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Lessons from the 2018 Zimbabwe Elections

We have learnt little to nothing from the latest election process in Zimbabwe; the political and voter apathy continues in Matabeleland (Table 1) the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) has reinforced the duality of the political landscape (Fig 2). And contrary to popular belief by experts, elections have not weakened ZANU PF, they have given it the opportunity to ‘legally’ shore up its grip on power. As has become the norm, allegations of widespread electoral manipulation dominate the post-election news.

It is evident that there is no genuine threat to the status quo, the two major political parties dominated the political landscape of the country: the ruling party dominated the rural vote and the opposition was dominant in urban centres. Matabeleland North remains strongly anti-regime and pro-opposition while Matabeleland South and the Midlands have once again overwhelmingly voted for the retention of the status quo. Sadly for Mthwakazi nationalists, there is no demonstrable influence of the pro-Matabeleland agenda to the election outcome.

The credibility gap of the election process is widely discussed in the media, we await evidence of the alleged irregularities from all concerned parties. Many of these irregularities were evident well before the voting stage of the process, disturbing as they are, they come as no surprise to many of us. If anything, the MDC-Alliance and its leader, Nelson Chamisa’s response is surprising; when they knowingly entered a vastly flawed election process, what did they expect?

Democratic crisis and the poor quality of the election process aside, what has the election process revealed to Matabeleland? Voter apathy is endemic in Matabeleland, by the end of the Biometric Voter Registration exercise on 08/02/2018, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North had recorded the least number of people who had registered to vote as shown in Table 1.

ProvinceRegistered Voters
Mashonaland East590,609
Mashonaland West557,729
Mashonaland Central505,576
Matabeleland North319,549
Matabeleland South239,367
Table 1, Registered number of voters according to province as of 8-February 2018

Matabeleland’s disconnection from Zimbabwean politics is no secret, the hope this time round had been that the nationalist dimension to the political narrative would appeal to the population. The election results suggest otherwise; Matabeleland residents were not moved, politicians in the region are left with yet a further headache to treat.

We acknowledge the isolated good works of many pro-Mthwakazi organisations but withholding the truth compromises objectivity. To celebrate the mere symbolism of participation in this election is a blatant attempt to obfuscate the truth and distract from the fact that our groups performed poorly. Clearly, the pro-Mthwakazi agenda failed to make inroads in its own backyard; it failed to make politics interesting and relevant in Matabeleland. An honest review of the performance will help inform the future.

Positive and fundamental to the pro-Matabeleland agenda is the realisation of the genuine power social media wields in spreading information. Social media has enabled us to bypass the traditional corridors of power to allow grassroots level politics to thrive. Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp and others have enabled a rapid formation of networks; social media connected people, their ideas and values to levels never experienced before. We notice that within the social media platforms numbers of people taking an interest in the pro-Matabeleland agenda grew rapidly, but that is not reflected in the election outcomes.

Arguably, there is still a wide gap between social media activity and work on the ground. Social media access is mainly limited to the younger generation who do not vote and not so much on the older generation who do vote. Our next step would be bridging that gap and building a set of real-time connectivity network between social media work and activities on the ground.

Questions need to be asked of the strategy and narrative of some pro-Matabeleland organisations. Have our groups maintained a good balance between a positive and a negative campaign where a positive campaign centres on your strengths while a negative campaign sets out to discredit and call out the perceived, and hopefully damaging weaknesses of the opponent? Did our groups identify the right competitors and weaknesses to attack?

Is constantly attacking other pro-Matabeleland groups and ZAPU an appropriate strategy? How about the targeted attack on ethnic Shona people? What good or damage did that do to our political capital? Some groups calling themselves pro-Mthwakazi can be rightly accused of gratuitously – even deliberately and cynically – causing offence to ZAPU members, sympathisers and many other people in Matabeleland. It is intellectual arrogance for any local politician to underestimate the influence of ZAPU nostalgia; you cannot win votes by antagonising your constituency.

Tables 2 and 3 show the preliminary presidential and constituency election outcomes and tell their own story; they reveal the dominance of Zimbabwe’s political landscape by two mainstream political organisations. Voting patterns illustrate no evidence of an ideological shift on the ground; we clearly see that the pro-Mthwakazi agenda has not gained demonstrable traction, it has not effectively sold its doctrine or made the present political ideologies obsolete within the Mthwakazi territory and voting patterns have not altered in Matabeleland and the Midlands regions.

Table 2 and Fig. 1 demonstrate the distribution of votes for the presidency; the ZANU PF candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa, dominated the rural vote while Nelson Chamisa dominated the urban vote for the MDC Alliance. We note too how little influence Matabeleland has on the Zimbabwean presidential election outcome.

Mashonaland Central366,78597,097
Mashonaland East334,617189,024
Mashonaland West312,958217,732
Matabeleland South107,00890,292
Matabeleland North111,452137,611
Total2,460,463 (50.8%)2,147,436 (44.3%)
Table 2, Presidential Election Results by Province. A demonstration of Mnangagwa’s dominance of the rural vote
Fig 1 A map illustration of Table 2: Nelson Chamisa and MDC dominate urban centres while Mnangagwa and ZANU PF had control of rural areas

Table 3 and Fig. 2 illustrate the dominance of the two mainstream organisations, ZANU PF and the MDC Alliance. It would appear the majority of Matabeleland electorate was less convinced by the form, shape and direction of the Matabeleland nationalist agenda. Significantly, there is no suggestion the tribal background of candidates was a significant factor on the electorates’ choices.

ProvinceMDC AllianceZANU PFOther
Mashonaland Central018
Mashonaland East221
Mashonaland West4171
Matabeleland South112
Matabeleland North58
Table 3, National Assembly Results by Province. Only two candidates outside the mainstream parties won seats and that was in urban areas, arguably they both had close links with the MDC Alliance
Fig 2 A map illustration of Table 3: the rural dominance of ZANU PF

It will be essential for the future to know how many new voters did so purely in response to the Mthwakazi agenda’s message. Did they vote for or against nationalists? Our analytical focus will also have to establish reasons for non-active participation in the election. Why did they not vote? Only an in-depth understanding of this group’s political location will help inform the construction of effective policies and a campaign strategy that embraces than alienate more of our own people.

A non-scientific study of social media responses to messages from some pro-Mthwakazi representatives during the election process suggested that our people had reservations over what they perceived to be crude and unjustifiable discriminatory policies from some Mthwakazi organisations.

We need to reflect on the pro-Mthwakazi agenda, stand up for what is right and present the agenda as fit to lead the Mthwakazi nation. The continued mudslinging between the different groups is selfish posturing saving no purpose to the embattled Mthwakazi nation; it is important that the different Mthwakazi groups come together for the common good and de-escalate the disagreements or risk the whole agenda disappearing into a vortex of eternal shame and failure.

Judging from the familiar cries of electoral manipulation from the MDC Alliance, there are grounds to suspect the election process has once again been turned into a tool of legitimising an autocratic government. Apart from the confirmation that the pro-Matabeleland agenda has some way to go, we have learned nothing new from Zimbabwe’s latest round of elections. However, for the first time Gukurahundi atrocities mattered even to our Mashonaland brothers and sisters in the opposition who highlighted that as the major stain in Mnangagwa’s presidential credentials. The question remains whether that was raised out of genuine belief that killing innocent citizens is wrong or simply to purchase Matabeleland votes. The blatant refusal to address the Matabeleland electorate in local languages and instead opting to nationalise the Shona language during campaign rallies by both main candidates was not lost to some of us.


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