By Tinashe Gumbo | Traditionally, by-elections have never attracted much public interest in Zimbabwean politics. However, the successive by-elections that were held on 26 March and 7 May 2022 have generated a lot of debates and interest among political activists, analysts and the media.
The country held an almost mini-general election on 26 March 2022 following massive recalls of legislators and Councilors by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Senator Douglas Mwonzora as well as some few deaths and reassignments of incumbents. This was followed by yet another by-election process on 7 May 2022 held in Rusape Ward 5, Chitungwiza Ward 7, Kariba Ward 3,4 and 8, Mutare Ward 14 and 16 as well as Pfura Ward 40.
The results of these by-elections have largely been described as a mirror of the 2023 harmonized elections. The excellent performance by one of the “newly” established opposition parties, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) surprised many, while “old” opposition players such as the MDC’s dismal show confirmed what the majority in the opposition circles wished for after the 2020 Supreme Court Ruling. On it’s part, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) also celebrated its retention of mostly the rural vote but also its victory in Epworth.
Of particular interest for this piece, is the by-election result from Pfura Ward 40 of Mt Darwin in Mashonaland Central. The ward was won by the ZANU PF with a huge margin. The CCC performance in that Ward almost distorted its general show of popularity witnessed on 26 March and on 7 May in the rest of the contested wards and constituencies.
Pfura Ward 40 results emerged as one talking point from the 7 May by-election. The discussion is on why the opposition lost that “one” when all the other seven wards were responsive to the CCC. The CCC won almost 88% (seven out of eight) of the wards on offer. The ZANU PF scooped this “special” ward from Pfura while the game remained tough for the MDC which maintained its “zero” trend from the first match played on 26 March.
_Pfura_ _Ward_ _40_ _is_ _in_ _Mashonaland_ _Central_ _!_
It is critical to quickly remind each other that Pfura is located in Mashonaland Central. The province remains a major challenge for the opposition parties to perform meaningfully. Even from the days of the “MDC”, I mean the undivided MDC of 1999 to 2004, the game had not been easy in that pitch as the opposition virtually failed to break ZANU PF’s defense in that province. At best, the opposition won “something” in 2008 during the days of the likes of Shepherd Mushonga and some few Councilors in Bindura and Mvurwi in the recent years. Otherwise, generally, the opposition continues to struggle in the province.
Therefore, the Pfura Ward 40 result of 7 May 2022 should not be a surprise. It should be understood within the broader context affecting the whole province. The result, should indeed allow the opposition to sit down and reflect about its performance in such strategic provinces as the country gears up for the 2023 plebiscite.
_The_ _Results_ _at_ _a_ _Glance_
The ZANU PF Candidate in Pfura Ward 40, Gift Madziwa, polled 1461 votes while the CCC’s Candidate, Tobias Samuel scored 77 votes. The total vote cast was 1557 where 1538 were valid. The voter population in that ward was 3905 giving us a 39.9% voter turnout for that election. While the turnout was not generally impressive, the gap between the two contestants should be a big cause for worry on the part of the opposition, beyond the CCC. The two-digit figure is not something to celebrate about at all. If maintained, the figure will likely lead to the scaring away of potential supporters as they will not have confidence in that party.
_Any_ _Change_ _from_ _the_ _past_ _?_
Certainly, no changes from history. The trend has been sustained in the province in general in terms of electoral performance by the ruling and the opposition parties. The trend was maintained in Mt Darwin and in the entire province. For instance, in 2015, ZANU PF’s by-election Candidate in Mt Darwin West National House of Assembly, Barnwell Seremwe polled 18 315 against the Transform Zimbabwe and the National Constitutional Assembly’s candidates who scored 302 and 216 respectively. The seat had fallen vacant following the elevation of Dr Joyce Teurairopa Mujuru to the position of Vice President in 2013, before she was fired the following year due to internal factional wars in her party.
In the same constituency, ZANU PF had scored 22 877 votes in 2013 elections. Therefore, Pfura Ward 40 feeds from the mother constituencies of Mt Darwin and the grandmother (Mashonaland Central province). Pfura Ward 40 learnt every trick of it from the constituency and the province. Other wards and constituencies across the province have also benefited from this trend.
_But_ _why_ _is_ _Mashonaland_ _Central_ _Difficult_ _for_ _the_ _Opposition_ _?_
The opposition political parties should try to answer this question in their boardrooms as they plot for Mashonaland Central province. They should be contending that on 7 May 2022, they faced a single “Pfura” ward and indeed, in 2023, there will be hundreds of these “Pfura” wards in Mt Darwin; Rushinga; Mvurwi; Centenary; Shamva; Bindura; Mazowe; Guruve and Muzarabani. The “Pfura” wards will be too much for the opposition. Better be prepared! Better learn from 7 May test case and improve.
