A political trial of the nation
My Turn With Tichaona Zindoga
Today’S Constitutional Court hearing of Nelson Chamisa’s challenge of the July 30 election will be an elaborate, expensive and ultimately ceremonious spectacle that many of us have never seen before or likely to see again soon.
Not that there is anything new about the opposition challenging the outcome of elections.
This time five years ago, the MDC, in one of its many guises led by Morgan Tsvangirai, had similarly challenged the results of the 2013 election, only to withdraw before the matter could be heard.
Since 2000 when the opposition started participating in national electoral contests, it has nursed one gripe or other leading it to the courts for recourse.
In fact, challenging electoral outcomes has become ritualistic and as routine as the complaints of rigging by the opposition.
Indeed, such gripes are provided for and intended to be cured through the laws of the country.
This time around it is no different.
Or perhaps different in some superficial ways.
We mentioned the story of five years ago.
When the MDC withdrew the court challenge back then, Nelson Chamisa, the party’s organiser, said:
“The court decision would have pre-empted the actions and judgment of forces and friends of Zimbabwe who would want to help the loving people of Zimbabwe to ward off illegitimacy and return to majority will.”
In 2018, Nelson Chamisa is standing before the highest court in the land arguing a case.
Interestingly, Chamisa and his party had initially signalled that they would not take any electoral dispute to the courts which he claimed were compromised.
He vowed that the streets would be the arbiter, a threat of public disorder.
It is also on record that Chamisa had claimed that be would not accept any result that did not favour him and his party. He repeated this again on Monday this week.
Today Chamisa is before the courts.
It is a political show.
Indeed, one could revisit what he said five years ago and place it firmly on what has happened in 2018.
After causing mayhem on the streets on August 1 with the resolve of defying law and order, we heard many of Chamisa’s old friends in the West urging him to approach the courts if he had any dispute.
Similarly, five years ago after the MDC withdrew the court challenge, the United States slapped fresh sanctions on Zimbabwe.
It fell in place.
The game is still the same old game.
It gives one a sense of deja vu.
The court action is a political action and Chamisa is seeking a political solution that will have little to do with the deliberations of learned men and women sitting as judges.
It’s a political fiat.
We are not going to discuss the matter before the courts. Those facts, merits and demerits will not matter.
They are a formality.
Chamisa has already made his political statement and will seek to mine political capital out of it – even likely to impugn the very same courts.
When he approached the courts seeking to challenge July 30, it was a political statement aimed at stopping the inauguration of his rival, President Mnangagwa, who had just beaten him in the election.
Chamisa has a constituency that he has to keep interested and galvanised.
He also has to keep them feeling aggrieved, making them feel as though they are victims of skulduggery and fraud. To keep them agitated and angry.
They ought to believe him even in spite of themselves.
With this in mind, one can see the dirty hands with which Chamisa approached the elections as indeed is presumably in approaching the courts.
It is not hard to figure out, really.
But there are bigger observations to be made in this exercise.
Our courts are on trial.
They should be able to produce a judgment that is beyond reproach and one that is instructive well beyond the political charade. It will be a critical test to be convincing in application of the law and weighing the matters before it.
There is no reason to doubt that will be done.
Another institution that will be on trial is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the independent body charged with running elections in the country.
There have been spirited attempts to besmirch the body and its capacity has been doubted.
The integrity of the person of chairwoman of the Commission Justice Priscilla Chigumba will either be upheld or tainted.
On the other hand – and this is very important – the court action and its outcomes will test the temperament of our people.
How are the different sides going to react to the outcomes of the process?
Can a majority party accept a ruling that reverses its gains made on July 30?
Similarly, can a party that vowed not to accept a loss find the grace to accept defeat and accept that life has to go on and that there can always be another, next time?
This will be crucial with the fresh memories of a buffeting August 1.
It is time for the country’s politicians to show leadership which will be crucial in channelling national emotion and energy as Zimbabwe seeks to complete its transition that started last November.
It’s a delicate scenario.
The world is watching Zimbabwe closely during this make-or-break time.
Yet, one has the eternal optimism in the goodness and reasonability of the ordinary people who will eventually be called on to mediate the great political question of the day.
That is why it is the nation that is on trial.
And election challenges will come and go but we may never see one as fraught as this.