Using fear as a political motivator has proven to be not only an effective tactic but a widely used tactic across the globe. This is no more apparent as in the fact that the fear of a nuclear attack is used to keep the world order on check. To varying degrees terrorism fear has been and continues to be misused for political ends. In Zimbabwe ZANU PF created and misused isolated acts of armed criminal activity in Matabeleland in the early 1980s to create disproportionate fear among the general population. Mugabe’s government purposely exaggerated capabilities of the so-called dissidents and the potential risks they posed to national security. Using that generated public fear it legitimised its Gukurahundi intervention, which was a disproportionate, tribally driven state terrorism in Matabeleland.
Damage posed by fear guided politics can only be undone with a good understanding of how fear works and developing effective counter tactics. ZANU PF works by othering communities, we must reverse that and promote the ability to disagree with respect and without fracturing communities on racial, tribal and political lines.
For survival, humans are equipped with the fight and flight mode, also referred to as the approach and avoidance emotions, and we need both to lead successful lives. This natural human instinct has been expertly tapped into and used by ZANU PF to control political activity in Zimbabwe and rein in Matabeleland.
Succumbing to fear must no longer be Matabeleland’s signature approach in the political space of an independent Zimbabwe. As alluded to earlier, to break the chain of fear, we need to understand the fear tactics, know the deliberate and strategic ways in which our fears are exploited to help lessen its effects on our political choices.
We have full understanding that since independence ZANU PF has whipped and employed real or threats of violence to a varying degree to maintain its stranglehold on power. The party has used fear as its primary tool for intimidation in Matabeleland and for shepherding ethnic Shona people. The party and its government have engaged in various acts of terrorism to cultivate and maintain fear in the hearts of the general population and political opponents.
ZANU PF has created a political system founded in crisis and anxiety; it frequently brings the public around a core subject be it tribe (pitting ethnic Ndebele people against ethnic Shona people) or race or tacitly creating links between economic failures and the supposed western threat and cultivating fear among the public while presenting itself as the expert public safety net.
Fear works is all we can say, by discussing risks and/ or instilling anxiety and providing solutions to the threat, ZANU PF has been effective at changing public intentions and behaviour in elections. The party has used aggression ranging from physical abuse of opponents, brutality against professional journalists, marginalising minority population groups and denying privileges to communities backing the opposition while extending same to its supporters. The mainstream opposition is portrayed as nothing more than a Western proxy out to undo independence ‘gains.’ ZANU PF points at sanctions (targeted) as an example of a Western ploy or threat and alleges the sanctions are responsible for poor economic outcomes and thus a threat to national security.
ZANU PF intentionally and consistently coins threat-filled statements to the effect that it will never allow people who did not engage in the liberation war to rule and trade independence for Western exploitation. Quite significant to the Matabeleland constituency, the party leader and president of the Emerson Mnangagwa has threatened Matabeleland groups with reprisals for pursuing an agenda that he alleges threatens to divide people. Nine members of one such group, the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP), are currently serving prison sentences for merely exercising their right to demonstrate against safety threats to their leader.
Actions described above are deliberate and politically effective. It is apparent that a highly anxious Matabeleland public has tended to avoid consuming any information about the Matabeleland focused candidates or the election. This has extended to voting abstention because thinking about the election is overly aversive.
Without a shadow of doubt fear has blurred our logic, and oftentimes safety considerations more than policy interests have influenced our political choices but that must come to a swift end. Matabeleland must come together and build enough political capital and resilience to protect local interests.
ZANU PF, a party that unashamedly calls itself a ‘blood party’, has successfully used fear to circumvent public logic, gain public mandate to govern and allow itself to get away with unscrupulous acts of terrorism against citizens.
Gukurahundi atrocities left an indelible mark in communities across Matabeleland and reshaped the political landscape to a flight mode, and ZANU PF knows and exploits the fear generated by that period. Raising anxiety around an election or candidate has become a custom tactic expertly used by ZANU PF to decrease voter turnout among our people and opposition receptive communities. But yielding to fear is counterproductive and it will be a disservice to the next generation. We have the capacity to break the bondage of fear; let us strategize and adopt approaches that bring us together, strengthen us and drive us away from fear.