CIVIL SOCIETY MIASMA -The Case of Chimhini’s ERC

    An opinion by Sekuru Nhando

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    Tawanda Chimhini

    Civil society organisations operate for the benefit of the ordinary people. The current scenario in Zimbabwe is characterized by civil society organisations spending more time fighting the state and not proffering ideas that help to better the lives of, and inform, the people in the grassroots. In Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general the relationship between civil society and state is not symbiotic but confrontational. The complementary and mutually interactive relationship is missing. The general scapegoat by-line is that a dictatorship superintends the affairs of the state in Zimbabwe.

    In his book titled Democracy: from liberation to liberalization, 2002, Professor Alfred Nhema contents that generally civil society organisations in Zimbabwe have taken a partisanly critical stance towards state operations. That view still rings true today eighteen years down the road. A cursory overview of the Zimbabwean situation shows that a number of civil society organisations are staffed with so many individuals who tried, or have had or have, interest in, political office, and are linked directly or indirectly to one or more political parties. Civil Society organisations seek to control the abuse of power by the state. In doing so the objective should be helping in the resolution of the grievances of the people. They are the watchdog of state activities and policies in relation to the interests of the people. Both civil society organisations and the state should be answerable to the people.

    The ERC was formed in 2010 with the main objective being to strengthen policy engagement towards improvement of the quality of electoral and democratic practices in Zimbabwe. It is a think tank and advocacy organisation.

    On the 9th of July 2020 the Newsday published an article by reporter Blessed Mhlanga entitled Parliament confronted over Chamisa MPs recall. The publication reports that on an unquoted day the ERC wrote to the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda “demanding an explanation on how he allowed the MDC-T, which contested and lost in the 2018 elections, to recall MDC Alliance legislators” The Executive Director, Tawanda Chimhini is said to have asked for an explanation on how the House allowed the recalls to happen. This demand was premised on section 3(2g) of the constitution of Zimbabwe. Section 3(2g) specifies three of the principles of good governance which bind the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level. The specific principles outlined in section 3 (2g) are transparency, justice, accountability and responsiveness.

    Chimhini further cites Section 68 of the national constitution saying the ERC had interest in the matter hence invoking the right to administrative justice. ERC said under section 68 of the Constitution, it had a right to be told why and how the decision was arrived at because they have an interest.

    Furthermore, Chimhini opined that an explanation from Parliament would benefit political parties in the future viz a viz the question of alliances. Having thus articulated the innocent premafacie reasons for his letter which reasons definitely would attract a semblance of genuineness he then launches what seems to be the motivating reasons for the letter. In this trajectory Chimhini raises a number of points. First, he establishes as fact that the party which submitted nomination forms for the MPs in question was the MDC Alliance. He further emphasises that the MDC T also did the same separately for its own candidates. Secondly, with authoritative finality he points out that the two parties are being called one. Thirdly, Chimhini bemoans the exclusion of the people who voted from these decisions. Fourthly, he asks the question whether these voters knew they were voting for either the MDC T or the MDC Alliance. For this he demands an explanation from the speaker.

    The concerned Members of Parliament were recalled on the basis of Section 129 (1) (k) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides that: “A seat of a Member of Parliament becomes vacant if the Member has ceased to belong to the political party of which he or she was a member when elected to Parliament and the political party concerned, by written notice to the Speaker or the President of the Senate, as the case may be, has declared that the member has ceased to belong to it”

    As an organisation whose original interests focus on promoting effective electoral participation in Zimbabwe it is within the purview of the ERC to question matters of electoral interest for the benefit of the ordinary people. This enables the ordinary person on the street to make informed electoral decisions. His letter is actually saying there is no transparency, justice, accountability and responsiveness on the part of the Speaker of Parliament. This rings echoes of fact when one considers that the Speaker comes from a political party that is different from the affected Members of Parliament. The picture given is that of a rival presiding over the affairs of a rival. This position is insinuating that the Speaker made a decision. Now in terms of the law the Speaker does not make a decision in the recall circumstances. His job is simply to act on instruction. On this note Chimhini seems to be parroting the narrative by Alex Magaisa and other seeming academivist who are bent on apportioning blame on the Speaker of Parliament thereby deliberately labelling the recalls political instead of administrative.

