Reason Wafawarova on Monday
French author Jean-Marie Domenach defines propaganda as “an attempt to influence the opinion and the conduct of a society in such a way that the people adopt a predetermined opinion and conduct.” John H. Burma defines it as “a systematic, planned attempt by an interested person or group to control the attitudes of persons or groups by means of suggestion, and consequently to control their actions.”
A third definition from Grath Jovett and Victoria O’Donnel says, “Propaganda is a form of communication that attempts to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”
We have seen one political party on a nationwide campaign trail so far, and ZANU-PF has already started holding rallies across the country too. While Nelson Chamisa initially promised that this election would be based on policy battles, with no intolerance, political violence or opponent vilification and slander; his utterances have been more on discrediting the incumbent Head of State than on policy. If anything Chamisa’s depth on policy has become highly questionable, with some of his utterances on policy failing to rise even to the level of nonsense.
At every single rally Nelson Chamisa tries to discredit Emmerson Mnangagwa by historical association. He wants Mnangagwa to bear full responsibility for all the perceived shortcomings of the (Robert) Mugabe Government over the 37 years Mugabe was leader. None of the success stories of the Mugabe Government must be remembered at all — the infrastructure development post-1980, the roads that were built, the universities, the colleges, the schools, the hospitals, the many clinics, the dams, boreholes, the agricultural exports — none of all that.
At Chamisa’s rallies, Zimbabwe has been hell fire since the day Ian Smith handed over the leadership of the country to Robert Mugabe — nothing good ever happened, and the only person to blame for all that at this point in time is Emmerson Mnangagwa.
For propaganda to be effective it must be seen, remembered, understood, and acted upon. It must be adapted to particular needs of the situation and to the audience at which it is aimed. In Nelson Chamisa’s case, the targeted people are first time voters and those people who were born after independence.
The propaganda model itself started with the dawn of organised society, which came with the idea of leadership and ruling. As society bestowed more value and respect for leadership and authority competition for leadership began, starting off with ancient Egypt, North America, ancient Rome, and so on.
The Roman Catholic Church created the Sacra Congregatia de Propaganda Fide in 1622, because the Pope then wanted to prevent the growth of the Protestant Church.
We then had two World Wars in the 20th century; with many people adopting the propaganda model after World War 1. During the First World War the Allied Forces used propaganda to legitimise the war, and to prepare the people into jingoistic support for the same war.
We needed such jingoistic support for the Third Chimurenga, and Jonathan Moyo did a fantastic job driving people into a combative mood over the land reclamation programme. Many will remember the jingle series that played on air so much until even Morgan Tsvangirai started to sing along taking his showers. He said so himself.
The counter-propaganda model from the Western media preached a barbarous land grab that had no regard whatsoever for human life and property rights, demonising the land occupiers as unskilled thugs taking over commercially productive farmland.
The United States did a documentary titled “Why we Fight” during World War 1 in order to legitimise the war and to incite US citizens against the perceived enemy. In 2002, Panorama did a documentary portraying the National Youth Service programme in Zimbabwe as a militia venture that was intentionally and deliberately training rapists and murderers whose sadistic purpose was to kill and rape MDC supporters. Some people still believe this nonsense.
Domenach writes about five rules of propaganda, namely the rule of simplification and enemy, the rule of exaggeration and distortion, the rule of overall planning, the rule of transmission, and the rule of unanimity and contagion.
So Chamisa will simplify our economic problems by reducing them all to incompetence and ineptness on the part of ZANU-PF, and he will then further simplify it and tell the electorate that ZANU-PF is simply personified by one person — ED Mnangagwa.
He will go on to exaggerate the dilapidation of infrastructure and the economy; and he will say everything is because all the money in the country was stolen by ZANU-PF at the instigation of Mnangagwa. He will distort the reality of economic sanctions and de-investment in the past 18 years; and will claim what happened is production stopped because ZANU-PF politicians were corrupt.
The ZANU-Yaora song at MDC rallies is a deliberate demonisation song meant to instil hate against the revolutionary party with the sole aim of stopping would-be voters from thinking of voting for the party.
After taking over the MDC-T leadership in the immediate aftermath of Tsvangirai’s death, Nelson Chamisa adopted rule of unanimity and contagion by embarking on what he called generation consensus. He made the misguided claim that because he is aged 40, there was unanimity and a contagious fanaticism among all people under the age of 40 — all supporting non other Chamisa himself; for the sole reason that he is 40 years old, and therefore likeable.
Successful propaganda needs good communication techniques, and Nelson Chamisa tries too hard to be an excellent orator. His confidence is perfect, but his word choice is pathetic.
So far Nelson Chamisa has relied on rallies and private media to carry his propaganda along, and ZANU-PF has relied mainly on the mainstream media to sell its reform policies.
The idea of propaganda is to affect decision making among voters, especially the hesitant voters. Politicians want to reduce uncertainty by providing free information to voters. While free, this information is complex, excludes cause and effect so that voters will find it too cumbersome to verify.
Propaganda uses truth, exaggeration, falsities, lies, and deception all in one mix, with the sole purpose of persuading the voter to think in a certain way. We hear from MDC activists that it is unacceptable for anyone to support ZANU-PF, yet we know ZANU-PF has millions of supporters who would rather die than stop supporting that party.
