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If it still breaks, don’t fix it: time for another election in Zimbabwe

Posted By on August 10, 2023 @ 06:00

‘I can’t wait until these stupid elections are over and we can just get on with our lives.’ Those were the words of a Zimbabwean acquaintance—and they reflect the attitude of many, perhaps the majority, as the country approaches another round of elections on 23 August. It’s not political apathy; it would be more accurately described as resignation. The elections are likely to be another pointless exercise of ‘voting without choosing’, as a commentator once described it [1]—another poll in which the playing field is tilted and the numbers tweaked.

The 43-year-old predominance of the ruling party, Zanu-PF, derives from its stranglehold on the rural areas, where nearly 70% [2] of the population live. That, in turn, draws its strength from the security services and an asphyxiating array of supporting structures whose task is to ensure that few will dare to vote for the opposition on election day.

In this and many other respects, Zanu-PF is nothing if not predictable. For an entity that is fixated on the past and has successfully deployed the same strategies time and again in defence of power, a change would be regarded as a dangerous folly. Given that such strategies always depend, in the last analysis, on brute force or the threat of it, Zanu’s version of an old adage would be, ‘If it still breaks, don’t fix it.’

Another feature of the party’s covert coercive measures is that they’re often poorly disguised—and yet exposure makes little difference. The publicity given this year to the activities of a faux non-government organisation called Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) is a case in point. The media [3] and opposition [4] have asserted that FAZ is a creature of the state and is interfering with voter registration and other aspects of the electoral process.

No visit to the countryside is required to confirm those allegations; a trip to the FAZ website [5] is more than enough. A bungling attempt by ill-equipped apparatchiks to adopt the language of civil society, the site is instead a transparent treatise on Zanu’s customary electoral gambit: driving fear into the marrow of voters and creating no-go areas for the opposition.

FAZ is ostensibly a friendly ‘affiliate’ of the ruling party ‘aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Electorate [over] to the continuance, in perpetuity, of the revolutionary governance of … ZANU PF’—a laudable civic objective, in the minds of its authors, which just happens to square with the president’s oft-repeated claim that Zanu will ‘rule forever [6]’.

The tactical elements show up soon after in the not-so-fine print: ‘The mainstay of this [2023 election] campaign is door-to-door intimate voter contact’, a method that allows FAZ ‘to move from house-to-house and workplace-to-workplace, talking to individual voters one at a time’, which ‘in turn, enables [FAZ to] … gauge their level of support for Party and Candidate’. Such ‘visits must not be once-off but must become regular to help the Party to dominate and saturate the environment while denying the same to opponents’. FAZ ‘volunteers’ are tasked with ‘keep[ing] in touch with registered voters through texting and phoning’, something that ‘must be done almost intrusively, as a way of maintaining intimacy’.

One of the ways in which Zanu attained ‘intimacy’ with the electorate during the war of liberation—and the violent independence election campaign of 1980—was through the use of ‘pungwes’, clandestine nighttime ‘politicisation’ meetings at which alleged ‘sellouts’ were selected for instant retribution. The terror of such bloody assemblies, where alleged collaborators were randomly chosen to underline the party’s power over life and death, remain etched in minds across Zimbabwe. It can be no mistake, then, that FAZ lists [7] ‘Pungwe movie shows’ as one of the opportunities for ‘imparting the Party’s campaign message’. The mere mention of the word is enough to send shivers down the collective spine, the more so because it is juxtaposed by the assurance that FAZ personnel will, naturally, only ‘engage in political violence … in self-defence’.

FAZ is by no means the only apparatus being used to coerce voters. Other time-honoured levers include traditional leaders, war veterans’ organisations, food aid, the allocation of land and business opportunities—the list goes on. Much of the vote is stitched up well in advance; further adjustments can be made courtesy of the regime’s effective control of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. In such a scenario, the main opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change, is likely to be reduced after the elections to (yet again) mere amplification of its already-loud protests about the impossibility of a free and fair poll in Zimbabwe. The short odds on its winning in a landslide if such were not the case is moot.

Another implication of this vice-like grip is that change, if it comes, will probably issue from the ranks of Zanu-PF. The ruling party has always been riven by internal fissures, but they have become deeper than ever over the past decade, and have plumbed new depths since the coup of 2017 that ousted Robert Mugabe. The simultaneous elevation of his second-in-command, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was itself a function of the most significant split in the party since 1980, and the battle for its poisonous soul with those who were purged has not abated.

There are also murmurings among those who seem to be loyal. Within the military’s officer corps, there’s a perception that Mnangagwa has run Zimbabwe like a Karanga tuckshop—a slipshod plaything of his ethnic subgroup—and that he has done so in a manner exceeding anything Mugabe dared. Certainly, much of Mnangagwa’s provocative beneficence has been showered upon a sub-subgroup that hails from the narrow confines of his home area near the town of Shurugwi. And much of the resentment revolves around those potent destabilisers, greed and the distribution of ill-gotten gains. Throw into the mix rumoured tensions between the president and his deputy, former military supremo Constantino Chiwenga, and it’s clear that electoral stagnation does not equal political stasis.

FAZ’s status as both a repressive tool and a function of intra-party division and suspicion illustrates that point. Formed to suffocate the opposition, it has also been deployed internally to exclude undesirables from party primaries [8] and watch carefully for signs of ‘bhora musango’—attempts to ‘kick the ball into the bush’ by members who seek to ‘decampaign’ Mnangagwa from within.

FAZ is reportedly [9] run by elements in the Central Intelligence Organisation whose intra-party activities are said to have displeased factions associated with Chiwenga and the military. Deciphering Zanu’s factions is a dark science at the best of times, but there’s ample evidence that the schismatic dynamics in the ruling party continue to spin away in the background. The hysterical response [10] to an announcement of a tilt at the presidency by Saviour Kasukuwere, a former acolyte of Mugabe’s exiled during the coup, is but one more sign that nerves are stretched taut.

Change from within Zanu-PF provides few grounds for immediate optimism. The party’s disunity doesn’t stem from fundamental ideological disagreement. Theirs is not a contest over the structure of the political or economic system. After all, the need for the opposition and a liberal democratic transition to be cut off at the knees is one aspect on which there remains broad consensus. Rather, the factions fight because they desire the same fruits, but where the lust for money and power reign supreme, there is not enough to go around. That’s why the coup threw up more of the same, and that’s why any open rupture in Zanu is likely to be a repeat, with little to offer those yearning for real change. For those outside the snake pit, the mantra is as it was: keep your head down and get on with it.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/if-it-still-breaks-dont-fix-it-time-for-another-election-in-zimbabwe/

URLs in this post:

[1] once described it: https://helda.helsinki.fi/items/9beb40c5-d71f-432d-bd8a-bc35c8c8c977

[2] nearly 70%: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=ZW

[3] media: https://bulawayo24.com/index-id-news-sc-national-byo-227291.html

[4] opposition: https://www.newzimbabwe.com/parly-what-is-this-creature-called-faz-biti-fumes-over-zanu-pf-affiliate-demands-explanation-from-defence-minister/

[5] website: https://faztrust.com/

[6] rule forever: https://www.newsday.co.zw/local-news/article/17051/we-will-rule-forever-ed-says

[7] lists: https://faztrust.com/scope/

[8] party primaries: https://www.pressreader.com/zimbabwe/the-standard-zimbabwe/20230402/281487870614941

[9] reportedly: https://www.theafricareport.com/311011/zimbabwe-how-intelligence-and-military-are-running-the-upcoming-general-polls/

[10] hysterical response: https://www.sundaymail.co.zw/kasukuwere-is-political-toast

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