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Chamisa, Biti a team of irreconcilable rivals

29 Jan 2024 at 08:57hrs | Views
Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, launched its campaign for the 31 July 2013 harmonised elections in Marondera, a small town located in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (ZANU[PF])'s heartland of Mashonaland East Province.

Prior to the launch of the campaign there were contestations behind the scenes between the party's technical team and politicians on the merits of the venue and the efficacy of the overall campaign strategy.

These debates offered important insights into the campaign as a whole.

The technical team was assembled in June 2013 by Tendai Biti, the MDC-T's secretary-general.

It was made up of the party's top-tier secretariat and experts on politics and elections

drawn from various universities and communication consultancy firms.

The team was intended to advise the senior party leadership on effective campaign strategies and political developments that impacted on the MDC-T's chances of electoral success.  Its advice was delivered through position papers, e-mails, internal dialogue in the party's campaign review meetings and strategic briefings to individuals.

The technocrats had fiercely argued for the party to launch its campaign in Masvingo Province.

As one of the members of the technical team explained:
"Even though the party [MDC-T] won 23 out of 26 parliamentary seats in the 2008 harmonised elections, an analysis of swing constituencies within the Masvingo province and voting patterns since year 2000 indicate a real possibility of the MDC-T remaining with one parliamentary seat [namely Masvingo urban] in the ensuing elections.

However, the national organising secretary for the party, Nelson Chamisa, was unyielding: in his view, the choice of Marondera would send a strong signal to ZANU(PF) that MDC-T was ready to rout it in its stronghold.

MDC-T President Tsvangirai weighed in on the debate by questioning the sagacity of the technical team in challenging the position of the national organising secretary, who was mandated to run the election. Tsvangirai also said he was in possession of a survey that showed that the MDC-T was going to win 65% of the rural vote in the harmonised elections.

The source of the survey was shrouded in secrecy.

Though Lovemore Moyo, the party's national chairperson, was the head of the national elections directorate, which was constitutionally mandated to develop and implement the party's election strategy, in practice it was Chamisa who made the final decisions on most campaign plans and how they were rolled out.

In some cases, he overrode the national elections directorate. Chamisa managed to do this because he had charisma and the full support of the party president who trusted him, and because the party constitution was open to interpretation as it indicated that the party's national organising secretary was ‘responsible for the implementation of the party's programmes of action and advocacy including organising all activities aimed at achieving the party's long and short term goals'.

Under these conditions, the technical team did not have enough muscle to stand up to the politicians and grudgingly gave in. So it was that on Saturday 6 July 2013, Tsvangirai launched the party manifesto at a meeting dubbed 'the new Zimbabwe mega rally' in Rudhaka Stadium, Marondera. The stadium was full, the atmosphere was electric, party supporters were clad in ostentatious red regalia, and the party president, beaming with confidence, set the victory tone and outlined the themes for the election campaign.

My intention here is not to give a micro-analysis of each MDC-T rally, but to provide an overview of my personal experiences during the campaign period. I spent the period between 22 June and 23 September 2013, in Zimbabwe. I spent most of my time following the MDCT's campaign rallies in cities and in the countryside, and had a rare opportunity to attend, observe and participate in the MDC-T's election campaign debates across the country.

I managed to gain access to the MDC-T meetings and to their leadership because of my past relationship with the party. What I seek to do is to give a feeling of the campaign and to take readers inside the debates within the party as a way to set a foundation for further in-depth studies on particular themes.10 Contrary to public perceptions that the MDC-T was caught unaware by the election results of 31 July 2013, I argue that the party leadership was told of such an eventuality by the technical team but was blinded by ambition, suspicion of intellectuals, the animated atmosphere at political rallies, and a creeping sense of a divine ordination to govern.

Most of Tsvangirai's campaign rallies were vibrant, exciting and well attended; they were electrifying confidence boosters. Save for a few lapses, Tsvangirai exhibited the qualities of a statesman throughout the campaign.

The most appealing part of his message concerned social and economic values consistent with a social democratic state.

The campaign message was mainly issue-based rather than attack-based: Tsvangirai did not dwell on the negative actions of the Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, or the failings of his character. Most character attacks were the work of Tsvangirai's trusted lieutenants, Murisi Zwizwai, an energetic member of the national organising committee, and Chamisa.

