Nelson Chamisa must avoid the Dorian Gray trap

(Picture: The writer and Nelson Chamisa in Harare, in 2020)

By Tichaona Zindoga
A few days ago, I came across a grainy picture of myself and Nelson Chamisa online taken some four or so years ago, in his office at the Advocates Chambers in Harare.

I had gone to interview him. Apart from the interview, our conversation had also touched other general aspects of politics and life in Zimbabwe. I must admit and be forthright that, like many journalists, I have also been fascinated by Nelson Chamisa as a human being and colorful political animal.

At some point I was accused of being his “ally” within the State media where I worked, although I have been publicly and sincerely opposed to his politics, including his own prospects and fortunes. I have different political preferences and democratic choices and to date, have looked for certain political outcomes and configurations. Refer to that “declaration” I made in 2018 that if Chamisa won that year’s election, I would cut off my dreadlocks, quite an admirable mass of hair at the time! Chamisa lost, as I had predicted.

Five years later, in 2023 ahead of the last elections, I made the prediction that Chamisa would lose the election. I went further to write in an article that even if Chamisa and Saviour Kasukuwere, another Presidential aspirant in the race before he was controversially excluded, were to join forces, they would not be able to defeat incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Chamisa narrowly and controversially lost the 2023 presidential elections as he mustered 44 percent against his rival’s 52.6 percent while his party, Citizens Coalition for Change, won 103 seats out of 210 contested, restricting the ruling party’s haul to slightly under two-thirds majority with its 177.

It is widely acknowledged that this success, albeit limited, enjoyed by the CCC as a party was heavily dependent on Chamisa’s pulling power and appeal as a leader – the charismatic leader – and that he is “the face of the democratic struggle”.Which is true.

No other political figure in opposition is as popular and accepted as Chamisa; and all other talents pale into insignificance besides, and without Chamisa. It is a point for which he is liked and hated in equal measure.

No other political figure in opposition is as popular and accepted as Chamisa; and all other talents pale into insignificance besides, and without Chamisa.

Being well-favoured, to use a Shakespearean term to describe natural beauty of a young man; and being talented and clearly more talented than anyone close to him has also drawn envy and malice around him – much like the Biblical Joseph. Joseph the Dreamer. Chamisa is such a dreamer and he has sees, and has seen his elder political siblings bow down to him. The same brothers who would sell or even kill him at any opportunity because they fear and hate him for the talents that he has. It’s something that Chamisa understands very well, for better. And for worse, as this article shall demonstrate shortly.

It goes without saying, Chamisa is typically well-admired even by outsiders and neutrals who believe that his stature and talents should take him somewhere, someday when Destiny aligns; the reason why some of us who do not necessarily subscribe to his politics, tend to like him as a human being and persona when some close to him secretly savour an opportunity to tear him to death and throw away his body to be eaten by wild animals.

I recall a friend who was a top official in the opposition MDC expressing deep disdain for Chamisa and intimating that the day he would become leader of the party, who be my friend’s last day. And it happened.

Flaw and foible
The fallout from last year’s electoral loss has been massive. Yet, strictly speaking, Chamisa has faced many odds, and won.

That he is surrounded by so many enemies – has been surrounded for so many years – is testament of the huge problems at his hand. He knows a lot about the malevolent enemies and elements, which is a public secret, anyway. As alluded above, the success of the CCC has been dependent on Chamisa; and so, too, its failures leading to the implosion that has happened after Chamisa announced that he quit the party last year.
It is oxymoronic that Chamisa has been both the strength and the weakness of the opposition.

His character, despite its redeeming features is also full of flaw and foible. It is only fair to remark that despite surmounting incredible odds, Chamisa has fared rather badly as a leader to the point of near tragedy. To accuse those who point out these weaknesses as “blaming the victim” is not entirely honest and ignores veritable agency on his part.

It is only fair to remark that despite surmounting incredible odds, Chamisa has fared rather badly as a leader to the point of near tragedy.


As a manager and leader, there are a number of weaknesses and circumstances nuf of his own choosing that have dampened and blunted his stature.

I say this is because, as a young leader, Chamisa has not had the experience of managing the organisation – or any organisation for that matter; and his personal life has not been too exposed, either, having entered into politics as a young man a quarter of a decade ago.
He has learned on the job mostly, and naturally this comes with vicious challenges come from within and without.

