In pursuit of peaceful, credible elections in 2018

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IN a previous instalment of this column, we made the observation that the 2018 harmonised elections had a potential to become a festivity of ideas. Closer to the elections I am beginning to think that the coming election can indeed be different. We must, however, all want it to be so and do our uttermost to bring this about.

Although the date for the ballot is still to be announced there is already an unmistakable smell of elections in the air with the Chamisa-led MDC-T crossing the length and breadth of the country holding rallies to drum up support. The towns visited thus far have seen a sea of red and been entertained to MDC-T songs. All this has happened with no incidents reported.

ZANU-PF is yet to officially launch its campaign. That, however, does not mean the party is asleep. One could say that being host to the crocodile, the ZANU-PF pools are for now silent. But who knows what lies beneath the surface? Interestingly, in his trips around the country Mnangagwa has avoided any direct reference to parties or persons, preferring instead to dwell on the economy. And he has attacked no one. Chamisa too has said that this time the MDC-T campaign will dwell on matters of policy. This undertaking from the two major political groups is reason for cautious optimism.

Sometime in 1979, Chimurenga music guru, Thomas Mapfumo, recorded the hit song “Zuva guru” (The Big Day). “Zuva guru” was a catchy and aesthetically appealing as well as bouncy and danceable against the background of a polished brass section. Mapfumo successfully blended the traditional mbira sound on electric guitar with a lively brass section featuring tenor saxophone, trumpet and trombone. “Zuva guru” was futuristic yet nostalgic. Its lyrics anticipated the coming of self-government.

Mapfumo sang about an election in which people voted for whomsoever they chose to vote for across the political divide between the revolutionary armed struggle parties and the locally-based collaborationist groupings of the short-lived internal settlement era. With vibrant magnanimity, Mapfumo psyched audiences into states of relaxed but charged ease and expectation. If your party wins, we will say congratulations to you. And if our party wins you will say congratulations to us, sang Mapfumo.

Indeed, that is what happened after the announcement of the results. Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s UANC party landed a paltry 3 seats in parliament while Ndabaningi Sithole was the only representative of his ZANU-Ndonga. The other internal settlement parties disappeared into the folds of forgotten history. But, in a pleasant gesture, quite in keeping with Thomas Mapfumo’s song, Abel Muzorewa, though vanquished, sought an audience with Robert Mugabe the Prime Minister Designate to congratulate him on his emphatic victory. This is a trend worth cultivating in today’s Zimbabwe – a dispensation worth pursuing.

If indeed, the voice of the people is the voice of God as current president E.D. Mnangagwa is heard to frequently say these days, political parties prepare themselves and their followers for two possibilities: either victory or loss. Of course a third scenario is always possible, that of a hung parliament and a coalition government such as the one we saw after the 2008 elections.

Political parties in Africa are generally identified through their regalia, flags, party symbols and songs. The bright red T-shits and blazers of the MDC-T in combination with the shrill whistles were a creative attention-seeking instrument. The red cards and the whistles were undeniably a strong metaphor used by the MDC to declare that ZANU-PF would be red-carded into oblivion. But, as they say, if wishes were horses beggars would ride. The red cards and loud whistles became less shrill and not so visible over time.

ZANU-PF too has had its slogans, party regalia and symbols since before independence. This, plus the party’s discography of revolutionary songs blared from Dar es Salaam, Lusaka and Maputo during the armed struggle was quite a formidable hurdle for opposition parties. None except the MDC were ever near upsetting ZANU-PF in any election since 1980. Not even the maverick Edgar “Twoboy” Tekere was able shake his former party.

The presidency is once again up for grabs in 2018. The number of political parties spoken about thus far is a little embarrassing, but only time will tell if the proliferation of parties and contestants is indicative of a vibrant democracy or is merely of nuisance value. The two major antagonists have faced off against each other before under different circumstances and are now poised for what might turn out to be a cliff-hanger context and even a swan song for one or both.

