The recently formed Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) opposition party released a statement on 3 March condemning the surge of politically-motivated violence targeted at its leaders and members in recent weeks. This statement was motivated by a raid by armed men – assumed to be affiliated with the ruling ZANU-PF – on the home of former finance minister Tendai Biti earlier on 3 March. Biti – who is contesting the upcoming byelections – was not at home but his bodyguards who were present were assaulted. This is the latest in a series of clearly politically motivated attacks and intimidation tactics that have targeted the CCC in recent weeks. This includes violent assaults on CCC leaders, members, and in some cases people who happened to be wearing the CCC’s yellow regalia. In addition, senior CCC figures, including Biti, have been arrested and temporarily detained without charge by security forces. The worst incident of political violence occurred on 27 February when suspected ZANU-PF youth members attacked a CCC rally in Kwekwe, Midlands Province, killing one CCC supporter and injuring 20 others. Police arrested 16 people for the attack but by 2 March had released 11, suggesting that these individuals were politically connected.
This uptick in political violence targeting the CCC is likely motivated by fears within ZANU-PF that this new opposition party poses a significant electoral threat in the upcoming 26 March by-elections where 133 National Assembly and local council seats will be contested. The majority of these seats were vacated following the recall of legislators and local councillors by the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), as such, most of these seats are in opposition strongholds. The intensity of ZANU-PF’s campaign against the CCC suggests that the ruling party is fearful that early success for the opposition party would set it up to be a viable challenger in the 2023 national general election.
The CCC was officially launched on 24 January by former MDC-T leader and opposition presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa. After leading a strong but unsuccessful presidential campaign in the disputed 2018 elections, Chamisa had been ousted as the leader of the MDC-T by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe in April 2020 following a petition by his political rivals with the party, Thokozane Kupe and Douglas Mwonzora. Chamisa remained the head of the MDC Alliance, an electoral coalition of opposition parties. However, continued contestation of the MDC moniker led Chamisa and his allies to opt to break away from the MDC Alliance and the MDC-T and instead form a new opposition party – the CCC.
This appears to have been a strategically excellent move. The emergence of a new opposition party, complete with new regalia, symbols, and colours and staffed by well-known and popular figures such as Chamisa and Biti has breathed fresh air into opposition politics in Zimbabwe. CCC events and rallies have drawn a substantial turnout of support despite the threat of politically-motivated violence.
While Chamisa and the CCC appear to be drawing the majority of opposition support and political energy, Kupe and Mwonzora squabble over control of the MDC-T. The MDC-T is expected to perform poorly in the upcoming elections and the once significant opposition force appears set to decline in the coming years. This is due to both factional infighting within the party and also the fact that after 23 years as an opposition force the MDC (now MDC-T) has failed to remove ZANU-PF from power. This creates an opportunity for a new opposition force – even one comprising former MDC-T leaders – to reinvigorate the opposition movement in Zimbabwe.
The CCC has had a strong start to its existence, but it remains to be seen whether it can be successful in building political power in Zimbabwe in the face of ZANU-PF’s oppressive tactics and abuse of state resources. The first real test of this will be the 26 March byelections and whether or not the CCC can win control of the seats once held by the MDC-T. A strong showing by the CCC in these by-elections will give the new party momentum to build on ahead of the 2023 general elections. In the meantime, Zimbabwean security forces and ZANU-PF youth are expected to target and harass the CCC in an effort to weaken, undermine, and intimidate the new opposition party. This will also be an important test of Chamisa and the CCC’s resolve ahead of the 2023 elections, which will likely be fiercely contested and marked by higher levels of political violence.