Having been a young manager myself at a large, historical institution with internal and external pressures, I know this only too well when powerful forces are ranged against you and often resist change – as they usually do – preferring comfort of fiefdoms and sinecures.

Chamisa could have done better, though, having had lots of mentorship from MDC, MDC-Alliance and now CCC. The tragedy is that he appears he has not learnt anything. Instead, a particularly disturbing idiosyncrasy has stuck out like a sore thumb: the more he has faced challenges, the more he has looked inward and strengthened a view of himself as an ultra-Joseph personality who is well, well too conscious of his destiny. I humbly believe that Joseph was not excessively too self-conscious – which could well have led to his destruction quite early in the tale.

Harsher critics of Chamisa, including political rivals and academics, have described him as having a “God complex” and revealed that he believes that he speaks to God and hears the voice of God which informs his decision making. To the extent that this has not yet been considered a case for the psychiatrists, it is widely felt that he should temper this kind of self-awareness; a delusion even, and be more grounded. That, unfortunately, has not happened.

Chamisa’s recentthe CCC, a party he formed last year, appears in part to be motivated by a belief that time is on his side; and that he can form as many parties as he wants, and he will still remain popular and uncontested. That he will remain young, and outlive his rivals. It is also a view shared by many of his more eccentric followers.

But it is a tragic fallacy and flaw.

It reminds one of the much-fabled story of the Picture of Dorian Gray, a creation of English writer Oscar Wilde. It is said Dorian Gray’s looks remained young and beautiful, being “pure, bright, innocent face, and marvellous untroubled youth” yet inside he grew older, corrupt, ugly and grotesque, revealing a moral about too much self-absorption and being misled by looks.

It will be recalled that last year, the biggest slogan of Chamisa’s campaign revolved around his being “the boy”, or “lad” – something quite Dorian Gray-ish considering that Chamisa is heading towards 50 years, while he has been in politics for at least 25 years, and even became a Minister of Government over a decade ago.

He’s neither untested, nor a political virgin. Some of his rivals and those knowledgeable about him describe him as scheming, and to them, untrustworthy, contrary to some belief that he is a victim all the time.

The happenings around him, especially since the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018, tells us that Chamisa is at least in part responsible for what has befallen him, or what he has caused others to feel or suffer. Post-Morgan Tsvangirai, some problems that have been witnessed in the opposition are attributable to Chamisa, knowingly or unknowingly. This is why he must introspect, and introspect hard.

Post-Morgan Tsvangirai, some problems that have been witnessed in the opposition are attributable to Chamisa, knowingly or unknowingly. This is why he must introspect, and introspect hard.

It means confronting the harsh realities and hard truths of his own fallibilities and foibles; like peeling beneath the beautiful visage to look at the whole ugliness and corruption underneath. To swallow his pride. To decide to drink the bitter medicine to cure his disease.

Frankly speaking, the problems and the evil that have followed Chamisa thus far, will likely pursue him again to wherever he goes, and lodge within any beautiful bright colour he chooses to be his political tent.

He may yet choose not to form another political, in name, and pursue some funny organisation, creature or some such novel and beautiful project. However, trouble and corruption will follow him hither and thither. This is because, partly, the problem is himself, while some hangers on and parasites, especially of the sad variety that often gives wrong advice for their own self-preservation, will stick around only to give him trouble in the future.

One can be sure that there can be no conceivable end to this cycle, if Chamisa himself does not look hard in the mirror to establish the problem, build a strong, dynamic and competitive institution that will leave a legacy beyond himself. The future may not necessarily involve him, harsh as that may to accept, but he has a part to play to be well remembered, and as fondly so.

One can be sure that there can be no conceivable end to this cycle, if Chamisa himself does not look hard in the mirror to establish the problem, build a strong, dynamic and competitive institution that will leave a legacy beyond himself

Equally, not everyone who criticise and point out Chamisa’s weaknesses is an enemy to him or democracy. Many actually wish him well and hope that he can be a mature, well-rounded leader of, or when, his times comes.

I’m sure Chamisa himself accepts this, that is why he entertains some of his critics and those, like me, who are not his political relatives.

Going forward, Chamisa must be brave, more robust in self-evaluation, pragmatic in his politics and stay the course of organisational and institutional politics to reap the dividend and avoid a self-inflicted ignominous ending.

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