Zimbabwe is one of the countries in the world that has a dark election history characterized by controversies and allegations that have created divisions amongst the people.
Our election history in Zimbabwe has always produced an outcome that has pierced the soul of the nation creating wounds of hate; mistrust and antagonism which have continued to grow deeper in each election. It is sad to note that each election has poisoned the relations of the people damaging the national consciousness of our people.
It is also sad to note that each election has been marked by a brutal brand of violence; intimidation and a number of other irregularities that have created tension not only amongst candidates but by supporters as well whom after elections become enemies hating each other to the core. Election tensions and controversies have sparked allegations and discourse around rigging, the electoral machinery in Zimbabwe has created an unstable ground which breeds hostility, this is why it is very normal to see in our electoral space candidates resort to name calling, body shaming and a whole barrage of insults to each other.
The question that many may ask now is why is this so? Why is our electoral space so toxic? Many do believe that this is the nature of politics as the common saying goes “politics is a dirty game” then why should we expect any decorum and morals from politics? It is after all a dirty man’s affair. This is a narrative that many young people in Zimbabwe and across Africa have believed thus they do not question to core why one wants to get elected; unscrupulous politicians have used this to their advantage giving tokens to unsuspecting voters and fueling and inciting violence amongst brethren.
We have seen politicians dish out all sorts of gifts from fast foods; alcohol and t-shirts which seemingly come in good faith but the result is often that the conditions of the people never seem to change after each election. This brings me to my analysis of the situation which can be summed up by the concept of “divide and rule” this phenomenon is currently occurring in Zimbabwe and much of Sub-Saharan Africa whereby political leaders thrive on the general lack of unity and collective consciousness of the masses.
This notion can be clearly explained by the great rift between the rural and urban populations, the rural population in Zimbabwe which consists of 15.2 million that is 67% of the population have different needs from their urban counterparts who comprise of 33% of the population. These conflicting needs have created a fertile ground for politicians to exploit to suit their own purposes.
A good example is the fact that in rural communities’ access to electricity is 16% and the primary source of energy that the rural folk rely on is firewood with over 60% percent using firewood for cooking.There is no and very little running water at rural households, thus provisions of LP cooking gas, Biogas digesters and boreholes in rural communities has alleviated their plight significantly in addition to that food schemes for rural families has also created a considerable level of comfort for the rural folk. There is no talk of upgrading rural development infrastructure such as schools and industrial development zones in rural communities. Conversely looking at urban communities which heavily rely on electricity have felt the pinch quite strongly because of the persistent load shedding and power cuts.
Furthermore urban social amenities such as hospitals and schools have remained stuck in the past colonial era with bare minimum upgrades to meet the population growth in urban areas. Now this paints a graphic picture in which one can see how this situation plays out perfectly for politicians who are content with keeping rural folks at bay because of their majority and disregarding the urban folk who constitute the minority.
This model has indeed created favorable votes for the ruling party and has also guaranteed votes in urban areas for the opposition parties. The danger in this situation is that a strong rift has been created between the rural and urban population widening at each election as the rural folk continue to vote to protect their ancestral lands and the basic subsistence they receive and the urban population continues to vote for change to get a relief from the ever increasing cost of living in the cities, to get a relief from the rampant water and power cuts.
The nation has been divided into two distinct realities that pit citizens against each other. Elections are not defined in terms of what’s best for the country as a whole but by interests of factions; clans and parties. Chapter 2 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe sets out National Objectives which are key to promoting democratic and inclusive development. Elections must be viewed as a patriotic act to take part in building the soul of the nation and not a transaction for commodity exchange or vote buying.
While we largely agree that these graphic difference of interests between rural and urban communities are the catalyst for electoral choices one has to question the role of the President who is the head of state in bridging this gap. In terms of section 90(2)(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe the President must promote unity and peace in the nation for the benefit and well-being of all the people of Zimbabwe. This means that for one to be a president he/she must have the support of all the people of Zimbabwe and not just the urban or rural vote.
The best system to ensure politicians take the people seriously would be a proportion representation system whereby in each voting constituency is allocated a cluster of votes not necessarily the total number of votes cast but an aggregate of the total cast. These clusters are added up to form a national vote, this will effectively ensure that candidates will give more attention to minorities they wouldn’t have otherwise paid attention to in a first past the post system.
Although this will undermine the principle of one man one vote, I believe it will give all the citizens a voice to effectively choose their leaders, I believe it will also address the issue of voter apathy which has seen many give up on voting as a futile exercise. But I believe no doubt it will be catalyst towards ensuring elections become an event that unifies the people and not an event that creates divisions and rifts that destroy the country
Mufaro writes from Zimbabwe