ELECTION fever has gripped Zimbabwe with posters and banners lining many roads as the country gets ready to go to the polls on July 31.
By Faith Zaba
President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party, who have ruled the country since Independence in 1980, face formidable opposition that promises economic prosperity, transparent governance and respect of civil liberties.
Zanu PF had romped to victory in every election since 1980 until the March 2008 polls that shook Mugabe’s grip on power.
For the first time, Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential elections and his party also lost its parliamentary majority to the MDC-T.
Mugabe then went on to contest the presidential run-off alone after MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out citing rampant violence and intimidation against his supporters.
Zanu PF now faces the fight of its life against MDC-T again.
The MDC-T, whose support base has always been Matabeleland, cities and towns since its formation in 1999, made great inroads in Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands province in the March 2008 elections.
It won in Manicaland, but lost marginally in Masvingo and Midlands provinces to Zanu PF.
However, the Mashonaland provinces, where Mugabe hails from, have always denied Tsvangirai and his party victory in previous elections by overwhelmingly voting for Zanu PF.
A visit to Zanu PF’s traditional stronghold, Mashonaland Central, gives a sneak preview of what Zimbabweans can expect in the forthcoming elections.
As you drive into Mashonaland Central along the Harare-Bindura road, there is no doubt that you have entered Zanu PF territory.
Vendors selling oranges, tomatoes and roasted mealies are all clad in Zanu PF regalia bearing Mugabe’s portrait. The women are wearing bright yellow and green wraps with matching caps, while the men are clad in different coloured T-shirts and matching caps.
As you pass them, instead of waving, which can easily be mistaken for the MDC-T’s open palm symbol, you get the clenched fist Zanu PF symbol or the thumbs up sign.
Entering Bindura you are greeted by a sea of bright yellow and green regalia.
Driving deeper into areas like Mt Darwin and Rushinga, MDC-T posters get fewer while Welshman Ncube’s MDC banners and posters are non-existent.
In the eight hours that the Zimbabwe Independent crew drove through Mazowe, Glendale, Bindura, Mt Darwin and Rushinga, it only came across five youths wearing MDC-T regalia bearing Tsvangirai’s portrait.
At Matope Business Centre in Mt Darwin, three MDC-T youths in the company of their aspiring House of Assembly candidate for Mt Darwin South Gift Sambama could be seen putting up Tsvangirai posters, as Zanu PF supporters watched with amusement.
Asked why they were sneering at the MDC-T youths, first-time voter Primrose Mudita said: “Aiwawo (a dismissive tone), let them put up the posters, but they won’t get any votes this side. Tsvangirai will not win, never! Ino imbori nyika yaani? Not munyika yaBob (Never, whose country is this — not in Robert’s country).”
“We were told by our leaders that people are free to join whichever party they want and that we should allow them to campaign peacefully and we should not pull down their posters. We don’t want to give them any excuse to have these elections discredited. The message is very clear that we want a peaceful and violence-free elections.”
The Independent crew was also able to watch the MDC-T supporters put up more posters in Chatumbama which they referred to as one of Zanu PF’s no-go areas in Mt Darwin South, where Sambama is squaring off with Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere.
Sambama told this paper: “We have managed to put up our posters, but in some areas they are putting up their posters on top of ours. Otherwise, we haven’t encountered any other problems.
“We have held meetings with our supporters, but the problem is that people are afraid to attend. People here don’t want to come out openly in support of the MDC-T.”
Tsvangirai was in Mashonaland Central last week where he held several rallies and meetings with party supporters.
During his visit after a poor turnout at Rushinga Business Centre and a non-appearance of supporters at Matope, Tsvangirai said although intimidation and open political violence have declined, the fear factor is still lingering in the three Zanu PF Mashonaland provinces. He said his supporters are still being intimidated and reminded of the horrors of the 2008 elections.
But is it really about the fear factor or is it about Zanu PF’s strategies which are proving to be more effective or both?
In Mashonaland Central, Zanu PF is employing a village-based campaign strategy, where the party is targeting at least 50 people per village.
Zanu PF Mashonaland Central chairperson Dickson Mafios said: “Our strategy is not based on rallies, but is village-based. We are aiming for at least 50 people per village to vote for Zanu PF. We have 21 people in each village who are in the party structures and we are telling each person to mobilise at least two people to vote for Zanu PF.
“If we do that, from our calculations, we should be able to deliver a minimum of 18 000 votes per constituency in Mashonaland Central,” Mafios said.
The issue of homosexuality is taking centre-stage in the party’s election campaign, with Zanu PF telling villagers in Mashonaland Central that Tsvangirai and his party are promoting same-sex marriages.
Zanu PF messages at the meetings held on Tuesday in Mazowe South claimed that Tsvangirai would legalise same-sex marriages if elected into power. They also alleged he is working with former white farmers to reverse the land reform programme and his key allies are “western imperialists”.
Emotions ran high when speakers claimed that Tsvangirai will legalise homosexuality.
Mazowe war veterans deputy chair, Efanos Mudzimunyi, a survivor of the Nyadzonya massacre, said: “It is impossible to vote for a person who supports homosexuality. It is not godly; he is against God. They preach Mugabe must go, but he is a leader chosen by God to lead this country and MDC-T should respect God because he is the Almighty.”
Mudzimunyi said people would not vote for Tsvangirai because of his alliance with the whites and Western countries. This, he alleged, would reverse the gains of the liberation struggle and would be an insult to thousands of war liberators who died in the war.
“Opposition in a country is not bad, but it should be home-grown. We have our brothers and sisters who were massacred at Chibondo (some 20km away from Mt Darwin) and are buried in mass graves there; and MDC-T is telling us now that we must love whites who slaughtered them,” he said.
“We also went to war for the land and Tsvangirai wants to give them back the land, so what did our brothers and sisters die for?”
Langton Shamuyarira, who is in his early 20s, concurred with Mudzimunyi, saying people in his province preferred Zanu PF because of its indigenisation and land policies.
Several people spoken to also said the focus in this election is to ensure that Mugabe wins with 50% plus one vote.
Amos Gororo, from Rushinga, said: “What we want is to ensure that Mugabe gets a decent exit while in office; whether it will be retiring or dying.
We know that the West is waiting to pounce on him if he loses and we don’t want that. He has done a lot for this country and we don’t want him humiliated.
So, if anything, it’s bhora mugedhi (vote for him) for Mugabe and where there were impositions of candidates, you might see people voting for Mugabe and not the MP. We want to secure victory for the president.”
In the March 2008 elections, Mugabe garnered a total of 157 626 in Mashonaland Central compared to Tsvangirai’s 75 722 votes and in Mashonaland East, the province behind the bhora musango (internal electoral sabotage) strategy, Mugabe won 160 965 votes and Tsvangirai 119 661, while in Mashonaland West the president had 134 730 and the MDC-T leader 107 345.
Tsvangirai also lost in Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland South. In Midlands, 166 831 people voted for Mugabe and 153 288 for Tsvangirai, in Masvingo 156 672 preferred Mugabe and 145 198 Tsvangirai and in Matabeleland South Mugabe had 46 156 and Tsvangirai 34 885 votes.