The elections fever that has gripped the whole country seems absent in the Eastern Highlands giving an impression of the ordinary with five days to go before Zimbabweans vote in crucial general elections on Wednesday.
People in Manicaland, which has the second highest number of registered voters with 807 300 after Harare’s 1,2 million, seems to be going about their normal business and campaign posters bearing House of Assembly and presidential party candidates are few and far between.
It is easy to count political party posters in Mutare Central and they get even fewer in high-density suburbs like Sakubva, Chikanga, Dangamvura and Yeoville.
In Makoni, Mutasa, Buhera, Headlands and Rusape, Mugabe’s posters seem to dominate public space, but are relatively few compared to the three Mashonaland provinces, Midlands and Harare.
During the two days the Zimbabwe Independent visited the province last Sunday and Monday, very few people could be seen donning party regalia — with the green and yellow wraps and matching T-shirts with Mugabe’s portrait dominating other provinces — hardly visible.
There was no indication that Mugabe would be addressing a star rally in Mutare on Tuesday, except for the green haulage truck bearing Mugabe’s huge portrait and the bhora mugedhi (vote for Mugabe) message inscribed across it, which drove around the city, as well as the presence of soldiers from the presidential guard.
But this serene and calm atmosphere should not be mistaken for complacency, as the Independent crew discovered. Beneath the veneer of tranquillity lies deep-seated anger and disappointment over how this region has been governed.
The discontent which has been simmering over the years is likely to come to the boil next Wednesday when Zimbabweans vote for a new government.
Certainly, Zanu PF has lost some sleep over Manicaland. Out of the 26 constituencies in that province, the MDC-T grabbed 20 in the 2008 general elections.
The province also rejected Mugabe by overwhelmingly voting for Tsvangirai, who got 212 029 votes compared to the Zanu PF leader’s 141 592.
The Manyikas, who constitute 15% of the Shona population, have always stood up to Mugabe and Zanu PF, leading to the rise of opposition leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai, Simba Makoni, Arthur Mutambara, the late Ndabaningi Sithole, Abel Muzorewa and Edgar Tekere.
Tensions between the Zezurus, to which Mugabe and Vice-President Joice Mujuru belong, and the Karangas and Manyikas can be traced back to the liberation war when the Karangas and Manyikas provided the bulk of fighters, military commanders and top leadership of the Zanu movement.
Since power fell into the hands of Mugabe — a ruthless Zezuru intellectual who led the Zanu movement, but did no fight himself — many Karangas and Manyikas feel he has ignored their contribution, sidelined their leaders and promoted people from his own clan.
Indeed, since Zanu PF’s last electoral congress in 2009, none of the presidium posts have been occupied by Manyikas or Karangas, but are dominated by the Zezurus and Ndebeles.
Mugabe has failed to appease the Manyika people over the mysterious 1975 assassination in exile of former Zanu leader and national hero Herbert Chitepo. The death of Chitepo, which drove Mugabe to leave the country to Mozambique, continues to incite conflict and controversy in Zimbabwe’s national politics.
Zanu PF’s headaches ahead of elections next week are mounting as it tries to wrest back seats lost in the last elections.
In addition to Mugabe sidelining the Manyikas, people interviewed by the Independent are bitter about the continued marginalisation of the region, despite it being a diamond-rich province.
Mutare is Zimbabwe’s fourth largest city sitting at the heart of rich diamond fields, gold and timber. The people of Manicaland are crying for change and do not see what more Zanu PF and Mugabe can offer them which they have failed to do in 33 years.
Maria Saungweme of Sakubva said: “People here are very bitter about the level of poverty in the area and the fact that there are no jobs for university graduates.
“Mugabe and Zanu PF have failed us big time. We have diamonds in Marange, which are just plundered by people from outside the province. Mutare has not changed a single bit; we have the same buildings, no expansion or development of the city. It’s Mugabe’s people benefiting.”
John Makoni from Mutasa South said he is tired of the false promises given election after election from Mugabe and Zanu PF.
“We will attend Zanu PF rallies and fill the stadiums and we also attend MDC-T rallies in huge numbers, but we know who we are going to vote for,” said Makoni.
“The violence of 2008 is still lingering in our minds, so we keep our vote close to our chests. We have better things to do like fending for our families, instead of running up and down campaigning, singing party songs or toy-toying, but come July 31, you will see us coming out in huge numbers to vote for change. Zanu PF had its chance and it’s now time to try others.”
Andrew Chingawawa from Nyazura said Zanu PF has been in power since 1980, but service delivery is very poor and unemployment levels are among the highest in the world.
“We now believe that MDC-T is our way out,” said Chingawawa. “If Zanu PF gets more than three seats, it will be very lucky. The problem is that we might end up losing Makoni Central because our leader wants to impose Simba Makoni (Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader). This has created a lot of confusion which might work to (Zanu PF candidate) Patrick Chinamasa’s advantage.Tsvangirai is shooting himself in the foot.”
Tsvangirai endorsed Makoni as the House of Assembly candidate for Makoni Central ahead of his party’s Patrick Sagandira on the basis of a coalition for change agreement he signed with Makoni and Reketayi Semwayo of Zanu Ndonga.
The Dangamvura-Chikanga constituency is another seat under threat after Tsvangirai also imposed Housing Development minister Giles Mutsekwa over the favoured candidate, prominent lawyer Arnold Tsunga.
Even top Zanu PF sources in Manicaland conceded that Tsunga would win over Mutsekwa, but were hoping that the vote would be split to give its candidate Duru Reketai Milcah a chance.
Mathias Muvirimi of Makoni South credited MDC-T for the improved economic situation in the country after the formation of the coalition government in 2009.
“There are now groceries on the shop shelves and there has been a remarkable improvement in terms of the economy — thanks to MDC-T,” said Muvirimi. “We no longer want lies preached to us. Just watch — Manicaland is going to decide the election for Zimbabwe.
The liberation war started here and it will be this province that is going to bring change to Zimbabwe. We are saying no to being sidelined and marginalised.”