ZANU-PF may be playing dirty, but it seems to have found a winning formula. And the opposition Movement for Democratic Change seems to have no answer, yet, to the new ZANU-PF onslaught.
The strategy is simple.
Flood a constituency with war veterans led by “Dr Torture” Chenjerai Hunzvi, accompanied by the commander of farm invasions Joseph Chinotimba, and political commissar Border Gezi. Panel beat a few people.
A death or two will add to the impact. Spread fear.
Threaten a return to war. And then bring in the propaganda:
- The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai is a front for whites trying to bring back colonialism.
- If it comes to power all the farms that have been handed over to landless peasants will be repossessed. Tsvangirai is just a front.
- The acronym, MDC actually stands for Morgan Don’t Challenge. He will therefore be a puppet of the whites if the MDC wins. If people vote for ZANU-PF, on the other hand, they will be given more land as well as inputs.
The propaganda is accompanied by intimidation.
It does not stop until election date. It is all blamed on the MDC.
ZANU-PF is a peace loving party. It has been contesting elections against various political parties since 1980 but it was only the arrival of the MDC that sparked violence which left more than 30 people dead in the run up to the elections last year.
No one talks about the “perms” of the 1980s against ZAPU supporters.
No one talks about ZAPU supporters being dragged out of police camps and being beaten to death. No one talks about the flight of opposition leaders like Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo when they thought their lives were at stake.
No one talks about the near-fatal shooting of former Gweru mayor Patrick Kombayi when he challenged vice-President Simon Muzenda in the Gweru seat.
With the electronic media on its side, all that people hear is ZANU-PF. The MDC is almost non-existent.
The only time it gets airplay is when its leader makes a blunder, for example, when Tsvangirai bursts during an election campaign in Bikita that the party will bus in 20 000 youths to replace 50 arrested by police.
The mainline print media, The Herald and The Chronicle, and the two Sunday papers, the mass circulation Sunday Mail and the Sunday News, is behind ZANU-PF too. Though circulation has dropped, readership is still quite high.
Although the Daily News is giving the MDC some voice, it is a lone voice. Besides, it is preaching to the converted.
And right now, as MDC shadow secretary for finance Tapiwa Mashakada admitted, the MDC does not appear to have an answer.
Although organising stayaways might attract a lot of people, it is likely to cost the party support. Already some people within the National Constitutional Assembly and other civic organisations are urging the MDC to leave the organisation of stayaways to organisations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the NCA itself.
But the MDC may be afraid that if they succeed, this might rob it of support as it will prove that people participate in stayaways not as a sign of support for a political party but as a protest against the government and the way it has run down the economy.
All this works in favour of ZANU-PF.
Come election time, everything is quiet. Peace prevails.
A few village heads and chiefs drag their people to go and vote for the ruling party. You can send in your monitors.
They will not see any intimidation during the two days of voting. And the party wins.
Having won the two by-elections held so far and with presidential elections just over a year away, why abandon such a winning formula especially when think tanks such as the highly respected Economist Intelligence Unit are saying President Mugabe will not last until April next year when his current term ends? Having been given the scare of its life when the MDC nearly walked away with the poll last year, and some say it did, ZANU-PF cannot afford to leave things to chance.
Like last year, it knows it is easier to rig the elections if they are accompanied by violence and people turn up in large numbers.
Having admitted that 2000 was the most difficult year in the country’s history, President Mugabe is desperate for a winning formula. Hunzvi and company have provided him with one that works.
It may not be popular, but it works. Now observers, say 2001 could even be worse.
“For ordinary Zimbabweans, 2001 would be the year of living even more dangerously than before,” the Financial Gazette said in an editorial to mark the new year.
And it could be right as the first half of the year will be dominated by court hearings on the 38 parliamentary seats whose results are being challenged by the Movement for Democratic Change.
The hearings were scheduled to begin on January 3 but were postponed to January 19 after the government asked for time to seek a South African lawyer to handle its defence.
The hearings were scheduled to run until May. It is not clear whether they will be finished in May since they were postponed by two weeks.
The government tried to nullify the hearings saying they were a waste of time as two cases already brought before the courts had indicated no irregularities.
But the hearings are the only way out for the MDC. They are crucial because they could change the balance of power in the house.
Currently the MDC has 56 seats, ZANU, 93, including the 30 appointed by the president, and ZANU-Ndonga one.
Although some analysts have said the hearings are at the moment merely academic as they will not change anything until the presidential elections next year, things could change if the MDC wins elections in 18 of the contested seats. This would then give them a majority of 75 seats in the 150 member house with ZANU-PF having 74 and ZANU-Ndonga, one.
