Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF, Masters of Double Speak

By Kingstone Jambawo

It is that time again when political parties unveil their campaign strategies through their manifestos.

Winning an election depends on the ability of contenders to convey their agendas to the electorate.

The MDC’s previous modernisation theme suffered rejection as  Zanu PF’s Indigenisation and Land Reform Programme found tract with the people in the 2013 harmonised elections and, who knows, the same could happen in 2018.

Although the Zanu PF government’s policies have led to mass unemployment, a transfer of wealth from the minority whites to Zimbabwe’s new black masters.

What, however, confounds many is that despite Zanu PF’s sins, it still wins elections.

The revolutionary party’s mis-governance has negatively impacted on citizens’ socioeconomic wellbeing and in particular after 2002.

Discontent, especially among the more informed urbanites and those in the diaspora, has been vociferous and more pronounced.

But Zimbabwe’s socio-political context is crucial to understanding the population’s psyche. Meriting special attention is the unprecedented scope of campaign strategies that have been pursued by Zanu PF over the years.

Zanu PF’s official campaign strategy has generally been party-centred than candidate-centred, whilst the opposition’s strategy has been resource-centred. The resources model explains why the MDC has pursued the electoral reform strategy by focusing on the evolution of electoral rules. The MDC does not have access to public media, which tend to channel propaganda on behalf of the Zanu PF regime.

It also explains the reasons behind the much needed but also much loathed coalition of opposition forces to fight Zanu PF.

Moreover, the answer as to whether the MDC has been able to serve as a mediator between the people and government is a matter for contention. This gap may have been filled by the social movements who have managed to transmit the population’s needs, wants and desires.

The rise of Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and twitter is not going to bring an Obama to Zimbabwe simply because the rural cannot access them as they prepare to hear more on the liberation struggle, western imposed sanctions, and land reform (Hondo yeminda). The urban will get their usual dose of empowerment and indigenisation programmes. Well, why would they change what has always worked for them?

Zanu PF’s constant use of the liberation struggle and western imposed sanctions to continuously subjugate opposition political parties and social movements (the new players in contemporary politics) for it to remain in power is both disturbing and depressing.

There is still a widespread view among its loyalists that claims that Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Zanu PF are the heroes who saved Zimbabwe from the totalitarian colonialists led by Ian Smith. They continuously describe the MDC and the imposition of sanctions as an unending battle against subversion, year in year out.

The answer as to how this authoritarian regime is holding on to power may lie in the population’s collective psyche. There is serious need to understand why the liberation war history still resonates with the rural Zimbabwean electorate 37 years on.

The land reform has worked well as an official Zanu PF campaign strategy whilst the MDC has always maintained that the land issue is a national issue that does not belong to party politics. Those in the urban are sold  indigenisation policies which sadly have also become part of the ongoing politics of patronage by the regime.

For most of the urban population, no amount of propaganda can hide the grim reality that entire families are surviving on hustling, vending, food aid, and remittances from the diaspora. In addition, one of the chief complaints by the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (Navuz) is that their livelihoods are constrained by restrictive bylaws, local Zanu PF controlled vending sites and by police corruption and that the government has failed to recognise their sector. This surely does not translate to empowerment that has been promised by the government at each election campaign. The only empowerment seems to be the experience and feeling that the new farmers felt during the farm invasions.

Yet Zanu PF has continuously and obsessively concentrated on attacking the MDC as working on behalf of the imperialists. Narratives of the liberation struggle have become central to its election campaigns throughout its 37 year old rule. Thus the land is an ideology that Zanu PF casts as the completion of the third Chimurenga after first and second Chimurenga efforts. This nationalist rhetoric is constantly protected and chanted out by the state media on a daily basis. The land appropriation and liberation history is perceived by Zanu PF and its media house as a legitimate response to the challenge posed by the MDC, white farmers and their western imperialists backers.

The imposition of sanctions and the resultant economic woes have been squarely blamed on the MDC. Eager to portray itself as a victim, it is now not unusual for the regime to manipulate the strong statements from the west and the imposition of sanctions to its cause. However, what makes this historical patterns relevant to the 2018 make or break elections and what make them an important port of call in any principled political discussions is that the tendency has been peculiarly prevalent and critical in Zimbabwean politics as to compromise the people’s choices in all elections.

The almost pathological, but ultimately pragmatic need for Zanu PF to fix poor governance blame on the West and the MDC must factor into the assessment of how the opposition can respond. A different strategy on rural engagement and land issue rhetoric is needed.

In addition, the memories of the 2008 violence (operation Makavhoterapapi [where did you put your cross on the ballot paper) is still fresh in people’s minds, therefore, the intimidation by the youths and traditional chiefs is still working. The rural has been and is currently being indoctrinated through the chiefs about the importance of protecting the country’s sovereignty through voting for Zanu PF.

It became clear that Morgan Tsvangirai was going to lose the runoff or that there were going to be more massacres. The MDC found itself in a very desperate situation that it had to come up with something immediately; boycott and create an impasse or stalemate which, to some extend, worked as the resultant settlement was the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU).

Unfortunately, by any reasonable measure Tsvangirai became a mere MDC figure-head, and unintentionally became part of the government, of a system that was responsible for the electoral killings and disappearances.

During this GNU, Zanu PF’s politics of patronage was obvious in local government. Although they preferred the ankle bracelet to the gulag, violence and threats against local councillors, and civic bodies was apparent. The lack of political experience made the MDC avail themselves as Christian organisation and failed to take the opportunity.

The resources stricken opposition cannot match another of Zanu PF’s strategy of providing gifts to the rural electorate and promises of residential stands to the urban. Somehow these provisions are able to convince the masses that only Zanu PF is best positioned to represent Zimbabweans. Many of the opposition presidential candidates seem to think they can do an Obama by campaigning through Facebook and YouTube.

The conclusions is that this is an autocratic regime that is very surgical in convincing the rural citizens that it is competent to govern. They have successfully employed the land issue and empowerment propaganda to encourage personal sacrifices for what they say is common good. But the ordinary urban citizens have long updated our beliefs about the party  based on information available on social media and people’s living standards. If all citizens, including those in the rural understand, based on various bad governance signals such as unemployment, poor health, lack of development, bad vending laws, extortionate roadblocks, cash shortages etc., that the incumbent is incompetent and uses the same methods to deceive, they may seek to overthrow them in these coming elections.

The opposition could help by coming up with their positions on land rather than dismissing it as a national issue. Most opposition parties are still shying away from this issue, thereby excluding it or being verge in their manifestos. The land issue along with some sinister and certainly ruthless campaign tactics are clearly Zanu PF’s official campaign strategies that are decorated with empowerment and indigenisation policies. Whilst the MDC appropriately advocates for a land commission to lead the land reform, they need to at least clarify their position on those who currently occupy the farms, especially the well respected war veterans.

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