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'Bhora Mugedhi Versus Bhora Musango' : The interface between football discourse and Zimbabwean politics

22 Sep 2019 at 16:02hrs | Views
Football is the most popular sport in Zimbabwe and across the globe. It has been asserted elsewhere that the game is not limited to scoring goals on the pitch but that this also occurs in politics and power struggles.

This study explores the interface between football discourse and politics during elections in Zimbabwe in July 2013. The study is based on the premise of a neo-Gramscian perspective which views popular culture (including football) as a terrain of ideological struggle. It utilises an ethnographic approach to make a ‘thick description' of the relationship between football discourse and contemporary Zimbabwean politics.

The study employs critical discourse analysis on purposively selected political campaign speeches, political advertisements, songs by politicians, and comments posted and circulated in social media such as Facebook and Whatsapp during and after the election period by 'ordinary' Zimbabweans.

The findings suggest that political parties, specifically the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) appropriated football images, symbols, metaphors and discourses in their campaign communications. Zimbabwe symbolically became a football pitch where these two main rivals battled to score political points.

'Ordinary' Zimbabweans resembled the fans and/referees in the game whose vote symbolically became the act of scoring goals for ZANU-PF; while for MDC-T it was akin to giving a red card to the ZANU-PF party.

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Zimbabwe attained independence on 18 April 1980 after a protracted struggle against Ian Smith's minority white rule in what had been until then Southern Rhodesia (Bhebe, 1999; Sithole, 1999). From 1980 the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), under the leadership of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, dominated the political landscape. The only sustained resistance to the ZANU-PF hegemony during the first decade of independence came from the Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union Front (PF ZAPU) led by the late vice president of Zimbabwe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.

It is argued that conflict emerged between the two nationalist parties ZANU-PF and ZAPU just after Zimbabwe had attained independence. Alexander et al. (2000) con-tended that, around 1982, Zimbabwe experienced huge security problems, especially in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. ZAPU had been blamed for masterminding 'dissident' activities in an attempt to overthrow Mugabe and ZANU-PF leadership (Alexander et al., 2000). To deal with the problem, government deployed a 'North Korean trained  brigade in Matabeleland province and in the process more than 20,000 civilians were killed while others were beaten, raped and lost their property' (Alexander et al., 2000; Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, 1997: 1).

A unity accord signed between the two nationalist parties in 1987 effectively neutralised ZAPU's resistance (Waldahl, 2004). Mugabe and ZANU-PF were now essentially in total control of the state apparatus, a situation lasting until the emergence of a strong political opposition in around 2000 (Hammar and Raftopolous, 2003). With loyal support from the media, ZANU-PF man-aged to manipulate the process of public opinion formation in the country (Saunders, 1999; Zaffiro, 2002).

In early 2000 the ZANU-PF government embarked on a fast track land reform pro-gramme. The intention seems to have been genuinely to redress land ownership imbalances which were historically skewed in favour of the white minority while also, at the same time, entrenching themselves in power against the emerging Trade Union and urban-areas based opposition.

Zimbabwe's land reform process resulted in international controversy, the legacy of which still exists today (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2009; Ranger, 2004). Land reform also coincided with the emergence and rise of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), formed in late 1999 (Hammar and Raftopolous, 2003).

This  period also experienced a failing economy, characterised by hyperinflation, rising unem- ployment, social discontent and disillusionment.The MDC presented arguably the first major threat to ZANU-PF's monopoly on political power. For instance in 2000, the MDC mobilised against the ZANU-PF-sponsored constitutional referendum in 2000, urging a successful 'No' vote. Several successful mass 'stay-aways' and boycotts were also staged at the instigation of the MDC, culmi-nating in the closely contested 2000 parliamentary elections. Consequently, ZANU-PF responded by using state institutions to demonise the MDC as 'Western imperialist agents' or 'running dogs of imperialists' (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2009).

Not surprisingly, this labelling fuelled hostility between the two parties. However, the MDC split in 2005, with the main wing of the party, under founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, rebranding itself as MDC-T; while the smaller faction retained the name MDC, under leadership of Arthur Mutambara and, later, Welshman Ncube (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2009).

In March 2008 Zimbabwe held its historic harmonised plebiscite. The presidential race pitted Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T and former ZANU-PF Politburo member Simba Makoni, who now headed new political  party, Mavambo, against each other.

After a protracted ballot counting process that took over two months and amid speculation relating to vote rigging, the election results were announced without a clear winner. The MDC-T's Morgan Tsvangirai was ahead with 47% with ZANU-PF's Robert Mugabe trailing with 43% (ZESN, 2008).

These results meant that Tsvangirai had, for the first time, beaten Mugabe at the ballot. They also ended ZANU-PF's ruling party status, further debunking the myth that Mugabe was unbeatable.

Finally, the figures meant that Tsvangirai, though ahead, had to garner the required 50% plus one vote needed for him to be declared winner. This stalemate resulted in the run-off, set for 27 June 2008, which never hap- pened. Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race in the face of alleged and docu-mented violence, intimidation, murder, torture and arrests perpetrated on his supporters by a combination ZANU-PF militia and state security organs (Cheeseman and Tendi, 2010). However, following negotiations mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara (leader of the smaller MDC faction which split in 2005) signed the Global Political Agreement on 15 September 2008.

This study on the interface between football discourse and contemporary Zimbabwean  politics arises from observations of how Zimbabwe's mainstream political parties, specifically ZANU-PF and MDC-T, and to some extent even 'ordinary' Zimbabweans, appropriated football metaphors, symbols and discourses during the campaign period  prior to and just after the July 2013 elections.

The study forms part of the author's Doctoral thesis at the Centre for Communication Media and Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal. This thesis explores how football relates to discourses of power, identity and development in modern-day Zimbabwe. The academic study of the discourse of  popular sports such as football is still emerging on the African continent (Pannenborg, 2010) and Zimbabwe is no exception.

Important beginnings have been made by Stuart and Wagg (1995), Giulianotti (2004), Alegi (2010), Bloomfield (2010), Muponde and Muchemwa (2011), Zenenga (2012) and Willems (2013). This study therefore seeks to complement the already existing work providing an insight on the centrality of popular sport in Zimbabwean politics.

Source - Lyton Ncube Siya
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