Former Industry minister Nkosana Moyo has become a butt of every joke told about the impending elections with his unusual presidential campaign strategy where he literally pops at the most unexpected of places across Zimbabwe canvassing for votes.
By Obey Manayiti
From pictures of the top academic and businessman eating sugar cane and engaging vegetable vendors at their stalls in high-density suburbs, Moyo provides cannon fodder for creatives flooding social media with his memes.
Yet almost a year ago, the former minister — who is widely respected for walking away from former president Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet when the wheels started coming off at the height of the land reform programme — had created a lot of interest when he announced that he was running for president.
His Alliance for the People (APA) became very active on social media and promised a breath of fresh air on Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
Our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) caught up with Moyo (NM) in Harare last week to talk about his campaign strategy and why APA appears to be losing steam. Below are excerpts from the interview.
OM: Last year when you announced your intention to run for the presidency, there was a lot of excitement and APA became very visible on social media. However, the excitement has died down a few months before the elections. Can you please tell us how far you have gone with your campaign and why it went low-key?
NM: Firstly, nothing has gone wrong; and, secondly, we are not taking a low key, but our approach is different from what people are used to.
It is also important to recognise what happened in November, the so-called restore legacy issue and I think one had to take in where the people’s mood was.
I don’t think it would have been right to just budge in without absorbing the excitement in the population.
We went through a period from November into the early new year where the population was just focused on the fact that [former president Robert] Mugabe had gone.
And in my own opinion if you want to communicate with the population, you have to establish a rhythm that is in sync with the sentiments of the people.
Our almost like taking the foot off the pedal during that period was simply in recognition of the fact that people went through a phase of being very happy, and, I think, with justification, that Mugabe had gone.
So now we are ramping up again, but I think it is important to recognise that people are not used to the methods of campaigning that APA is using.
The expression that you are low-key is just in contrast to rallies and the excitement of bussing people that they are used to.
OM: How can you describe your mode of campaign?
NM: My view is that Zimbabwe lacks a consciousness of the responsibility of the citizen and citizens think that a campaign is about the candidate.
My view is that a campaign is about the whole nation getting clarity for itself.
Firstly, where the country is at in terms of what needs to be done going forward and only when the population is clear on what needs to be done, will I then be able to say if this is what needs to be done, what kind of a leader do we need.
Our method of campaigning as APA is to try and engage with citizens in that conversation.
In many ways when I engage with the population, I could argue that we are not even selling APA. to be honest with you, we are trying to make citizens understand their responsibility in this exercise.
Once they follow the process we are suggesting to them, we are quite, I think, indifferent as to whether it’s APA that they vote for or someone else.
What is important is that they have absolute clarity on what needs to be done and what kind of leader is needed to do that job.
OM: Some people on social media are making fun of your campaign, saying the door-to-door meetings and going to places frequented by ordinary people is child’s play. Why did you go that route?
NM: Are those people Zimbabweans? Do those people have a vote and do you think those people need to be engaged in terms of what they need for their country?
So what is wrong with that campaigning methodology? These people are Zimbabweans and they have a vote, they have issues about their lives which they need attended to, so they need to have a voice and they need somebody who will listen to them.
There is no Zimbabwean, no matter who they are, who does not deserve the respect of engagement with a candidate.
OM: Do you have any statistics in terms of the number of people recruited by your campaign to show that it is working?
NM: The answer is no because I don’t think anybody has a number and let me tell you why.
People tend to confuse members and supporters and the two are not the same.
The numbers that really count in an election are supporters and not members.
Members are always a tiny minority in terms of numbers of the population itself and the people who turn up to vote.
You will recall that in the last three elections the presidency in particular has revolved around something in the region of two and 2,5 million voters.
This year alone, the people who registered to vote from the numbers coming from Zec [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] are over five million and no party in terms of membership in this country will have anything like 1,5 million and this means the majority of people who vote are supporters and not members of a party.
All the people who registered are important, but they don’t come in statistics that we have sold so many cards because there are people who retain a choice to change their view every five years as is their right.
So one has to be careful about statistics and that is why you have people getting excited about numbers who turn up at a rally like what happened in 2013 and then go on to lose an election.
