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Is Zimbabwe opposition ready to remove Mugabe regime?

23 Sep 2017 at 20:03hrs | Views

For 37 years Zimbabweans have endured ZANU rule. Are things about to change? For any political party that is serious about dislodging ZANU PF from power the first step should be to gain an indepth understanding of how the ruling party has managed to build a coordinated system of domination, repression and manipulation of the electoral system to ensure the opposition does not assume power.

1. State of Opposition Parties

Unfortunately, the current opposition leadership seems to be more preoccupied with flip-flopping from one alliance to another, jostling for positions, carving out areas of influence reminiscent of imperial powers carving Africa in the nineteenth century and arguing about who should be top dog in the opposition political landscape. The danger is that even their most loyal supporters will lose hope and trust in their ability to deliver an alternative to ZANU PF governance. Consultation with grassroots members has been thrown out of the window within some of the opposition parties. The media relishes in sensationalizing discord and building or destroying individuals, adding to the instability. The situation will only change with the emergency of new leaders with a different mindset. However, in the short term, from now to the 2018 election day, the opposition must wake up and aim their goals at the right goalpost to have a chance of winning.

2. Zanu PF Tactics

ZANU PF has over the years created a comprehensive system and strategies of consolidating its power and control over every layer of society and for dealing with opposition parties, dissenters and whoever threatens its hegemony. ZANU PF may appear dysfunctional at the top but don't be fooled, it is only going through a turbulent process of renewing itself. The ZANU control machinery is well oiled by the monopoly of state resources from the presidential office, government administration, security services under Joint Operations Command (JOC) down to the ward and village structures. This web of structures continues working in the middle of the stage-managed confusion, misinformation and internal renewal processes. Remember the "Baba Jukwa" fictional ZANU mole who deceived the opposition into believing that Zanu was finished and that they would bag the 2013 election victory. The big opposition players at the time even ignored warnings about the danger of going into elections before electoral reforms. Alas, ZANU magicians pulled out a rabbit out of a hat leaving the audience stunned about how they did it.

3. Electoral Administration

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is supposed to be a constitutional independent electoral administration which should be fearless to exercise its independence. It is a new structure with no previous experience of swimming through murky waters and has no guaranteed budget to fulfil its mandate. This makes ZEC vulnerable to all sorts of teething problems such as mistakes, interference and accusations that it is unfit for purpose. There is already widespread perception that ZEC is under ZANU control and is, for no apparent reason, staffed by former army personnel which undermines its independence. It also has the mammoth task of creating a new voters' register from scratch in a politically charged environment.

It is the role of the opposition to monitor and press for a credible management of the electoral process. The other side of the coin is that without adequate resources and skilled personnel, the opposition will be diverted from the task of mobilising their voters by focusing on the intricacies of the system. Everybody knows that ZANU PF is closely monitoring the situation and will advise the president to call for elections at an opportune time to them. At the end of the day, ZEC's success will be judged by whether the voters, political parties, candidates and independent election observers perceive the management of the electoral process to have been credible and free from the suspicion of fraud.

The opposition will have to go into overdrive to convince its supporters that it is worth registering to vote. Voters have been disappointed so many times in the past and apathy now runs high, particularly, among the under forties who have borne the brunt of the ZANU misrule and failure of the opposition to deliver transformation in their livelihoods. There is also disappointment among potential voters with the present conduct of the opposition parties who are failing to put their differences and blotted egos aside to mount a united front to topple the ruling party. Party leaders join coalitions or alliances only to take flight when they think the grass is greener on the other side. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this kind of conduct alienates the very people they want to represent.

4. Opposition leadership and Selection of Election Candidates

The reality is that there is no single party that can defeat ZANU alone. Those who think otherwise are dreamers. The opposition needs to urgently come together and elect a new presidential candidate who can unite all the opposition political parties, civil society, community organizations and the suffering masses to defeat the ZANU old man Mugabe or his successor. Most of the current leaders of the opposition parties have tried and failed in the past. What will make them different this time? Busing people to boost numbers at rallies is no longer a guarantee that the vote count will be in your favour. Times are changing while the opposition is standing still. Each party should be allowed to keep their identity but rally behind one opposition presidential candidate.