On the other hand, the MDC only needs to win five more seats and next year’s presidential elections to take over the government.
If Tsvangirai becomes president, he could then appoint 30 members of his own (10 of whom must be chiefs) and thus have 91 seats for his party.
This would still deny his party the two-thirds majority the party needs to change the constitution. With 91 seats his party would not be able to reverse the fast track land reform programme for example.
His party therefore needs to win at least 13 of the contested seats to have a majority of 100.
But it is not clear whether the electorate will allow this as they have learnt that giving a party a two-thirds majority is likely to lead to misrule as the party leaders would become dictatorial despite any election promises they will have made. But with the way things are in the country, they could deliver a two-thirds majority to the MDC in their bid to get rid of Mugabe.
This could in the end simply become a case of removing a one-party state and replacing it with another.
Observers say that if the MDC is given a two-thirds majority it would end up the same way as the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy in Zambia. Despite coming up with a democratic constitution limiting the term of the president it is now seeking to extend the term of office of President Frederick Chiluba.
President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi is thinking along the same lines. Namibia did the same thing by allowing Nunjoma to have a third term.
The second half will be dominated by campaigning for the crucial 2002 presidential elections.
Most observers believe they will be more violent than the parliamentary elections of last year in which more than 30 people were killed. They argue that the stakes will be much higher as President Mugabe will be facing MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a do or die situation, because if Mugabe loses he would be “relegated to the dustbins of history”.
An MDC victory in the presidential election is vital if the party is to make any meaningful change, the platform on which it was elected.
The death of one person in the Bikita by-election this month and the violence that accompanied the Marondera by-election which ZANU-PF won, clearly show that the two parties will be all out to win any seats that become vacant at any cost. So far, the MDC has shown that it will not be taking things lying down.
The government will continue to push its fast track land reform programme as it could be the sole decider of the presidential elections next year.
The rural vote beats the urban vote by far. If the ruling ZANU-PF loses all urban votes, it could still clinch the presidential elections if it wins the rural vote.
Although the MDC surprised everyone in last year’s parliamentary elections, it would have lost had this been a presidential election.
Besides, it will be difficult to beat ZANU-PF because of its skill, developed over the years, to rig elections. Some claim that Mugabe’s administration has refined this to an art, something they could have taught United States president George Bush in his protracted struggle to the White House.
The government has been given until the end of June to come up with a credible land reform programme.
Lands Minister, Joseph Made, largely a technocrat and a firm believer in land reform, has already said the programme should be through by then. If it is, this will give the government enough time to improve the scheme and provide peasant farmers with inputs for the next season.
This would definitely win them the vote.
Another vote catcher could be a bumper harvest this year, especially of maize and cotton. This would be a feather in the government’s cap as it will fly in the face of prophets of doom who have claimed that the land reform programme would result in food shortages.
This is one major point Made wants to prove. Besides, the middle class could be taking the bait through the commercial farm settlement scheme.
It seems to be quite popular and could win ZANU-PF support from a class that is regarded as the MDC stronghold.
The biggest challenge for ZANU-PF though will be the economy. There are no signs that things will improve.
Although workers had some tax relief this year when the government raised the tax base from $2 500 to $5 000 a month, this will soon be eroded by increases in hospital fees which went up by 100 percent and increased costs of other essential items such as fuel, bread and later in the year, maize meal.
The economy is expected to decline by 5.5 percent, according to one of the country’s leading banks, Standard Chartered. A staggering 100 000 people, almost double last year figure of 55 000, are expected to lose their jobs this year.
According to employers organisations some 347 companies are expected to close this year. Others are relocating.
Financial company, ABC Holdings, a merger of three financial institutions – First Merchant Bank, UDC and Bard, sought primary listing in Botswana for example. Coca-Cola and Johnson and Johnson are reported to have relocated to South Africa.
Crime is on the increase with robberies accounting for $160 million last year.
Armed robberies have become the order of the day and some police officers, realising that there are fortunes to be made, have joined some of the notorious gangs. There are now car smuggling syndicates and specialist forgers who are providing documents including university degrees to those wanting to take the “gap”.
The shortage of foreign currency persists, and with the government insisting it is not going back on land reform, the country is not likely to get any international aid.
Tobacco sales on which the country heavily relies for foreign currency are expected to be 12 percent down on last year.
The shortage of fuel, which has devastated industry, is therefore also likely to persist. It is these basic, day-to-day needs that affect the average person that are likely to cost ZANU-PF support.
People are tired of empty promises and are likely to feel that anything other than ZANU-PF is better.