By BLESSINGS MASHAYA
ZIMBABWE opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa has yielded to the demands of his defiant MPs over the controversial US$40 000 parliamentary housing loans to legislators.
Insiders who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said by capitulating to his MPs’ demands, Chamisa had avoided creating fresh major rifts in his fledgling party.
Some of the MPs who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Harare with Chamisa said they had flatly refused to concede to his directive that they not take up the loans, with many of them believing that their leader wanted to use the “non-issue” to scupper their 2023 chances.
“A good number of us knew that our leader does not want us to continue as MPs after the 2023 general elections and that his arguments around the loans were thus mere sophistry on his part.
“He was attacking us publicly so that we appear greedy in the eyes of the electorate.
“We just told him that we had already received the money and it was difficult for us to return it because some MPs had already bought houses.
“There was thus nothing that Chamisa could do to stop us.
“We also told him that the money was budgeted for and there was no need to fight over the issue,” one of the MPs said.
“Nero rushed to comment on social media before he got proper information on the issue and fully understood our resolve. We don’t know how he is now going to save face,” another legislator said.
“He told us that there was nothing he could do because the horses had already bolted. We had already taken the loans and the majority had since used the money.
“The meeting was tense at first, but at the end everything went on well,” yet another MP said.
Yesterday, the CCC sought to downplay the tensions over the loans, with affable party deputy spokesperson Gift Siziba telling the media that Tuesday’s crunch meeting was only meant “to understand their (MPs) reasons for wanting to take the loans”.
“We had a meeting with MPs and one of the critical issues we raised was the question of integrity. That’s why we took it upon ourselves as CCC to say we must investigate.
“That’s why we called our chief whip and all our MPs and asked them to explain to us what happened because we want to make sure that we investigate and make a decision based on facts.
“The president made it very clear that in no circumstances can we dither and compromise on issues of ethics and values,” Siziba said.
He added that the party had since discovered that there was nothing wrong with the legislators accepting the loans.
“We now have the facts. We have read the contract. What was there was a communication issue, not a political problem,” he also said.
This came amid growing fears that the CCC could face ruinous turbulence after Chamisa told some of the recalcitrant legislators last week that he was completely opposed to the housing loans.
Political analysts had warned that the CCC needed to handle the issue of its legislators taking the loans with care if it was to avoid further destabilising the party ahead of next year’s crunch polls.
Last week, Chamisa accused CCC MPs of breaking the party’s ethos and the pledge to advocate citizens’ interests, adding that they now risked being punished for this.
He further claimed that the loan was a bribe from the government, adding that this money could have been used on service delivery to Zimbabweans.
But political analysts who spoke to the Daily News then said the matter would cause more fissures in CCC if it continued to be handled poorly.
Senior lecturer at South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology, Ricky Mukonza said the insistence by Chamisa to oppose the loans would create more problems for his party.
“It is certainly going to cause some commotion in the party. Remember, some of the parliamentarians suspect that they may not be coming back on the party ticket and if they do a cost-benefit analysis they may find that taking the money is beneficial to them.
“It is those who view themselves as being close to Chamisa and have a good chance of coming back as MPs who will listen to what he is saying.
“We may see this as a repeat of 2005 where there was a conflict in the MDC about whether or not they should contest in that year’s senate elections,” Mukonza said.
“Whilst what Chamisa is saying appears morally sound and will resonate with the struggling ordinary men and women of Zimbabwe, it clashes with the interests of the party’s parliamentarians who may be focusing on their personal political economies. He is likely to face resistance on this one.
“The best way for him to handle this would have been to avoid making public pronouncements on the matter until he generates sufficient internal consensus.
“Then, he could make pronouncements based on that.
“What he has done further gives weight to assertions that he has serious dictatorial tendencies that are alien to a supposed democratic political outfit like CCC,” Mukonza further told the Daily News then.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, also said Chamisa needed to handle the issue with extreme caution as it had the potential to destabilise his party.
“The CCC leader is undoubtedly between a rock and hard place. The offer by the government was not entirely politically innocent and I think for MPs it was designed to produce the kind of turmoil that is now brewing in the party’s leadership.
“The government deliberately threw the cat among the pigeons and is watching with considerable glee all this drama which is unfolding.
“For the CCC, what we have is a clash between moral and ethical principles on one hand, and the reality of ‘eating’ in a political economy of scarcity on the other,” Masunungure said.
“A figure of US$40 000 is a huge bonanza for MPs whose annual pay is probably less than one tenth of that.
“Chamisa has to exercise a lot of dexterity in managing the situation which might easily explode in his face through defections to Zanu PF at a crucial time in the election cycle.
“The best way to handle the crisis is to allow the MPs to take the loot and for them to make a commitment to spend a specified portion of the jackpot in their respective constituencies.
“In any case, it is public money part of which they will be ploughing back to the public in that case,” Masunungure added.
Professor of World Politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Stephen Chan, also said Chamisa must allow his MPs to get the loans.
“Zimbabwean MPs, compared to their counterparts in countries like Kenya, whether government or opposition MPs, are not well paid.
“The lack of competitive salary is almost an incentive to undertake corruption. I see nothing sinister in the loan offer being currently made,” he said. – Daily News