Judging the salience and appeal of issues on the basis of the audience's applause at rallies, it was clear that socioeconomic issues resonated most with the crowds.

For example, the MDC-T's views on education were well received. Tsvangirai promised that:

My government will give free primary education to all children from Grade 1 to Grade 7 [primary school], whilst parents are making savings to cater for the children from Form 1 to Form 6 [secondary school]. Once they finish secondary education my government will once again support the students with grants at tertiary level.

To most people, this seemed to be a realistic rather than utopian promise.

On rural and urban housing, Tsvangirai pledged to assist poor families with door frames, asbestos and window frames on condition that they moulded their own bricks and met the labour costs.

People responded positively to the idea that the ‘new government' would complement their hard work.

On the issue of jobs, the crowds were measured in their response to the mere promise that an MDC-T government would provide one million jobs in five years. However, they became ecstatic when Tsvangirai articulated how the new government would create the jobs through reviving old industries and creating new ones by attracting foreign direct investment. The message on health was also well received at rallies as the aspiring president promised access to health for all, free cancer diagnosis and free antiretroviral drugs to those with HIV.

In his campaign rallies, Tsvangirai also dwelt on refuting ZANU(PF)'s media-driven propaganda that he was against the Fast Track Land Reform programme (Fast Track). He explained that he was not against Fast Track per se, but was against the partisan manner in which land reform had been carried out. In order to demonstrate his point, he invited the crowds to participate in an impromptu survey. For example, at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo, he asked people in the crowd to raise their hands if they had benefited from Fast Track as a way to showcase the partisan nature of the programme: not one did. Tsvangirai said, ZANU(PF) claims to have given land to all, but MDC supporters are still living in the mountains in Bikita [a rural district in Masvingo]. But contrary to ZANU(PF)'s propaganda we are not going to chase the new farmers from their land, but we will pursue a broad-based land reform programme that caters for all, despite political party affiliation. My government will also support the resettled farmers to be more productive so that we can end hunger.
Contrary to some earlier observations by scholars such as Peter Alexander that the MDC-T was largely neo-liberal in character, Tsvangirai's campaign message at least had shifted in this election.

Tsvangirai's few attack messages mainly centred on Mugabe's old age: ‘I do not want to take advantage of my contestant's old age but Zimbabwe will go down in the Guinness book of records if they vote for a 90-year-old. Yesterday's people cannot solve today's problems'. Tsvangirai built on that attack to construct a narrative that the election was a choice between the past and the present, democracy and autocracy, economic recovery and poverty. He pitched himself as representing the future and Mugabe as representing the past.

At Tsvangirai's campaign rallies, whenever Tendai Biti was available (he spent some of his time conducting separate campaign rallies to cover the breadth of the country) he gave supportive messages intended to stress the MDC-T's positive attributes during the reign of the inclusive government (2009 – 13).

He explained in technocratic language how the MDC-T had reopened schools and hospitals, resuscitated the economy and initiated programmes to rebuild Zimbabwe's dilapidated infrastructure. For example, in Mutare, he said

It seems Biti's role was to demonstrate that the MDC-T had enough sophistication in order to govern.

Another pillar of support for Tsvangirai was Elizabeth Macheka, his 35-year-old wife, who surpassed expectations in her speeches. She constantly articulated the need for love, peace, tolerance and non-violence, and emphasised the need for delivery in health, education and employment creation.

She endeared herself to the crowds.

A critical observation, however, is that at every rally she emphasised that God had anointed Tsvangirai to rule Zimbabwe in the same way he had anointed the biblical David to rule Israel.

For example, in Chitungwiza, she said, ‘God saw that Saul had failed and sent Samuel to anoint David as King of Israel. Saul tried to kill David but it failed, soldiers tried to stop David but it failed because God had already anointed him. What God has made no one can unmake.

What God has started, God will finish'. Elizabeth was not alone in suggesting that the MDC-T was heaven-ordained to rule. Chamisa, in his charismatic style, recited long memorised verses and passages from the Bible to substantiate Elizabeth's religious parables, to much applause and admiration from the crowds.

