Political newcomers face high costs

HARARE – Elections in Zimbabwe are often frenetic, the kind of business where only the fittest survive, let alone win.

Regedzai Mtetwa is an MDC aspiring candidate for Musikavanhu in Chipinge. She is not quite sure if she fits the bill of one of those politicians who can stand the rigours of Zimbabwean politics.

“My wish is to raise the standards of women in the country but I know this is going to be tough,” she told the Daily News at the launch of her party’s official campaign in Chikomba.

“I had to fight hard to win the primaries but as long as I have no money, chances of winning the parliamentary seat are very slim.

“You can imagine, I have to walk 30 kilometres on foot around the constituency canvassing for votes.”

Mtetwa, a single mother of three, says she is into politics because she wants to contribute to the change in her own life and that of many other women like her.

“Right now I need posters just to let people know that I am contesting but I can’t hold any rallies because that needs money and my party doesn’t have that kind of money to assist me so I have to do everything on my own,” she said.

But why is Mtetwa bothering herself struggling with an election whose odds are clearly against her.

“I have to raise my voice for the sake of women; we have suffered for a long time. I say stand up women, rise up,” Mtetwa said.

Mtetwa is not alone in her predicament.

Another aspiring parliamentary MDC female candidate for Kariba’s Mola area who identified herself as Mai Chikumbu said being a politician in Zimbabwe is not any easy without money.

“I have no means of campaigning and its difficult for me to do anything.

“Right now I had to travel to this rally using public transport,” she said at her party’s rally in Chikomba.

But while the problems are more pronounced among female candidates, several male candidates have not been spared as well.

Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa has often been sending a passionate plea to his party members to help fund the party’s programmes. As a presidential candidate, one expects to see him criss-crossing the country campaigning for votes but he has so far just had a few rallies with just a week to the election.

Zapu was reported to have failed to settle a $15 000 outstanding rental bill.

Dabengwa has allies in the Zimbabwe Development Party led by Kisinoti Mukwazhe who recently lost a constitutional bid to try and compel government to release $1,5 million to fund his party campaign.

Without campaign funds, his campaign is restricted to press statements.

The Political Parties Finance Act provides for funding of political parties by the State, provided the party meets the threshold of 5 percent of the vote.

Zanu PF and the MDC were allocated US$5 million in the 2013 national budget, which they shared according to the number of legislators each party has in Parliament.

While Zanu PF and the two MDC parties publicly appear to have their political machines well oiled, they have often been accused of abusing state property to do their campaigns.

The MDCs have accused Zanu PF of abusing the public media for political expediency. For example President Robert Mugabe’s rallies have been flighted live on ZTV and ZBC radio stations while the MDC rallies have been blacked out.

On the other hand Zanu PF has also accused the MDCs of abusing Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) vehicles for campaign purposes. The Jomic secretariat was  forced to issue a statement in response to the accusations.

“Jomic appeals to members of the public to help end any abuse of Jomic vehicles by reporting this to us. Abuse here refers to using the vehicle for partisan political activities,” the statement said.

Jessie Majome the MDC parliamentary candidate for Harare West is under no illusion of what it will take her to retain her seat in Parliament.

“Politics is expensive because there are a lot things required during campaigns, from posters, to vehicles but I have decided to get innovative and make use of the social media to cut costs and connect myself and the electorate,” she said.

“It’s hard, very tough. My party only gave me 500 litres of fuel and 1 000 posters and that was it. I have to pay for everything myself.

“I am lucky that my campaign is significantly literary so it’s easier to mobilise funds for campaign fliers.

“My problem is that I have to pay for manpower to distribute fliers.”

However the same cannot be said of other candidates particularly those in rural areas where social media is not an option.

One such candidate who lacks the priviledge is Kudakwashe Chimanikire, MDC aspiring candidate for Guruve North.

“It’s a struggle. Sometimes you have to sell property to run campaigns but all the same we do so because of our conviction to serve the people. It could have been better if we were getting some assistance from our party but it also doesn’t have money,” lamented Chimanikire.

But others have managed to pull up some impressive show using power of the green back.

One such candidate is President Robert Mugabe and some of his party members.

Mugabe is lucky to have advantage of incumbency. He rolls in a military helicopter and can easily reach far flung areas of the country when campaigning.

More so, his campaign is probably the most funded. From millions of T-shirts, caps, overalls and scarfs to car stickers and branded vehicles, he is the most visible of all candidates.

The source of his campaign funds remains unknown, although reports suggest a link with diamond money and Chinese benevolence.

Some in his party have also pulled some impressive campaign shows. Tendai Savanhu, Goodwills Masimirembwa and other party candidates have branded buses they are using for campaign purposes.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai tried to match Mugabe T-shirt for T-shirt. He has been criss-crossing the country with a huge convoy of his entourage.

Compared to his 2008 run-off presidential election campaign, his campaign thus far is a far cry from that of the previous election.

He has however, put together what looks like an expensive campaign team — Barack Obama style — which has so far done a lot to increase his visibility on social media sites.

Some in his party have found a way around it. Eric Knight, the party’s aspiring MP for Mbare has pulled resources together with the party’s council candidates.

They campaign together in a van emblazoned with their images and that of their party leader.

“The economic cost of elections is enormous and we ought to pull together to make it easy, that’s what we have done in Mbare,” said Knight.

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