3 November 2002

Zimbabwe: Zanu PF's New Found Weapon

column

ONE has to hand it to Zanu PF for developing the knack of defying odds, even under the most severe of situations

Take last weekend's by-election in Insiza, yet another reminder to hapless Zimbabweans of the extreme cunning of Robert Mugabe's party. Up to the by-election period, won by Zanu PF's Andrew Langa who was being challenged by the MDC's Siyabonga Ncube, many had predicted that the acute food crisis facing the country would act against Zanu PF in its remaining stronghold-the rural areas

But this was not to be as the party manipulated the self-inflicted crisis to its advantage, as residents of the patchy Insiza district will testify

"The choice was very simple. One didn't need to think much to know whom to vote for. Voting for the MDC would have been a ticket to starvation. This we were told and were shown before the election. It's not as if people here really support Zanu PF," an Insiza villager said after the election

While the violence, which has come to be associated with all Zanu PF campaigns, played a prominent role in cowing MDC supporters, in Insiza, the ruling party revealed a new found weapon-food aid

Although Zanu PF had won all the previous by-elections-in Makoni West, Marondera West, Bikita West and Hurungwe West-Insiza was considered the litmus test as it lies within what many consider to be the heartland of the MDC. The win by Zanu PF brings to three the number of seats held by the party in Matabeleland, out of a possible 24. The remaining 21 are firmly in the hands of the MDC. Ironically, the seats which Zanu PF holds-Beit Bridge, Gwanda South and Insiza-are all tucked away in the southwestern part of Matabeleland

Zanu PF's victory in Insiza must have been particularly sweet, yet painful for the MDC, as Insiza is home to the opposition party's vice president, Gibson Sibanda

Insiza is also home to several other political heavyweights from both the MDC and Zanu PF. Former home affairs minister, Dumiso Dabengwa, Naison Ndlovu, Bulawayo executive mayor, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube and former Mugabe ally, Enos Nkala-now facing near political obscurity-all come from the Insiza area

This was reason enough for Zanu PF to want to win the seat at all cost

Such desperation led to a messy pre by-election period. So gross was the abuse of food aid by the party that the internationally respected World Food Programme (WFP), which falls under the auspices of the United Nations, was forced to withdraw assistance to the constituency

In a bid to thwart the MDC campaign, Zanu PF organised its food aid distribution in such a way as to coincide with MDC campaign rallies. As a result, the opposition party was forced to cancel a number of its rallies

"The Zanu PF machinery has flooded the constituency with maize and maize seed, but behind the distribution is always the threat that should the MDC candidate win, all the food will be withdrawn, and the voters will starve to death. The Zanu PF food distribution road show has followed the MDC campaign rallies

"It is clear to us that the irregularities which have taken place in Insiza are so gross in their affront to the elementary principles of a free and fair election that they will undoubtedly impact negatively on the outcome of the election. They are so extreme that this election cannot be properly described as an election unless we are to redefine an election to mean literally a choice between life and death," said MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube, prior to the election

In what has now become the fashion in the ruling party's campaign strategy, on 16 October, Zanu PF filled the Filabusi Hall with bags of maize for distribution. The hall had been booked for an MDC rally on that date

The same pattern was to be seen at a number of other MDC rally venues

But Zanu PF's new found weapon should not blur the very real issue of violence. Langa is now the new member of parliament for Insiza-thanks to the terror campaign waged against the opposition by President Mugabe's shock troops, the war veterans and their ruthless allies in the terror war, the 'Green Bombers', who are Mugabe's answer to the late Kamuzu Banda's Youth Pioneers in Malawi

During the campaign in Insiza, normal village life was brought to a standstill. People's lives were disrupted, while others prayed every night that they might see the sun rise the following day. Hundreds were brutalised by the 'Green Bombers', while the police, also highly indoctrinated in Zanu PF politics, watched and did nothing to protect the poor villagers of Insiza

According to locals, the militias who did the dirty work for the ruling party candidate were brought in from other regions. They were not known in the area. On top of all this, villagers told The Standard that they stood in the voting queues with people who were not even known in the area

Nkululeko Mpofu summed up the villagers' plight: "It has been tough for us. Staying with strange people with a strong appetite for violence has been a nightmare. We are pleased that election day has finally arrived." During the run up to the by-election, 12 MDC officials, including Charles Mpofu, the MDC candidate's campaign manager, were ambushed by gunmen and robbed of more than $3 million at gun point

One of the officials was shot and wounded by the gunmen. When the MDC made a report to the police over the matter, the complainants and the injured official were themselves arrested

In another incident, the opposition party's candidate, Ncube, was almost killed when he was ambushed together with other MDC officials in the area. It was clear from the beginning that Zanu PF had won the election, even before it had started

Zanu PF vowed to reclaim the Insiza seat, and they did exactly that. It does not matter whether they won by hook and by crook, the fact of the matter is that they won. And by continuing to take part in flawed elections, the MDC is legitimising Zanu PF victories for the outside world

Said Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, a political analyst based at the University of Zimbabwe: "This result cannot be used as a barometer by which the people's opinions can be measured. It is a demonstration that Zanu PF is committed to maintaining a violent campaign whenever there is an election."

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