from NDABENI MLOTSHWA in Bulawayo
BULAWAYO, (CAJ News) – ZIMBABWE’S toxic electoral terrain is synonymous with deadly confrontations between and within a divided ruling party and its longtime arch-rival that has morphed into factions after failing to dethrone the liberation movement.
The prevailing atmosphere indicates the next poll in 2023 will be another vicious affair between the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions.
Infighting within ZANU-PF and the violence the party ever metes out against opposition supporters are spiraling in the typical hotspots in the Southern African country.
There is however something peculiar about these elections.
This is because of storms simultaneously brewing at a frightening pace in the southern and western parts of the country that have largely been exempt from the decades-old election-related skirmishes.
These areas have been exemplary calm since they were traumatised by the atrocities that left thousands of people dead when the government sent the army to quell dissidents after independence in 1980.
In these provinces of Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South, the atmosphere is abruptly, uncharacteristically charged.
Hate speech, tribal conflict between and among national and regional political party supporters have erupted.
Pro- separatist groups advocating of self rule alleging marginalisation have crawled out of the woodwork.
The oldest among the opposition in the region (and the country), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), has not been spared the factional battles.
ZAPU, founded in 1961, joined its rival ZANU to form ZANU-PF in a 1987 peace deal that ended the ethnic conflict.
In 2008, ZAPU pulled out of the pact but has struggled for relevance since.
Human rights groups are concerned at the southern and western regions plunging into war zones pre-election.
Bulawayo has descended into ethnic toxicity, which has spiraled since October.
Recently, party supporters of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) were involved in fistfights while squabbling about the relevance of the MDC Alliance president, Nelson Chamisa, to Zimbabwean politics.
He narrowly lost the 2018 presidential election to incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa in the midst of vote rigging allegations.
Chamisa (43) is again touted as the biggest rival to the liberation veteran (79), President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also leads ZANU-PF.
MLF supporters are also accused of assaulting a ZANU-PF member, identified as Nations Dube, after he reportedly praised Mnangagwa at the oldest high-density suburb of Makokoba.
The victim was branded “a stupid and foolish Ndebele that praises Mnangagwa yet he ‘killed’ thousands of Ndebeles.”
Ndebeles are a majority in the south and west but nationally, they are a minority 20 percent and second behind the majority Shona (70 percent).
Mnangagwa is largely a reviled figure in the region for his alleged role during the massacres of the 1980s.
Over 20 000 people are estimated to have been killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces when a North Korean trained 5th Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) was deployed to quell dissidents.
Mnangagwa was the State Security minister at the time. Robert Mugabe, now late, was Prime Minister while Canaan Banana was the president.
Save for that “moment of madness”, as Mugabe later called the killings, Bulawayo and the Matabelelands have somewhat survived political poison.
Hate speech has nonetheless trailed ZAPU after Sibangilizwe Nkomo was elected to lead the opposition party during a heated congress.
He is the son of Joshua Nkomo, the late nationalist and party founder who was Mugabe’s deputy for 12 years until his death in 1999.
A faction opposed to Sibangilizwe’s ascendancy has derided him in public, accused him of vote rigging and riding on the fame of his father.
Increasing rivalries between the MDC Alliance and Mthwakazi Republic Party, another pro-Ndebele secessionist political party, have turned Matabeleland South into a battlefield.
The fight for political space is getting ugly.
MDC Alliance supporters recently ganged up and assaulted a Mthwakazi supporter they allegedly found tearing up MDC Alliance regalia.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) reports while Matabeleland North had been spared the tribal tensions, chiefs aligned to ZANU-PF are victimizing opposition supporters.
Villagers have desisted attending the opposition’s rallies fearing they will be denied food aid in the drought-prone region.
The ruling party is accused of using food aid as bait for votes.
ZPP has dubbed the prevailing tensions as “the silly season” as parties seem to lure voters by hook or crook for 2023.
The rights group stated the country was turning a corner into what is set to be a bruising tussle for political power and with ZANU-PF already
showed signs it will use its leverage of having access to state resources.
“The turf is set,” a ZPP spokesperson said.
ZANU-PF has been in power since independence from Britain.
It has struggled to make inroads into Bulawayo and Matabelelands where initially ZAPU, before it merged with ZANU-PF, and lately MDC formations.
ZANU-PF last week endorsed Mnangagwa as its presidential candidate for the 2023 polls.
At the end of the conference in Bindura, Mashonaland Central, ZANU-PF acting spokesperson, Mike Bimha, projected victory for the liberation movement.
“We have won the election before it is even held. Restructuring the party has increased its membership,” he assured.
The conference venue was again an island of wealth in sea of poverty as delegates arrived in style in helicopter or the glitz of the latest vehicles.
“Much more like a middle finger to the poor Zimbabweans and a message that said, everyone else is on their own,” said a human rights activist.
– CAJ News