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Zimbabwe’s towns and cities no longer safe opposition strongholds

Tsvangirai managed just 34%, while the MDC-T dropped to 30% in the parliamentary vote.

The opposition lost seats across the country, including five in Harare.

The MDC complained that ZANU-PF had bussed in voters and pointed to the redrawing of district lines.

This may have contributed to the outcome, but the MDC-T also had itself to blame.

In Harare North, for instance, the party put forward a weak candidate.

Theresa Makone was a close ally of Tsvangirai, but she had little appeal among poor urban voters.

By contrast, ZANU-PF’s 33-year-old nominee was young, dynamic and a native of the settlements.

In Epworth and Mbare, which were both also badly affected by the 2005 slum clearances, the MDC similarly struggled to strike a chord.

In Mbare, the MDC-T’s candidate, Sten Zvorwadza, was at least a young and well-known activist.

But the party failed to support him with the financial resources needed to win.

The opposition was divided and strategically weak.

Its poor messaging allowed ZANU-PF to take credit for the economic turnaround.

And it failed to convince previous supporters and those worst affected by the government’s actions that it had the policies and the vision the country needed.

Following the defeats of 2013, the opposition faced further challenges.

A split in the MDC-T led to the expulsion of over 20 parliamentarians in 2015 and triggered by-elections.

The MDC-T boycotted these in protest at the lack of electoral reforms, allowing ZANU-PF to pick all but one of the contested seats.

This further strengthened the ruling party and undermined the opposition’s standing.

The MDC today looks like a weakened force, including in areas that were once its natural strongholds.

The party has failed to provide voters with policy-based solutions to their problems, while also allowing ZANU-PF to hijack its message to poor voters in peri-urban areas.

The idea of a grand coalition with other opposition parties has plenty of support amongst voters, but it remains to be seen if it can be made to work.

With its considerable parliamentary majority, the ZANU-PF government has imposed policies that hurt the poor and cause people to lose their livelihoods.

But instead of capitalising on this, the MDC has allowed the government to turn around and offer solutions to the very problems it created.

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