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A few lessons from the recent elections

15 Aug 2013 at 12:20hrs | Views
The recent elections in our beloved Zimbabwe have come and gone. Much as we would have wished to participate, those of us outside the country could only play it by the ear. As the 31st July approached, and passed, we took to the social media in hope, in anticipation, in anxiety and in despair. To this day we take a hold of our collective mouse, clicking away from one source of news to the next, hoping against hope, searching for a hint of light in the horror that is unfolding before us.

In the time between the announcement of the election date and today, we have learnt a few things. Among many, we have learnt that the hope that was swelling by the hour, right up to the conclusion of the election itself, was nothing more than a mirage. In the aftermath akin to that of a freak storm, we have been left pointing many fingers. Many, like vultures, have prowled the net, seeking some carcass of opinion on which to feast, ravaging furiously with maddened appetite. And so we have been venting our frustrations.

We have also learnt to call each other names; sell-outs, political infants, thieves and liars, incompetents. Anything. We have looked to Baba Jukwa – that sorry excuse for news – for further clues of the next turn this horror is likely to take. Nothing is coming from there either. We have learnt that he too has been driving us around the block. We discovered that when we thought he was one of the many self-volunteered midwives of the change we have sorely sought, he too has left us high and dry, nursing terrible withdrawal symptoms.

We have learnt that we will not have the last laugh on a dying regime. Not yet. We have been willing to give anything to watch the old madalas canker away in the political dustbin, with full knowledge of their most private shenanigans. That hope was stillborn. We got instead a rude awakening. We have learnt that Facebook, Twitter, not least Jukwa, can leave a sour taste. The very night after the election has cast a shadow over our future.  We are said to have become zombies. Walking around without a purpose. Stunned beyond feeling, and mute with shock.

I personally have learnt one more thing. In my thirties, I might be getting cynical and bitter. I have learnt that I could not kid myself. After all, I have never known another president than Robert Mugabe. I have never been under any other political rule than that of ZANU. To be frank, that MDC majority in the last Parliament – it meant squat. I have never really experienced anything but social, political, economic and other forms of decline, crisis and collapse in Zimbabwe. Development, improvement, hope, future! Ha! The distance of it all. How dare I imagine such things? It is simply not my place. In another lifetime, maybe.

I am reminded of student politics at the University Zimbabwe back in the early 2000s. You must understand that, coming from Matabeleland, I take a cynical view of the supposed democracy that elections afford. They condemn certain groups to permanent political also-rans. It is that simple. Which is why the results of the recent elections, especially in Matabeleland, are puzzling.

I once saw in Mount Pleasant the kind of Matabeleland politics that can now only belong to urban legend. Among those who hailed from this region at that time, who can forget the Jethro Mpofus, the Fortune Mgunis and the Brilliant Mhlangas of this world. Their impact on student politics is similar to that left by the likes of Learnmore Jongwe, Priscilla Misiayirabwi, Nelson Chamisa, and before them, Job Sikhala, Munyaradzi Gwisai, and Tendai Biti.

Regarding Jethro, Brilliant and Fortune, these had managed to do the impossible by getting themselves in the pound seat of student politics, and in the process beating an overwhelming Shona majority to top positions in the university's Students Representative Council, the SRC. I turn to them because, a while ago, I thought I had learnt that on a level playing field, a mix of political wisdom and shear hard work can be trusted to put astute politicians, even from the minority, in positions of leadership.

This other lesson does not escape me, however. Under everyday circumstances, majority rules. Riding on the achievements of Mguni, Mhlanga and Mpofu, a few others attempted the same feat during their time at UZ, with waning levels of success. An incident comes to mind. After concerted campaigning, the wheel of politics turned, as it always does, to issue that is sure to deliver a majority: regionalism. Against clear signs that they were not going to win the desired positions in the 2001 SRC election, 'Mandevere' won on a landslide. The difference with that victory is that rigging was promptly discovered, a rerun ordered, and the eventual results reflected the demographics. Ours are no everyday circumstances.

Rigging stories aside, of course regionalism counts, especially in elections. We can all deny or pretend that it does not, but if you are from a political minority, chances are you have learnt this lesson too. For instance, I have no idea what Muzarabani looks like, with due respect to folks from there. Personally, I have never been there. I can only assume that since those folks live in Zimbabwe, they are going through what everyone in the country is going through. But my insight can only end there. With generalisation. However, when it comes to Bulawayo, or better still, some specific parts of Matabeleland, I begin to speak of specific problems, challenges etc. That is how it goes in politics. So much for Jethro, Brilliant and Fortune!

