By Owen Dhliwayo
Zimbabwe is once again plunged into an election fever characterized by its melodramatic nature of the campaigns and the consequences of their outcomes. As soon as the country was declared to be on level 2 lockdown, the social and political landscape changed. Recently, we witnessed developments in campaigning and opposition parties’ energizing the rural base both at a general and at a party level.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwean elections do not always involve a contest of ideas with significant content, but largely are concerned with appearance, style, and superficial appeal.
The most basic virtues that must define our society appear to be collapsing especially as the country enters an election season. These virtues include civility, responsibility, justice and integrity.
This in turn, makes our society lose its national identity that is expected to enhance personal commitment, social purpose and patriotic character. The fundamental character of our social, economic and political culture is defined by the way we conduct our campaigns and elections.
Our socio – economic and political narrative is now being characterized by what Mahatma Gandhi called the seven social sins, and they become apparent during election season. These include politics without principle and wealth without work.
In various urban and peri-urban communities, we have witnessed the political allocation of market stalls. The market stalls define who controls participants in the informal sector. In Checheche growth point, informal traders are up in arms with the local authorities over how the market stalls were allocated. This is one piece of clear evidence that the country has been plunged into an election mode.
On the other hand, politically motivated violence that we are now witnessing is a clear testimony that our politics is completely dysfunctional. It is no longer about the contestation of ideas but of force and mere numbers.
Our politics since 1980, has created in us Zimbabweans a very dangerous intuitive behavioural pattern. Zimbabweans are deeply embedded in a context of intuitive behaviour, emotions, thought processes and divisive political beliefs.
This attitude divides our society into what George C Halvorson termed “Us” and “them”, and then have us act based on perception of whether people are “Us” or “them.” At the end of it all, we witness turf related violence. This has happened in Masvingo and Manicaland Provinces. The two provinces have 26 National Assembly Constituencies each and, in both provinces, Zanu PF won the majority of the National Assembly seats in the 2018 Harmonised elections.
As we enter another election season, the ugly head of political violence has risen up to be fed by political intolerance, hate and exclusion. Elections have consistently been viewed as a turf war with political dividends to the declared winners. It then translates into the contest of territorial dominance. Zanu PF and the opposition political parties know exactly what they regard as their turf. Constituencies were drawn for the purpose of defining territories but have turned into turf contest.
As power defines political contestation, powerlessness defines the youth, women, people with disabilities, workers and the pensioners. Access to power is what the political parties strive and fight for in every election.
What’s more pertinent to them is gaining political power at all cost. As they jostle for political power, pensioners continue to see their meagre savings losing value on a daily basis and the small cohort of workers in the formal sector having their earnings being eroded by an ever-rising prices of basic commodities.
As politicians traverse the countryside in state-of-the-art vehicles, youths continue to lose hope in the employment of their acquired skills and women continue to suffer from a plethora of legislation that deny them access to land. Poor people in rural communities are made to inhale the dust left behind by politicians’ state of the art vehicles.
The general populace in Zimbabwe continues to bear the cost of corruption found in the political, economic and administrative spaces. Corruption limits and reduces the amount of public resources and the efficient use of government revenue coupled with the erosion of disposable income for workers.
Election season exemplifies what the entire country has become, a tale of power and powerlessness. Power and powerlessness are personified in those who strive to gain political dividend from the elections and the poor who suffer at the hands of those with insatiable appetite for political power.
The country is captivated by clientelist approach rather than policy-based campaign strategies which is characterized by a strong patronage system. The clientelist approach we are currently witnessing directs how political parties and their representatives relate to the electorate.
Lastly, it has become a political trend as politicians are beginning to fashion their campaigns with a focus on the youth. However, at the moment there are no tangible policy narratives that may attract the youths but only terms fashionable to young people. This has gone a gear up by using socialites to drum up the youth support.