The options as Zimbabwe heads to the polls
Everyone is talking about Simba Makoni. It’s a measure of how sclerotic Zimbabwean politics has become that this 57 year is considered a youthful challenger. But then our president is 84, and most of his closest colleagues are in their late 70’s and early 80’s, so by current standards Simba is indeed the Young Lion.
The big question is this: is he a serious competitor to the existing order, or is this all part of a devious plan by ZANU PF to further muddy the waters of the election that is now less than 50 days away?
The optimists argue that Simba has powerful backing, probably from Solomon and Joice Mujuru – she is Vice President, he is former head of the armed forces, and both are known to have run out of patience with Mugabe. It looks like Simba may also be backed by Vitalis Zvinavashe, Solomon’s successor as head of the armed forces, and that there is a cadre of what might be called “ZANU PF Lite” lining up behind him.
This is the word on the street, and around the dinner tables of smart Harare. Problem is that, as of today, the only people who have actually DECLARED their support for him are a retired Major in the army who is known to have links to General Zvinavashe; and Dr Ibbo Mandaza, an academic, author, and one time newspaper owner.
Of course it is a dangerous game, standing up against President Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s recent history is littered with the remains of those who have turned against the old man, and subsequently had fatal accidents, or found their businesses dismantled, relatives arrested, passports revoked…. This is, after all, a dictatorship, despite the regular round of elections.
But the electorate are angry. And hungry. And fed up. And very ready for change.
And Bob knows this. So the cynics “do the math”: There are approximately 12 million citizens in Zim. So something like 7 million eligible voters (like most developing countries, a disproportionate number are under 21). However an estimated three million Zimbabweans now live in the diaspora. You can only vote where you are registered, so unless the diaspora come home to vote, they are effectively disenfranchised.
As are another million or so, who are working away from home, and can’t afford the bus fare back to their village (a return ticket for a 100km journey is now 40 million dollars – more than the monthly minimum wage.)
So half the eligible electorate are not going to vote. There are probably another half a million (at least) who’s details are wrong on the register, but won’t find out till voting day that they can’t vote. So now we are down to three million who can vote, and will vote, and whose vote will be registered.
Something like 15 percent of the electorate – say, a million people – will vote for Mugabe’s ZANU PF. They are either involved in various party scams, or they are deep rurals who haven’t heard there is an alternative, and are beaten and/or bribed into voting for ZANU PF. Of course, this million or so are going to be right there by the polling booths, in their own constituencies, come March 29th. So they will ALL vote, and will ALL vote for Mugabe and ZANU PF.
Had there been one MDC candidate come the election – whether Arthur Mutambara or Morgan Tsvangarai – there was a high possibility that ZANU PF would have needed to find a way to steal an election where two people voted for the opposition candidate for every one that voted for them. That would have been extremely difficult.
But now, with two MDC candidates competing against each other, and Simba Makoni rounding up the undecideds, Mugabe only has to win a million votes – 15 percent of the electorate – to walk back into State House on April Fool’s Day; and he probably doesn’t even need to cheat.
OK, maybe I’m being cynical. Maybe in the next few days and weeks there will be a groundswell of support for Simba. Maybe Mutambara and Tsvangarai will decide to put aside their personal ambition for the good of the country. Maybe ZANU PF’s grassroots party structures will swing behind Simba, leaving a few scared, angry old men to stand beside Mugabe as his election victory vanishes.
Maybe there really is light at the end of the tunnel.
But from where I’m sitting, i think the light I can see is just another Zimbo with a candle trying to find a way out as their country sinks further into the swamp.