Now, barring a few exceptions, history has taught us how people vote. They look around themselves, political violence and intimidation notwithstanding, and often vote based on their assessment of their surroundings. It is not wishful thinking. A vote that has not been rigged is probably one the few things that remain resolute and forthright. Recent lessons make us want to doubt this. But this is what the will of the people means. The guy in one of the wards in Insiza does not give a damn what is going on in Muzarabani. Even if he pretends to care, we know he is clueless about it.

This in my opinion is why Matabeleland North and South could not have voted ZANU. Nor MDC-T. But strange things happen. It won't matter if I bet on all those Gukurahundi mass graves that the vote in the regions did not reflect the will of the people nor the demographics. Still, only in 2008, many people from Mat South would rather have voted for a certain Simba Makoni for crying out loud!

But there is something else. The differences from the recent votes between the victors and the vanquished in Matabeleland are relatively not big. The outgoing Minister of Education, former Senator Coltart lost by 20 or so votes. What cruelty. Jonathan Moyo, who would have thought! Chickens in Tsholotsho North have come home to roost. He lost by 228 votes. It is these funny margins that make me learn of another subtle yet decisive factor. It is too easy to cry fraud.

More than just fraud, I smell numerous little manipulations of the electoral process here and there that eventually added up. Fraud is criminal. Manipulation? Certainly not in politics. The whole business of politics is built on manipulation, whichever way we look at it. Besides, fraud ordinarily delivers small returns, similar to those in parts of Matabeleland. But in areas outside Bulawayo and parts of Harare, we hear of landslides. This one was more than fraud. To the extent that one party has a virtual stranglehold on the management of the electoral system, among other strategic tools, while others only bank on a correct tick of the ballot paper, the outcome of the vote reflects the will of the people, the demographics, and also these little shifts and rearrangements in the electoral process. It always has. Only this time the manipulations may have gone too far. Only someone who had paid close attention could have picked it up. Sadly, both MDCs could not be bothered, otherwise they would have insisted on certain things. Their upper hand rested on reform, a bankable condition for participation. Without reform, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

So, the electoral outcome is as if it is traced on translucent paper, and rightly differs from the will of the people that imprints itself on the socio-political, material and demographic landscape of our country and our times. But the differences between the translucent and the real picture in Matabeleland are not monumental, compared to other regions. My opinion is that such small but numerous differences reflect this manipulation of the process, which tilted the eventual outcome in ZANU's favour. I can only generalise (based on assumption, of course) that in other parts of the country, such differences can indeed be expected to be big. We should not forget that ZANU never completely lost support in certain parts of the country, and may in fact have gained support in the resettled areas in recent years. Of course, much as it is absurd, it is also true that there are people out there who still vote ZANU.

We also learnt that both MDCs slept on the job while banking on an automatic victory. Troubled by memories of past violence and intimidation, as well as indecisive MDC victories, some voters may have needed a little reassurance. The MDCs took this for granted. But if they lost some of the votes to sloth, then the differences become bigger when systematic electoral manipulation is factored in. Fraud may have taken place, but fraud cannot account for huge differences, especially in MDC-T strongholds. Give a little bit to fraud, give another bit to voter indecision, and give another bit, perhaps a substantial one, to the manipulation. But give something to simple defeat. This might allow us all to look ourselves in the mirror, and remind ourselves that past victories do not guarantee the present. Nor the future. Importantly, this reminds us, yet again, the lesson that we can take ZANU lightly at our own peril.

And recently at the Heores celebrations, the old man, still drunk with victory, told all those who did not agree with his rule to "go hang". I toyed with the distinct possibility that his ranting were directed at myself too. I was surprised that, since I am already hanging, been hanging all my life or so, I was not the least angry when I read his speech. In fact I found buckets of solace in the fact that it is this image, not Biti's fountain of knowledge, which resonates with the Robert Mugabe that has ruled in Zimbabwe ever since I have been alive. My solace rested on the realisation that the million or so votes against him were not in vain.

Xolani Tshabalala is a peasant from Matabeleland who went to hang in the diaspora

Source - Xolani Tshabalala
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