Anyone trying to predict the outcome of the Zimbabwean election must be
either bold or foolhardy or both. No sooner has a prophesy gone to press
than a new factor slips into the equation and everything has to be
re-calculated. Commentators are reduced to scenarios – and the number of
scenarios required to cover all eventualities and twists of fate multiplies
by the day.
And yet six short weeks ago it all looked sealed and delivered to Robert
Mugabe. Morgan Tsvangirai’s formation of the MDC had refused, against their
own party’s and President’s apparent interests, to form a coalition with the
Mutambara faction. Without a united opposition, ZANU PF could not fail to
win. Nothing would change, our downward rush to disaster would not be
If a week is a long time in politics, six weeks is an eon. Enter Simba
Makoni, and it all looked different. For the first time, the long talked-of
split in ZANU PF would make a difference at the polling stations. For the
first time, there would be a three-way contest for the top position. For the
first time, Mugabe might not know who would do his bidding and who would
subvert it. For the first time, there could be a run-off vote.
As campaigning has picked up to full steam, several further factors have
come into play. The economy deteriorates at a faster pace than ever, with
the value of the Zimbabwe dollar dropping by mid March to one tenth of its
value in the middle of January. Food is either unavailable or unaffordable,
and ZANU PF seems to be short of supplies to give out to their loyal
supporters (if they can identify them). The civil service goes on strike and
has to be enticed back by massive salary increases, which in fact, it seems
will mostly not be paid before the election. Even the army have yet to be
paid the amounts promised. The salary increases will further increase the
pace of the downward plunge in standards of living as inflation spirals
Even more important, as opposition candidates move into the rural areas, a
miracle seems to be happening – the rural voters are awakening from the
trance which made them believe that ZANU PF was their party and Robert
Mugabe their man.
But the questions only multiply. Who will the rural voters support in place
of Mugabe – Makoni or Tsvangirai? And who will they vote for in the
parliamentary elections, where instead of the straight ZANU PF- MDC choice
of the last three elections, there are sometimes two ZANU PF candidates and
two or even three MDC candidates, plus several others, including
independents supporting Makoni.
What kind of chaos will result as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission attempts
to stage a highly complex election composed of four ballots being cast and
counted in 11,000 polling stations? What will Mugabe do if he realizes that
he has lost any possibility of winning the vote and at the same time can’t
rely on a dedicated rigging system?
Will he rely on the military brass, who insist they will not allow anyone
else to win? And will they be able to rely on their troops, reportedly
supporting opposition candidates, and even said to be short of ammunition?
All or at least some of these questions will be answered very soon, but to
try to predict them requires a high level of audacity.
Are there any certainties regarding this election? Two very important ones.
The first is that there is no minutest possibility of a “free and fair”
election. Those observers from SADC who boast that it can still be so are
only destroying their own credibility. The government has totally ignored
amendments to the Electoral Act, to POSA and AIPPA.
There is no independent electronic media, there is blatant campaigning for
the ruling party in the state media, there is bias in the behaviour of the
police, the arrangements for the electoral process are shambolic, with ZEC
even having to withdraw some of their own information pamphlets, no
meaningful voter education has been allowed, not to mention the chaos of the
voters’ roll, the partisan nature of the delimitation which went before and
the uneven allocation of polling stations. And now the familiar process of
last- minute amendments to the Electoral Act has begun – using the
Presidential Powers Act to reverse changes made by agreement during the
The second certainty is that this election presents the electorate with two
tasks: getting rid of the incumbent President in spite of the unevenness of
the playing field, and replacing his government with one which can unite
Zimbabweans to renew and rebuild the Zimbabwean nation in all its aspects.
Are Zimbabweans capable of using the seriously flawed electoral process to
remove Mugabe, or will he manage to hang on once again?
That is the first issue, and there is no doubt that with the entry of Simba
Makoni into the game, it becomes a distinct possibility. Why?
Because Makoni has created the necessary split in ZANU PF, and he has
offered a three-way contest. This makes it very difficult for any of the
three to win over 50% of the vote. But who will the ZANU PF deserters vote
for? Sizes of crowds and results of rudimentary opinion polls can not be
relied on, and people in rural areas are still making acquaintance with the
challengers. Makoni apparently believed that he needed to present himself as
ZANU PF in order to gain the disaffected vote, but he could be wrong. Once
the spell is broken, people may desert not only the leader but the party as
Tsvangirai is reported to be drawing large crowds at rallies in smaller
towns, but Makoni too is being greeted with excitement as he whistle-stops
through rural areas.
