Fear, patronage threaten opposition bid for rural vote – report
HARARE – A local think-tank says the alliance between Zanu PF and state institutions, coupled with a dependency syndrome shall continue to impede the opposition’s efforts to penetrate rural constituencies during campaigns.
Zimbabwe heads for potentially watershed elections in the second half of the year with the country’s rural vote again expected to play a big part in determining the poll outcome.
In its latest report, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) predicts the ruling party shall use a combination of fear and patronage to shut opponents from penetrating the crucial constituency.
In the report, entitled “Electoral Impregnability Of The Rural Constituency in Zimbabwe”, ZDI said the ruling party Zanu PF continues to maintain its authoritarian grip in rural communities through the security sector, traditional leaders and state-controlled media.
Unpacking the report’s findings on Friday, ZDI director Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya said Zanu PF has used the old modus operandi to maintain an unfair advantage over opponents.
He however said the advent of social media, if used effectively, could help the opposition undo some of the propaganda being peddled by the ruling party.
“Propaganda and misinformation have long been relied upon by the Zanu PF to frame its opponents as ‘sellouts’ or agents of regime change, courtesy of its monopoly over state-controlled media narratives and limited access to alternative narratives in the rural constituency.
“However, growing internet penetration, the advent of alternative media and social media networks have increased the vulnerability of the village to alternative narratives.
“Nonetheless, this cannot be achieved if democratic forces do not engage in the business of intensifying these vulnerabilities and investing enough time and resources in the manufacture and dispersal of alternative political narratives at village level.
“Due to historical ties traceable to the war of liberation, traditional leadership comprising of chiefs, headmen and village heads in order of hierarchy, has been captured by the Zanu PF military elite to campaign for Zanu PF and to facilitate the closure of their communities from opposition penetration,” said Ruhanya.
According to the report, the Zanu PF-led government has created a culture of over-reliance on party assisted access to food such that rural communities now view the party as an indispensable source of livelihood.
“The state/party (Zanu PF) conflation has made it very difficult for a villager since 1980 to tell the difference between the party and government.
“So, most citizens will continue to think government services that reach the rural constituency are Zanu PF services.
“Even NGO drought relief handouts have not managed to escape this.
“They have either been portrayed as NGO food brought by the Zanu PF party or NGO food benefiting citizens through registers compiled with Zanu PF influence,” the report reads in part.
The report however, stated that internal factional wars within Zanu PF which manifested during the delimitation exercise are of a similar nature to those witnessed in 2008 and could reanimate another “Bhora Musango” in which some rural communities could vote for the opposition.