OM: You don’t organise rallies nor do you have party regalia. How do you gauge your popularity and how do people get to know you without any advertising?
NM: We are on social media and we are covering the whole country, meeting people door-to-door.
Let me illustrate this further: what is your sphere of influence? If you take your immediate family and friends, how many people would that be?
You might say 20 and if I convince you with my message and you go and convince those 20 people and each one of those people convince 20 people of their own, what will happen is that you will cover the whole country very quickly in a very short space of time.
This is our election strategy, it’s door-to-door, it’s substance, a conversation where you can ask me what concerns you, I am not shouting at you standing over there at a rally and once you buy into my message, I will then expect you to personalise it and to talk with your friends and family.
I will expect you to go and talk to that 20 and they will do the same. Everybody will be covered.
OM: Do you think your campaign strategy works in Zimbabwe given that people are used to high-profile rallies?
NM: There is a lot of excitement among young people and what are they famous for? It’s innovation.
What we need in this country in terms of industry, economy and so on it’s innovation.
What does innovation mean? it is doing things in a new way. I am quite clear that the people in this country are not used to this other new method and I am also very clear that in order for our country to move forward, we have to work with people who have the courage to be innovative; in other words, doing things differently.
For the past 38 years we have done things in a way where all of us can agree that as a nation we have failed on the economy and this is why we have over 90% of our people unemployed.
I will suggest to you that the things that we have done for the past 38 years have not yielded the results, that are good for us as a population.
We can agree on that and therefore if we want a different result, the quality of our leadership, I should be justified to say that I am going to initiate a totally different way of doing things starting with how I engage with the electorate because I want a different result.
OM: There were reports that you were dumped by some of your executives in Bulawayo and other areas. Does APA have any structures?
NM: Yes, absolutely; otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about the executive if we didn’t have structures but your observation is absolutely correct, but again it is not a problem.
APA is a new organisation and people will join a new organisation with their own view of what ought to happen and over the initial phase of the establishment of that organisation you begin to realise that maybe your ideas are not the same and I think in a democratic country, people must have the right to then say yes I stay or I go and look for a home elsewhere.
It happens with all parties and it’s not an APA issue. Every day I read factions in MDC and factions in Zanu PF, so there is nothing new here.
OM: You have been the only visible person campaigning for APA since its formation. Who is your deputy, organiser etc?
NM: You thought I travel on my own when I am campaigning?
They are there and actually at our next livestream we are introducing every one of them but whether they are visible or not or active, it’s entirely a choice of theirs, but they are there.
We will introduce them formally and then the population can ask them where were they all along.
OM: Why are you not interested in alliances and coalitions like other mainstream opposition parties?
NM: My way of thinking is that an election, in a democratic space, is about giving the citizens the right to choose.
Before the election I don’t think there should be any attempt to rig the election by forming coalitions.
Let the citizens choose a party that has got the principles of the things that the electorate wants.
A party led by people who have got the character, experience and values that the people want and don’t dilute that.
After the election often it happens as you know that the outcome of the election does not deliver an outright winner and when that happens it is the only time that it makes sense to me that you then have to look around and that who among political parties you can sit down with and agree.
OM: How much have you spent so far in your campaign and what is the source of your funds?
NM: To start with, you know what the law says about funding from non-Zimbabweans.
Our focus is to raise money from Zimbabweans and I am not so sure if I should give you that number, but even if I wanted I am not the treasurer.
We spend a bit of money, but again one thing that we are clear about which is in tandem with this issue of regalia and rallies is that in our opinion we want to run an election which is not about money.
We are largely self-funded, the members of APA fund our activities, but we try to make that load as light as possible.
When I go campaigning and because Zimbabweans are used to getting things, they will ask me for T-shirts, can you buy beer and I will politely explain to them that I am not going to buy your vote.
As a Zimbabwean if your life is okay don’t worry about my campaign, but if your life is not okay make this campaign about you and not me.
So you are not doing me a favour, but as a Zimbabwean you ought to say I want to change the destiny of my country, I want my children to grow up in a country that is respected and where they can go to functioning hospitals and functioning schools.