In a conversation with members of the technical team in Bulawayo, Chamisa stressed that the MDC- T was going to win, and when asked to substantiate his claims, he said: ‘God showed me in my dreams that Morgan Tsvangirai is going to win with a close margin, between 53 and 56%.

The small towns are the ones that are going to make a difference, not the big towns.

I have since told Tsvangirai this'. In the past three years, Chamisa has presented himself as a born-again Christian. He became an active member of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM), a Pentecostal church.

In Zimbabwe's political circles, debate was inconclusive on whether Chamisa's religious orientation was driven by a genuine belief in spirituality or by political considerations meant to endear himself to the Christian community: in recent years, thousands of Zimbabweans had turned to Pentecostal evangelism, which emphasises spiritual gifts and divine healing, amidst the prevailing socio-economic hardships.

I noticed that invoking divine intervention made it easier for Chamisa to push through some of his political positions without labouring logic, reasons and evidence.

Those who opposed him could have their moral standing in a largely Christian community questioned.

Throughout the campaign, Tsvangirai was conspicuous for largely neglecting the topics of indigenisation, sanctions and the legacy of the liberation war, all of which were central to ZANU(PF)'s campaign.

The weakest part of his campaign messaging was that he misread Mugabe's claim to the liberation struggle mantle and his ability to invoke memories of the war as a sign of weakness, because he thought Zimbabweans were more concerned with dayto-day bread-and-butter issues. Consequently, Tsvangirai castigated Mugabe for giving history lectures instead of confronting contemporary socio-economic challenges to the nation. He sarcastically advised Mugabe to join the history department at the University of Zimbabwe or to retire and relate his memories to his grandchildren in his rural home in Zvimba.

Yet, in many people's eyes, invoking memories of the liberation war – what Terence Ranger has termed ‘patriotic history' – validated Mugabe's candidature and invalidated Tsvangirai.

As Miles Tendi has argued, patriotic history has had a potent resonance among many Zimbabweans.

In the end, Mugabe was unchallenged on this terrain: he drew deeply upon the liberation struggle, and presented himself as the custodian of the revolutionary past in ways that depicted Tsvangirai as without history and so as a contestant without the credibility to lead Zimbabwe.

Despite the morale-boosting campaign rallies, behind closed doors the technical team remained sceptical about the MDC-T's electoral chances. The technical team based its analyses on the 31 March 2013 referendum results, public opinion surveys, voting patterns since 2000, the voters' roll, voter registration patterns, the ZANU(PF) campaign, media stories and scholarly articles. The team advised senior politicians that the March 2013 referendum results pointed to a ZANU(PF) win, that Mugabe was geared to amass two million votes through manipulation (with more than a million votes in the Mashonaland provinces), that the MDC-T had more unsafe parliamentary seats than ZANU(PF), and that ZANU(PF) was targeting five urban seats in Harare Province (an MDC-T stronghold) and that ZANU(PF)'s intimidation tactics were undermining free choice for rural folks. It further advised senior leaders not to follow Tsvangirai's campaign rallies but to campaign in other parts of the country, warned against message inconsistency from the MDC-T and emphasised the need to set a minimum vote threshold in each constituency, especially in MDC-T strongholds.

This advice formed the basis of what the technical team thought was an alternative strategy. In addition, the team questioned the wisdom of not having ‘star rallies' in rural Matabeleland because of the party's poor showing there in the previous harmonised elections, fierce competition from other parties, and because it would help to counter views that Tsvangirai pursued ethnic politics. It also advised that NIKUV, an Israel-based company, was working with the Registrar General to manipulate the voters' roll and that the voter registration process was skewed in favour of ZANU(PF). The technical team hinted that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had shifted its position in support of ZANU(PF) – as long as there was no overt violence. The team also argued for an electoral pact with the MDC led by Welshman Ncube. However, the MDC-T's senior leaders from Matabeleland – Thokozani Khupe, the party‘s deputy president, Lovemore Moyo, and Abednico Bhebhe, the deputy national organising secretary – fiercely resisted reunification.

They read the move as an attempt to prop up Ncube as the most prominent politician from Matabeleland despite his waning political fortunes. They argued that they had the capacity to mobilise enough voters to win, and any move to include Ncube's group was as good as a vote of no confidence in them.