In 2013 Emmerson Mnangagwa was in charge of his party’s election directorate while Nelson Chamisa was his party’s organising secretary. The former did his task with the aplomb of a veteran while the latter conducted himself almost like a schoolboy bully, imposing candidates and incurring the wrath of disgruntled MDC-T supporters who either did not vote or executed a protest vote. The result was the electoral slaughter of 2013. ZANU-PF made inroads into the strongholds of the fragmented MDC formations. This time around both parties have suffered some turbulence.

But realistically, what are the chances of the 2018 elections becoming peaceful and pleasant? It will all depend on how the MDC-T and its alliance partners behave before, during and after the elections. To date, they are still to openly and loudly proclaim their support for calm and peaceful campaigns. Emmerson Mnangagwa has said he will accept the outcome of the elections. Conversely, Nelson Chamisa told a recent MDC rally that elections will only have been free and fair if the MDC Alliance emerges victorious. This is ominously reminiscent of recent happenings in Kenya.

Prior to the establishment of the GNU in 2009 the parties to the Global Peace Agreement (GPA) signed a memorandum of understanding in which all three accepted culpability for the violence that had hitherto beset the country. The MDC-T has traditionally played the victim and packaged itself as a peace-loving organization. In an apparent reference to recent internecine violence within the MDC-T Nelson Chamisa said:

“… it is not our culture. MDC-T is populated by democrats, doves and peace ambassadors”.

This utterance is quite at odds with the prevailing situation. One only has to ask those who have at some point or other found themselves at loggerheads with Tsvangirai and Chamisa to test the veracity of this claim. ZANU-PF has been accused of political crimes, both real and imagined. Prior to one election, it turned out that a woman allegedly beheaded in front of her children had in fact died from a terminal illness and been buried in Seke. Morgan Tsvangirai had to cancel a planned propaganda trip to the said woman’s place of burial.

The MDC-T has over the years left a trail of violence in its wake. January 1998 ushered in food riots for the first time in Zimbabwe. The spark that lit the fire was the increase in the price of bread. The violence began in the high-density suburb of Mabvuku in Harare. Subsequently, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), of which Morgan Tsvangirai was the secretary general, insinuated itself into the food riots. There was extensive damage to shops and other infrastructure. In addition, businesses incurred financial losses occasioned by the indiscriminate looting. The violent streak did not fade with time, but escalated instead.

As time went by, the MDC-T created terror groups euphemistically known as Democratic Resistance Committees (DRCs). These groups petrol-bombed police stations in Harare including Marimba where in March 2007 Sergeant Pretty Rushwaya and another police detail suffered serious burns. In this same month DRC elements bombed Sakubva Police Station in Mutare. In April 2007 Christopher Chigumba, businessman and Zanu-PF Chitungwiza South legislator was a victim of arson when Gumbas, his Wholesalers in downtown Harare, was petrol-bombed.

In August 2016, a National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) demonstration in Harare became violent. Many business premises were vandalised and stocks looted. This is in stark contrast to the incident-free massive demonstration against former president Robert Mugabe in Harare last November.

The MDC-T national leadership has tended to use violence against dissenters in the party. Following the mauling of the MDC-T in the 2013 elections, former MDC-T deputy treasurer-general Elton Mangoma began to talk about leadership renewal in the MDC-T. This consequently led to his being assaulted at Harvest House. Tsvangirai saw it all and did not stop it. Reports indicate that Chamisa was actively present during this episode.

Looked at another way, perhaps I should not be enumerating these incidents as some will see Chamisa’s militia as the answer to “the green bombers” and to state-sponsored violence. What is of the essence right now is walking the talk regarding a peaceful and credible election. I find myself quoting a Boer General at the end of the Anglo-Boer war who said, “Do not forget, but forgive where it is expedient for South Africa”. We can learn a thing or two from this, for Zimbabwe’s sake.