Profile: Zimbabwe opposition leader Nelson Chamisa

The 40-year-old is the main challenger of President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe’s first post-Robert Mugabe elections.

Nelson Chamisa Zimbabwe opposition leader
Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor, wants to be Zimbabwe's youngest president [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]

At 40, Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alliance, is Zimbabwe’s youngest ever presidential candidate.

He was born in Masvingo, south of the capital, Harare, on February 2, 1978.

A lawyer, Chamisa studied law and political science at the University of  Zimbabwe and holds a degree in theology. He is also a pastor.

He is just a few months over the constitutional minimum age limit to run for president.

Chamisa is hoping to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party, in Monday’s landmark elections – the first without long-time President Robert Mugabe on the ballot form.


During the election period, Chamisa was able to draw big, enthusiastic crowds in the rural heartland – which accounts for 60 percent of the more than 5.5 million voters and is a stronghold of ZANU-PF, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Chamisa hopes that his message of change will resonate with the country’s youthful population.

But to become president, Chamisa also has to overcome rivalries from his own political side.

Following the death of leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC’s internal rivalries sparked a damaging leadership battle that Chamisa is still struggling to repair. 

Chamisa has also been accused of working closely with Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwe’s former president and at one time seen as his potential successor.

The MDC leader has dismissed the allegations, describing them as a smear campaign. Still, this could hurt his chances, given that the unpopular former first lady’s political ambitions were a major catalyst for a military intervention in November 2017 that led to Mugabe’s resignation.

Chamisa faces an uphill battle but believes that the shock ousting of Mugabe has reshaped national politics, giving him the chance of victory through the ballot box on Monday.


Political career

Chamisa joined the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as a student when it was founded in 1999.

As head of the Zimbabwe National Students Union in the late 1990s, he was among the organisers of massive demonstrations against Mugabe’s government that resulted in the closure of colleges and universities.

Chamisa rose very fast through MDC party ranks. He held a number of posts, leading the party’s youth wing as well as being its spokesperson.

The slightly-built Chamisa experienced first hand the dangers of opposing Mugabe and has been arrested several times for his political activities.

In 2007, he was severely beaten with truncheons and an iron bar and left for dead. He spent five days in hospital after the attack, which was widely blamed on ZANU-PF party members.

In the troubled power-sharing government after the 2008 election, he was the youngest member of cabinet, serving as information and communication technology minister.

Tsvangirai, who died from cancer in February, was Chamisa’s mentor.

Over the years, Chamisa has earned a reputation for delivering passionate speeches spiced with humour.

“We are the winners. No doubt. There is no runoff in Zimbabwe. There is a run over Mnangagwa,” he told an enthusiastic crowd as he held his final election campaign rally on Saturday in Harare.

“People are voting for change, people are voting for the new, people are voting for the young, people are voting for a new Zimbabwe in authentic and genuine terms.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies