Zimbabwe’s voters favour Nelson Chamisa over President Mnangagwa, survey shows

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By Daily Maverick

The survey’s result is more evidence of the sliding dominance of ‘liberation’ parties as economic growth in the region lags behind the rest of the developing world — and much of Africa.

Results of an independent survey of Zimbabwean voters show that Nelson Chamisa will defeat the incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, obtaining an outright majority of votes in elections scheduled for later this year.

The survey was conducted for The Brenthurst Foundation by the London-based SABI Strategy Group, which is not affiliated with a Zimbabwean party. The survey, conducted in January using an in-depth 15-minute questionnaire, shows Chamisa would win 53% of the vote to Mnangagwa’s 40% among those who say they will definitely vote.

The result is more evidence of the sliding dominance of “liberation” parties as economic growth in the region lags behind the rest of the developing world — and much of Africa.

Zanu-PF was boosted by the ousting of the long-time president, Robert Mugabe, with his replacement, Mnangagwa, given the opportunity to reinvent the party and implement much-needed economic reforms.

Mnangagwa — like President Cyril Ramaphosa who took over from Jacob Zuma on the promise of reform — has failed to deliver, with the Zimbabwean economy in dire straits. In Zimbabwe’s case, civil liberties are under threat as the opposition is targeted by police, and the ruling party depends heavily on the military to bolster its power.

Old-school liberation politics appears to be wearing thin with voters. Zimbabwe, like South Africa, has tacitly supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ostensibly because of past loyalties. The survey showed that a majority — some 58% — believe that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an act of aggression that should be condemned”. Well over 70% of South Africans took the same view in a poll conducted late last year.

While switching support in substantial numbers away from Zanu-PF, many voters expressed concern about whether the election would be free and fair. Some 47% of voters believe the 2023 election will not be free and fair compared with just 38% who say it will be. “Cheating in the counting process” was cited as the biggest threat to a free and fair election (41%), with “the government abusing its power” cited by 29% and “security force violence” cited by 21%.

The survey also showed that Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party is set to win the parliamentary election, outperforming Zanu-PF, which has held power for 43 years since independence in 1980.

When asked, “Thinking ahead to the next general election, which party will you cast your vote for?”, 52% said they would vote for the CCC, while only 40% said Zanu-PF.

The CCC was formed out of the MDC Alliance in January 2022 to clear up voter confusion over the use of the MDC name by a party which was hostile to it.

About  42% of survey respondents said they had voted for Zanu-PF in 2018, with 40% saying they had voted for the CCC’s predecessor, the MDC Alliance, suggesting a sea change in voter sentiment as Zimbabwe’s economic collapse accelerates under Mnangagwa.

Asked why they were shifting their support, voters cited weak leadership, corruption, bad policies and future prospects as the main reasons.

Chamisa emerged as the public figure with the highest favourability score, of 59%, while Mnangagwa trailed with 43%, narrowly ahead of CCC MP and former MDC finance minister Tendai Biti.

When it came to political parties, the CCC enjoyed a net favourability (subtracting negative ratings from positive ratings) of 31%, way ahead of Zanu-PF’s -4%.

More voters believed the CCC would govern more effectively, with 47% favouring the opposition party as against 33% favouring Zanu-PF.

Summary of key findings 

  • If an election were to be held tomorrow, Nelson Chamisa would win 53% of the vote.
  • If an election were to be held tomorrow, the CCC would win 52% of the parliamentary vote.
  • Nelson Chamisa has a positive favourability rating 16 points higher than Emmerson Mnangagwa.
  • On governance, 47% of respondents believe the CCC can govern more effectively while just 33% believe Zanu-PF can govern more effectively.
  • At least 54% of respondents believe Zimbabwe is moving in the wrong direction. The most important issues are corruption and jobs.
  • A majority of respondents believe the Zanu-PF government of the past four decades is the main reason for the country’s current problems.
  • A majority of respondents (51%) would be happy to see a coalition govern Zimbabwe.
  • At least 58% of respondents surveyed believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an act of aggression that should be condemned.
  • At least 46% of respondents would “go immediately” if they had the opportunity to leave Zimbabwe
  • At least 78% of respondents have a close family member living outside Zimbabwe. Of these respondents, 51% say their close family member is living in South Africa.
  • At least 47% of respondents believe the upcoming election will not be free and fair, mainly due to cheating in the counting process. DM