In the past 37 years, Zimbabwe has had precisely 7 elections which have been marred by a lot of controversy. To understand the election process and the outcome of the process one cannot succeed without taking into cognizance the historical dimensions of governance in the context of the state apparatus and the role of the state apparatus in influencing the outcome of elections in Zimbabwe.
Relegating history to the back of the beyond in the quest of understanding the election process forces many and sundry to offer the correct solution to the wrong problem or offer the wrong solution to the correct problem in an attempt to restore sanity, confidence and transparency in future elections. In all the elections in Zimbabwe’s history ZANU-PF has been personified as the glutton villain haunted by the insatiable will to keep power at any cost, unilateral assumptions that debunk ZANU-PF’s capability to win a free and fair election, but is this fact or opinion?
At the centre of Zimbabwean politics, electioneering and governance is an enigma. Allegations of electoral fraud, violence, rape, murder and displacement of people have haunted the political terrain during election time. Various tactics having been employed by the ruling elite to maintain their dominance. Opposition leaders have been accused of conspiracy to commit murder with some getting tried and convicted and some being acquitted. At the centre of all this is destructive interference of the state apparatus in a process which is one of the critical pillars of the ideology known to man as democracy.
The attainment of political independence in 1980 was exceptionally important because it gave Robert Mugabe and ZANU- PF formal control of the state apparatus. In the midst of the euphoria of freedom the electorate who were and still are the legitimate base of any political power were the farmers who suffocated from the expectation of plenty.
37 years after receiving independence, the extent to which government decisions are made according to the preference of those who control the state apparatus and the extent to which the state has lost its autonomy to societal groups in the political conflict for control of resources weighs supreme the claim that ZANU-PF stole the election using the state apparatus.
The concept of power for the people by the people became but a vaporous haze of a mirage a present that was absent in the newly founded Zimbabwe, based on the allegations made by Joshua Nkomo about the interference in the election of the white settlers and the UK Conservative Party in favour of Zanu-PF.
In the period following independence in 1980, Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party received 63 percent of the vote in the first majority-rule elections, adopted a conciliatory stance. As prime minister, he stressed the need for reconciliation and non-alignment. Land redistribution and the rehabilitation of the trust lands provided the greatest challenges to his new government.
Events that unfolded later have forced history to question the sincerity of his conciliatory approach as well as the elections that brought him into power as he took every incentive to increase the size and importance of the state at the expense of the private sector in order to broaden his own powers and prevent independent bases of authority from developing. The winner takes all syndrome that engulfed Zimbabwe in the period 1980 to 1987 confirmed the assumption that the 1980 ballot was riddled with rigging, intimidation and murder.
The late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, in his personal memoirs, The Story of My Life, believed the 1980 elections were rigged and that ZANU-PF used militias to condone off some parts of the rural areas it believed to be potential strongholds of his political party, The Zimbabwe African People’s Union ZAPU. He points out politically motivated violence, murder and rape perpetrated on political competitors as some of the ways ZANU-PF used to steal the 1980 election. The British election supervisors in an interim report had told the governor of the soon to be independent colony of Rhodesia, Lord Soames that more than half of the electorate was living in conditions where a free vote could not take place.
A unilateral and biased analysis of historical facts is another factor that has caused a lot of uncertainty during election time. Zanu-PF’s 1980 triumph was based on a lot of factors embedded in the Party’s being and becoming that is its history and founding principles. Its credentials as a revolutionary party that fought imperialism and its mantra of creating a fair Zimbabwe for all gave the party considerable support which ensured success at the ballot.
Claims of electoral, fraud murder and rape to coerce the electorate and painting the party as a clique of pagan idols who drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain is a misrepresentation of historical facts as far as the 1980 election is concerned. A naked approach to historical facts makes future projections undignified and sometimes baseless.
People’s resentment and their grievances against the Colonial state machinery, What ZANU – PF presented, its wide support and the Euphoria created by self- rule cannot be swept under the carpet, if one seeks to understand the 1980 election. The majority of black Zimbabweans were enfranchised by the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia “internal settlement” Constitution which produced the short-lived Muzorewa government of 1979. Thus, for the black majority, electoral politics essentially began in 1979, which increased ZANU-PF’s electoral base and capacity to win the election.
The electoral system used in the 1979 election which brought Muzorewa to power was proportional representation (PR). This was based on the party list system according to which seats in the National Assembly were allocated in proportion to the number of votes that each contesting party won in each of the country’s eight provinces. This was the first time in the electoral history of this country the PR system was used. A threshold of 5% was used for allocating seats in each province.
This PR system was again used in the 1980 independence general elections but was abandoned in the 1985 elections and replaced with the single-member district (SMD) or first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system used during the colonial era. This became the electoral system used in all subsequent elections that brought ZANU –PF into power.
Being emotional and not factual in the analysis of electoral history in Zimbabwe will make history the nightmare from which Zimbabwe will never awaken.To draw lessons from our past, lessons that can help us guide future elections, objectivity of the highest order is more than a want but a need.
Image Credit: The Conservation