I always tell people that profiling of these wards, constituencies, provinces and subsequent planning accordingly is the answer to opposition headache. The opposition should clearly understand the historic, political, economic, cultural and social terrain of these areas. Certainly, by now, the opposition should have learnt and improved, but alas, they are yet to “get it” and act as per the dictates of these strategic provinces.
_A_ _little_ _bit_ _about_ _the_ _province_ :
1. I am convinced that personalities count in politics. Heavyweights’ names in a political party have a direct bearing on an election outcome. Prominent ZANU PF figures from Mashonaland Central have continued to “influence” elections held in that province. Interestingly, some of them are doing so in death and in exile as well as in their private lives. Their shadows and history continue to haunt the people of Mashonaland Central. A mere mention of their names automatically informs the voter of where to put his or her vote on election day.
However, some are still breathing politically and biologically. The list of big names that continue to haunt voters in the province is very long: Dr Mujuru; the late Elliot Manyika; the first lady Dr Auxilia Mnangagwa of Chiweshe; Savior Kasukuwere who is in exile; the late Border Gezi; Nicholas Goche; Lazarus Dokora; Christopher Kuruneri; Chenhamo Chakezha Chimutengwende; the late Vice President Joseph Musika of Chiweshe, Major Cairo Mhandu and the new and emerging names in the politics of that province such as Kazembe Kazembe; Tafadzwa Musarara, Martin Dhina and some more progressive but politically influential such as the likes of Fortune Chasi among others.
Studies have confirmed that voters tend to want to protect the political positions of their national leaders. Thus, they will always listen to the political advice from those who come from their local communities but also holding national political positions. Remember the positions held by many of these leaders at national level both in the ZANU PF party and in Cabinet and Presidium. Most of these were and some are still in Cabinet while others hold key party positions at national level.
Remember Gezi, Manyika and Kasukuwere roles in the national Commissariat of ZANU PF. Remember the role played by Goche as the Negotiator for the Inclusive Government and his role in Cabinet. Mujuru-Musika Presidium roles too. Kazembe-Dokora-Kuruneri-Chenhamo-Chasi and others’ Ministerial posts. These figures virtually ran the country from Mashonaland Central.
During an election season, these powerful positions are utilized in mobilizing vote for that party. Powerful position come with political, material and financial power hence motivation for voting towards that party.
One will argue that the same can be tried by the CCC, MDC or any other party. A number of senior political figures in the opposition come from particular rural wards and constituencies. Their local community members envy them for holding those national positions even though they are still in opposition. Why not ensure that these national leaders virtually camp in their rural wards during elections to campaign for their local candidates? They have the national political flavor just like their ZANU PF counterparts. Certainly, some changes can be noted, at least for the national Presidential vote.
2. Mashonaland Central saw a number of families accessing land during the “land redistribution program”. This remains a tool for winning elections in the province. It is good that some of the key opposition parties are now beginning to emphasize that “land reform” is an irreversible process. We heard this from the CCC in Masvingo-and this can be the right way to go. Such messages should be heard more in provinces such as Mashonaland Central. This policy framework should be amplified in the upcoming elections.
I read a twitter post by Chalton Hwende the Secretary General of the CCC on 24 April 2022 elaborating on the land reform issue in the context of his party’s campaign in Pfura Ward 40. He indicated that “Ward 40 in Mt Darwin has a lot of resettlement areas. The situation in farming communities is changing. In 2001, 82.4% of beneficiaries got land through land invasions but by 2015, 50.0% was now through inheritance (young people who are cash focused and hungry for change)”.
While such analysis maybe be true and helpful in strategy development for a campaign, communicating it publicly may be dangerous especially when dealing with ZANU PF in Mashonaland Central. One can easily expose his or her party supporters who will be then targeted by the opponent(ZANU PF). Opposition parties should learn (and learn well) from ZANU PF-it will not publicise its strategic data, let alone its strategy. In areas such as Mashonaland Central, underground tactics will certainly bear better fruits than open actions.
3. The ZANU PF maximizes history. There have been strong messages that portray the people of Mashonaland Central as the “main victims” of the effects of the liberation war. People are reminded of such and such battle fought in Muzarabani, in Mt Darwin or Guruve because of the proximity of these areas to Mozambique. Yes, these were among the key entry points for liberation fighters into the country but surely not the only ones. People are also always reminded of Charwe Nyakasikana (Mbuya Nehanda) as having been from Mazowe.