Will the people speak for Makoni, or will they speak for Tsvangirai, and
will Mugabe be able to stifle their voices through manipulation of the
process? These are the questions that this election should answer.
To look at the last question first. There is no doubt that there is a
loosening of the hold of state security over the people, even in Mugabe
strongholds. The fear factor and the patronage factor are still there, but
their influence will not be as great this time in securing ZANU PF votes.
The rigging factor is impossible to calculate. It will surely play some
role, but if people vote in large numbers, as it seems they may do, it will
be more difficult, it may have to take place at the very top, and the
loyalty of the riggers is in any case in doubt.
But all Zimbabweans need to look around and see that the new political
landscape requires new responses. They have, like many voters around the
world, voted with their emotions and their hearts, demonstrating their
loyalties to the parties with which they have long identified, and to
individuals whom they trusted to govern them.
That is no longer a viable approach to voting. Zimbabweans must learn to
think strategically. What vote is most likely to dislodge Robert Mugabe, to
end the corrupt and despotic rule of ZANU PF?
A vote for Tsvangirai assumes that his party can win enough votes from ZANU
PF to carry the day. Mutambara’s MDC has already declared for Makoni, and
there are signs that much of Matabeleland will heed that call. Can
Tsvangirai, with so many of his supporters outside the country, retain the
rest of his traditional following, and gain a very large number of former
ZANU PF voters? Or is Makoni more likely to draw support as a new, fresh
face appealing to both disaffected former MDC and former ZANU PF voters, and
representing the idea of co- operation rather than polarisation? A vote for
Makoni will assume that Tsvangirai’s time has passed and he would not be
able to attract enough of ZANU PF to gain large numbers. Zimbabweans have to
consider these possibilities carefully, and vote for the one they think is
most likely to oust Mugabe.
If this election is primarily about showing Robert Mugabe the door, the key
question for voters is which of the two challengers is likely to succeed in
drawing more votes.
But the second task is to choose which of the two is more likely to take us
into re-building mode selflessly, with the interests of social justice for
the people the main motivation. Again, both have baggage – Tsvangirai is
dragged down by the self-interested squabbling within his party which begins
to look more and more like ZANU-PF itself; their tendency to insult and
denigrate other opposition forces instead of seeing them as allies in a
common cause is not promising. Makoni will bring with him some ZANU PF
loyalists who could not stand up to criticize their party’s evil doings, and
others who have been direct beneficiaries of that evil.
What will be needed will be strong leadership which can give the country a
new vision of a united people, while curbing any excesses of their
adherents. Zimbabwe needs someone who can reach across party lines and treat
the sicknesses of hatred and greed, while ensuring that evil-doers do not
escape with impunity. Each voter will have to ask himself, not which
candidate gains his sympathy, but which candidate can do both jobs.
Political goals cannot be reached in a single leap. This election will not
bring social justice in Zimbabwe. But there are critical achievements that
can be made through this election:
– Remove Robert Mugabe from power and end his catastrophic rule.
– Put into power a government that can unite the people to embark on the
tasks of restoring rule of law, rebuilding the economy, bringing justice not
revenge, healing and dignity to Zimbabweans.
We would dream for the achievement of both, but even if only the first is
attained we will have taken at least one step forward.
There is of course the possibility that even the first task will fail. But
it is clear that there is a seismic shift in the Zimbabwean political scene
which has to produce significant change. If it is prevented from coming
through the ballot box, then we surely will face some very dark days in
Zimbabwe. Many dangers lurk in the coming weeks, whoever is declared the
winner. But progressive Zimbabweans must not give way to despair and assume
that the election is already pre-determined against us. If we want change
through the vote we must hope and believe and work to reach our goals. In
spite of all the odds, if Zimbabweans are prepared to overcome fear, to cast
aside emotional loyalties, to think and vote strategically, and to keep
their eyes on the goals of peace and social justice, much is possible.
*Mary Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean human rights activist.Post published in: Opinions