HomeOpinion & AnalysisCorruption watch: Mwonzora: A fox chasing small prey

Corruption watch: Mwonzora: A fox chasing small prey

BY TAWANDA MAJONI

Quite a good number of people would rather go penniless than lose their sincere dislike for Senator Douglas Mwonzora.

Why? Because he is a stealthy fox.

You know how foxes do it, right?

Before you realise it, your fowls are gone, and you are kicking yourself for leaving the run door open in the first place.

Ask Thokozani Khupe on how he dribbled his way past her and snatched the MDC-T presidency at their extra-ordinary congress last December.

Ask Nelson Chamisa and his team too.  They are still smarting from how he stole their MPs and councillors and started calling them his, with a measure of conviction in it.

How he even chased some of them away, bagged the party  that Morgan Tsvangirai left when he passed on in 2018, and how he is even trying to wrest the party name Chamisa’s party has cobbled up for itself, MDC-A.

By virtue of now being the MDC-T president, Mwonzora is set to contest in the 2023 elections as a presidential candidate.

The short but dramatic journey to the party presidency took some energy when a turtle-on-the-pole called Elias Mashavira filed a High Court application challenging the manner in which the Chamisa leadership succeeded Tsvangirai a day after his death.

Mwonzora insists he didn’t put the turtle on the fence pole, but, of course, he benefited from the court judgments that ordered a return to 2014 party structures when the senator was secretary general and Khupe was senior party vice president.

The courts also ordered a prompt extra-ordinary congress that then took place in December last year and Mwonzora won against Khupe, albeit not without a flurry of violence and the usual stuff about vote rigging and financial fraud.

But then, who is Douglas Mwonzora and what does he stand for?

If you are going to be sober about it, he is not like the usual gross person you normally see among Zimbabwean politicians.

He is gentle, speaks softly but intelligently and smiles a lot when he talks to you.

He is courteous with journalists and shows lots of modesty.

His temper is measured, but you wouldn’t quickly say that means he is perfectly magnanimous.

There are moments when he can get dry, particularly when talking about his political foes.

Mwonzora gives you good sound bites when he is talking politics.

As he says, injustice and bad politics are what forced him into politics.

Growing up in rural Nyanga in Manicaland, he witnessed the brutality of apartheid during the colonial rule of Ian Smith and his Rhodesian Front party.

He is directly related to the late Chief Rekayi Tangwena, the old dude who helped Robert Mugabe cross into Mozambique to lead the fight against colonial rule.

It was Tangwena, a national hero, who inspired him with information on brutal white rule.

Later in his working life, Mwonzora was to be fired by a predominantly white law firm for complaining against racism at the company.

And, up to date, he talks convincingly about the need for the rule of law and constitutionalism, which is good to hear of course.

Mwonzora was born on June 11 1968 in rural Nyanga.

A bright student by any standards, he was to enroll as a law student at the University of Zimbabwe and graduated in 1991.

He was taught by the likes of Shadrack Gutto, Kempton Makamure and Shepherd Nzombe, who instilled in him a class consciousness based on equality, social inclusivity, justice and the rule of law that he says he still keeps.

Gutto, an expat lecturer from Kenya, was to be expelled from UZ for supporting student activism.

This was also more or less the time when the likes of Arthur Mutambara, Christopher Giwa, Paul Chimhosva, Tawanda Mutasa and Martin Dinha were active student leaders.

Mwonzora started his political career as a young law student in the late 1980s when he joined the Zimbabwe Unity Movement led by Mugabe’s erstwhile comrade with who he crossed into Mozambique, Edgar Tekere.

He actually crafted the party’s constitution as a green law student and got arrested in Gweru when ZUM launched it.

Later in 1992, Nzombe recommended him to Tsvangirai who employed him as a legal advisor at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions where he grew his passion for labour rights.

In 1997, he was part of the team that formed the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) that Tsvangirai also led.

He was there as a founder member when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was formed in late 1999.

A year later, he campaigned under the NCA, against a proposed new constitution and the “No” vote carried the day.

In 1993, the senator joined the Forum Party of Zimbabwe that was led by a former chief justice, Enock Dumbutshena, and became its secretary for information and publicity, but the outfit didn’t last long.

Tsvangirai appointed him co-chairperson of the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) in 2009 and he worked alongside Zanu PF’s Paul Mangwana, a former associate at the latter’s law firm in Kadoma.

