The short answer is no. Let me tell you why.
We have been holding elections on a regular basis for many years as required by our constitution.
None of them has resulted in a change of leadership or policy in any major way and none have resolved our growing problems. Is there any reason today why this should change?
Let us just look at our recent electoral history: In 2000, the MDC won the referendum in March by a 55% to 45% margin after the outcome had been rigged by an estimated 15%. Zanu PF was stunned and shocked to the core. Then in June 2000 the MDC was beaten in the election by just 1,5% — Zanu PF surviving by just three seats in the House of Assembly.
In 2002, after frantic efforts to rig the election by reducing votes in urban areas and inflating votes in rural areas and then not allowing hundreds of thousands of people to vote in urban areas by reducing the number of polling stations and cutting short the extension of voting, President Robert Mugabe survived despite being outvoted by Tsvangirai by a large margin, simply by falsifying the result with South African connivance.
Zanu PF went into overdrive, the MDC voters on commercial farms (700 000) were displaced, rural violence cowed the rest, urban constituencies were curtailed and rural constituencies extended and Zanu PF crushed the MDC and successfully split the MDC into two parties, again with South African connivance.
The then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, decided that something had to be done about the mess in Zimbabwe and he forced Zanu PF to reform the electoral process and to hold an election in March 2008, which he hoped would lead to a Zanu PF government with credibility. To his horror, MDC won and he had to suddenly try to reverse the victory of the opposition and the presidency. Unable to achieve the former, he allowed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to simply falsify the presidential ballot in the hope that Mugabe would win the run-off — he did, his personal vote rising from a measly 27% in March to a healthy 84% in June.
The only problem was that the election was so clearly completely compromised that not even the African Union would accept the outcome and Mbeki had to hurriedly reconvene the negotiators and get a Government of National Unity (GNU) sworn in. This happened in February 2009 and led to a brief period of sanity and growth.
Then in 2013, after Zanu PF had been able to filch US$15 billion from newly discovered diamond fields in Marange, after they had spent the four years of the GNU resisting any changes in the way the state or elections were run; and they had been able to revise and improve their rigging mechanism, they again simply rolled over the MDC and secured a two-thirds majority of the lower House.
How was this done? I think they used 12 strategies — there may be more, but I think these are the main ones.
They have carefully maintained a balance of 70/30 in seats between the rural areas and the towns and cities, even though I think that the population today is more like 40/60 with more people living in the urban areas than ever before.
The Zanu PF regime has carefully and very skillfully manipulated the voters’ roll using an Israeli firm called Nikuv, which controls the voters’ roll and operates from army headquarters in Harare. This process has removed many hundreds of thousands of people from the voters’ roll or moved them from their normal voting districts so that on the day they cannot vote.
They deploy 50 000 police and perhaps 150 000 other military or paramilitary personnel on voting day and completely control the vote, the count, the consolidation and the reporting. As Russian statesman Joseph Stalin said, “it is not who votes that counts, it is he who counts the vote that counts”.
During the war of liberation, the people who currently run Zimbabwe used fear, torture, intimidation, targeted killings and clandestine meetings where the rural population was subjected to intense propaganda and false information. When threatened with defeat by the MDC, they simply resorted to the same tactics and these were used to coerce the rural population to vote Zanu “or else”. This message was reinforced by the “short sleeves” campaign after 2008 when people who were known to have voted MDC had their hands cut off.
All traditional leaders in rural areas are on the payroll of the state — chiefs receive cars and other perks — in addition any chief or headman who is openly MDC is removed from office or loses their perks. In return, they are expected to make sure that the people under their jurisdiction vote Zanu PF.
This is reinforced by linking all aid to these communities to the regime. In urban areas, hundreds of thousands of families have been settled in informal housing “co-operatives” where the basic message is vote Zanu PF or lose your home.
The commercial farming areas, previously predominately MDC, have been completely depopulated and resettled by perhaps 200 000 families who, without exception, have loyalty to Zanu PF.
The original MDC-loyal population has been beaten, tortured, many killed and driven off the land with the loss of virtually all they owned. These areas are now “No Go” areas for the opposition.
In the past 30 years, the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and association have been systematically dismantled. The police and secret agents now attend virtually all meetings, and if they are not allowed into a venue or discovered and removed, the meeting is immediately closed.
All public gatherings of a political nature must be cleared beforehand even though the law only demands that the police be “informed”.
A German politician told me once that all politics is driven by money. “Without money, you cannot fight a modern election,” he said. In 2013, MDC-T spent US$5 million, Zanu PF spent US$500 million, all of it stolen.
One of the saddest things I now appreciate is that when we started the MDC in 1999, we did not appreciate what a terrible price our ordinary members would pay for their efforts to ditch the present government and elect new leadership.
The price they have paid for this courage has been beyond description. Killings, disappearances, beatings, torture and being deprived of all state assistance — even access to hospital if their injuries arose out of some form of political struggle.
Then finally, near-total control of all electronic and print media and the complete black-out of information about the opposition and its leaders. The reality is that the MDC is fighting not a political party, but the entire state in all its forms and power. The latter will do anything to stay in power and protect its privileges and I mean anything — it is no-holds-barred.
Contrary to the propaganda, the international community and the business sector do very little to even up the forces on the democratic field. Instead, we face isolation and outright collision with the cruel regime that has governed us for the past 37 years.
If this situation does not change, do you really think that another election in 2018 will change anything? I don’t, but the real question is how else can we secure the changes we desperately need to bring sanity back to our politics, stability to our society and economic growth to restore living standards and give all Zimbabweans hope of a better future?
Cross is the MDC-T MP for Bulawayo South and economist.