Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa has promised to give President Emmerson Mnangagwa the position of Leader of Opposition in Parliament if he wins the upcoming elections.

Chamisa made the promise while campaigning for a CCC parliamentary candidate in Chirumanzu South.

Back in 2018, Mnangagwa had offered Chamisa the post of Leader of Opposition in an attempt to gain Commonwealth recognition.

However, Chamisa who was not happy with the way the elections were handled rejected the proposal at the time.

He said a Leader of Opposition was not an enemy of the state but an extension of government representing the views of the opposition.

Zimbabwe has had a parliamentary system since 1923 and the post of Leader of the Opposition was recognised at an early date.

It fell into abeyance in the 1960s, however, due to a reluctance on the part of the white government to recognise an African parliamentarian as leader of the opposition.

After Independence the post was not revived, probably because the first Prime Minister and then President, Robert Mugabe, was not inclined to recognise opposition in any form whatever.

Nonetheless the post of leader of the opposition is still recognised at law:

The Constitution, in section 151, makes “the Leader of the Opposition in each House” [i.e. the Senate and the National Assembly] members of the parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

Order 14 of the National Assembly’s Standing Rules and Orders makes the Leader of the Opposition a member of another important committee, the Business of the House Committee.

The Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Benefits Act, in section 6, provides for a salary and other benefits to be paid to the leader of the opposition.

So the post is recognised by law. Indeed Chamisa held it, briefly. On the 29th May this year, the Speaker announced in the National Assembly:

“I would like to inform this House that at its meeting held on 21st May, 2018 the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders was advised by the MDC T that Hon. Advocate Nelson Chamisa is now the leader of the opposition in Parliament.”

In countries that have adopted the Westminster model of parliamentary government, the post of Leader of the Opposition is a semi-official parliamentary post given to the leader of the main opposition party or group in Parliament.

The post is largely symbolic, but the symbolism is very important:

It confers legitimacy on the opposition, by recognising that differing views must be permitted in every democratic system.

In a parliamentary democracy those different views must be heard and respected in Parliament.

It reminds the opposition – the main opposition party, anyway – that they are part of the system of governance and have responsibilities towards it.