In Zimbabwe, voting behaviour is affected by party identity. There are voters who are simply socialised into identifying with a certain political party, and they will not be influenced otherwise. This cuts across the divide.
Among the so-called electoral reforms that Nelson Chamisa and his colleagues keep talking about is the role of the mass media in the electoral process. Contrary to the general belief that mass media shapes opinions and voter decision; studies have shown that mass media do not directly influence voting behaviour. What mass media does is supply information on existing ideas.
Firstly, voters are not necessarily interested in taking note of the media. Secondly, messages from the media can be conflicting, and that way they tend to cancel each other. Thirdly, voters are selective, and they often choose to receive only such information as may reinforce their existing preferences.
So Chamisa’s supporters will not accept the BBC’s portrayal of their dear leader as a “silly” presidential candidate who promises “nonsense.” ZANU-PF supporters find the BBC’s Steven Sackur analysis quite incisive and plausible.
Lastly, messages from the mass media are often absorbed and catalysed through an individual’s own interactions and communication, and as such may be interpreted in different ways.
Voting behaviour is determined by security, dignity, emotional dependence, religious beliefs, and ideological beliefs.
Security relates to economic stability, and so does dignity. People hate economic hardship and risks, and that is why politicians compete to sell impressive economic policies.
Emotional dependence is when a voter is emotionally dependent on a leader or a political party to an extent that their dependence supersedes rational judgment. This means they will support whatever the leader or the party says, for the simple reason that it is from their preferred party, not because of any interpreted value. In the same way people can be dependent on their religious beliefs — and that is why we get inundated with prophecies from religious leaders; many times conflicting ones, though purportedly from God Himself. We are told because prophet so and so said such and such a prophecy, so we must take heed and accept.
There are also voters that are dependent on ideological beliefs. We have on the one hand those who believe the MDC stands for social democracy, and on the other those who are convinced that ZANU-PF stands for nationalism and patriotism.
So voter participation increases when policy resonates with the interests of a certain group. Young people in Zimbabwe are notorious for their voting apathy. Chamisa knows this very well, and he has been trying hard to encourage young voters to register to vote. He has tried to sell dream world ideas hoping to catch the attention of the apathetic young voter. How far this will work remains to be seen; but ZANU-PF has equally elected youthful candidates for the upcoming elections – probably way more than the opposition.
There are three models of voting behaviour. Firstly, there is the social model, which says social groups are more important than individuals in voting behaviour. So we have churches, tribes, and dialects that tend to vote as a bloc based on their cherished social solidarity. So people vote on the basis of certain value systems enshrined in their social identity. We expect a certain result from a certain religious grouping, and a particular voting pattern from a specific region in the country. Geography becomes important in the voting patterns.
Then there is the psychological model; which deals with voter dependency on a political party. This is fanatical support similar to that found among supporters of football teams. It is partisanship emanating from the power of psychological elements. It is a socialisation process influenced by values and attitudes of family, colleagues, and peers. So it becomes an expectation for war veterans to support a certain party, and tertiary students to support a certain party.
Nelson Chamisa wants to use the psychological model to attract young people to his political stable. So this writer gets questioned why at his relatively young age he is not overly fanatical on the prospect of a Chamisa presidency. It becomes worse when one hears of the proximity of our villages back where we were both born and bred. We are told Chamisa chete chete regardless of whatever shortcomings he may have.
Lastly, there is the rational choice model. This is when the voter’s choice is dependent on the voter’s self-interest. The voter is driven by the what-is-in-it-for-me question. There is no emotional attachment, no social group solidarity, no peer pressure – just selfish personal interest.
These voters evaluate policies rationally, look at past events, current events, and prospects for the future. They are not swayed by promises. They focus on realistic results.
Politicians cannot sway these voters’ choices by way of propaganda. These voters are profit-minded, and decisions are made purely on materialistic grounds. There are no faith-based values, ideologies or emotions attached to the choice. These are no cheap voters.
There is also the resonance model where voters are persuaded rationally based on voter education. ZANU-PF has solid structures for voter education that has been developed over the years. This is how ED Mnangagwa’s investment and re-engagement policies are being sold to the electorate – through the so-called spider web campaign strategy.
But we must never under-estimate the power of affiliation. We have MDC supporters becoming wary of British investment in Zimbabwe while ZANUPF supporters are embracing the idea. Five months ago all this was unthinkable. No sane ZANU-PF supporter under Robert Mugabe could even think of the idea of British investment in Zimbabwe. And no sane MDC supporter under Morgan Tsvangirai could even dream of deriding British investment in Zimbabwe.
This shows that policy on its own might not be good enough to sway or attract a vote. Now the MDC accuses ZANU-PF of selling out to Britain, just like ZANU-PF supporters accused them of doing the same just a few months ago.
The cost of information has fallen drastically with the advent of the Internet. It is getting harder and harder for politicians to manipulate the voter because of easy access to various sources of information – thanks to the Internet.
ZANU-PF has decided to exhaust its opponent first, and then go in his tracks destroying all the excitement he has created. Campaign effect is unmistakable, but setbacks are also not uncommon in political terrains.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.