Issues and trivia in parties fight for voters’ hearts

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have launched their parties’ manifestos, signalling the official start of electioneering for polls on July 31, which look set to be a close call as they are likely to follow established voting trends, with Zanu PF winning in its rural strongholds and the MDC-T prevailing in urban areas.

Report by Elias Mambo

Current trends show that the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube, which has formed an alliance with Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu, might win significant seats in Matabeleland and Midlands, coming in-between the main parties as the power broker.

After the launch of campaigns, the three main parties and an avalanche of fly-by-night political outfits, which normally emerge from the woodwork during election years, have all entered the home stretch with just over two weeks left before poll day.

Zanu PF was the first out of the block launching its manifesto in “the cradle of mass nationalism” — Highfield — as the party tried to rejuvenate its dwindling support base.

It was in Highfield, where Zanu PF was formed, that Mugabe was welcomed by huge crowds of Zimbabweans on the eve of Independence in 1980. It was also in Highfield where the late veteran nationalist Joshua Nkomo was given a house by Herbert Chitepo to organise his meetings.

Judging by policies being propagated by different political parties for the forthcoming elections, there is now a pragmatic shift in the electorate’s expectations as people are no longer interested in mere speeches and sloganeering, but issues which put food on their tables.

As a result, Zanu PF is mainly campaigning on the indigenisation platform, MDC-T on job creation and MDC on devolution of power which it hawks as a potential panacea to problems of over-centralisation and inclusion of the marginalised masses in mainstream economic programmes and development.

While in Zimbabwe policy issues are still not the ultimate game-changer, even if they help in defining the identities and programmes of parties, the United States presidential debates last year gave a glimpse of how policy-based political campaigns make a difference rather than political leaders engaging in name-calling and character assassination.

With political violence and intimidation relatively low compared to previous elections, policy issues are slowly coming to the fore even though parties are not able to competently substantiate their claims and explain how they will achieve their objectives.

The Zanu PF manifesto, themed Indigenise, Empower, Develop and Create Employment, outlines 22 key goals set to define the party’s policies over the next five years, while the MDC-T manifesto is based on job creation, uplifting of the economy and defending the constitution.

MDC-T says it will create one million jobs in the next five years if voted into power.

“The biggest challenge that confronts our economy today is unemployment,” reads the party’s manifesto launched in Marondera last Sunday.

“The MDC-T policy — Jobs, Upliftment, Investment Capital and the Environment (Juice) — is our plan to create jobs and build a strong growing economy.”

Zanu PF has promised to create more than two million jobs through the party’s indigenisation and empowerment initiatives.

“The initiatives will create 2,265 million jobs across key sectors of the economy and contribute to export earnings, food security and to the fiscus among many other benefits,” reads Zanu PF’s manifesto.

Ncube’s MDC emphasises in its election manifesto, which will be launched on July 20 in Binga, revitalisation of industry to create jobs as companies have collapsed after decades of economic mismanagement although its campaign is based on devolution of power.

The party has already launched its economic policy Access, Control, Transformation, Initiative, Organisation, New Technologies, Sustainability (Actions), focusing on harnessing the country’s vast natural and human resources for reconstruction.

It believes access to resources, power and justice; control of destiny and welfare; transformation of communities and strengthening livelihoods of Zimbabweans; initiatives for wealth, job creation and organisation of all public institutions to effectively deliver services, among other things, are the answer to the country’s economic ills.

After relatively succeeding in campaigning for devolution in the new constitution, the MDC has decided to push its campaign on that issue now resonating, mainly in Manicaland, Matabeleland and Midlands.

At the launch of MDC-T’s manifesto, Tsvangirai said his party is faced with a task to right the wrongs done in the 33 years Mugabe has been in power.
“As demonstrated in our agenda for real transformation (Art) of governance, we have plans to tackle the ills of this nation after 33 years of bad governance, corruption, primitive accumulation by the elite, lies and deception,” Tsvangirai said.

Zanu PF’s campaign is generally based on the themes of independence, sovereignty, respect for the values and ideals of the liberation struggle, patriotism, employment, housing and economic prosperity.

The party harks back on claims of past achievements, such as the attainment of Independence, the signing of the Unity Accord between Zanu PF and Zapu, the land reform programme, education, health, gender advancement and security policies.

However, political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, who is also the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, said the Zanu PF manifesto compares poorly to the MDC-T’s blueprint centred on jobs.

“Zanu PF’s indigenisation message is not as attractive as the land reform and cannot be compared to the jobs agenda which will drive the MDC-T,” Ruhanya said. “MDC-T is cruising on the jobs campaign and this has a bearing on the common people. The jobs agenda is appealing to the electorate because people want food on their tables, not promises of company shares which seem unrealistic.”

Ruhanya said this election will be fought on real issues precisely because of where the country is coming from.

“The country is coming from near-collapse where we witnessed hyperinflation, decay of the health sector, education and state institutions as a result of authoritarian administration,” Ruhanya said. “Voters will shun policies that will fly them back into the past, so parties have to consolidate their policies so as not to reverse economic gains made after the 2008 disputed elections.”

Jabusile Shumba, another political analyst, said the next election will be decided by practical policies that will bring food on the table of the common people and dismissed the indigenisation and empowerment programme as “pie in the sky” for the majority of Zimbabweans.

“People will be enticed by policies that seek to resolve the effects of economic decline and political meltdown Zimbabwe faced in the past decade,” Shumba said.
“However, Zanu PF is in a fix because for most communities, indigenisation and community share ownership schemes are pie in the sky. They cannot hold it and enjoy it.

“The programmes remain campaign gimmicks meant to win votes for the Zanu PF party. The whole idea is a lipstick of corporate social responsibility which companies have been doing even before this law was introduced, but it won’t work.” Shumba said.

However, opinion polls say Mugabe and Zanu PF have recovered since 2008 precisely due to land reform and indigenisation policies, although continued food shortages due to farm seizures and corruption rocking company take-overs seem to diminish the purported gains on the programmes.


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