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Zimbabwe’s defeated presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa has quit the political movement he founded two years ago, claiming it had been “hijacked” by the ruling party.

“With immediate effect, I no longer have anything to do with CCC,” Chamisa wrote on his social media account, referring to his Citizens Coalition for Change party. He added in a 13-page letter that the party had been “hijacked” and “contaminated” by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF through the abuse of state institutions.

The decision by Chamisa, the country’s best-known opposition leader, is a blow for Zimbabwean efforts to build a credible opposition to Zanu-PF after the party’s election defeat in August. The CCC is the successor to the Movement for Democratic Change, whose late leader Morgan Tsvangirai once led the challenge to dictator Robert Mugabe, who died in 2019.

Mnangwagwa came to power in a 2017 coup that toppled Mugabe, and has since won two disputed elections. Speaking to the Financial Times ahead of the August vote, Chamisa complained of election rigging and repression in order to keep Mnangagwa in power.

He also said the tyranny in the southern African nation was worse than ever. “Mugabe pales into a little example of dictatorship when you look at what’s happening now,” Chamisa said in the FT interview.

While the CCC lost the bruising election, it did manage to do well in urban areas, winning 103 of 280 seats in Zimbabwe’s parliament.

The months since have seen the CCC embroiled in a bizarre row after a previously obscure member of the party, Sengezo Tshabangu, declared himself as its interim secretary-general — a post that until then had not existed.

Tshabangu, with backing from Zanu-PF, then removed several lawmakers from the CCC, triggering a series of by-elections. Though Chamisa appealed to the courts, they backed Tshabangu. His by-election nominees won two seats but lost three to Zanu-PF.

“The emergence of this imposter should not be looked at in isolation from the 23 August sham,” Chamisa said, referring to the election. He added: “We are being thrown into the river with hungry crocodiles, but clearly in our view, I will refuse to swim in [that] river.”

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, chief executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs, said Chamisa’s move was a repeat of what had happened to the opposition in Zimbabwe many times over the past two decades.

“The CCC didn’t do too badly in the last election, but there’s obviously been a degree of infiltration by Zanu-PF. But I don’t think starting a new political party, as Chamisa seems to want to do, will solve the problem,” she said.

Sidiropoulos also said it was difficult to see what sort of Zimbabwe — a country in which corruption and a crisis of governance was so institutionalised — would emerge from this period. “You actually need a complete clean-out . . . but that’s the radical option that comes with its own challenges.”

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