“It’s in the Structure Stupid!”

ZEC Chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba

Stembile Mpofu

The election in Zimbabwe is over. The excitement of the campaign has passed. The quiet patience of voting day has also passed and the tragedy of the aftermath hangs heavy over our heads as we mourn the senseless deaths of six citizens.

It is now time to put our emotions aside and reflect on what went well and what didn’t. We must move beyond the emotional cries of rigging, the urban anger at rural voters and the rural voters’ silent but deafening response in the number of votes they cast.

So what really happened for Zimbabwe to have the election result we have? In the same way Bill Clinton’s famous campaign phrase “it’s the economy stupid” sought to highlight that the economy was what voters were most worried about, so it is that the administrative structures of the parties that contested this election determined their rate of success.

Norton’s Independent MP Temba Mliswa provided insight during one of the countless press conferences that characterised this election period, he said “politics hakusi kunhonga mazhanje” loosely translated this means politics isn’t like harvesting wild fruit that has fallen to the ground.

The message being that politics isn’t easy, it’s about strategy, planning, insight and foresight and at the end of the day this is what wins the day. An election is not won through the numbers that attend rallies and social media debates.

It is won long before voting day out of the public eye behind closed doors through developing strategies and then implementing them successfully.

For planning and strategising to be successful one must have a robust administrative structure. Such a structure is at the core of any organisation or institution. It is the skeleton that holds everything up and ensures that every part of the body can work as it should. Without it the best-resourced organisation and the most talented individuals will not achieve much.

After November 17, 2017 Zimbabwe’s two main political parties MDC T and Zanu PF were weak and fractured. The MDC T had an ailing president who was presiding over a party with three Vice Presidents, two of whom he had appointed contrary to his party’s constitution.

Zanu Pf had undergone more than four years of vicious faction fighting in full view of the nation and the world. When November’s military intervention came Zimbabweans hoped that it had brought to an end the ugly conflict that had accelerated the economy’s free fall.

At his inauguration in November 2017, ED Mnangagwa surprised the world by stating that elections would be held within the constitutionally stipulated period. This was surprising because Zanu PF was deeply divided and the economy the Zanu PF government had presided over in tatters. Most expected that the ruling party would buy themselves time to salvage their tattered reputation.

On the other hand, MDC T’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai was terminally ill. There was no succession plan in place, resulting in the three deputies vying bitterly for the party leadership position. At that time an agreement had been reached between Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti (PDP), Welshman Ncube (MDC N) and other smaller political parties to form an alliance to fight the next election. As the only constitutionally elected deputy, Thokozani Khupe  protested against the unconstitutional appointment of Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as deputies by not attending any meetings they called. She was ultimately sidelined.

The two parties, now faced with an election had to consolidate and move forward.

MDC T’s leader Tsvangirai died five months before the election, creating a leadership vacuum. The battle to fill this space was characterised by violence, misogyny and tribalism. It resulted in Nelson Chamisa emerging as the leader of the MDC Alliance and Thokozani Khupe at the helm of the MDC T party. The MDC Alliance under Nelson Chamisa’s leadership gained the support of the populous and as the election period progressed, the Alliance and Chamisa’s support base swelled.

The campaigning environment meant that for the first time, opposition parties had access to rural areas, where the Alliance made significant inroads. This was reflected by the Afro Barometer pre-election poll that registered a significant increase in the Alliance’s popularity within the short campaign period.

Buoyed by the huge turnout at their rallies, the Alliance was convinced that the election would deliver the victory they wanted. Election day did not and this is why.

The MDC Alliance arrived at Election Day armed with little more than the large crowds at their rallies. They were and still are an alliance, their locus standi is not that of a political party. The political party is the MDC T to which none of the members of the Alliance still belong. The Alliance has no Constitution to inform the shape and form their structure should assume.

Apart from the President Nelson Chamisa, no one else has an official title or portfolio. Douglas Mwonzora is being referred to as the Secretary General but he was the Secretary General of the MDC T. The MDC T held a congress in April 2018 and elected Nixon Nyikadzino as the party’s new Secretary General.

Emphasising this opaqueness is the fact that the media are referring to Tendai Biti as a “co-leader” of the MDC Alliance because no structure exists within which he has a position. Apart from the list released by the Alliance detailing portfolios of the spokesperson and some diaspora positions, it looks like the Alliance was winging it.

If Khupe’s MDC T was to pursue its claim on the MDC T name to its logical conclusion, her party has a legal claim on Tsvangirai House and all that is contained therein. The Alliance cannot claim this property.

So the Alliance approached the election separate from the Khupe faction. They were a group of individuals that had coalesced around the Chamisa Juggernaut and were hoping for the best. Preparation for Election Day was poor, as evidenced by Alliance Facebook adverts calling for people to come and volunteer as polling agents on Friday 27th July, three days before voting day.

Little was done in the rural areas to ensure Alliance supporters were registered and would be able to vote. The bulk of the meager resources the Alliance had were spent on rallies showcasing the Alliance leadership.

How would a robust structure have assisted? Firstly, a plan that considered all aspects of the campaign was needed. Having a group with a broad spectrum of expertise come together to analyse the areas of strength and weakness of Zanu PF and the Alliance itself. They would identify the various technical areas that would need attention and assign competent individuals to make plans and execute them. This would ensure that the resources available would be assigned according to priorities.

