THE media has of late been awash with stories signalling the alleged demise of the MDC-T’s electoral fortunes in the wake of the Freedom House Survey.
Naturally, propagandists are having a field day. Those who have doubted the MDC-T are saying, “we told you so”. The MDC-T-bashing bandwagon suddenly has a many passengers, including opportunists keen to have a go.
Some MDC-T supporters are rather confused by all this, given that nothing that accounts for Zanu PF’s abysmal record over the years has changed. Some have welcomed the Freedom House Survey as a timely wake-up call to their leaders. Much of the reaction is informed by one’s political standing or prejudices. But certainly, the Freedom House Survey has produced a set of results that seem to run contrary to common sense.
If the sample were taken as representing the general opinion, how is it that the Zimbabwean public has suddenly forgotten Zanu PF’s own blatant transgressions, arrogance and poor record of governance over the bulk of 32 years? How far true is it that human rights violations are not even an issue that concerns Zimbabweans that they can and do embrace to the point of increasing their popularity – a party that has gratuitously applied violence against them and is responsible for the appalling record of poor governance?
Let us consider Zanu PF’s record which Freedom House tells us is conveniently forgotten as people stampede to raise its popularity.
Zanu PF orchestrated the atrocities in Matabeleland that led to deaths of an estimated 20,000 civilians in the 1980s. Generally known as Gukurahundi, even President Mugabe has acknowledged that it was a “moment of madness”. There has been no official acknowledgement, however, no official apology and no compensation.
Comparatively, the region remains grossly underdeveloped. People of that region have never forgiven Mugabe and Zanu PF. Since 1980, Zanu PF has struggled to gain support in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions, losing massively to PF ZAPU in the 1980s and in recent elections to the MDC-T.
Can it really be said that respondents in this region have found a new cause to support Zanu PF? They may be frustrated with the MDC-T but it is incredible to imagine after all these years and the unresolved challenges brought on the region by Zanu PF that the people of this region now support and trust that party. It is impossible to imagine unless, of course, this is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale – whereby the abused conveniently overlook the abuser’s conduct and instead reward him with sympathy and sometimes, support.
In 2005, Zanu PF launched Operation Murambatsvina that led to the destruction of homes and livelihoods of thousands if not millions of urban dwellers across Zimbabwe. Under the guise of cleaning up the cities, Operation Murambatsvina attracted the attention of the United Nations, which despatched its envoy to assess the problem. Needless, to say, the thousands who were affected struggled to cope and many of them have never fully recovered.
Have these people forgotten the abuse they suffered at the hands of the state and Zanu PF? Have they found a new cause to support Zanu PF, after all the misery that was brought upon them by its destructive policy? It is impossible to imagine that this is the case, unless of course this is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Elections in Zimbabwe have always been affected by violence and intimidation over the years, but the period between March 2008 and June 2008 will always be remembered for the unmitigated and gratuitous violence meted on civilians at the instigation of Zanu PF. Having lost the first round of the Presidential elections in March and after fiddling with the results to cook up a case for a ;presidential run-off election, Zanu PF and its agents launched a vile campaign of violence which led to the death of almost 200 MDC-T supporters.
Images of violence remain etched in the memories of many who witnessed it. Have these people – relatives of the dead and injured, their friends and colleagues, supporters of the MDC-T and others who are repulsed by what they saw – suddenly had a change of heart and now support and trust Zanu PF? This is impossible even to imagine, unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF inherited a thriving and dynamic economy at independence in 1980. However, in the period between 2004 and 2008, Zimbabwe recorded the world’s highest levels of hyperinflation in a country that is not at war. By 2009, it had abandoned its currency. Unemployment stands at over 80% with the majority of young people unemployed and redundant.
The much-vaunted policies of indigenisation and land reform, which are used to explain Zanu PF’s support, have done little to reduce the unemployment figures. The majority of the youths are still looking for jobs but the economy is not doing well enough to create jobs. The indigenisation policy itself has dissuaded foreign investment, which is critical to economic growth and job creation.
