Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
At the time of writing, the opposition MDC-Alliance is holding its march against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the independent body whose mandate is to administer elections in this country.
Zimbabwe holds its crucial elections on July 30 and the opposition has trained its focus on ZEC, making demands to be allowed to oversee the printing, storage and transportation of ballot papers.
The MDC-Alliance strongly believes that the elections body is conniving with the ruling party Zanu-PF and President Mnangagwa to deny the opposition victory.
The opposition says this connivance revolves around ballot papers that mutate and migrate “X” vote marks from the opposition candidate in the presidential race, Nelson Chamisa, to the box for one of his many rivals, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The party spokespersons have told all who care to listen that this is how “chromatography” works.
The march began with a gathering at the Africa Unity Square, a key venue in central Harare, overlooking Parliament.
A decent crowd gathered and washed the venue in red, the party’s colours.
And this time the party had equally decent placards, printed professionally, an indication that funds had been availed for the exercise (by whom, we don’t know!).
The messages all centred on demonising and pressuring ZEC.
A commissar took the stage and agitated violence against ZEC chairwoman, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, symbolically working the crowd to simulate lifting her up in the air, smashing her to the ground and crushing her violently beneath their feet.
A variant of the chant urged the MDC supporters to slap the ZEC chair.
The chants are familiar enough.
Some chants denigrated Justice Chigumba, questioning her morals, again a familiar theme.
Yesterday’s demonstration is one of the tactics that the MDC-Alliance have in these elections.
The party has to show visibility on the ground both as a bargaining chip and a show of force.
Harare, its assumed stronghold and the country’s capital, is a perfect setting. The world is curiously watching as the countdown to July 30 continues.
In other times, Zimbabwe would have provided a spectacle of violence, death, destruction, severed limbs and arson.
There has been a marked lack of this pornography of violence this time around.
Still, one has the feeling that the opposition is desperate for a confrontation with the authorities – beginning with being barred from demonstrations.
It has not happened.
The incumbent and MDC-Alliance opponents in President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF are very much tempered this time, which temperance has by and large shaped the spirit of the contest.
A conflagration in the countryside or on the streets would do well to serve the interests of the opposition, which appears headed for a defeat.
But we will see how July 30 pans out.
Big, marching excuse
MDC-Alliance presidential candidate Chamisa will need a lot of luck on Election Day. Already his odds are pretty low.
That is despite the fact that he has been campaigning across the country.
At the last count, he had over 50 “star” rallies in Zimbabwe: in fact he hit the campaign trail before Zanu-PF sputtered into life. Yet Chamisa is not likely to win it for a number of reasons.
In fact, yesterday’s march was a big marching excuse of what is likely to come on July 30.
Despite the illusion of numbers, both at the march yesterday and where Chamisa has addressed crowds across the country, the party is organisationally weak. This is not to mention the fact that the opposition used to have bigger crowds under Morgan Tsvangirai, yet still came short.
Individual candidates, including big names like Tendai Biti, who belong to the alliance, have attracted paltry crowds.
By contrast, Zanu-PF is organic and has massive mobilising power from the grassroots, which are peopled by members who actually vote.
A trend has been observed where the difference in popularity in the urban strongholds has been narrower in years. Zanu-PF has enjoyed a surge in popularity in urban areas and is likely to stand toe to toe with MDC-Alliance.
On the other hand, the Zanu-PF power base in the rural areas is as unshaken as ever. This election is for the first time in two decades not featuring Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.
Whereas Mugabe’s departure left Zanu-PF stronger and re-energised, the departure of Morgan Tsvangirai through death on Valentine’s Day left a weak and fractured MDC that Chamisa has not helped to unite.
The departure of Mugabe also robbed the opposition of a key message, namely that of “Mugabe must go”, leaving the opposition without any rallying cry.
It does not help also that, in material terms, there are a number of people who over the years supported the opposition simply because they hated the person and rule of Mugabe.
These people – and they are many – have been seen to be sympathetic to Mnangagwa and his “new dispensation”, often arguing that he must be given a chance on the basis that he represents change.
In terms of leadership, Mnangagwa strikes one as a composed character with the stature to handle a transition and opening up, which is critical to a country like Zimbabwe that requires a steady hand and a stabilising figure.
On the other hand, Chamisa does not inspire confidence and will have to learn the ropes of statecraft.
Zimbabwe is largely not ready for the luxury of giving him the internship of this nature, especially at a time President Mnangagwa appears to be making remarkable progressing in attracting investment and reintegrating Zimbabwe into the international community.
In terms of international support, Mnangagwa is not the pariah that Mugabe was.
He enjoys goodwill from quarters that were traditionally hostile and likely to withhold support and legitimation.
Things have changed. Chamisa is not going to get the cushy relationship that Tsvangirai enjoyed early in his tenure from Western countries in the Mugabe era, which was key to sustaining him.
In 2018, Western interests are ready to work with Mnangagwa and his new Government.
Their proviso is a fair and credible election. By many metrics July 30 will be – and it will be won by Mnangagwa.
Chamisa then hopes to play the card that he revealed yesterday: to reject the results and threaten anarchy. One of his lieutenants has declared on Twitter that they will not contest the results in the courts, but on the streets.
Waiting for Chamisa’s phone call
The opposition likes to make excuses and to cry wolf.
It has to show that it is being unfairly treated, which is the whole reason why someone with great ingenuity came up with the idea that a vote for Chamisa could magically migrate to one of his 22 rivals.
Zimbabwe’s presidential election will pit 23 candidates, by the way.
The issues around the unfairness of the electoral process are part of a catalogue of excuses that the opposition has concocted. There are some lies to be repeated over and over again so that they become the truth.
We say they are excuses because the opposition had all the time to effect reforms that could be adopted as laws and conditions for free and fair elections.
However, the opposition failed to do so in Parliament where it has a strong showing. The opposition – before 2013 – were part of the inclusive Government where it shared power with Zanu-PF, but did nothing to level the ostensibly skewed electoral field.
Ahead of this election, there have been engagements at multi-party level platforms where there have been efforts to fine tune the conditions.
ZEC has also facilitated meetings to bring parties closer to the process.
Yet, the MDC-Alliance will not be comforted, hence its shocking decision to focus all its attention, anger and resources on fighting the referee, ZEC.
That brings us to an important issue – that of media coverage.
The opposition has been whining over lack of access to and coverage by the so-called State media, including Zimpapers.
It will be crucial to put it on record that, while we have opened space for all presidential contenders to sell themselves – and we have had a dozen of them – MDC-Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa has simply not found time to talk to us.
This is despite the fact that we have called and sent him numerous messages requesting for an interview.
(Actually, since his rise following the death of Tsvangirai in February.)
A fortnight ago, his spokesperson, a Nkululeko Sibanda toured The Herald’s offices and pledged to facilitate the same.
He has not.
The same applies to another “major” candidate, former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who has snubbed our numerous overtures.
Overall, it has not been easy to get presidential candidates to have free space to communicate with the electorate. They would rather use private media to attack the ruling party rather enunciate their own policies.
The other time, the national broadcaster – ZBC – revealed the low uptake of political advertising space.
What is interesting is that when these politicians speak to Europeans and Americans, they will say the opposite.
But we know better.