•Title: Why Mugabe Won… The
2013 Elections in Zimbabwe and their Aftermath
•Authors: Stephen Chan and Julia Gallagher
•Publication: May 2017
•Publisher: Cambridge University Press
“THE opposition offers nothing tangible or ‘ideal’… It did not have loyal members that were sold into the cause… ZANU-PF has got supporters and the opposition has got sympathisers. Supporters are loyal — even if things are going wrong they will continue to support. They contribute to the party. They believe in the cause. And the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has sympathisers — disgruntled ZANU-PF people, with scores to settle, opportunists. Some are genuine activists. There is no ideological connection between the sympathisers and the MDC. They are more fluid. You can’t count on them. They can abandon the ship.”
This is what one leader of a Zimbabwean civil society organisation (CSO) told Julia Gallagher, co-author of an upcoming book Why Mugabe Won in which she and her fellow University of London professor, Stephen Chan, seek to explain how President Robert Mugabe, who — together with his ZANU-PF party — placed second to Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC respectively in the March 2008 harmonised elections, transformed themselves to emerge undisputed run-away winners in the 2013 harmonised elections.
The book, which is a result of extensive fieldwork by the two researchers, came to the conclusion that — challenges aside — Tsvangirai and his party lost the elections as much as President Mugabe and his party won them.
“There are huge question marks over this election, but none of the verdicts to do with outright theft of the results can be sustained. The voters’ roll was a scandal, and all observer groups noted that. Varying combinations of the words, ‘free’, ‘fair’, peaceful’, ‘credible’ and ‘acceptable’ were used by these groups.
“Most concluded that the elections were not fully fair.
“It was ‘free’ in the weeks of campaigning and the days of polling — but there was a long gap between 2008 and 2013. This was a time when all manner of strategies could have been devised — fair, hardball but honest, hardball and dishonest — by ZANU-PF. It was also a time when the MDC could have prepared for elections more thoroughly and better informed than was the case. It was a time when ZANU-PF looked very hard at the electorate and, in one way or another, played to it. It was a time when the MDC did not.”
The 2013 general elections in Zimbabwe were widely expected to mark a shift in the nation’s political system, and a greater role for the opposition MDC, led by Tsvangirai, then prime minister in a shaky power sharing government. The outcome of the polls shook all and sundry as they were overwhelmingly in favour of President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party who swept the presidential, parliamentary and senatorial polls in conditions that were relatively credible and peaceful.
In this book, which is valuable for both students and scholars of African politics, and those with a general interest in the politics of the region, Chan and Gallagher explore the domestic and international context of these landmark elections.
Drawing on extensive research among political elites, grassroots activists and ordinary voters, the duo examine the key personalities, dramatic events, and broader social and political context of President Mugabe’s success, and what this means as Zimbabwe moves towards a future.
In their search to understand how a leader and party that had been rejected by the electorate five years previously for allegedly bringing the country to its knees suddenly became popular again with the same voters, the authors discovered that the people of Zimbabwe felt betrayed by an opportunistic opposition whose true colours were exposed when they tasted power during the inclusive government.
“Its (MDC) supporters felt that the party’s once strong networks and unifying spirit — forged in the difficult days of opposition — had melted away as elites had begun to taste the pleasures of office. They appeared to have pulled the ladders up after themselves, leaving their grassroots without moral or material support. This left activists unable or disinclined to attempt to woo voters who had begun to question the party’s abilities, either to perform in government, or to represent their interests. None of this appeared to have been recognised by the party, which ran a badly organised and lacklustre campaign, apparently complacent that the electorate would be steadfast in its support.”
This sense of disillusionment was not helped by Tsvangirai’s behaviour during his time as prime minister, when he failed to portray himself in a way befitting of a serious national leader.
“Tsvangirai, it was clear from his time as prime minister, had ceased to be a thinkable president in 2013. His love affairs, his apparent lack of concern at the growing corruption of MDC representatives in national and local government, his inability to instil discipline in his party; none represented him as a good father figure, or president,” the books says.
“In the end, when Zimbabweans looked at the two men running, they couldn’t see Tsvangirai as president of Zimbabwe — it wasn’t ‘thinkable’. He didn’t have the educational credentials, political sophistication, historical embededness or regional standing of Mugabe. He didn’t encapsulate their idea of Zimbabwe.”
The book shows how on the other side ZANU-PF used its position in the inclusive government, its years of experience of electioneering, and its understanding of the electorate, to run a professional and effective campaign.
“Drawing on the accounts of activists from all parties who witnessed the campaign on the ground, it details a professional and committed (ZANU-PF) campaign that had involved a substantial voter registration drive, effective party mobilisation and a carefully crafted re-seduction of the Zimbabwean electorate. While the MDC had been focused on the Government of National Unity, and assuming that they just had to ‘finish ZANU-PF off’, ZANU-PF had been organising and executing a brilliantly planned five-year election campaign,” the book says.
The book highlights that without hunger that had forced the electorate to cast protest votes against President Mugabe in 2008 — which votes Tsvangirai mistook for his popularity — the opposition’s position was not made better by its ambiguity on highly emotive issues such as the land reform programme and homosexuality.
These problems were cited across the country: “He was not clear on the land question or on homosexuality,” said a leader of another CSO interviewed in the aftermath of the elections.
“The Christian community think Tsvangirai can tolerate Satanism and homosexuality. ZANU-PF capitalised on that. It is very important. If a president says ‘yes-yes’ to homosexuality, that frightens a lot of people. The connection with the West destroyed Tsvangirai.”
All this coupled with other populist policies, fear (psychological rather than physical) as well as large doses of propaganda, worked in favour of President Mugabe and his party.
In the end, Tsvangirai and his party were no match for President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF who had everything to lose from losing the elections.
The book, which many in the opposition circles will certainly find uncharitable and unflattering, is due for release this month.