By Ronnie Chisamba.
THE rural electorate has a decisive role to play Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections set for next year.
Can the opposition lure the rural voting population to ensure victory?
Morgan Tsvangirai narrowly won the first elections in 2008.What happened during the run-up to the June reruns and after is still fresh in the minds of many, albeit with trepidation and trauma
The torture and intimidation of opposition supporters made headlines in the independent media.
Investigations have revealed that although the torture was widespread, it is the rural folk who felt the effects the most .The suffering of the rural people has always been evident since colonial times.
Mao Zedong’s theory of mass culture was employed by the freedom fighters during the war of liberation . Coined in 1931 after the invasion of China by Japan, the theory places emphasis on the importance of the masses .
In simple terms, and in the case of Zimbabwe during the war, the freedom fighters were the fish and the masses were the water. In an effort to thwart the war effort, the colonial regime utilised a number of methods. One of these was the setting up of protected villages.
Since independence, the ruling Zanu PF has embraced some of the dirty tactics in it’s endeavour to stay in power.
A Sad Story from Sadza Growth Point
Nelia Chiunya is a widow who resides at Sadza Growth Point in Chirombo District, about 190km south-east of the capital, Harare. She remembers with grief how her husband, Phillip Gumboreshumba Chiunya (then 48), met his untimely demise after being brutally assaulted by a mob of Zanu PF supporters. His sin was that he was an MDC supporter. According to his widow, Nelia, the former police officer was hospitalised and later met his death as a result of wounds from the brutal attack.
Most of the people who took part in the assault of Chiunya have since met with their maker save for only one ( name supplied). The death of the former law enforcement agent has left a permanent void in his family.
MDC is said to have offered the Chiunya family a mere $15 to help with funeral expenses. Nelia laments that life has not been the same since the demise of her husband. The MDC stands accused of doing nothing to assist the struggling widow and her immediate family. Nelia points out that she has been able to make ends meet through Chiunya’s meagre monthly pension benefits.
Phillip Chiunya’s last wish was for his body to be interred at Sadza cemetery but this could not be granted because the local war veterans and Zanu Pf refused the family permission to bury him there. He was later buried at Granville cemetery in Harare.
The Chiunya story is not an isolated case of human rights abuses by members of the ruling Zanu PF. At the same time, the case provides enough evidence to the effect that the MDC and other opposition parties still have a long way to go towards providing for the needs of bereaved members.
The Solutions Tower has also discovered that most people in rural areas who have witnessed Zanu PF supporters carrying out violent acts have since adopted the common lines: “if you cannot beat them join them.”
This is detrimental to the opposition which needs every vote to win the forthcoming elections. A functional victim’s support network by the opposition is necessary to help instil confidence in the rural populace. It would also facilitate for the popularity and growth of the opposition parties in Zimbabwe. The late national hero, Maurice Tapfumaneyi Nyagumbo’s book; With the People, can be a source of wisdom for opposition parties in the country. In the book, Nyagumbo highlights that it important for leaders to live with and among the people.
At present, this is not the case as opposition leaders are rarely seen in rural areas. When political violence escalates, it is the so called leaders who are first to take flight.
A Closer Look at 2008
In 2008 the rural population was not spared in the traumatic and horrific political violence experiences. In Sadza District, educated and professional people who were suspected to be MDC supporters were heard telling officials at the polling stations that they needed assistance since they could neither read or write.
The Shona lines were: “Handigone kunyora!”
In other parts of the country, stories of people having their arms amputated were told .Terms such as “long sleeve” and “short sleeve” became popular as such were used to describe how one would eventually have their hands amputated.
Stories of people being denied access to donations and agricultural inputs because of their affiliation to the opposition are not uncommon. The fact that opposition parties have been known to neglect the needs of their followers leaves the toiling, struggling and poverty stricken peasantry with little choice but to join the ruling Zanu PF.
Overwhelming victory for any one of the opposition parties will remain a pipedream in the country if these parties do not take a stand and address the needs of the electorate, especially those in the countryside. Zec has announced intentions to use the Biometric Voter Registration system (BVR) for the 2018 elections. The delay by the national electoral board to distribute information can be seen as a deliberate ploy to confuse the electorate. In the rural areas there are many misconceptions about the BVR system .The general one being that it is also electronic voting.
Many elderly people who spoke to The Solutions Tower on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said that they believed the new system works with a satellite and automatically detects and matches individuals to parties they would have voted for. Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has done a splendid job in trying to disseminate information about the BVR. Efforts by the local electoral watchdog have dispelled most of the misconceptions but the opposition should be seen to play a paramount role in this respect.
ECOWAS – a regional bloc – was able to force Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh to step-down. The events which led to the birth of the government of national unity in the country shows that Sadc cannot be counted upon to intervene on opposition’s side in the event of a narrow victory against the ruling party in Zimbabwe next year.
The longest serving African leaders are Zimbabwe’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Outwitting Robert Mugabe will surely not be a walk in the park come 2018. Zimbabwe’s opposition should take a leaf from Lesotho’s Thomas Thabane.Thabane and his All Basotho Party won the June elections by winning 48 parliamentary seats. Lesotho is a country entrapped in it’s own political woes but the fact that Thabane’s victory was acknowledged points to the existence of democracy.
As the 2018 Elections draw closer, the Opposition needs a new game plan for the rural areas if it is to be victorious.
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