Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP) remains an enigma for many voters and poll observers in Zimbabwe.
news in depth BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
The remote constituency never fails to deliver for President Robert Mugabe and the poll numbers are always a talking point after every election.
Mashonaland East, where UMP lies, has always given Zanu PF its highest figures, and the widest margin of victory over the opposition.
In the 2013 elections, Maramba Pfungwe constituency bequeathed to Zanu PF 22 264 votes against MDC-T’s 1 071 while in Uzumba, Zanu PF won by 21 421, with the MDC-T trailing at just 945 votes.
Interestingly, however, the UMP area is one of the least developed areas in Zimbabwe, but its confidence in Zanu PF seems to remain unshaken.
Located in the north eastern corner of the country, the major link to UMP is a tarred road that ends at Mutawatawa Growth Point, just 161km from Harare.
It is this highway that has several gravel — and often not easily navigable — roads that branch out into villages that stretch across the vast district.
With the 2018 elections approaching, focus has once again returned to the prospect of opposition parties in rural constituencies, with particular attention to UMP, given it is where Zanu PF is strongest.
This publication went in depth to establish the behind-the-scenes political environment in UMP and unearthed a myriad of circumstances that exist not only in UMP, but in major Zanu PF-controlled rural areas like Mutoko, Mudzi, and a bigger chunk of Mashonaland Central province where the opposition has registered its heaviest losses.
Arriving at Mtawatawa, one of the major centres in the district, Zanu PF’s dominance was immediately apparent, judging by the number of people wearing the party’s regalia as part of their daily fashion.
Everything looked peaceful, as the rural folk appeared to go about their business and despite the evident signs of poverty and financial strain synonymous with the rural folk, everyone looked happy and life appeared normal.
However, as later discovered, the outward serenity is just as the proverb says, “still waters run deep”.
This is a place where from the pre-independence to the post 2000 era, the young and the old have witnessed the worst of the politically-motivated violence and harassment, leaving many of them with no choice but to give in to the whims of the ruling party in order to live at peace and co-exist with Zanu PF.
Zanu PF has structures that appear to wield unimpeded power over everything, including the law enforcement agents.
As a result, the locals treat strangers with suspicion and attempts to interview locals at Mtawatawa were met with scepticism and fear, as one young man put it, “…zvinokuvadzisa kutaura zvese zvese [it can be dangerous to give interviews]”.
He warned the news crew to leave the place before the ruling party activists knew about its presence in the area.
Further enquiries at Mtawatawa and surrounding villages like Dindi, Jamari and Deke revealed the same high levels of self-censorship and fear of reprisals after giving an interview, in what could be one of the major reasons behind Zanu PF’s success in tightly controlling the area.
Despite the wider access to information through the affordability of ICT gadgets like smartphones, the Zanu PF structures are still very active in relaying information to the villagers through traditional leaders who conduct regular indabas with their subjects and there is a general culture of fear, which dates back to pre-independence Zimbabwe.
The Standard news crew had to sneak into Deke and Dindi villages at night, with the help of a fixer and managed to conduct interviews with two elderly villagers.
One of them — Temba* — is a victim of the pre-independence violence. He spoke about how Zanu PF had maintained a culture of fear in the area since then.
“Just before independence, after the ceasefire was declared to end the liberation struggle [which had started in 1964] we were told Zimbabwe was now free and there were going to be elections in which we would choose a new leader,” he narrated.
“We were ecstatic, and because we were now free to support any political party, I hoped my first vote would go to Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu.
“Little did I know that the war was far from over and that the same forces that were fighting for us, were now ready to fight us if we dared choose anyone but Zanu PF.”
At dawn, someday in January 1980, Temba still vividly recalls how armed guerillas broke into his village hut and beat him up, leaving him with a broken arm.
“They accused me of supporting Nkomo and told me the war would continue if Nkomo won the elections,” he said, “And I remember being hit with rifle butts, which left me traumatised.”
