via email 8 November 2013 – by Alan McCormick
The issue goes back to ZANU(PF) Congress (1997?). There was a strong movement to dispose of Mugabe then but he outmanoeuvred the delegates and avoided a vote. He later called the provincial chairmen in one at a time and got their blessing to endorse his position as First Secretary, but he was aware of his vulnerability. He then, in 1999/2000, went for a new constitution to entrench his position as head of state for a further 10 years. He soon realised that people were not accepting his constitution so he played his trump card – Clause 16 making Britain responsible for paying for the land.
However this did not attract any attention from the electorate who still concentrated on the issues of presidential term and citizenship for those of foreign decent (with intermarriage a large proportion of the black population). Mugabe had seriously underestimated the intelligence of the electorate. The electorate were well versed in all the issues covered by the whole draft constitution and by and large voted in full knowledge of the terms proposed by it. It was rejected by the electorate without following any persuasion from NCA, MDC or farmers (witness the overwhelming No vote in Guruve North encompassing the Zambezi Valley – a rural area too distant to be influenced). I was part of the ZANU(PF) team doing the rounds of Mashonaland Central promoting the constitution and saw no evidence that the opinions of any political party or anyone else had sway over the rural communities. The electorate had read and comprehended the implications of the provisions. I was very impressed by the general understanding and on one occasion totally floored when it was pointed out that a provision of the draft constitution would deny citizenship to anyone born of foreign lineage. They raised the presidential provisions at each meeting I attended and no-one raised the land issue. Mugabe’s trump card meant not a fig to the electorate.
Then the NO vote and Mugabe’s reaction. His speech was so very reassuring that everyone, including the white community, thought that democracy had truly arrived in Zimbabwe and the euphoria was tangible. But never listen to what Mugabe says – watch what he does! For me the speech was too condescending and I immediately went on guard.
Then followed a liturgy of mistakes:
Firstly Mugabe felt that the electorate had rejected him personally as he wanted the provisions of the constitution to guarantee him a further two years office. This was not an issue with the electorate. The vote was not a rejection of him per se but a rejection of a badly crafted piece of legislation which was to carry the country forward forever. The electorate felt that ten years was enough for ANY president, they felt that the presidential powers were too great, they felt that there were not enough checks and balances on the executive. Added to the No vote were those who had picked up the citizen provisions denying them and their offspring citizenship.
Secondly, he was furious that his trump card had not swayed the vote and he had to blame someone. First off was the commercial farmers. He thought that they had mobilized for a No vote because of Clause 16. The only thing that the farmers did, by and large, was to enthusiastically provide transport for their labour as this was an exiting and national event. They were generally ignorant of the provisions of the draft constitution as the vast majority had not read it, unlike their labourers and rural neighbours, and not in a position to advise anyone how to vote. Within days the land invasions started. Just for clarity sake – the war veterans could not have mobilised so quickly and with the police giving them impunity if the invasions were solely because they felt that the rejection of the Constitution would deny them access to land, it could only have been sparked off and orchestrated by the highest office in the land, President Mugabe. Why? Simply because he needed to punish someone for the rejection he felt.
His third big mistake was to let Jonathan Moyo blame the MDC. If anyone effectively promoted the NO vote it was the NCA, not the MDC, which was still almost unheard of. By hammering away at the MDC, Moyo uplifted the party to a significant force and positioned it to replace ZANU(PF) and Mugabe. The MDC could never have afforded the advertising that Moyo gave them. Then, and even now, I wondered if the learned professor was actually trying to promote regime change by alienating the electorate from ZANU(PF). He played a leading role in the crafting and promotion of the draft constitution, the electorate hated the clamp down on newspapers and the relentless ZANU(PF) propaganda on ZBC and ZTV. They wanted entertainment and love to read anything and everything – witness the number of satellite dishes even at police stations. By denying the electorate entertaining media he seriously alienated the electorate across the country.
Another big mistake was to assume that the commercial farm employees are mostly foreigners and of no major political influence. Whilst many may be of foreign decent, by marriage, most are mixed into the Shona lineage too. By punishing the commercial farmers their labourers were caught in the cross fire and he alienated many of his previously loyal Shona support. The commercial farmers adjoining communal areas, too, provided casual labour allowing the rural farmers to earn money for their cropping inputs. This avenue of financing cropping dried up and has contributed greatly to the general poverty we now see in the rural areas. In Guruve North one farmer employed 1 000 casuals and this must have represented almost every household in the neighbouring communal Negomo area. Another farmer provided the same for Bakasa and I covered Kachuta. Basically 3 farmers providing inputs for 3 communal areas! Of course other farmers in the area to a lesser extent also provided employment to casual and permanent labour from these same communal lands.
In summary, the net effect of these mistakes was to promote the MDC into a formidable force, to force the commercial farmers and the white community in general to financially and logistically support the MDC in order to return sanity to the farming areas and economy, to allow the electorate to think that true democracy had arrived and they could support opposition to ZANU(PF) rule, and to generally alienate the electorate from ZANU(PF). Mugabe lost all respect he had hitherto enjoyed and his continued rule could only be through violence and coercion.