OPINION: The ugly side of the MDC revealed

Dirty politics is at play in Zimbabwe – and not just in Zanu-PF.

“Guys, can you rape this kind of woman?” asked MDC MP Job Sikhala on Twitter, next to a picture of a middle-aged woman.

The tweet – later deleted – was in response to a rape claim laid against Nelson Chamisa.

Chamisa’s supporters rose up in a chorus to defend him.

Hatred was spewed against the woman who’d accused him of rape.

But here’s the thing: the woman whose picture was plastered across Twitter and shamed by Zimbabwe’s now infamous Twitter lynch mobs wasn’t the accuser.

She just happened to have the same name. And it later turned out that the real accuser had withdrawn her report. She’s understood to be mentally ill.

But the damage had been done to the nurse who shared her identity.

The level of vitriol and hate speech made against her shocked many, coming as it did from members of a democratic party that prides itself in offering a better deal than Zanu-PF.

All this comes at a time of high tension within the party. A congress in May is widely expected to confirm Nelson Chamisa as party president. But his position is likely to be challenged by MDC secretary general Douglas Mwonzora.

Already, hate speech is being levelled against Mwonzora from MDC supporters. Top party officials, including one of the three vice presidents, Morgen Komichi, and deputy chairman, Tendai Biti, say that those contesting against Chamisa are being sponsored by Zanu-PF.

To make matters worse, the Harare youth wing of the MDC said that anyone who stands against Chamisa at the congress will be considered an “enemy” of the party. That’s the kind of wild and vicious statement we’ve come to expect from Zanu-PF youths, who only last week said they were prepared to die for President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Chamisa later tweeted that what the MDC youth wing had said was “unacceptable”.

His words were greeted with a sigh of relief by many of his more level-headed supporters. But that doesn’t change the fact that Zimbabweans expect better of a party that consistently calls out Zanu-PF’s offensive behaviour.

And – though the trolls will rise up en masse against this suggestion – why can’t we ask why opposition leaders don’t step down when they fail to win an election? That’s what opposition leaders have done in democracies elsewhere. Come to think of it, Chamisa said he’d quit politics if he lost elections last year.

The MDC should be a trend setter.

Instead, it seems to be perfecting the art of imitating Zanu-PF.

And we all know where that leads a country.

Oliver Matthews is a freelance reporter based in Zimbabwe.