Have these unemployed people suddenly found a new cause to like and trust Zanu PF, notwithstanding that it is the same party that is responsible for economic mismanagement and poorly-crafted policies that have ruined a once thriving economy? It is difficult to imagine, unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF is in control of most of the levers of power, and more importantly, power in the security services sector. Leaders of the military and the police have openly and shamelessly declared their support for Zanu PF. The Attorney General is a well known supporter of Zanu PF under whose reign the law has been selectively applied against the MDC-T supporters. Human right organisations have documented numerous cases of abuse of human rights and selective use of the law in favour of Zanu PF.
Even under the GNU, Mugabe has refused even some of the most elementary constitutional rules which include the requirement to consult with the MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The courts, most of whose officers are direct beneficiaries of Zanu PF policies, take inordinate amounts of time to decide cases. Perpetrators of violence in the past are protected by the police whilst victims who have reported are treated terribly by those who are supposed to protect them.
When the airwaves were opened up, the licences were given to state-related or Zanu PF-aligned operators. Television is still a monopoly of the state and is unashamedly pro-Zanu PF.
All these transgressions; the abuses of authority, the interference in politics by the military and the police in favour of Zanu PF, are known by ordinary Zimbabweans who have been affected by these actions, one way or the other. Zanu PF’s intransigence has continued during the GNU years; nothing has changed.
It is impossible to imagine against this background, that people have forgotten all this and now like and trust Zanu PF to the extent of even clawing back support from the MDC-T, unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF’s arrogance is all too apparent in respect of the constitution-making exercise. It is clear that Zanu PF is seeking to re-write the COPAC Draft Constitution, even after negotiators of all parties agreed to that draft. The nonsensical suggestions that it is making have no bearing whatsoever to what the people asked for in the outreach exercise.
For example, the issue of devolution may be controversial but it was clearly demanded by the people in the outreach and everyone agreed until the Zanu PF Politburo decided they did not want it. People made demands for a presidency whose power is subject to checks and balances, but Zanu PF believes its model of an all powerful Executive President who can do pretty much what he or she wants is the best for Zimbabwe.
People demanded that all local languages should be recognised as equal and official languages but Zanu PF will have none of that. Its ideas on governance generally and the constitution in particular are out of sync with the views of the people. Most people are aware that at the moment, the major stumbling block to the adoption of a new Constitution is Zanu PF. It is impossible to imagine under these circumstances, that Zanu PF has suddenly become more likeable and more trusted than it was in 2010.
We are told that the pattern of support for Zanu PF is because of its clearer and more articulate policies like indigenisation and the land reform programme. It is correct that Zanu PF has made a lot of noise about indigenisation and the land reform programme.
Missing from this is any indication that these two policies have reduced the plus 80% unemployment figure. Also missing is how Zimbabwe, more than ten years after the momentous land reforms, is still having to import grain from neighbours like Zambia – countries that used to beg for maize from Zimbabwe. Untold is how these policies have generally benefitted the top politicians in Zanu PF or their relatives or associates.
The nepotism and corruption that are endemic in the implementation of these policies, which leave the majority of the people on the periphery is not shown. The community share ownership schemes are nothing more than acts of corporate social responsibility on the part of businesses. Noise around these policies has done more to deter much-needed foreign investors without in fact giving much of substance to the ordinary people.
Of the beneficiaries of the Save Valley Conservancy invasions, the bulk are top Zanu PF politicians who mind you have previously benefitted from the past land reform exercise. It’s wealth grab under the guise of indigenisation and ordinary Zimbabweans know the ruse.
Then there are the diamonds of Chiadzwa in Marange. The Chinese and the military are generally in charge of the bulk of the extraction. The villagers were displaced. Many people died in the formative stages of the Marange Diamond Rush, allegedly at the hands of the state. Proceeds from the sales of diamonds remain secretive. Not even the Minister of Finance, who is from the MDC-T, is privy to the goings on regarding the revenues from the Marange diamond sales.
The people of Zimbabwe are aware of the secrecy surrounding the Marange diamonds. They know that the top men and women in Zanu PF and the military are benefitting from the diamond revenues – a national asset which has been privatised by a cabal of political and military leaders.
