BY Rashweat Mukundu ZIMBABWE’S marginalised and poor communities, which have traditionally voted for the ruling Zanu PF party and often abused as political fodder in the fractious politics of the country, are turning against the ruling elite and likely to vote for the opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in the coming 2023 election.
This is a result of growing poverty and concern on the direction the country is heading. This, as it may, trust in political leaders across the divide remains low, with citizens expressing concern over poor public service delivery.
Opposition CCC reportedly thumbed the ruling party 33% to 30%, or simply a tie of sorts in the coming election, according to the Afrobarometer opinion poll.
Under normal circumstances, these figures would signal introspection from political leaders on how to win support, but in Zimbabwe, the reality is that a dead heat between the ruling party and its rivals ominously points at increased violence.
Obviously, Zanu PF seeks to reassert its power. And with State institutions such as Parliament, the Judiciary, security sector and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission largely captured by the ruling party, Zimbabwe’s political risk will significantly rise if the ruling elite finds no incentive for restraint or dialogue.
Zimbabwe’s political logjam will continue from 2022 to about mid-2023, with the faint hope of another round of political dialogue post the election that may contribute to settling the political polarisation.
The Afrobarometer round 9 Governance survey on Zimbabwe indicates that nearly three-quarters of citizens (72%) say the country is going in the wrong direction.
This is probably not a huge surprise as the same survey notes that 87% of citizens, who live in abject poverty, see no silver lining in a comatose economy in which prices of basic goods increase at least twice every week.
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In 2021, the World Bank put the number of Zimbabweans living in abject poverty at nearly 7,9 million or about half the country’s population.
Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes have continued to nosedive under contradictory and often knee-jerk policy reactions from the Zimbabwe government.
Inflation, unemployment and poor service delivery continue to weigh heavily on citizens, partly contributing to the growing despair.
Much of this month has been dominated by the healthcare workers’ nationwide strike as they demanded better salaries and working conditions and the sick who were being cared for in government hospitals were let go, many to certain death.
Key surprises in the Afrobarometer survey are the growing rejection of Zanu PF, which now trails the main opposition CCC 33% to 30% with an equally high number of citizens refusing to express their political preference or affiliation.
Zimbabwe is in a dead heat electoral outcome come 2023 and this does not bode well for the country as the State security apparatuses, especially the police and army have historically been appropriated by Zanu PF to make a “casting vote” using violence, fear and intimidation on who occupies State house.
This fear is demonstrated by 68% of the citizens who say they are cautious to talk openly about politics and self-censure.
This high level of fear is borne out of years of politically-motivated violence in which political militias are known to beat, harass political opponents and in the March 2022 by-elections, two opposition supporters were reportedly killed by ruling Zanu PF supporters.
Regardless of the high likelihood of violence, as the ruling party fears electoral defeat and the notable fear factor among citizens, the majority of Zimbabwean still believe in democracy, with 61% stating that they feel close to a political party and more than 68% of citizens having registered to vote, 59% say elections function fairly well and are a (democratic) means to remove leaders.
This level of trust in democracy affords an opportunity for both civic and political actors to strengthen democratic practice, including advocating for increased registration of voters, transparent electoral processes and monitoring the function of State institutions to ensure accountability.
The role of State institutions, largely mistrusted with only 44% of citizens trusting Parliament, 42% the police and 47% the electoral commission, demonstrates Zimbabwe’s ongoing challenges and lack of political will at institutional reforms.
This lack of political will is exemplified by the failure to fulfil as many constitutional provisions and State security, especially the police and army are known to take sides with the ruling party as seen in the heavy handedness in dealing with opposition groups.
In 2018 and 2019, Zimbabwe’s military used live ammunition on unarmed citizens, killing many.
Parliament often plays second fiddle to the Executive and Members of Parliament toe the party line, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission lacks transparency in its conduct of electoral business.
This lack of trust in institutions, including political parties, contributes to citizen apathy in participating in civic matters.
More importantly, as Zimbabwe goes to vote in 2023, citizens are in a survival mode, with 45% noting economic mismanagement and unemployment (43%) as key developmental issues of concern.
Government has embarked on some infrastructure projects that have, however, not eased the unemployment problem nor impact positively on reducing poverty.
Opposition parties have largely talked of the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe and corruption which only 16% of Zimbabweans think is a key developmental issue.
The hierarchy of needs of Zimbabweans appears to be basic and include whether one or families have a meal, send their children to school or afford housing.
The desperation of the majority of citizens is notable as 87% say government has failed to keep prices stable and 86% say the government has failed to create a conducive environment for job creation.
The agendas of both the ruling party and the opposition currently appear divergent from the interests and lived experiences of citizens.
As the months pass by towards 2023, there is an odd combination of both hope and fear, and 2023 is the year that Zimbabwe will go over the cliff or press the brakes through political dialogue pre and post the election.
Civic society must prepare for the probability of increased violence, create safety nets for communities and also heighten regional and international advocacy as well as engagement with political leaders and related State institutions.
The silent voices of the majority of citizens represented as numbers and percentages in the Afrobarometer survey, need to be heard more loudly in media spaces.
These voices may snap the political leadership out of the power hunger-induced slumber to focus more on what matters most: The lives of the people of Zimbabwe.
- Rashweat Mukundu is Sub Saharan Africa Adviser at International Media Support (IMS). Views expressed herein do not necessarily represent that of IMS.