If this is the country that you want, then you, and not me, giving you anything, must think about who you are going to vote for and why.
Up to date, there has only been one man who when I said that to him he literally threw away our flyers and said in that case I walk away.
OM: Will APA field candidates in all the wards and constituencies in the forthcoming elections? Have you identified the candidates and who are they?
NM: I don’t know the result as yet and at the moment we are looking for candidates and that is our aim. where we will end up, I just don’t know.
We may not get candidates for all, but we are going on to try and field candidates for all the parliamentary constituencies and all the wards.
OM: You have been on the campaign trail since last year, but we are yet to see your manifesto or proposed policies. When are we likely to see them being rolled out?
NM: I only know one party that has published its manifesto and that is BAZ [Build Alliance Zimbabwe].
So we are not an exception. Our manifesto is virtually ready, but we are not rushing to publish it and I will be very open with you that what is becoming clear to me is that parties are watching each other and including watching us wanting to steal ideas from us. therefore, we are not just going to be giving out ideas through publishing our manifesto prematurely.
We will wait, but we will publish our manifesto.
OM: What are you promising the electorate?
NM: So I am not going to give you the details of the manifesto, but let me tell you clearly where our troubles are.
There are four areas in which any leader in this country worth their salt has to be able to deliver and the very first one is the economy.
The second one is unity. Often a lot of people don’t realise that the biggest resource of a country are not natural resources, but it’s the people.
But what does that mean when we say the biggest resources it’s the people? if a people in a country are not united as one nation, then you have lost the power of that resource and our country at the moment is characterised by a lot of factionalism, tribalism, regionalism and so on.
We need a leader who is going to unify the citizens so that whatever challenges that we face as a nation, we face them together and agreeing on our priorities.
The third one is respect for each other and the last one is that when you look at how our institutions treat us as citizens, specifically those that are supposed to be institutions of the state like the army, police, judiciary, Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), intelligence services, you begin to realise that something has gone wrong because those institutions are meant to protect you.
They are supposed to use ultimately their instrument of doing that as our constitution stipulates, but those institutions of the state allow themselves to be made appendages of a political party — Zanu PF— and they are not protecting you and me.
They are protecting members of Zanu PF and this country is being run for Zanu PF and not for citizens and that is very wrong.
OM: Soon after the coup last year, you said you were ready to work with (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa. Were you disappointed he didn’t invite you to his government and does it mean your policies are not too different?
NM: No, not at all. If he had invited me what I said was that I would be prepared to listen to what the offer was and after the offer is made I would then go back to the party to consult.
My own reading is that Zimbabweans didn’t just want Mugabe to go, but I think Zimbabweans also wanted a sign that the so-called new dispensation understood the need for unity in this country.
But given that he didn’t and that the elections are only few months down the line, my attitude was that this whole thing was a Zanu PF thing, an internal friction which led to the events of November and they were sorting out their own issues.
The population has the opportunity to decide who runs the country going forward in a few months and so there was no basis to be disappointed, no reason.
OM: Last year you refused to condemn Gukurahandi. Now that you have interacted with ordinary people affected by the atrocities, do you still maintain that stance?
NM: No, no, no, I never refused to condemn Gukurahundi.
What I said is that in life we always have to make choices and as Zimbabweans and South Africans, we come from a very similar history of being abused by white people, but for whatever reason at the point of independence for Zimbabwe and freedom for South Africa, both these countries made a choice to let bygones be bygones and we are going to focus and build a country in which all transgressions cannot happen again.
My answer has always been very clear and I would like Zimbabweans to challenge me as a leader, not about remaking history.
That is not to say history is not important, but I don’t want to be challenged about remaking a Zimbabwe that has gone in the past.
I want Zimbabweans to challenge me about building a Zimbabwe that is fundamentally different from that history — that is what I said.
I have also added that I don’t care who it is, president or no president, I don’t think anybody, me included, can answer the Gukurahundi question without the victims of Gukurahundi being at the table to lead that conversation.
They have to be listened to, they have to tell their story and they have to put on the table their own views of what they think should happen.