After the Lancaster House conference held in London in December 1979 between the colonial Ian Smith regime and nationalists including PF Zapu and Zanu, which were leading the armed struggle against the white regime, one of the concessions was to end the war and demobilise both the guerilla and the regime’s armies.
But the Zanu military wing, Zanla, is said to have breached the demobilisation agreement, and instead kept a signification number of its armed guerillas in rural areas like Pfungwe to violently campaign for the party and threaten to go back to war if Nkomo any other party besides Zanu PF won.
Several scholars have written about how this became the beginning of post-war violence that has kept Zanu PF in power over the years.
Contributing to the book titled, Zimbabwe: The past is the future, war veteran Duduzile Tafara said of the perception of guerillas by ordinary Zimbabweans, “The fighters seemed to be the most feared by those liberated. Even the elderly expressed concern over the former freedom fighters [and claimed that] the liberation guns have been turned against [the people].”
Temba confirmed this. “Just as it was during the war, traditional leaders have worked to mobilise people to pungwes, and there has always been systematic intimidation by the Zanu PF youth, with serious consequences to those who do not abide, and this has continued until today, and as long as it happens that way, things will remain the same” he said, “Tichirikuita senge tichiri muhondo [we are still in war mode].”
“I have always believed that the idea behind the liberation war was to make us free to choose our political leaders, and as such, I am one person who is keen to hear what the other political players’ visions are like so that I choose ndichiziva (from a point of knowledge), but we never get that alternative voice, and it saddens me a lot” he said.
Organisations like Heal Zimbabwe Trust, which have worked extensively in pushing for a peace and reconciliation process to address pre- and post independence human rights violations, have cited the lack of such a process as one of the key issues affecting the opening up of democratic space.
There has never been a reconciliation process in Zimbabwe, yet hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured during the liberation war, over 20 000 were killed by the army’s Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and Midlands in the early 1980s and over 200 were reportedly killed in the 2008 election violence, with remote rural areas like UMP having had the highest number of casualties.
This scenario has worked to the advantage of Zanu PF, which has not been keen to establish the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and has, instead, continued to interchangeably use its party structures and the state security agents to keep a tight control in areas like UMP.
Zanu PF’s village based chairpersons have their gangs of youths who are so efficient that strangers, or any other perceived threats to their stranglehold, are quickly hounded out of the area before they can do anything.
President Robert Mugabe recently called for the reinstatement of the controversial “youth officers” to the government payroll, apparently because they have in the past elections been used as Zanu PF storm troopers.
With the state and Zanu PF colluding, The Standard gathered information that weeks earlier, there was a campaign by the party where children as young as 15 were forced to get identity cards, apparently to ensure they to vote in next year’s elections.
“Youths, including 15-year-olds, were force-marched to Mtawatawa where they were told that they were supposed to get IDs and ensure that they vote for Zanu PF next year.”
Although we could not independently verify the claims, the same fast-track registration exercise has also been taking place in Marange in Manicaland.
The registrar general’s office has claimed they were pushing for the registration of Johanne Marange church members who often do not bother to get IDs.
John*, a victim of the 2008 violence, told us in another candlelight interview, that he still vividly remembers the beatings he suffered “for not attending Zanu PF rallies”.
“After the first round of elections, Zanu PF youths started hunting down those who had not been attending rallies and I was one of those,” he said.
“I still have nightmares when I recall how those that I grew up with could be used for political reasons to savage not just me, but elderly people and our parents,” he said,
“The village heads here keep records of everyone and we have continually been told that it is easy to identify those who might have voted for other parties.”
With the 2018 elections drawing closer, it appears in areas like UMP Zanu PF has already bagged victory. Their isolation from the rest of the country, abetted by the inability of any other political players to get in to campaign, further assures a Zanu PF landslide. So in this part of the country, Zanu PF has it all, albeit through crooked means.
*Not real names