WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
This last week, they waylaid Nelson Chamisa and his entourage in Masvingo when an MDC-A delegation travelled down there for a rural meeting.
Ruling Zanu PF youths and grannies blocked Chamisa’s team on the road, burnt all sorts of things including dagga, and waved placards that must have been hurriedly plucked out of a grade zero class. All because the young MDC-A leader—whose party doesn’t exist, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission — was in the province, which also happens to be his area of birth.
The police, as we have always seen, took the side of the Zanu PF assailants. They made it look like the MDC-A team was trespassing in the ruling party’s God-given territory. Despite the fact, of course, that Chamisa got 171 000 votes against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 319 000 in the 2018 elections. That’s a vote you can’t wish away, by any standards.
Worse still, the likes of Patrick Chinamasa, the acting Zanu PF national commissar, and the usual hangers-on tried to blame the violent incident on the MDC-A. Of course, that’s pretty predictable. In the past, they have fallen short of trying dead bodies of murdered opposition members of willful killing.
What the Masvingo incident shows quite abundantly is that Chamisa spooks the socks off Zanu PF all the time. The ruling party provincial leadership was under immense pressure. If it allowed the MDC-A leader to move around Masvingo freely, the national leadership would accuse the provincial leadership of conniving with Chamisa. That’s how things work in Zanu PF.
So it had to do that violent stunt, just so that it would be politically correct, by ruling party standards, which, fundamentally, characterise Chamisa as treason.
But there is a second lesson to learn from this recent Masvingo incident. That the 2023 general elections will be one hot chapter off the hell book. People must just brace for the worst. Some resurrection of the sad, bad, horrific scenes we saw in 2018 after the first round of the presidential election that the late Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC won against the late Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF.
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Let’s take note of interesting election facts here. While there were violent incidents in the last three national elections, the violence was not too high-pitched in the run-up periods. The harmonised March 2008 elections were marked by small levels of violence as a rigging tool. That was mainly because Zanu PF had almost ruled out Tsvangirai and his party.
Its main worry, instead, was more or less internal. High-profile members like Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa had broken away, taking away some of the Zanu PF membership. It was Makoni’s Mavambo/ Kusile/Dawn that was a particular thorn up the wrong place. It was sponsored by one of the key party members, the late Solomon Mujuru, whose influence was especially useful for the sabotage vote that came to be known as “bhora musango” — kick the ball out. They wanted Mugabe out for having overstayed, hence the fact that the former strong man lost in a fairly good amount of constituencies where Zanu PF parliamentary and council candidates won.
It was in the run-off, which was forced because, according to the electoral commission, Tsvangirai had failed to garner at least 50% and a vote as required by the law — an incredible claim considering that it took about a month to announce results that could have been announced in two or three days—that widespread violence broke. There was so much for Mugabe and Zanu PF to lose. And it is when things happen that way that Zanu PF takes to violence.
In the run-up to the 2013 harmonised elections, the violence was there, but, again, it wasn’t too big. That was for two major reasons. One, the Zanu PF leadership was aware of what violent campaigns could do to its reputation and existence. Remember that even the most loyal liberation movements in southern Africa turned against their Zimbabwean counterpart due to the run-off political violence.
I have always said that if Tsvangirai’s party had refused getting into a coalition government with Zanu PF in 2019 following the Global Political Agreement that was forced by the violent elections in 2018, this party would be as dead as a dodo by now. The GNU, which tenured from early 2009 to mid-2013 just before the next elections, gave Zanu PF breathing space and an opportunity to re-arrange itself.
Number two, having been given the chance to re-organise, Zanu PF used the 2009-2013 period to put in place a smart rigging mechanism. This revived the party’s self-confidence, in a big way. This confidence became evident from 2011 when Mugabe started to challenge MDC to elections at the earliest opportunity, at the drop of a hat. The economy had recovered, giving Zanu PF the feeling that it could run things on its own again.
But the major source of the confidence was the fact that the party, often read as the government, had put in place a solid rigging strategy that included the use of Nikuv, Chinese intelligence et cetera. And Zanu PF had successfully resisted key reforms ahead of the elections, meaning that it had a head-start over the opposition.
Then, in 2018, the pre-election period was significantly violence-free. That was because the dispensation that had removed Mugabe was anxious to get international acceptance. But, somehow, it had this weird confidence that it would still win. While anger was resurfacing following the army-assisted takeover from Mugabe, the dispensation still assumed people were ready to repay it for getting rid of the much-loathed founder leader. And it seemed like some key factors in the European Union would support a post-Mugabe administration without caring too much about other things.
But then, given the fact that it’s not always the case that cheeky people do coups just so as to lose power to others at the next turn, it’s also highly likely that successor leadership was not too ready to take a chance by taking off its rigging culture. Didymus Mutasa, a former intelligence minister under Mugabe and a long-time party kingpin, publicly admitted that Zanu PF had always been rigging elections. Who are we to doubt that?
Now, 2023 will be different from the last three harmonised elections. There is so much at stake and, as already said, Zanu PF goes on steroids whenever the stakes are high.
The stakes are both internal and outward. The first source of war is the highly contested succession issue in Zanu PF. While Mnangagwa seems set to run as the presidential candidate and contest for a second bite of power, it’s not as though everyone in that party wants things that way.
You read what Terrence Mukupe, the former deputy minister and MP, wrote the other day. He said his preferred candidate was someone with a military background. And he sounded as though there was a good crowd mumbling the same thing from some tent. Granted, Mukupe is nowhere near the kingmakers’ fireplace, but it’s easy to take him seriously in this context. You will remember that he was among the loudest voices that spoke against Mugabe ahead of November 2017. He was doing the barking for those that removed Mugabe. If he could bark for some big people then and is barking again, it’s tempting to guess that he is doing the barking for someone big who wants to take over from Mnangagwa in 2023.
It’s therefore likely that you will see a bloody show in Zanu PF in the primaries ahead of the main elections, assuming the party will permit the internal elections. But the internal violence can get really nasty if whoever Mukupe is backing decides to go all the way to the wire.
Then there is the outward thing. You see, the post-Mugabe dispensation didn’t get things the way it had mapped in 2017 going forward. It thought it was going to fool the world by staging peaceful elections in 2018 and then getting international acceptance. Things went nasty for the dispensation when it was forced to shoot and kill protesters who came out on August 1 as election results were being announced. That marked the turning point in the administration.
Today, Zimbabwe is pretty isolated internationally. The economy is wailing. People are not happy. When people are not happy, they naturally find solace in the opposition, and when that happens, chances are they will vote the opposition overwhelmingly and that means the ruling party stands a big chance to lose — particularly in the presidential race — despite any rigging.
After all, Zanu PF is fully aware of what the opposition can do to incumbency. It’s still shaken by the fact that its preferred candidate in Zambia, Edgar Lungu, lost recently. Similar things have happened in other places like DRC where the opposition won against Zanu PF’s darlings. In DRC, Joseph Kabila tried to rig, but failed. So, while Zanu PF still has the rigging option to remain in power, it’s the hard truth that you can’t rig all the elections all the time.
In other words, there is little reason why Zanu PF elites must not throw down the gauntlet and bare their knuckles once again. They have already stopped caring what the world will think, after all. If they will be getting violent merely because Chamisa has gone to rural Masvingo, they will get more violent when he goes to more rural areas ahead of 2023 and the people show that they want in.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a GIJN member, and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org