It is said that in adversity you learn a lot about a leader’s character. For while its easy to be calm and collected when things are going well, it is when things are tough that the true leaders distinguish themselves.
In light of this, the deadly attack last weekend, coming just five weeks before the elections, provided a major test for the main presidential candidates, and I believe it has helped us to learn a lot about each of the two top contenders.
First, let’s consider President Mnangagwa. Despite being a few steps away from potentially losing his life, ED has responded highly effectively. Rather than bunker down in a military base or State House, he was soon seen visiting the injured in hospital, and maintained his regular schedule over the following days. He showed leadership, and wasn’t shaken by the events.
But more impressive than this has been his rhetoric. He has been restrained and statesmanlike, preaching peace and unity, and making it clear that nothing will change as a result of this attack – the elections will not be delayed, the climate will not change and nobody’s rights will be infringed upon. In this he has provided reassurance to a nervous electorate, and used his words to soothe and unite a concerned nation.
Anyone wondering how the public has reacted to his calm response only needs to look to his Facebook page, which has been inundated with positive messages from supporters and opponents alike. One post, in which he thanked the public for their kind messages and sent a message of peace, has had over 16,000 likes so far. It issafe to say that the way he has dealt with this difficult week has enhanced his popularity among the Zimbabwean public.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Nelson Chamisa.
While Chamisa was not put in any physical danger from this event, he has faced a different challenge – how to help ED unite the country, while not maintaining his electoral relevance. Sadly for his supporters, this is a challenge he has failed. For rather than preaching peace, Chamisa has used this event as an opportunity for cheap political point scoring.
The best example of this was an interview Chamisa gave to Reuters, in which he claimed “We know that they would also want to use that as a pretext to clamp down on the opposition, they would want to use it to start targeting certain individuals, certain candidates that they perceive to be their credible opposition.”
This is not the only such quote. Immediately after the explosion, ‘sources’ (I wonder who they might be?) told the Guardian that “We’re going to have to see who they start picking up in the next few days.”
The thing is that there has been no crackdown, no arrests and no limitation of freedom of speech or the freedom to campaign. And with the bomb almost a week ago now, it seems almost certain that there will not be.
So one has to wonder why Nelson Chamisa is claiming with such certainty that this will happen, contrary to all evidence. And why is he only claiming this to the international media?
I believe this reveals two concerning pieces of information about Nelson of. First, his default audience is international, and not domestic. With a month to the election, he is running to Reuters and the Guardian to make his unfounded allegations, rather than to the Zimbabwean people. This is strange, as there are no votes to be won in London or Washington DC. Is it because these are the only people who may believe him, or perhaps he is speaking to his donors and backers, the people that really matter to him.
Second, and most concerning, is that this shows a worrying trait, a martyr complex. Nelson is almost willing these arrests and clampdown, despite the fact that none are coming. Aware that he will likely not win in July, he is looking for an excuse. To go down as a martyr. A hero to his supporters who would have won but for the cruel actions of the government.
Unfortunately for Nelson, ED is refusing to play his games. The elections will go ahead as planned, and will be free and fair. There will be no arrests or crackdown. There will be nothing to feed his martyr complex.
Unfortunately for Nelson, he won’t have the opportunity to face the electorate as the wronged hero, but rather simply as Nelson Chamisa, the flawed man.
And after his behaviour this week, it is clear that the electorate doesn’t like what they see.