ZANU PF’s failure to reclaim the Norton seat in a by-election held last Saturday despite employing its usual dirty tactics of vote-buying, intimidation and violence is an indication that the party will find it difficult to win the 2018 elections as long as the economy remains in the doldrums.
By Elias Mambo
Although massive infighting in Zanu PF also contributed to the loss, the party’s failure to proffer solutions for the deepening economic crisis remains a major weakness.
Ahead of the by-election, Zanu PF dished out 9 000 stands and unleashed violence to intimidate independent candidate Temba Mliswa’s supporters. Mliswa, however, managed to beat the ruling party’s candidate Ronald Chindedza by 2 735 votes after polling 8 927 votes compared to his rival’s 6 192 votes.
The election came at a time the majority of Zimbabweans are reeling under the serious economic meltdown characterised by a biting cash shortage, uncertainty over the bond notes which are bringing back sad memories of the traumatic Zimbabwe dollar era when life savings were wiped out.
A large number of Zimbabweans are also infuriated by rising high-level corruption, nepotism and the looting of resources by the political elite, which has accelerated the economic decline.
The economic meltdown is reflected by the high unemployment rate, which stands at a staggering 95%, according to the International Labour Organisation.
So far this year, at least 236 companies have shut shop, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
The Norton by-election, seen by many as a litmus test ahead of the 2018 general elections, demonstrated that Zanu PF’s failure to deliver on its 2013 electoral promises may come back to haunt the party, never mind vote buying, intimidation and violence which are also likely to be employed in the general elections.
In its 2013 election manifesto, Zanu PF promised to create 2,2 million jobs but instead the country has seen massive retrenchments and company closures.
In addition, Zanu PF promised to unlock economic value of US$1,8 trillion while pledging that the economy would grow by an average of 6,6% but this has proved to be a pie in the sky.
A key indicator of the ever shrinking job market is reflected by a study conducted by the Vendors’ Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) between February and April this year, which shows that more than 2 000 university graduates in Harare and Bulawayo have resorted to street vending as a means of survival.
Political analyst Simukai Tinhu said the Norton electoral victory by an independent candidate is “an indictment of the ruling party’s performance on the economic front”.
“The liberation movement’s defeat is a result of disenchantment with the grinding economic crisis which has recently been characterised by continued company closures, ever-rising unemployment and worsening credit crunch in the country,” Tinhu said.
The by-election was necessitated by the internal strife threatening to tear Zanu PF apart as a result of the party’s failure to resolve its succession problem. Two factions, one led by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the other which has coalesced around First Lady Grace Mugabe, have been at each other’s throats since the decimation of a faction led by former vice-president Joice Mujuru at the party’s 2014 congress as they seek to succeed 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
As a result of the factional fights, Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association chairperson Christopher Mutsvangwa, a vocal Mnangangwa ally, was expelled from Zanu PF, losing his Norton seat in the process.
Although the Zanu PF campaign suffered because of infighting as Mutsvangwa and Mnangagwa’s sympathisers largely chose not to campaign for Chindedza, the party failed dismally to address people’s concerns on the campaign trail.
Instead of addressing bread and butter issues, the campaign became a theatre of factional fights as G40 members such as Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and the party’s political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere used the platform to defend Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, accused of abusing the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund.
Judging from reactions on social media, an impression was given that the bigwigs can get away with corruption as long as part of their loot goes towards financing the party.
The rallies came against the background of media exposures of several corruption scandals, including in the country’s energy sector, where cronies of the First Family such as Wicknell Chivayo corruptly benefitted from multi-million dollar deals.
Mugabe’s in-law Derrick Chikore also corruptly benefitted from the expensive US$498 million Dema Diesel Power Plant, which is set to worsen the plight of the broke Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.
But during campaigns, Zanu PF failed to offer solutions to the problems bedevilling the country and instead dangled stands and food — which people gladly took.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the “land for vote” hypothesis was dismissed because voters want clear government policies that speak to their problems such as job losses and liquidity crisis.
“The urban voter is far freer and has as many independent sources of information as compared to rural voters, hence are able to be more discerning. And in Norton the opposition victory is a clear indication that circumstances of vile corruption, economic collapse and leadership arrogance pose a limit to vote buying,” Mukundu said.
“Going into the future vote buying will unfortunately be combined with the tried and tested weapon of violence.”
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director and political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said other than the economic problems and rising corruption, the absence of the military on the campaign trail also contributed to the Zanu PF loss.
“The Norton by-election teaches us that without the security apparatus’ overt and covert involvement in the electoral affairs of Zimbabwe, Zanu PF is in huge trouble,” Ruhanya said.
“The military, which is a repressive state apparatus, is the decisive power bloc in Zanu PF’s hegemonic projects.
The role of both retired and serving military people in this election should be scrutinised. Also interesting to observe is the failure of the Zanu PF strategy to use urban land to dilute opposition strongholds.”
The Norton feat has given the opposition belief that it is possible to defeat Zanu PF should a unifying candidate be identified.
Mliswa got the support of major opposition parties in his battle against Zanu PF hegemony.