The technical team periodically submitted its recommendations to Biti, who presented the data to the broader MDC-T leadership. However, the more Biti presented this unpalatable data, the more he faced resistance and baseless allegations from a visible clique that considered itself closer to Tsvangirai than anyone else. This clique alleged that Biti was presenting flawed analyses in order to demoralise Tsvangirai in the campaign as part of a perfidious plan to take over the party with a group of intellectuals after the election. This anti-intellectual phenomenon was not new; Tendi and Raftopoulos have observed a similar trend in earlier studies. Consequently, the ‘technical' voice was increasingly drowned out by the political reasoning of those advisers who considered themselves closer to Tsvangirai.

The MDC-T attracted thousands of people from place to place, but Tsvangirai came back to reality in ZANU(PF)'s Mashonaland heartland. At a rally in Rushinga in Mashonaland Central he addressed less than a hundred people.

At Madziwa Business Centre in Mashonaland Central, Tsvangirai tried to do a walkabout on his way to address a rally in Bindura, but vendors ran away from him at high speed because they feared victimisation if they were seen with him.26 In Mashonaland East, at Mutoko, shop owners refused to sell drinks to people who were part of Tsvangirai's team. One explained, ‘we were told not to sell you anything and we will be in trouble once you leave'.

It became apparent to me that ZANU(PF)'s intimidation and psychological warfare had severely limited freedom of political association in rural Mashonaland. It is in fact difficult to analyse the ‘peaceful' environment during the harmonised elections outside the broader context of Zimbabwe's history of electoral violence. I have argued elsewhere that it was ZANU(PF)'s calculated plan to intimidate and threaten citizens with violence if they were to support MDC-T by drawing on memories of the liberation war and of the violence of the 27 June 2008 election.28 ZANU
(PF) intended to win votes through a ‘harvest of fear'. This was a new form of terror devoid of physical harm and hence less visible to observers. As Alberto Simpser writes, ‘choices about visibility may have implications for the choice of tactics of manipulation'.29 ZANU(PF) avoided physical violence because it was too visible to observers and would alienate SADC in general following the condemnation of such behaviour during the March – June 2008 election.

Behind the ecstatic and well organised MDC-T rallies – events that were ‘more like weddings'30 – there were also simmering divisions within the MDC-T over primary elections and the internal distribution of campaign resources. A number of irregularities were observed during the primary elections that left the party factionalised. These anomalies included a failure by the national organising committee to provide the voters' roll to some candidates who made a formal request, a lack of transparency regarding the number of ballot papers printed for the primary elections and the transportation of ballot papers to secluded places before counting – all of these factors thereby increasing the risk of ballot stuffing, the disenfranchisement of bona fide members of the party's electoral college, the imposition of candidates by the party's top leadership, the use of partisan presiding officers, who clearly preferred certain candidates, to run the primary elections, vote buying by some candidates, and a weak dispute resolution mechanism for addressing concerns arising from the primaries.31 One MDC-T supporter opined, ‘at this rate we will not last long on the Zimbabwean political scene as a party . . . . I urge the party please do not take advantage of people's deep hatred for ZANU(PF). People are saying they will do bhora musango [an act of sabotage by a disgruntled party supporter expressed through voting for another party]'.  
The animosity that resulted from these processes and practices was so vicious that the party became factionalised. Twenty-eight MDC-T parliamentary candidates contested as independents and formed the Independent Candidates Coalition (ICC). The distribution per province was as follows:

On the other hand, ZANU(PF) only had four candidates who stood as independents, including Jonathan Samkange in Mudzi South, Daniel Garwe in Murehwa North and Marian Chombo in Zvimba North. Munyaradzi Kereke's case was not clear as he filed his nomination on a ZANU(PF) ticket in Bikita West but was later disowned by the party before the election. The image of an MDC-T tight ship only survived in public rallies.