By now the opposition parties should be gathering their strategists together to prepare for a post-election coalition government based on proportional representation. a) It is too late in the day for coalitions or alliances to implement their candidates selection formulae. Aspiring candidates should be walking their patches campaigning by now and some are already on the ground using their own resources. It would be grossly unfair to ask these people to step aside to make way for a coalition or alliance preferred candidate without any form of compensation for their material loss and curbed aspiration. b) Voters need to have the freedom to choose their preferred national assembly and local government representatives from whichever party they think will fight for their corner. For instance, parties like ZAPU and others have put devolution of power to the provinces and local communities as one of their central policies that promise to give voters a break with the centralized power that only works for the ZANU elite and the connected. Those who are attracted to the implementation of devolution of power may not bother to vote if a candidate from a party that does not prioritise this issue is imposed on them. c) It is also prudent to avoid the inevitable squabbles associated with trying to share winnable seats between parties before the elections at this late hour.

5. ZANU Supremacy Ideology

President Mugabe and his followers have openly boasted about using violence as well as distorted liberation history to protect their supremacy. Zanu PF's quest for supremacy can be traced back to the independence elections in 1980. Those elections were characterized by widespread intimidation and indoctrination activities which started in the Northern Regions where villagers were coerced to attend all night Zanu slogan-chanting and political education meetings. Supporters of other parties and those who failed to attend were threatened with harm or eviction from their legitimate homes. Some parties like ZAPU which enjoyed support in those areas were driven out for good because of threats to and harassment of their supporters. Lord Soames, the then Governor, at one point during the electioneering period expressed concerns that in East Mashonaland they could be no free and fair elections because of the high level of intimidation by the Zanu militia. Apart from such experiences engendering long lasting fear of adverse consequences from stepping outside Zanu structures, "no-go areas" for the opposition still exist.

Zanu supremacy ideology peaked immediately after independence firstly with the brutal suppression of ZAPU officials and supporters throughout the country but escalated to the massacre of both supporters and civilians in Matebeleland and Midlands and the extermination of ZAPU as an opposition party to make way for a super ZANU PF party under the fraudulent 1987 Unity Accord. Up to this day, many people from these regions are afraid to openly support the revived ZAPU and other parties in case the brutality returns, though other forms of punishment are in operation such as development marginalization.

Violence reappeared in 2008 when ZANU supremacy was again threatened by Morgan Tsvangirai during the run-up to the presidential election. At that stage opposition parties were behind MDCt leader and he would have had a landslide had he not been forced to pull out of the race to prevent violence escalating. Zanu strategists have toned down the use of violence because it has become the focus of judging whether elections are free, fair and credible. Unfortunately, once you have awakened a dog's instincts of hunting and killing its prey it is difficult to restrain it as witnessed in the recent Bikita West bye-election which was marred by intimidation perpetrated by Zanu militia and Zanu leaders' utterances. Even if there is a decline in overt acts of intimidation as the election approaches, systemic intimidation over the years has already established a climate of fear and anxiety in many areas. It continues to impact on the degree to which people feel they are free to choose which party they wish to support.

6, Campaign Resources

Opposition parties cannot match the vast state resources that the ruling party has at its disposal. Despite the Commonwealth Observer Group of 2000 elections recommendation for a clear demarcation between the government administration and the ruling party, especially in the use of government resources for political activities, there has been an escalation of the fusion of the state and ruling party expenditure. The government, the ZANU party and the security apparatus are now merged under the president in the person of Robert Gabriel Mugabe who is the head of government, commander of the armed forces and his ruling party. Official News Broadcasters are forced to repeat the president's roles w as a covert strategy for indoctrinating the public into believing that ZANU PF party and the government are one and the same thing. Government resources are used in party campaigns in converted ways such as appending a community event to a ZANU political rally in the same area so that expenses of the ministers and officials attending the rally are subsumed under government expenditure. The ruling party has limitless access to state media. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation daily reports on how the government has secured loans for projects that never materialise. It is a common occurrence that the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Project is allocated development funds when elections are approaching but those funds never materialise? The story is the same throughout the country. This is a fraudulent way of attracting party support.