Zimbabweans are supposed to be stupid enough to suddenly like and trust Zanu PF, even against this background. It is hard to imagine that this is so, unless of course it is the case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Teachers, especially in the rural areas have suffered the worst of political violence and intimidation over the years. Indeed, thousands were driven away to live destitute lives in countries like South Africa and Botswana. Those who remained still operate in fear; they are always the first targets of violent youths. The perpetrators of this orgy of violence and intimidation draw their inspiration and authority from Zanu PF.
Villagers in rural Zimbabwe know that if you do not have a Zanu PF party card or if you are suspected MDC-T supporter, you will not get food aid or other freebies that government may from time to time avail. It is suicidal to show any allegiance other than towards Zanu PF.
These ordinary people know only too well that the source of their problems is Zanu PF, the propaganda notwithstanding. And yet we are told that these people now have more trust for Zanu PF and not only that but that they like Zanu PF more. Maybe these teachers are also victims of the Stockholm Syndrome – sympathising with their tormentors; liking and trusting them more, the abuse and fear notwithstanding.
Almost every home; just about every shack; any dwelling in urban and rural Zimbabwe has a satellite dish; a decoder – however dodgy or some other gadget connected to their television sets. At specified hours of the day they tune in to a “pirate” radio station called Studio 7, which broadcasts from America – speaking a language they understand. There are others, like SW Radio Africa and VOP, broadcasting from Britain and South Africa, respectively.
The satellite dishes and otherwise dodgy decoders enable them to watch South African or Botswana TV – anything; just about anything that is not ZTV – Zimbabwean television that is widely known to broadcast Zanu PF propaganda. Those who can, are paying a premium to watch DStv, the multi-channel satellite broadcaster from South Africa. And yet we are told the majority of people prefer and trust ZBC TV and radio. It would be laughable if it wasn’t a serious matter.
This catalogue of Zanu PF’s conduct over the years has not suddenly vanished from the memories of those affected and few in Zimbabwe have been spared abuse of authority, human rights violations or the effects of economic mismanagement.
Nepotism and corruption authored predominantly by Zanu PF over the last 32 years of independence are evident in every sphere of life in Zimbabwe – whether it is in land redistribution, diamond revenue, indigenisation, state companies and even in sports administration. Zanu PF has left a mark in every part of Zimbabwe – politically, socially and economically – and the stagnation and ruin all round are indicative of its dismal record.
And here we have Freedom House suggesting that Zimbabweans now like and trust Zanu PF more than they did in 2010. It may be that Zimbabweans simply do not care much about abuse – that they are so used to mistreatment, that they expect it.
It could be that we have read too much into the survey and that it conceals more than it reveals. It does not mean the MDC-T should not wake up to correct its mistakes but the claim that Zanu PF is now more likeable and more trusted than before sounds ridiculous. Surely, the ordinary men and women in Zimbabwe have a memory and they are not stupid.
It may be that Zanu PF has benefited from perceived acts of generosity and kindness to the victims, however small they are in reality. The small acts of kindness are common in abusive relationships. After an assault, the abusive spouse might give the victim a gift or money. If someone is in a hostage situation, even the opportunity to go to the toilet or to have a drink can be interpreted as a positive sign of generosity. In a political context, provision of food aid, even after being initially refused may be seen as a huge act of generosity.
It is in this context that we can also see the impact of such projects as the Community Share Ownership Schemes or even the allocation of plots of land. These things may not yield any specific dividend in the immediate term or ever, but when they are issued, the beneficiary perceives this as a serious act of kindness. He or she begins to believe that the abuser is not as bad as one might have thought.
Zanu PF has been very adept at using these small acts of generosity – the indigenisation campaign primarily benefits the well connected but it is designed to look like a great gift to all Zimbabweans. By this, people are hoodwinked into thinking that they are the top priority, diverting their attention from the fact that diamond revenues for example are being siphoned by top Zanu PF officials, the military and the Chinese.
Zanu PF will continue to use this tactic – they will give or promise more freebies in the hope that people perceive these acts of kindness as an indication that they care. Further, Zanu PF may also be benefiting from the period of relatively less violence in recent years. They are taking credit for not being violent. It’s also akin to a situation where an abuser is not being violent or intimidating as he usually is, this can also be interpreted positively by the victim. The victim gives credit to the abuser for not abusing him in situations where they would normally have become violent.
