By Denford Magora
A DAY after the senate election, Morgan Tsvangirai told the world that the apathy that led to the low voter turnout was a response to his call for a boycott of the polls.
International news services said he “boasted” that the people of Zimbabwe had heeded his call.
But Tsvangirai is deluding himself. That there was massive apathy is not in dispute. It should also be evident even to him that the low voter turnout was a serious indictment of the way he has led the opposition over the past six years as much as it was a definite slap in President Mugabe’s face.
It all started with the March parliamentary poll. The turnout was also low. Tsvangirai campaigned in those elections, even after initially talking of a boycott. But the turnout was still dismal. The explanation is simple enough.
We had a low voter turnout in the March parliamentary poll because the electorate had written both Tsvangirai and Mugabe off already. They had decided voting for Tsvangirai’s MDC was as much a waste of time as was voting for the now thoroughly dysfunctional ruling party.
Tsvangirai is intelligent enough to realise that when people say “voting is a waste of time” they are talking as much about the way the MDC utilises the votes it is given, as much as they are talking about the ineptitude of Zanu PF.
If he realises this, then he should be hiding his face in shame at the way his party and leadership have ruined people’s enthusiasm for the democratic process.
Yes, their votes are wasted because when Tsvangirai and the MDC pocket those votes, they do not appear to champion the causes that are dear to their supporters’ hearts. Those causes go beyond the attainment of power. People have to live in the meantime.
We really should not be repeating over and over again the need to tune into the people’s daily tempo. Their daily struggles, hopes and little battles should never have been ignored by Tsvangirai who thought that he had a “higher” calling and better things to do with his time than bother with bread and butter issues.
The people of Zimbabwe, with the exception of the geriatrics who pottered along to cast their votes for Zanu PF last week, are now sick and tired of meaningless elections.
Zanu PF also carries a very large part of the blame for this apathy. Voters have given up on a Zanu PF led by Mugabe which they now never take seriously, except when it comes to beating peaceful protesters to a pulp and detaining them. This government has not given the vast majority of our people any reason to turn up at the polls.
Promises made by Zanu PF may as well be written on toilet paper, which will be flushed down the drains before the ink has even dried on it.
In any serious democracy, or even in a society with pretensions to democracy, it ought to shame both the person in power and the one seeking to take that power when people just don’t care anymore. This is Zimbabwe’s reality. But do not hold your breath for any signs of shame from either Mugabe or Tsvangirai. These people live in their own world, believing whatever makes them feel most comfortable at any given moment.
As for Tsvangirai, the only credit that should go to him is that he has managed to so thoroughly disenchant the people of this country that they really do not believe that he has any more fight left in him. They know he has no strategy either, after having seen him blow hot and cold after losing three elections, which he claimed were rigged.
No one needs to remind the people of this country of the ineptitude and apparent helplessness of the opposition “leader” in the face of successive opportunities presented to him on a silver platter.
There was the anger of the people after the 2000 parliamentary poll was allegedly “stolen” by Mugabe. Then came another wave of anger when Mugabe closed the polling stations early during the presidential election, thereby denying Tsvangirai the presidency by a margin of some 400 000.
Tsvangirai did not channel this anger with the people. Instead, he left them to swing in the wind, while he globetrotted and asked foreigners to put pressure on Mugabe.
Meantime, those who voted for the opposition leader looked on as Mugabe and his ministers like Ignatius Chombo (Local Government) and Joseph Made (Agriculture) proceeded to govern the country as though it were a rubbish dump.
They did not see their lot improve in any way. What they saw instead was an intensification of their hardships, brought on by further isolation of the newly-elected Zanu PF government. Inflation continued to spiral out of control, fuel blues continued to bite really hard despite assurances by President Mugabe.
This led to the population experiencing intense public transport problems.
Both Tsvangirai and Mugabe remained mum on this issue, even as people waited for hours on end to catch buses in the morning and at night.
Zhupco, despite making a dubious and convenient “profit” that allowed it to donate to Zanu PF is, to this day, failing to make a dent in the public transport problem. Of course, Tsvangirai is not in power, and he has protested before that he should not be blamed for these happenings.
But that is sheer nonsense. The people who voted for him are suffering because of the incompetence of the government that he says stole the election. They expect him to do something to show that he has not forgotten their plight. That something is not the addressing of endless rallies. It is not the frequenting of foreign capitals in search of moral and financial support. It is not the issuing of statements condemning this and that from the comfort of his home.
They expect him to take the lead in confronting this government over its callous insensitivity over everything from the shortage of basic commodities to the so-called Operation Murambatsvina. In fact, not one person I speak to has any recollection of whether Tsvangirai said or did anything to defend the urbanites who were treated like criminal dogs during this operation.
It then comes down to this: people are now of the opinion that neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe can make a difference to their daily woes. Neither seems to care that the country is burning and the economy has collapsed.
Yes, collapsed. Neither has the capacity to change their circumstances.
As a result, people have taken the attitude: each man for himself and the devil take the hindermost. If they desert their fields during this rainy season to waste a Saturday voting in a contest between two corpses, they had only themselves to blame for hunger, deprivation and suffering when tomorrow comes. They will not hear from Tsvangirai or Mugabe. So, their Saturday was better spent trying to ensure the survival of their families the following week. They have now realised that the fate of their individual family groups lies in their hands and theirs alone, not in Mugabe’s discredited pronouncements or Tsvangirai’s floundering.
Do not be fooled. Even if Tsvangirai had accepted to participate in the polls, the level of apathy would have been the same. It would have been a continuation of the widespread apathy we saw in March, when the MDC had its seats reduced amidst a massive fall in voter turnout.
Apart from a cabal of die-hard fanatics on both sides of the political fence, no one cares anymore how many elections are held. For this reason, if for no other, those who are making moves to dismiss Tsvangirai from the helm of the party should be applauded by all who cherish democracy.
* Denford Magora is a Harare-based marketing executive.