers and strategy, managing internal rifts are the only guaranteed arsenals for winning the 2023 polls.

Anything else could be kindergarten stuff. 

Black Star News columnist Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare.  sifelani11@gmail.com

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