Nelson Chamisa believes he has a divine mission to lead Zimbabwe to economic prosperity.
“I was called to do this … my mission is to finish the work that was not fulfilled by [Robert] Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, and Morgan Tsvangirai. When I am done, I will say I have fixed the country,” the 45-year-old politician told supporters gathered in Gweru in central Zimbabwe at a July 16 rally, before breaking into song and dance.On August 23, the 45-year-old will contest the polls for the second time in five years against incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a man almost twice his age.
In 2018, Chamisa garnered 2.2 million votes and believed he won the poll but that it was rigged by Mnangagwa, who was declared victor with 2.46 million votes. The rematch this August is being framed by pundits and Chamisa himself as a “David and Goliath” tie, since the governing ZANU-PF has won every election since Zimbabwe’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.
His social media accounts have been full of prayers and Bible verses as Chamisa transplants charisma from the pulpit to his party’s rallies, to appeal to vast sections of the populace, especially youths, who are disillusioned with the status quo.He has campaigned to “usher in jobs, opportunities and freedom for everyone”, a message that has resonated in a country in which half of the population lives in extreme poverty and a continuing economic crisis enters a new chapter.
In his manifesto, Chamisa said that he would ensure macroeconomic stability with single-digit inflation and stable exchange rates, build a $100bn economy, and create 2.5 million jobs in five years.
“His policy blueprint also shows that he indeed has a sling to destroy the myriad of challenges bedeviling Zimbabwe,” Bekezela Gumbo, a researcher at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute told Al Jazeera.
A June survey conducted among 2,000 registered voters by Elite Africa Research put Chamisa in the lead with 47.6 percent of the vote and 38.7 percent for Mnangagwa.
If Chamisa wins, he would be one of the youngest presidents on a continent where the median age is 18.5 but the average age of a president is 62. Mugabe, Mnangagwa’s predecessor, was 93 years old at the time of his overthrow in a 2017 military coup.In 2003, at the age of 25, he was elected into parliament, the youngest person to do so in Zimbabwe’s history. By age 31, he had already become a cabinet minister.
In a country of well-educated people – Zimbabwe has a literacy rate of 90 percent – Chamisa has four degrees including a law degree from the University of Zimbabwe and a governance and development studies degree from Stanford University.
He arrived in the capital in 1996 from Masvingo in the southeast to study for his marketing diploma at the Harare Polytechnic College. Harare was a hotbed of student activists and Chamisa became active in politics.
In school, he connected with people who set him on his political path including Charlton Hwende, a student leader at the time and now a senior CCC figure.
Their friendship blossomed and Chamisa eventually succeeded Hwende as SRC president in 1999. In this position, Chamisa began honing his ability to work the crowds.