Government resources are always in operation in some of the fanfares of the ruling party rallies. Schools and government transport are often commandeered to transport people to the president's birthday party where they are subjected to party slogans and denigration of opposition parties. This is a gross abuse of power and an obvious strategy of indoctrinating the electorate at the expense of the taxpayers. During election period ministers and party candidates turn government resources into personal donations which are publicized via the state media. Last minute voting buying gimmicks are thrown in, such as the wiping off debts from utility bills to give the impression that the ruling party cares about the poor when actually the main beneficiaries are the rich elite who accumulate huge bills as compared to "the povo".

JOC a security cluster of the army, air force, police, prisons and intelligence which is modelled on the secret command of the former Rhodesian regime was revived in 1997 when Mugabe launched the "Third Chimurenga" (struggle) to pacify the war veterans through patronage and backing for the land seizure. This is a powerful structure behind ZANU's hold on power. It is believed that JOC was behind the outcomes of the 2008 election results and in ensuring the continuation of Mugabe's presidency. It is responsible for deploying paramilitary Green Bombers during elections. The Police can disrupt opposition parties' meetings, refuse clearance of rallies and repress civilian protests. CIO operatives are positioned in strategic areas and work with resident retired army personnel in monitoring and reporting on the political activities of opponents.

Mugabe is now portrayed as a strong benevolent leader who brought independence, gave the masses land, dishes out presidential scholarships, agricultural inputs, food handouts, guards against recolonization of Zimbabwe and is the glue that keeps ZANU PF together. It is therefore not surprising that in May 2017 the Afrobarometer Survey found that Robert Mugabe was the most trusted leader by over 60% of the respondents. The opposition can ignore this political dimension to their detriment. Call him all sorts of names the man has gravitas in many constituencies, even beyond Zimbabwe borders where he is accorded a hero status..

7. The Rural Areas Vote

In most rural areas Zanu is in control of the structures and processes that affect every aspect of a villager's life, from the ability to occupy land in his/her area, access to food, agricultural inputs, run a business or gain employment. This is done through control of formal governmental structures as provided by statute, legislated procedures and traditional authorities by ZANU PF party structures and personnel in the area in question. Local police, chiefs, village heads, and most local committees such as Neighbourhood Watch, Village Development, Ward Development, School Development have become appendixes of ZANU PFand act as efficient channels of disseminating party propaganda and dish out incentives to party loyalists and punishments to non-loyalists. Even NGO aid has to go through ZANU controlled structures.

Summary of Major Challenges for the Opposition

 - Building an inclusive coalition/alliance based on a common purpose, commitment, mutual respect, honesty, good faith, openness, amicable working relationship, perseverance and democratic decision-making.

 - Guarding against infiltration by forces that want to destabilise the coalition/alliance. Some elements come with their own selfish agenda which is inconsistent with the central common purpose - Weeding these people out without creating ripples in the organisation is a big challenge.

 - Managing disagreement in a way that does not split the coalition/alliance. Obviously, there are historically and ideologically based differences and mistrusts but a "give and take" and spirit of accommodating approach can minimise the destructive squabbles.

 - Monitoring the management and administration of the electoral process by ZEC – guarding against fraudulent voter registration, management of polling stations including the easy of access for voters, registering of election candidates, setting up systems for monitoring conduct during the campaign period and code of conduct for media coverage and advertising, making sure the polling station agents are well trained and there is enough of them.

 - Voter education and motivational activities to encourage potential supporters to register to vote.

 - Selection of suitable party candidates and presidential candidate

 - Campaigning – mitigate the disadvantages of starting the race from way behind ZANU PF's well oiled machinery with structures everywhere on the ground in the rural areas, as well as in urban areas where even airtime vendors and out of employed youths are drafted in, in return for state-financed handouts.

 - The biggest challenge for the opposition is the lack of resources. To mount a successful campaign, the opposition needs the means to mobilize voters and to get their messages out there day in and day out – transport, volunteers to knock on doors, access to electronic gadgets, advertising in newspapers and other media outlets, office space for command campaigning centres.

 - Monitoring of incidents of intimidation and violence and ensuring the security of candidates and campaign teams.

Sakhile Sibanda is a Polical and Social Analyst



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