Surely, such messages can be neutralized and countered by the opposition, if they are really serious about wrestling the province from ZANU PF. Noone should monopolise the “victimness” of the area. Noone should monopolise history. History belongs to all of us hence Mbuya Nehanda should be for all of us despite our contemporary political differences.
4. In 2000 Constitutional Referendum, Mashonaland Central was one of the areas which generally supported the YES vote. They voted for the Government sponsored Constitutional Draft when the majority rejected it.
The YES received 578 000 votes against 697 754 NO votes nationally. The Mashonaland Central province received showers of praise from the ZANU PF party and Government leaders. Therefore, this remained a signature historical performance that ZANU PF wants to protect. Reference has always been made during political rallies that “Mashonaland Central defended the country from the imperialists in 2000”.
5. The Chibondo (Mt Darwin) exhumation and “reburials” of the people alleged to have been killed during the liberation war time by the whites might have been another contributor to the general feeling towards ZANU PF in the area. The exhumations and reburials took place around 2011 being led by the ZANU PF leadership under the cover of the Fallen Heroes Trust. Those 849 bodies which were exhumed in Mt Darwin were paraded for the community members to see.
The exercise was so emotional that community members would not have “voted otherwise” in the subsequent elections. It was presented as an example of the white man’s (and woman) impunity as the Rhodesian Government “attempted to suppress the will of the people” during the liberation war.
6. The NHANGA-GOTA exercise has been used by the first lady to garner up support for the ruling party. These so-called traditional meetings have been concentrated in the province and they have mobilized potential “voters” through the traditional leaders and party structures. It is likely that this exercise will bring huge numbers of supporters to ZANU PF for 2023. While the process has been regarded as a form of some philanthropic work, no doubt, it has some political results which are falling onto the ZANU PF plate.
7. But the serious political violence against the opposition political parties’ membership perpetrated by alleged ZANU PF sympathizers also continues to be a factor that influences the election results in the province.
Remember the Elliot Pfebve (MDC) Vs Elliot Manyika (Battle of the Elliots) fierce violence filled campaign. The campaign for the Bindura seat that had fell vacant following the death of Border Gezi in a car accident along Masvingo road was violent. The violence psychologically affected the voters to this day.
8. During the early days of the formation of the MDC, Elliot Pfebve’s brother Matthew was killed in Mt Darwin in 2000, the same period when other first MDC victims, Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika were burnt to death in Manicaland. Furthermore, the murder of Trymore Midzi, another MDC activist and the subsequent battle of Bindura (between the ZANU PF supporters and the mainly MDC mourners during his burial) in 2002 was another notable key incident in the province. All these bring back memories of violence that influence election outcomes. The memories continue to linger in the voters’ minds and obviously reminding them to “vote wisely”.
9. It has also been noted that Mt Darwin has been one of the ZANU PF defined districts which did well with regards to the party’s voter mobilization campaign during their internal leadership renewal processes in 2021. Such internal processes help mobilize and motivate party structures even for external elections. The ZANU PF machinery is effective and very efficient when it comes to mobilisation, coordination and activation of party structures. By the way, the party is known for its massive audit and verification exercises for its structures. It was noted that Mazowe and Mt Darwin districts did very well in this regard during ZANU PF’s internal processes last year. The results were seen on 7 May 22 in Pfura Ward 40.
The ZANU PF is disciplined when it comes to ensuring that after internal elective processes, all supporters are whipped into party line, ready for supporting each other against the opposition. It has the ability to “resolve” differences after every internal process. Remember, the Musarara-Kazembe-James Makamba fierce battle for provincial chairmanship. Yet, in all the by-elections that followed in Bindura (26 March) and in Pfura Ward 40, one could not tell that there was once such feud among major factions.
While there is overwhelming evidence to explain the dismal performance of the opposition parties in Mashonaland Central, there is still room for them to improve. Instead of wasting time campaigning in urban areas where they are assured of a win, they should invest time and other resources in this hard to win province.
Otherwise, the CCC’s impressive show of popularity during the two by-elections, barely four months after its formation, is something to commend. The MDC needs to go back to the drawing board and find the right formula for this game. The ZANU PF also did well in its defense of traditional territories. Yet, there will be many “Pfura” wards and constituencies for the opposition parties to contend with. A lasting solution should be sought when dealing with the Mashonaland Central case.
*NB* : This article is purely for academic purposes and should not be in anyway associated with my ideology or institutions I am linked with professionally or politically.
For feedback and interaction: contact me on my Mobile: +254 702 523 940/WhatsApp +263 773218860; Email: [email protected]; Blog: tinashegumbo.wordpress.com; Twitter: DrTinasheGumbo1; Facebook: Tinashe Gumbo