THE tragedy of opposition politicians and civics in general is the fact that whilst there is widespread criticism of the shortcomings, ills and evils of Zanu PF there has been failure to critically analyse its structural strengths and weaknesses which have contributed to its continued hold on power. An analysis of empirical evidence focused on the party’s election strategies as well as political behaviour will assist in formulating effective measures of defeating Zanu PF.
Advantages of incumbency
The fact that Zanu PF has been in control of vital state structures and organs for 30 years presents it with huge advantages over the other political parties. The fact that in Zimbabwe the party and the state have been synonymous for a long time means that some key government structures at both central and local government levels have operated as quasi political structures serving the interests of Zanu PF.
The constitutional outreach process proved that Zanu PF structures were better organised than other political parties in spite of Zanu PF’s unpopularity. They were able to mobilise their supporters by any means necessary. They dominated most meetings held in the rural areas and gave a strong showing in the towns. Whilst I do not in any way condone the wayward ways of Zanu PF it is critical to understand how Zanu PF was able to dominate the constitution-making process even though it did not have the support of most progressive forces .The mobility of local Zanu PF structures was clearly evident as they were able to bus the small groups of their supporters from venue to venue.
Quite clearly they operated using tactics from the liberation struggle using small groups of cadres as advance parties and using terror and persuasion to win the hearts and minds of the rural populace. The constitution-making process was used by Zanu PF strategists to gauge the preparedness of its structures for elections whilst everybody was busy with the constitution-making agenda they were busy preparing for elections.
Now, whilst everybody is blindly following the election agenda, they are already thinking about post-election power dynamics. To this end they are tactically and technically superior to the other political parties.
Zanu PF and Mugabe in particular have become masters of political stratagem. Opposition parties have since 1980 been forced to be constantly reacting to agendas set by Zanu PF. Importantly after the government’s draft constitution was rejected by Zimbabweans in 2000 it looked like Zanu PF was poised for a crushing defeat at the hands of the MDC, but in a space of six months Zanu PF changed both the political discourse and direction of the nation through the chaotic land reform project. New Zanu PF strongholds were created in resettlement areas and potential opposition strongholds were weakened
Besides the usual tactic of violence Zanu PF is already targeting various publics including churches, youths, indigenous business persons, artistes and “farmers”. It appears Zanu PF is a diligent student of Machiavelli who counsels that at times force may not be necessary where persuasion or political fraud can work.
The youth have also been targeted through youth-“friendly” methods such as music and dance with a number of young artistes pledging their support for Mugabe and Zanu PF. The young artistes are being used as part of the Zanu PF propaganda machinery in an attempt to woo those voters born after Independence (the “born frees”) .This is a new strategy as Zanu PF has always focused on its traditional rural support base in Mashonaland, parts of Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland.
This youth strategy is also buttressed through structures of the Ministry of Youth which although purporting to be non- partisan provides opportunities for party youths or those who choose to align with Zanu PF to benefit from small loans to start micro enterprises.
The Zanu PF machinery has already strategically positioned itself beyond the debate on land to that of the extractive sector and industry by dangling the indigenisation carrot to thousands of struggling black entrepreneurs. In the same manner in which land was used as a tool of enticing the rural vote, “indigenisation” is being used to gain inroads into emerging urban elites, the middle class and young black businessmen.
African politics and diplomacy
Whilst Zanu PF is clearly out of favour with the European Union and the Americas it has managed to win the souls of African statesman through arguments on sovereignty and anti neo- colonial rhetoric. They (Zanu PF) seem to have a far better understanding of how African politics and diplomacy works and have managed to skillfully and deceitfully evade scrutiny from numerous Sadc summits. Due to the weaknesses of opposition parties at international level Zanu PF has managed to run rings around their opponents and blocked any meaningful interventions from Sadc as a the most critical player in the Zimbabwean transitional process. The proposed Sadc roadmap to free elections may fall victim to Zanu PF shenanigans and chicanery.
Zanu PF has always and will continue to use or abuse traditional structures as a tool of political coercion in plebiscites and this is already evident in that contrary to the Traditional Leaders Act some chiefs have openly declared their support for the party. Strategically traditional leadership structures filter to village level and serve as useful appendages of Zanu PF party structures come election time.
Summation of strengths
The above strategies which are a combination of force, fraud, coercion and persuasion are already being used to target different electorates. Interestingly Zanu PF is no longer just interested in consolidating its traditional support base but is actively engaging and enticing new target groups such as organised business, urban youths, churches and academics. Where coercion fails violence will be used but in a tactical and targeted manner.
In Matabeleland which is crucial to attaining an electoral majority Zanu PF will make a spirited attempt to win one seat in Bulawayo, four in Matabeleland South and two seats in Matabeleland North. They will pray for apathy in the elections so that their loyal supporters vote in their numbers and hope that the opposition vote in Matabeleland is split between Zapu and the MDC factions. They will also hope that the opposition presidential vote will be split between two or even three aspirants just as Simba Makoni’s slice of the vote which was just above 6% made a great difference in deciding the course of the electoral contest.
The factors that militate against Zanu PF‘s electoral success are numerous and do not need the ingenuity of a political scientist.
Zanu PF is associated (and rightly so) with the collapse of the economy, corruption, chaos, anarchy, poverty, deterioration of service delivery and mass poverty. The electorate believes that Zanu PF has failed for the last 30 years and nothing short of miracle will make them win elections fairly
Closely tied to this is the undeniable fact that Zanu PF is a losing brand and for many, especially young people, it has no place in the future. It is associated with all manner of failure and as such people do not want to associate with failure. Sovereignty, loyalty and patriotism will not pay people‘s rent, give them bread or jobs.
Zanu PF’s hold on the state media for propaganda purposes will fail because of the emergence of alternative media in the form of satellite TV and shortwave radio as well as the independent print media. Even in rural areas few people now listen to or watch ZBH programmes. A lot of resources may thus be wasted flogging a dead horse.
Zanu PF’s propaganda machinery may achieve results contrary to their expectations as people will believe the opposite of whatever the state media is saying. The government’s “Vote Yes” campaign of 2000 is an example of how people voted “No” because of what they perceived to be a ploy to hoodwink them. The electorate is in the mode of supporting whoever is the victim and is likely to disbelieve whatever is said against opposition parties.
It is debatable whether violence will actually translate to more votes for Zanu PF as people adapt and react to it. Even though this was generally true of elections held in June 2008 this may not be necessarily so as was proved in 1985 when Zanu PF was comprehensively defeated by PF Zapu in Matabeleland after the state-sanctioned Gukurahundi massacres. Ultimately people may choose to attend Zanu PF meetings, eat the food they are given, chant party slogans but in the ballot booth the secrecy of the vote will reign supreme.
- Dumisani Nkomo is the chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust and principal spokesperson of the Matabeleland Civil Society Consortium. He writes here in his personal capacity.