He had won the Nyanga seat in 2008 but lost it at the 2013 elections just after the adoption of the new constitution.

He was appointed senator after the 2018 polls.

From 2014, he was the MDC-T secretary general, after having beaten Chamisa against all the odds.

In the run-up to the contest, Chamisa had 11 out of the 12 MDC-T provinces.

You will notice a very damp patch about foxy Dougie. He favours elections when he feels they will favour him in turn.

Like the special congress elections they held last year. But he hates elections when the odds are against him.

Thing is, as secretary-general of MDC-T, he presided over the recall of more than 30 MDC-A lawmakers and scores of councillors.

Technically, he and Khupe had the jurisdiction to do that since the courts had said the MDC-A MPs were, in fact, MDC-T legislators and the leadership of MDC-T had reverted to the 2014 status quo.

But the recalls gave an opportunity for by-elections.

He may argue as loud and cleverly as he likes, but the by-elections spook Mwonzora and his leadership.

And that means Mwonzora doesn’t like the idea of by-elections. Why?

He knows that his party stands no chance against MDC-A if the by-elections were to take place.

So, he would rather buy as much time as he can in order to avoid the embarrassment of defeat.

And one way of doing that is to push for a coalition government and place a moratorium on the electorate and elections.

That says something about his grassroots appeal. Mwonzora says he and his party enjoy a “fair share” of support within the electorate.

That’s a fair statement by any standards. “Fair” is a pretty subjective word that can mean anything from five supporters.

But the real truth is that, despite his quite pleasant personality and down-to-earth approach to things, Mwonzora lacks grassroots clout.

His political outreaches have largely drawn indifferent—if not pathetic and apathetic—crowds so far.

People don’t feel the rush to associate with him and MDC-T. This contrasts sharply with the hugely popular and populist Chamisa.

There is a good reason why the senator is not rhyming with the people, despite the use of the legendary MDC name associated with an equally legendary Tsvangirai.

That is the Zanu PF smell he is now carrying wherever he goes.

There is a pervasive perception that Mwonzora has turned into a Zanu PF surrogate.

In the past two years, there has been this stubborn suspicion that Mwonzora is being sponsored by Zanu PF as a way to derail the Chamisa train. And there are good anecdotes to appeal to.

The Zimbabwean courts were quick to rule that the Chamisa project was illegitimate because of the manner in which succession issues were handled.

Now, Zimbabwean courts are not too famous for being neutral.

They are seen as surrogates of the Zanu PF government.

Once the courts ruled, there was obvious bias towards MDC-T and against MDC-A.

When the Mwonzora outfit seized Morgan Tsvangirai House, it received unsettling but unsurprising support from state security agents.

They barred the MDC-A from reclaiming the party HQ and helped MDC-T keep the seized property.

When the case went back to the courts, the law was quick to give an interdict in favour of Mwonzora’s party.

And government deployed fast energy too, when it released money reserved for political parties to MDC-T.

The popular conclusion was that this was meant to starve Chamisa’s project and spite it too.

That’s the court of public opinion speaking.

You also noticed how the public media was so glowing when it came to Mwonzora.

That only happens when Zanu PF finds you useful in one way or another.

Problem is, Mwonzora was also basking in that glory too.

He has been so seized with spiting Chamisa that he doesn’t mind the length of the spoon he is using at the devil’s dinner.

But spiting Chamisa is like spiting a whole two million people that voted him in 2018.

Then there is the issue of the recalls again.

Chamisa and MDC-A have their own weak points, but what Mwonzora completely forgot, conveniently or otherwise, is the fact that the recalls had a huge bearing on democracy.

Opposition numbers in parliament have dwindled to insignificant numbers. Zanu PF can easily amend the constitution to suit its power whims.

And that means that it can change the constitution to suspend elections too. Something the majority of Zimbabweans will never forgive Dougie for.

Lastly, who by now doesn’t know about Mwonzora’s nocturnal visits to State House to discuss power things that also remain nocturnal in outlook?

The senator may be aware of this, but Zanu PF is only hobnobbing with Mwonzora now because he is useful in the plot to undermine Chamisa.

That places his chances at the next elections at a very slippery slope and the fox in him is unlikely to deliver him from embarrassment.

  • Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw

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