BY 10am on Sunday a handful of MDC-T supporters had gathered at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare’s Highfield suburb where faction leader Douglas Mwonzora was billed to address a rally.
Buses and trucks from all over the country were bringing in jovial party supporters, who were singing and dancing well ahead of the rally.
Unlike the Nelson Chamisa-led Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) which is routinely blocked by the police from ferrying supporters, Mwonzora’s outfit was allowed to bus its supporters to the rally.
There were many other things that were conspicuous. Car rallies to drum up support were allowed, a luxury which has been denied the CCC.
Similar conduct saw the arrest and detention of 13 CCC members in February ahead of the party’s first rally at the same venue and five others a week after the launch of the party in January 2022.
There were no unreasonable police roadblocks to frustrate people from attending the rally.
All was smooth sailing, just like what happens when Zanu PF holds its rallies.
Clad in traditional the MDC’s red colours, the crowd danced to loud music as numbers swelled, thanks to the buses and trucks.
This was a second attempt by Mwonzora to fill up the arena ahead of a hotly contested poll on 26 March.
After a few hundreds gathered at Zororo Grounds last month, Mwonzora was out to prove his mettle. It was meant to be some kind of show of force after an underwhelming rally.
He wanted to show that he had the masses behind him.
The palpable anxiety on the security’s faces prompted them to bar the media from entering the venue before gathering a sizable crowd. They wanted to ensure that optics from the rally are good.
It was at the same venue that his arch-nemesis, Chamisa, had packed a capacity crowd which sent shockwaves across the political landscape.
Mwonzora’s party chairperson Morgan Komichi claimed MDC-T had attracted 62 000 supporters, resulting in him becoming a joke on social media platforms for days.
Chamisa, who at the beginning of 2022 was in sixes and sevens battling to salvage his political career, has remerged as Zimbabwe’s most popular opposition leader, judging by the numbers he is commanding.
His rallies have attracted thousands of people despite the police throwing spanners in the works, including banning some rallies and imposing unreasonable pre-conditions to derail some public meetings.
But for Mwonzora, his rallies have been a reality check.
With poor attendance bringing into question his political methods, many were ready to write his obituary. So this time around, optics were crucial.
“We will not allow media in at the moment until we are done with setup,” said one of the security persons.
Inside, the festivities had not yet reached their peak, while there were no riot police in sight as witnessed at Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera the previous day where Chamisa was stopped from convening a scheduled rally.
That Mwonzora has been receiving favourable treatment was there for all to see.
Curiosly, while the rest of the media was initially barred from the event, state propaganda outfit ZBC came in at around 4pm abd was swiftly granted an interview without a sweat. Such luxury was not afforded other jounalsts who were kept waiting outside the ground for hours, in case they took pictures before the crowd had swelled.
But Mwonzora claimed his party was not getting preferable treatment.
He said his party had also fallen victim to the state’s heavy handedness, just like the CCC.
“For example, we wanted to have our rally in Epworth on the 12th, it was refused and we did not see it necessary to fight. We suffer the same disadvantages and so on. If you look at the conditions that were set for this rally, they are then exactly the same that were set for the CCC at this venue, no toyi-toying, no this no that no that no that. The letters are identical,” he told journalists at the venue.
“The difference between us and others is that where we have not been given the green light we do not force ourselves and this is why you see us not daring the police, not even daring our opponents. We want peace, we want tranquillity, we want the integrity of our people to be respected.”
The Mwonzora MDC-T faction’s aspiring member of Parliament for Epworth, Zivai Mhetu, told the crowd in his address that they were denied an opportunity to erect a billboard in Epworth.
Mwonzora is largely viewed as Mnangagwa’s surrogate bent on destroying the real opposition in Zimbabwe. His “rational disputation” mantra has been dismissed as a ploy to perpetuate Zanu PF misrule.
On the eve of the rally, pictures of him meeting people clad in Zanu PF regalia went viral, amid reports his party was seeking assistance with crowd mobilisation.
Political analyst Greg Linnington dismissed Mwonzora’s claims that his party was under attack, saying the only reason the CCC is under constant state heavyhandedness is because it is the only party posing a threat to the ruling party.
Another analyst Sydicks Muradzikwa told The NewsHawks that the state’s plot to disrupt CCC rallies during this campaign only reflects the level of threat that the opposition poses to the Zanu PF government.
“To say this is selective application of the law is an understatement. I call it criminal application of the law! Obviously Mnangagwa and Chiwenga’s calls for peace are fake. Why I say so, their cronies deploy ZRP to disrupt CCC rallies hoping that there will be a confrontation. ZRP claim that CCC does not follow the dictates of Mopa (Maintenance of Peace and Order Act), nonsense because we do not know to what extent Zanu PF and MDCT adhere to those rules. In any case, Mopa violates the association clause in the constitution, so it is null and void,” he said.
Muradzikwa added that the MDC has been used as a willing tool to decimate the CCC.
“Let me put it on record that, evidently, the MDC-T has at its best morphed into a Zanu PF sideshow and at its worst, weaponised against Chamisa. Therefore, its political significance in genuine political contestation in Zimbabwe’s contemporary body politic is over and done.
“Organised efforts and initiatives by the state machinery to either thwart or disrupt CCC rallies and political campaigns all over the country through state-sponsored violence and lawfare are a huge testament and confirmation of the fact that Chamisa’s party is a threatening counter-hegemonic force, causing an ailing headache to the Zanu PF government,” Muradzikwa said.
Mwonzora’s MDC has come under fire for supporting Mnangagwa’s mutilation of the constitution and causing chaos in Parliament and local authorities after recalling legislators and councillors deemed loyal to Chamisa.