Source: Numbers game now on show | The Financial Gazette May 19, 2016
BULAWAYO — With just about two years before Zimbabwe’s next general elections, things are shacking up on the political front.
The country’s political actors have already started sending clear signals to their rivals that they are taking the 2018 plebiscite seriously.
A commonly used strategy thus far has been to mobilise big numbers through demonstrations or attendances at rallies.
Next week, the ruling ZANU-PF is set to roll out its million-man march in the capital city, Harare, which coincides with Africa Day.
The march is meant to show popular support for President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980.
President Mugabe’s former deputy, Joice Mujuru is also on the offensive, trying to wrest power from her former boss.
Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF and government in 2014 on allegations of attempting to overthrow her boss through unconstitutional means.
She is now heading a political outfit called Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), which is drawing much of its support from people disenchanted by President Mugabe’s leadership.
ZPF has been quite visible on the ground, holding several rallies across the country as part of its mass mobilisation campaign.
The country’s biggest opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has lately been flexing its muscles as well.
The MDC-T had previously enjoyed total domination of the country’s urban centres.
But this all changed in 2013 when the party was trounced at the harmonised elections by ZANU-PF, which restricted its hegemony to Harare and Bulawayo.
The MDC-T was to concede more ground to ZANU-PF last year when its decision to boycott all national elections allowed ZANU-PF to chip away its dominance in the two urban metropolis.
In the second city, for example, ZANU-PF got a chance to taste victory which had eluded it for 15 years through by-elections boycotted by the MDC-T.
Both the MDC-T and ZANU-PF are now at par in terms of the seats they hold in Bulawayo, with each party now controlling six Parliamentary seats.
Having been in a government of national unity for five years, critics were already writing the MDC-T’s political obituary, dismissing the labour- backed party as having lost its way.
But not anymore!
The turning point for the MDC-T came last month when it staged its first demonstration against the ZANU-PF-led government in nearly a decade.
The demonstration in Harare was mainly meant to pile up pressure on President Mugabe to fix the country’s economy and provide answers to the alleged disappearance of US$15 billion in diamond revenue from Chiadzwa.
The street protest buoyed Tsvangirai who endured his most biting criticism after he was defeated by a wide margin in the 2013 polls.
What had made things worse for the MDC-T leader was that his party went on to split for the second time inside a decade immediately after the 2013 elections.
An estimated 10 000 people participated in the demonstrations in Harare.
Spurred by the huge turnout in Harare, the MDC-T is now targeting to roll out more nationwide demonstrations against the governing administration.
Bulawayo will now be its next stop, with the second demonstration now set for Saturday next week.
Obert Gutu, the MDC-T spokesperson, said although the police were still to give their clearance for the demonstration to proceed, it was all systems go.
“Tsvangirai, together with all other leaders of the party will be leading from the front, during the demonstration in Bulawayo,” he said.
Indications are that the party could mobilise nearly 20 000 demonstrators for the Bulawayo leg of the demonstrations.
Analysts this week said the MDC-T now seems to have woken up from its deep slumber through the reversal of an earlier decision not to participate in any election not predicated on electoral reforms.
This comes as Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere is baying for the blood of city fathers in MDC-T dominated councils as a way of increasing ZANU-PF influence in these cities.
But the question that begs for an answer remains: Is the show off of big numbers capable of turning the tide in favour of the MDC-T?
Grace Kwinjeh, a founding member of the MDC-T, said just going onto the streets would not be enough to dislodge ZANU-PF.
“ZANU-PF can play the numbers game too and get their thousands to march. The MDC-T has to grow out of the naive deposition that showcasing numbers in demonstrations equals political power, as recent history has proved this is not the case,” Kwinjeh said.
“As a former trade unionist, Tsvangirai understands bargaining and so what leverage can they exert on the State? Demands which if not met, will be met with more action and what sort of action? In the past, boycotts were a useful bargaining tool, but now not anymore. Tsvangirai has to think through the demonstration strategy as it is a strategy that could also end him. What other muscle does he have against ZANU-PF’s intransigence?” she added.
A lot is, however, weighing in the MDC-T’s favour.
The country’s economy is contracting at an alarming rate; factional fights in President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF are becoming messier; and citizens are getting more agitated as economic challenges continue to squeeze them.
Most of ZANU-PF’s 2013 electoral promises have also come to naught. For instance, its pledge to create two million jobs has hit a brick wall, with job losses escalating amid company closures.
Regardless, Rashweat Mukundu, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, believes that although the MDC-T has every right to demonstrate as provided in the Constitution, it must go beyond street protests by looking into solutions.
“Demonstrations work for a while, but cannot constitute a whole political strategy to win power,” said Mukundu.
Political commentator, Zibusiso Dube, said the demonstrations will cast the party as a serious contender for power.
“While the party had seemed docile and weak since the 2013 elections, the party seems to be getting confident since its demonstration in Harare last month,” he said.
“These demonstrations to me may be what is needed for the party to earn more followers and to put a bit more pressure on the ruling ZANU-PF. It could signal a move back to the grassroots … A good move in my book,” said Dube.
Analysts also posit that the MDC-T might find that its supporters in Bulawayo have little appetite for demonstrations as they are focussed on their day-to-day mission for survival.
Itai Sithole, an accounting graduate from a Bulawayo institution, said the people in Bulawayo generally do not have a stomach for such demonstrations for fear of police brutality.
“The MDC-T will most likely fail to get a full buy in and participation here,” said Sithole.