The GNU period has been good for most Zimbabweans in respect of peace and stability. Levels of politically-motivated violence have been low. This is mainly because there have been no elections during this period – Zanu PF normally unleashes violence during election periods. People have had some respite as far as violence is concerned.
It is not surprising therefore that some people may interpret this as a positive sign – that they even give credit to Zanu PF for not being violent. People are able to express themselves freely; they see more newspapers, they see two new radio stations – all this is interpreted positively in favour of the authority which used to deny them these rights. They see these as acts of kindness.
So, when Mugabe preaches peace and non-violence; when he chides Zanu PF youths for abusing Tsvangirai, these small acts of kindness and generosity assume greater significance than they deserve because normally the expectation is that Mugabe would not care and would instead encourage the youths to be abusive. In the past he may have used derogatory language towards Tsvangirai but now that he does not, he gets credit for not being abusive.
In other words, the abuser benefits from his own past misdeeds as people warm up to them and see them as a fatherly figure. People like to see that as opposed to a leader who is always ranting and raving.
Third, Zanu PF has benefited from playing the victim card. In other instances, the abuser can deliberately play victim – referring to historical circumstances that account for their situation. The abused victims end up feeling sympathy for their abusers; believing that their behaviour is not their fault. They find reasons and justifications to support their behaviour.
Zanu PF is also quite adept at using this tactic: hence the incessant references to the trials and tribulations of the liberation struggle; to the challenges of colonialism; to the fact that they are victims of the colonialists and that they are still victims of the imperialists, as signified by the continuous references to the impact of sanctions. You can see that the issue of foreign interference features strongly in the Freedom House report – Zanu PF has used this line very well to play victim and it may have also gained it some sympathy from its victims.
It is also important to recognise that perceived threats to one’s physical and psychological safety play a huge hand of influence in these situations. The perception of threat can be direct or indirect. It can be by way of threatening one’s life or simply threatening personal injury. The abuser can threaten using historical evidence of past behaviour. The abuser refers to what they have done before; to how opponents have been caused to disappear.
Some victims may have witnessed the abusive authority in action and these memories feed the victims perception of threats to physical and psychological integrity. So the victim complies or acts in a compliant manner for his safety and for the safety of friends and relatives who the abuser may have included as part of the threatened constituency. The abuser will use indirect and subtle mechanisms to remind the victims of the consequences of non-compliance; that they can enjoy the peace but if they do otherwise than follow the abuser, they will be visited with violence as has happened in the past.
It is conceivable that Zanu PF has benefitted from these perceptions of threats. There is the fear factor which makes people more compliant as a survival tactic. Zanu PF never tires in reminding people of what it is capable of in terms of violence. Once in a while, ordinary people are arrested on ridiculous charges – such as insulting the President; or like the Glen View 29, they are kept in custody pending trial for months – these are reminders of what Zanu PF is capable of doing. This includes refusals of permits to hold public meetings or deliberate disruption of public meetings with the police doing nothing about it – all these are reminders of threats that are designed to make the victims compliant.
If the results of the Freedom House Survey are to be believed, they depict a nation in an unhealthy condition – a nation gripped by the Stockholm Syndrome; a nation that suddenly believes its tormentor is its saviour; a nation that blames the victim and rewards the abuser. It suggests a toxic bond between the abuser and the abused.
The condition helps us to understand why the victim may continue, against all expectations, to support the abuser; to feel sympathetic towards them and to give them credit even when none is due. The abused victim finds reason to see the soft or good side of the abuser and clings to that.
The challenge, for the MDC-T in addition to the obvious need to correct own mistakes is to help free people from the grip of this unhealthy condition: show them that they can escape the situation; that the small acts of kindness are a ruse to hoodwink them from seeing the true nature of the beast; that the perceived threats can be overcome; that there are other lens through which to see the world apart from the lens provided by the abuser. Show them that the party cares and provides a better alternative.
In short, the MDC-T must word hard to help the nation overcome what is clearly a very unhealthy condition.
Solo Musaigwa can be contacted on e-mail: email@example.com