Brief Notes by Dr. Phillan Zamchiya on the Afrobarometer round eight survey in Zimbabwe. 18-06-2021.
The Afrobarometer round eight survey on Zimbabwe released on 17 June 2021 shows that, today, more people than at any other stage since Robert Mugabe’s ouster in a military coup in 2017, believe that there are defects in his successor’s ruling machinery. Grievances are widespread amongst the urban and the rural, women and men and the young and old albeit to slightly varying degrees. This social, economic and political discontent is breeding a silent social war. This is prompted by the government’s incompetence at the front leading to a weak social contract, economic hardships at home, food shortages, partisan institutions, and the ruling party’s growing illegitimacy. However, this has not directly translated into an alternative popular and overt electoral support for the resilient MDC Alliance-which despite state engineered weapons of mass destruction- has remained engraved in its social base and politically competitive. The survey pits the MDC A led by Chamisa & ZANU PF led by Mnangagwa. When I asked the scientists whether it was by design? The scientists said other political parties were variables but collectively could not make it beyond 1%. So those two parties were the only statistically significant as per respondents. Fair enough, as it confirms the reality of Zimbabwe’s political polarization. So here are some preliminary reflections of what the survey might mean to the MDC A & ZANU PF.
a) The ZANU PF government’s rural legitimacy is evidently waning following the loss of urban legitimacy in the 1990s. The majority of the citizenry in the rural areas (62%) feel that the country is going in the wrong direction. However, this does not directly translate to the MDC A’s rural legitimacy. Be that as it may, this is a big opportunity to harvest and harness the growing rural discontent and articulate a vision based on the quotidian livelihoods concerns of the people and perhaps a wider vision of Development of Industries in Rural Areas (DIRA).
b) ZANU PF’s propaganda on the economy is working most among those with primary and no formal education. MDC A in general has a strong resonance among those with post-secondary education. This is probably because the less educated do not resonate with the MDC A ’s modernist vision based on aesthetic cities and formal jobs. Perhaps specific interventions are needed to appeal to the less educated like the all-important anaMbuya aEzira in the marginalized villages.
c) ZANU PF government is losing confidence across all demographic groupings. 61% of those above 56 years believe the country is going in the wrong direction. 67% of those who are 18-35 years and 71% of those between 36 and 55 years believe the same. The confidence left for the ZANU PF government is largely concentrated among the older generation. The 18-35 years category should be more resolute in speaking out against the direction the country is going than the 36-55 years age group. However, they know no other way of life and have never known another Zimbabwe.
d) Surprisingly, Midlands [Mnangagwa’s adopted home area] is one of the provinces with the highest number of people (80%) saying the economy is doing badly. This means Mnangagwa’s policy of governance through ethnic ties is not translating to the betterment of economic livelihoods for all. There can be a disconnect between the elite and the subalterns within the same region.
e) However, the government by and large is losing rural legitimacy but the data shows the greater share of loyalty that remains is concentrated in Mashonaland provinces with less people, by comparison to other provinces, believing the economic condition is bad as follows: (1) Mashonaland Central (53%), (2) Mashonaland East (62%) (3) Mashonaland West (67%). All the other seven provinces have above 70% of people saying the economic condition is bad. There is need for a targeted strategy to break the Mashonaland authoritarian axis of conditioned & structured politics. Given the systematic side-lining of Mashonaland in politics and development, there is a chance for pragmatic alliance building.
f) Looking forward, the country is despondent and there is no hope. Only 35% think the economic situation will improve. A time to vigorously market hope in politics. To think along Obama’s local version of ‘The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the Zimbabwean Dream’.
g) Social discontent and silent social war is widespread. MDC A must strengthen the socio-economic and poverty reduction centred mobilisation and messaging. Lots of articulations on poverty reduction is necessary for the party’s spokespersons and mobilisers at all levels. Last year most Zimbabweans went several periods without enough food (52%), medicine (55%), cash (87%) and clean water (51%) and without enough cooking fuel. Large majorities say the government is performing badly on creating jobs (91%), keeping prices stable (78%), improving living standards of the poor (75%), and other issues.
h) However, not all is doom for the government. Most Zimbabweans (81%) think the government managed Covid 19 fairly well or very well. This is because the MDC A’s initial responses to the pandemic were not coordinated and were seen as desperate efforts to exploit the pandemic for political benefit. A national response beyond partisan interests is needed in times of natural calamities. MDC A leadership must still grow on this. Related to it is that 81% support lockdowns though the majority find it hard to comply.
i) On by-elections, 51% believe it is important to postpone elections due to Covid 19. This is too close and MDC A can turn the tide and the ride once its position is clear on whether to participate or not in the elections. There have been mixed and confusing messages from the top echelons of leadership.
j) Mnangagwa has a weak social contract with the citizens. Only 48% of Zimbabweans trust Mnangagwa. Considerably more Zimbabweans trust NGOs (79%). These could mainly be humanitarian NGOs that have replaced the state in the rural areas and low-income urban suburbs through provision of food, cash transfers and other social basic services. The church is also a strong source of support as 78% of citizens trust religious leaders. Perhaps, MDC A must include churches from the national to the local level in the Citizens Convergence for Change program.
k) A paltry figure of 38% trust the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). This means most people have no trust in the electoral processes. If people do not see any significant movement, this is likely to result in massive voter apathy in the forthcoming general elections especially among regular voters. A survey is needed to establish the popular citizenry view outside hardened party structures on whether to participate or not to participate in general elections and the associated costs.
l) Now to the elephant in the room. Despite the waning social legitimacy for the ZANU PF government, if general elections were to be held tomorrow, one-third (33%) of respondents say they would vote for the ZANU-PF candidate, compared to one-fourth (26%) who say they would vote for the MDC-Chamisa candidate. This is not so much bad news for the MDC-Chamisa party because they have reduced a 2018 wider electoral gap with ZANU PF to only 7% in 2021. However, this does not augur well for Mnangagwa who has been less popular than his ZANU PF party. And perhaps, sweet political news to Chamisa who has proven to be more popular than the party.
m) That about four in 10 refused to answer or said they would not vote, or that they did not know makes this an open race. Part of this 40% [for voter turn-out can never be 100%) can swing towards ZANU PF through the margin of terror or to the MDC-Chamisa through the margin of charm or to other political parties through the margin of novelty.
n) Of importance here is that MDC A still has a low loyal base in the rural hinterland. Only 19% of the voters in the rural areas will vote for the MDC A compared to ZANU PF’s 40%. That’s a huge rural electoral difference of 21% which is likely to increase when the real politics of state engineered error and terror unfolds. On the other hand, the MDC A leads by a less margin of 14% in the urban areas as it will get 36% compared to ZANU PF’s 22%. So MDC A must make inroads in the rural areas and consolidate the urban areas.
Reader, it is evident that the people are not happy but the beast is heavily wounded by statistics from this 8th Afrobarometer survey. A wounded ZANU PF is likely to increase the securitisation of party and state institutions, intensify efforts to infiltrate and decimate the MDC A from the political map, target activists and ensure their lives are ‘short, nasty and brutal’. Meanwhile, the beast will start rigging the general 2023 election well before they are gazetted. But all this can be countered with effective strategies to harness the silent social war and widespread discontent into a peaceful political revolution at home and in the diaspora that can reengineer society for real change and the country towards the right direction.