In addition, the MDC-T had little campaign finance. Each aspiring councillor in the local government elections was given $100, which was supposed to pay for fliers, posters and all campaign-related expenses. Aspiring members of parliament (MPs) for rural constituencies were given 1,200 T-shirts each and aspiring urban MPs got 800 T-shirts each. Each MP was given $1,400 for the campaign and 1,000 campaign posters.37 The MDC-T had 300,000 T-shirts in total and by the third rally held in Masvingo the shortage of regalia was already evident. This affected the visibility of the party. Biti, the then Minister of Finance, had released money for political parties eligible for state funding under the Political Parties Finances Act in the first week ofJuly 2013.

However, the former Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of ZANU(PF), Patrick Chinamasa, did not disburse the money to the relevant political parties. He alleged that the MDC-T had enough funding from its ‘western friends'.This handicapped the MDC-T against a visibly well-funded ZANU(PF). Election campaigns are necessarily unfair when some candidates are able to spend far more than their competitors.

Aspiring MPs from ZANU(PF) received a new double cab truck each from their party, whereas the MDC-T had one car for each province, serving an average of 20 aspiring MPs. In some constituencies the difference in resources was astonishing. As Charlton Hwende, the MDC-T's losing candidate for Chegutu West, explained, ‘the [ZANU(PF)] campaign team would get $10 a day each for lunch, whilst I fed my team with $1 a day for 30 days of intensive campaign.

Almost every household I went to had ZANU(PF) regalia as Nduna [the ZANU(PF) candidate for Chegutu West] had 15,000 T-shirts whilst I had 800 T-shirts only'.

As the voting day approached, Tsvangirai publicly complained about the absence of the national voters' roll in his final campaign rallies and the possibilities of abuse that it indicated.

Nevertheless, he remained confident of victory. A sea of people, numbering over 30,000, gathered for his last campaign rally, christened the ‘Cross over rally to a new Zimbabwe'.

It was held in Harare at Freedom Square on 29 July 2013. Most analysts who witnessed the rally gave the MDC-T a chance in the elections based on the massive crowd.

Change felt as if it was something one could touch and feel.

I met Nelson Chamisa after the rally. He grinned with confidence:

"There is a spiritual dimension to this aspect; that is why no single rally has flopped. I have not eaten for the past three weeks. I have not even taken water. God is amazing, my voice is still ok and my body is still in shape. I am satisfied. As organising secretary, I have run the best campaign ever with meagre resources."

I also met Tsvangirai at his official residence after the final rally. ‘So how are you feeling

Mr President?' I asked. ‘I am feeling very confident. There is going to be a rural revolt [against ZANU(PF)]'.

I doubted the MDC-T's capacity to defeat ZANU(PF) at the polls because of the salient issues constantly raised by the technical team and ZANU(PF)'s track record of rigging elections. However, it became increasingly difficult to reconcile my views with the multitudes that attended the MDC-T rallies across the country. Thousands of ordinary people walked distances of between 10 and 15 kilometres, some bare-footed, to attend the rallies without coercion. I constantly wondered what would happen to the MDC-T's significant social support base if ZANU(PF) were to pursue a winner-takes-all strategy after the election.

Professor Lovemore Madhuku, leader of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a civic body that transmogrified into a political party on 28 September 2013, dismissed my concerns:

"It is an irrelevant question, the support base is not for Tsvangirai, it is for issues, it is people who want clean water, health, jobs and so forth. So they see Morgan as the person who can best advance that. It can shift and go to ZANU(PF) or elsewhere. It is just like a person who loses a spouse; they will marry again after the funeral."

Whether the MDC-T's support base will shift to elsewhere or stick with the party will depend on an array of exogenous factors that are not the subject matter of this article. Nevertheless, my proposition is that the party's survival will largely depend on its ability to
maintain party cohesion, improve internal party democracy, build trust and consensus among party leaders, adjust campaign strategies to suit the changing political economy, improve its messaging on national questions, mobilise and increase its support base, fundraise for political financing, embrace leadership renewal, improve leadership integrity and dump the anti-intellectual culture. To suggest that the issues I have raised in this article tell the entire story of the 2013 harmonised elections would be an exaggeration, but they do represent an important part of Zimbabwe's election story, and each theme deserves more in-depth analysis in its own right. What I have done is to provide key clues based on my personal experiences that can aid future research.

Department of International Development, University of Oxford, 3 Mansfield Road, OX1
3TB, United Kingdom. E-mail:

Source - Dr Phillan Zamchiya
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