    However, there are patently gray areas that raise a number of question as to the real motive behind Chimhini’s letter. From the contents of the letter betrayed is an established position. Chimhini asks questions whose answers he seems to already have. Instead of approaching the matter with an open mind he seems to adopt an accusatory tone.

    Like Magaisa and other anti-recall proponents Chimhini deliberately conflates Khupe’s MDC T faction and the mainstream MDC T as left by Morgan Tsvangirai. The two entities bear the same initials but they are not the same. The MDC T faction that submitted nomination papers was a faction of the MDC T that submitted nomination papers through the banner of the MDC Alliance. The MDC T faction in the MDC Alliance was headed by Chamisa and the other one was headed by Khupe.

    Again like Alex Magaisa, Chimhini’s narrative tries hard to circumvent the facts underlying the MDC T saga. The facts remain that both Chamisa and Khupe claimed leadership of the MDC T left by Tsvangirai. The same MDC T that is part of the seven party MDC Alliance. It is true that the Members of Parliament affected were sponsored by the MDC Alliance. It is also fact that they were members of the MDC T left by Tsvangirai. That is the MDC T that was taken to court by Elias Mashavira. That is the MDC T whose leadership was under dispute. And that does not affect the MDC Alliance in any way. In this case Chimhini again deliberately sought to ignore the existence of a very important document in the existence of the MDC Alliance. That is the Composite Political Cooperation Agreement which spells out the nature of the relationship between the MDC T left by Tsvangirai and the other six partners in the agreement. The conclusion that the Khupe MDC T and the MDC Alliance which, as per court determination, included the MDC T left by Tsvangirai betrays lack of neutrality on the part of the ERC Think tank. It is a decision not informed by research as expected but visibly subjective. The ERC and Chimhini need to meticulously and objectively unpack the MDC Alliance and its relationship with the MDC T left by Tsvangirai.

    It is also prudent to do the same with the relationship between Khupe’s MDC T and the MDC T left by Tsvangirai. That would likely have saved the organisation time and resources and exposing itself to a seemingly biased initiative. In real essence since both Chamisa and Khupe affirmed claim of leadership of the MDC T as left by Tsvangirai it means wherever they had a candidate from President to Councillor in the 2018 election it was double candidature. And there is no law that prevents double candidature from a political party. The scenario will therefore be legally treated in the same way the Goromonzi West scenario was treated. In Goromonzi West the MDC T in the Alliance had two candidates, Tamborinyoka and Nhamburo. Both claimed to belong to the MDC T left by Tsvangirai and no one called them two different parties.

    In a clear case of retrograde amnesia ERC and Chimhini purport to champion the role of the voters in the decision to recall the MPs. We have had a number of recalls across the political divide since the birth of the ERC but they have never demanded to know why the people who voted were never involved. After the 2017 change of Zanu PF government guard there were several subsequent recalls from Parliament and ERC never uttered a word. Only this week we have heard of the alleged recall of Killer Zivhu. There has been no demand for involvement of the voters. What has become special about those who voted for MDC in 2018. Furthermore, there is no law in this country that provides for involvement of voters in recall decisions. May be it was a clandestine and invisible constitutional amendment that eludes our naked eyes. The question of whether the voters knew or did not know they were voting for MDC Alliance or MDC T led by Khupe is not for the Speaker of Parliament to answer. The only way that information can be provided is through research. And ERC as a Think Tank should actually provide the answers.
    Tawanda Chimhini and his ERC should have recused himself from this kind of exercise mainly because his family is directly involved. His father and step mother are involved in the leadership dispute in the MDC T left by Tsvangirai. His stepmom may also be affected in the dispute. In this case it would be very difficult to vouch for his impartiality in viewing the matter.

    The evidently visible gray areas in the ERC letter makes it a fundamentally flawed initiative that gets amplified publicity from semi partisan journalists fronting a particular narrative in the leadership saga in MDC T left by Tsvangirai.

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