By David Coltart
WHEN I woke up and thought of the thousands of Zimbabweans who confronted tyranny with their votes on the weekend of August 30/31, I was reminded of Robert Browning’s wo
rds: “One who never turned his back but marched breast forward; Never doubted clouds would break; Never dreamed though right were worsted wrong would triumph; Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better; Sleep to wake.”
These words epitomise the spirit the MDC and its supporters countrywide demonstrated in the stunning urban council results.
“Stunning?” some may ask. After all the MDC lost Kwekwe and Kadoma and lost a few small towns in Mashonaland. Kwekwe and Kadoma were both parliamentary seats we won in 2000 and were of course seats we should have won. That, some may argue, is hardly stunning.
But I am elated and the events of the past few weeks are highly significant. If one needed any confirmation of the significance of the results one only had to watch ZTV, as I did, to appreciate how crushing these results were to Zanu PF. The results, were only announced almost in passing, 20 minutes into the news bulletin. Had Zanu PF been happy with the results they would have been first up.
Why then is Zanu PF devastated and why are these results stunning? It is because:
The MDC has finally gained effective control of the urban areas.
Before the poll Zanu PF controlled every single municipality in the country save for Harare. Now they have woken up to the reality that the MDC controls the municipalities of Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Masvingo, Victoria Falls, Kariba, Gwanda, Ruwa and Hwange and shares power in Chegutu (where we still have an MDC mayor even if all our candidates were prevented from filing their nomination papers) and Zvishavane.
In other words the MDC now controls the budgets and general operations of Zimbabwe’s five largest cities, its two premier tourist resorts and several strategically important towns.
Some 40% of Zimbabwe’s urban population live in these centres which are now liberated from Zanu PF’s power and corruption. These same centres generate over 50% of our GDP. Whilst the MDC won parliamentary seats in all these cities and towns in 2000, that never translated into control because MDC MPs have always been in a minority in parliament and were powerless to prevent Zanu PF from passing laws and budgets to their liking.
For the first time the MDC has gained almost total control over the areas it first won largely symbolically in 2000.
The MDC has in reality gained ground. For all the focus in the regime’s media on the MDC losing ground in Kwekwe and Kadoma the reality is far different. It is in fact Zanu PF that has lost ground. Kwekwe and Kadoma were only lost because of massive doses of violence and intimidation perpetrated by the regime.
Let us not forget that the MDC MP for Kadoma, Austin Mupandawana, died only a few weeks ago, his death a direct result of his unlawful detention and torture by the regime in March, which severely undermined our capacity in that town.
Our Kwekwe MP, Blessing Chebundo, had his car smashed by Zanu PF hooligans on the first day of the election, the voter turnout was way over the national average (suggesting that Zanu PF went to extra lengths to truck people in) and suspected MDC supporters were dragged out of voter queues by Zanu PF thugs.
Zanu PF was only able to win in Chegutu and Bindura by violently preventing our candidates from even filing their nomination papers. In towns like Marondera and Norton they only won through pervasive intimidation. In areas where Zanu PF leaders were complacent and took their eyes off the ball they lost ground.
It is pertinent to remember that both Kariba and Zvishavane were won by Zanu PF MPs in the 2000 parliamentary election. Kariba is now controlled outright by the MDC and has a white MDC mayor! Zvishavane is now jointly controlled by the MDC and Zanu PF who won five seats each.
The result in Kariba is particularly remarkable because it is in Mashonaland West province which has been a no go area for the MDC since the 2002 presidential election.
The MDC won despite apathy.
Low voter turnout created by apathy traditionally favours Zanu PF because it is guaranteed of being able to get a hardcore out to vote come what may.
In this election Zanu PF used war veterans and youth militia to do its campaigning in Bulawayo and I suspect that the same was the case countrywide. These people who are paid all voted and guaranteed that Zanu PF would get a basic minimum percentage of the vote. The regime encouraged apathy, for example the location of polling stations was not advertised and very little effort was made to get out the vote. In Bulawayo Zanu PF candidates did not hold campaign rallies.
All of this was premised on the hope that only a few people would turn out to vote and that they would be able to win by default. This strategy was supplemented by two diametrically opposed attitudes I discerned in the voting public in Bulawayo which I suspect prevailed countrywide.
The (negative) one was that there was simply no point in voting. People had voted for change in 2002 but Zanu PF had rigged and stolen the result and would just do the same again. The other (positive) one was that the MDC had won by such overwhelming margins in urban areas in the 2000 and 2002 elections that there was no need to vote, especially when one had such difficulty in securing basic necessities such as cash, food and fuel.
Added to that of course were the threats to withhold food which created a huge moral dilemma in the minds of most voters who were torn between voting in large numbers for the party of their choice and as a result possibly denying their children food.
Given these obstacles it is astonishing that the MDC did as well as it did and whilst we clearly have work to do in getting people to turn out in greater numbers, it is Zanu PF that has to confront the harsh reality that in a city the size of Bulawayo with over 800 000 inhabitants, they can only rely on a total of some 9 000 core supporters. The same applies in virtually every single city and town in the country.
The MDC won despite a totally subverted electoral process.
It is important to remember that as bad as the electoral process was in the 2000 parliamentary election, the process was a cakewalk then compared to now.
In 2000 we did not have the Public Order and Security Act, youth brigades, a subverted police force and judiciary, a thoroughly manipulated voters’ roll and food shortages. In 2000 we did have international observers, far more money to campaign with, and a relative absence of fear.
Since the 2000 election, the MDC has been subjected to an unrelenting assault. Virtually every single leader has been detained, many have faced spurious prosecutions and other forms of harassment.
Hundreds of thousands of MDC supporters have been intimidated through killings, beatings, threats and denial of access to food. The party has been drained of resources through having to protect the thousands of its leaders and supporters who have had to be provided with medical care and legal representation.
Thousands of Zimbabweans who voted for the MDC in 2000 have been disenfranchised through unconstitutional means. Thousands of “ghost” voters have been introduced to urban constituencies.
Whilst we were able to field candidates in every single constituency in 2000 we were unable to do so this year through the combination of Zanu PF thugs preventing candidates from getting their nomination papers in and partisan judges subverting the legal process in favour of Zanu PF. In other words, the regime has done everything in its power to crush the MDC and to subvert the electoral process in the last three years.
It is for all of these reasons that the MDC’s victory was truly amazing and why I thought Robert Browning’s words so apt. The regime has thrown everything at us. The regime has done unspeakable things to our friends and relatives it has murdered, raped, tortured, assaulted, detained and spuriously prosecuted but it has failed. We have indeed fallen only to rise; we have indeed slept only to wake.
I have but one final thought which is for those responsible for perpetrating all the horror that has befallen our beautiful nation. It comes from Edmund Burke who wrote the following words in 1775: “The use of force alone is temporary. It may subdue for a moment: but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.”
Zimbabwe is only held by Zanu PF through force, not by popular will of the people. These results demonstrate that force has only subdued the people of Zimbabwe for a moment. In reality Zanu PF no longer enjoys the respect and support of the people and as such no longer governs Zimbabwe.
Freedom is now just around the corner. Makorokoto, Umhlophe, Congratulations Zimbabwe!
David Coltart is MDC MP for Bulawayo South.