Firstly, it was important that the MDC recognises that the electoral playing field was skewed in favour of the incumbent. It is and has always been the case that the incumbent has access to resources that the opposition party does not have, that was a given. Identifying effective strategies to whittle down this advantage would have served the opposition well.

Relying on marches on the streets of Harare and expecting reforms was not strategic. It would have been important to use the newly acquired access to rural areas to create structures at grass roots to win hearts and minds consistently rather than relying on the fly by night rallies. This grass roots work is tedious, unglamorous and requires hard slog. It takes place away from the mobile phone cameras and needs organisation and planning.

Identifying issues like the arrangement of the ballot paper design as surmountable and avoiding personal attacks on individuals within ZEC would have saved energy and time for more important issues that would have increased the chance of a win on Election Day. As it turns out the inability to build bridges within its own membership and with the MDC T cost the MDC Alliance parliamentary seats.

In an election against a wily competitor like Zanu PF against whom you have fought electoral battles for almost twenty years, it would have been important to prioritise recruitment and training of polling agents long before voting day and organise their deployment. It turns out that almost a third of all polling stations did not have polling agents and as a result MDC did not have access to Mash Central and Mash West V11 forms. What would the MDC’s Advocate Thabani Mpofu’s anti-rigging crack team have to work with without polling agents, the first line of defense.

The MDC Alliance did not have a structure manned by competent individuals who could deepen their strategy beyond rallies. As a result when Zanu PF was at its weakest, MDC approached these elections working at a very superficial level leaving gaping holes in their election strategy and their goal wide open.

Although Zanu Pf began their electoral journey in poor structural shape, they were at an advantage because their administrative structure was still somewhat in place. They had something to work with unlike the MDC Alliance. The G40 leadership seemed to have been defeated but the rank and file of this faction remained in the structures. So while the Zanu PF structure was ostensibly in place it was very divided. This weakness was recognised by the party itself and unlike the MDC Alliance, they attempted to heal these rifts.

The reality for both Zanu PF and MDC was that whoever was to be each party’s presidential candidate needed to first secure the mandate of their party, as it is with democratic practice. This is what informed the Zanu PF strategy and as a result the strategy they  implemented in the run up to the election was heavily biased towards fixing the party’s internal ructions and had little to do with addressing national level problems.

They decided to work on two levels, the first was at the rural grass root level where they worked on reorganizing and reenergizing  their base, working from the party cells up. They ensured their supporters were registered to vote, hence the multiple extensions on registration deadlines. This was something the MDC could have taken advantage of had they put energy into building up a rural support base and ensuring their urban supporters were registered.

With this consolidation drive in place, Zanu Pf and its President could not afford to take any action that would further alienate influential party leaders working at national level that may have had an affiliation to G40 . This was their Achilles heel as far as securing the urban vote. ED could not take decisive action against corrupt government Ministers because of their influence at the grass roots so they remained in Cabinet. The civil service was not trimmed and incompetent permanent secretaries remained in their positions. The everyday lives of urban dwellers became more difficult and this put a damper on the hope for change and economic relief anticipated after Mugabe’s departure. At this level Zanu PF was hamstrung, the needs of the urban populace could not be addressed because of the need to unite the party before elections.

Zanu Pf identified the second level at which to work, the international level. 2013 had seen the party win the election at national level but not in the eyes of the international community. Any win that would see the country move forward in the long run needed the endorsement of the international community. ED Mnangagwa donned his Zimbabwe flag scarf and travelled to all four corners of the globe in his attempt to rebrand his party and the country. The results of this work can be seen in the favourable preliminary election reports issued by the observer missions.

Zanu PF’s strategy required that national level issues be put on the back burner in the lead up to the elections. They were aware that their best chance of winning the election was to work with their rural base. Working on national level issues was likely to further destabilize the party and for now the party was the priority. The international offensive, accompanied by the message of reengagement and the invitation for international observers to witness the election would  ensure endorsement of a Zanu PF win. It would also pave way for future engagement post election.

Looking back in time at the epic struggle between these political parties we see the MDC party in the July 2000 election at less than one year old garnering 48% of the parliamentary vote to Zanu PF’s 52%. We see MDC having their win stolen in 2008 when the electoral conditions were more opaque and the political environment a great deal more hostile. This election saw Zanu PF at its most vulnerable. They were a divided party in desperate need of legitimacy. In 2018 they could not resort to their previous intimidatory tactics to win the election. They were a much weaker opponent.

So as the MDC Alliance prepares to launch its electoral challenge it must  do so with a measure of self-reflection. It is important because a strong opposition is essential for the country’s success. They must let go of their amoeba-like propensity to keep self-dividing and must work to build a robust structure. It is a fact that where there is no centre things cannot hold.

Zanu PF’s strategy has won them their two-thirds majority in parliament and given their leader the mandate to be the next President of Zimbabwe. The President’s narrow win compared to the definitive parliamentary majority indicates that there are still divisions within the party. Those not in the President’s camp are likely to continue seeking to destabilise his agenda.

It is highly likely that in the August 1st violent demonstrations, the attendant heavy-handed military response that saw six innocent people killed and the indiscriminate beatings of citizens, we are witnessing the after shocks of the November military intervention. The battle between the Lacoste and G40 factions is continuing. Going forward Zanu PF must not allow these divisions to play out on the national stage and hold citizens hostage. The time for party politics to take centre stage has passed. It is time for the national economic agenda to occupy ALL spaces. Zimbabweans have suffered through enough political turmoil and the structure that is government must now prioritise their needs.