Nera must destroy rural fear factor

HARARE - While it is well and good for opposition political parties uniting under the banner National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) to confront the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) on both the software/technical and hardware issues of the forthcoming crunch 2018 harmonised election, Nera must instead expend its energies on destroying the massive wall of fear built for the rural people — who constitute 75 percent of the Zimbabwean voter bloc — by the ruling Zanu PF.

All politicians under Nera, who have contested previous polls, are well aware that Zanu PF has maintained control over the rural vote by directing ordinary voters to give their ballot-paper serial numbers to their village headmen, who would have marshalled the voters to the polling station and made them queue in a predetermined order, blatantly violating the sanctity of the vote.

This is where the election is stolen, forget the voter register, or unsubstantiated claims of ballot stuffing.

Intimidated villagers willingly vote for Zanu PF, and those who disobey this instruction are ruthlessly punished — commanded to sprawl on the ground, sometimes naked, then clobbered on the back, buttocks, the head, while some have their homes burnt or knocked down or told never to return to their villagers by Zanu PF youths — pumped up with beer, or marijuana.

Other defiant villagers are taken to re-education camps and castigated for their treachery and perfidy while suffering long nights of physical abuse and indoctrination. The punishing militia also make a point of destroying IDs which certify the defiant villagers’ right to vote.

Richly rewarded headmen, who have by all intents and purposes now become agents of coercion and auxiliaries of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF, are responsible for delivering a 100 percent victory for the 92-year-old president. The headmen also face threats that their efforts at polling stations will be closely monitored.

Some of the rural voters such as teachers are clearly instructed to tell presiding officers that they were functionally illiterate, so that the police could monitor their choices while pretending to give assistance. There is also widespread politicisation of food aid by Zanu PF.

Under this electoral regime, rural voters have faced a world where silence was the only option. Rural folk have chosen to live in obedience, in silence, well aware any dissent would be crushed.

The largest known example of Mugabe’s repressive dictatorship and ruthless actions is the 2008 presidential run-off massacres, where Zanu PF’s systematic violence turned the tide after Mugabe had lost the presidential election to indefatigable MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

In a span of three weeks, the military and Zanu PF militia brought entire rural areas under the ruling party’s control, with an estimated death toll that ranged from 200 innocent villagers, and another

200 000 internally displaced, according to rights groups.

Rampant Zanu PF militia, styling themselves as war vets but actually made up of teenagers high on ideology, beer, amphetamines and marijuana, carried out house-to-house searches hunting for opposition supporters and sometimes reportedly carrying out on-the-spot executions. No one was spared as Zanu PF regarded the men, women, and children as threats to the regime.

Tsvangirai, who had taken refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare ahead of the violent run-off, withdrew from the special poll, condemning the election as a “violent sham”, with the pull-out condemned as “illegal” by lapdog State media and Zanu PF insisting that a competitive poll was still on the cards even though Mugabe had no contestant.

Subsequently, Zanu PF launched Operation Who Did You Vote For?, with voters told that they would be punished if their fingers were not stained indelibly purple, proving that they had voted.

The traditional leaders turned a blind eye to this ruthless punishment, which is still fresh in the minds of villagers as they head to another poll.

Mugabe has valourised the traditional leadership institutions because of their key role in electoral theft and survival of his decrepit, discredited regime, abandoning their role as non-partisan custodians of national culture and traditional values.

The rural areas should therefore be the focus of Nera, not Zec. Methodological interventions should be deployed now to destroy the fear factor in rural areas.

After all, it is quite clear that most of the key electoral reforms demanded by Nera and civil society will be met.

Zec is poised to start new voter registration in March 2017 to produce a new biometric voters’ roll for the 2018 general elections and citizens who can not produce proof of residence will use an affidavit which will be available at the registration centre with a standby commissioner of oath. This system is already undergoing a dry-run in the hotly-contested Norton by-election set for October 22.

Zec has also started the delimitation exercise to map constituency boundaries to determine where the polling stations for the 2018 general elections will be located.

Of course, there are lingering concerns of gerrymandering or “soft engineering” processes meant to condition the 2018 electoral outcome, and ongoing calls for the de-militarisation of the Zec secretariat, which the opposition insists is stuffed with intelligence and military personnel.

Therefore, Nera must stop wasting too much time on the ongoing architectural design of the 2018 general elections, that is not where the election is stolen.

The opposition coalition must start working on destroying the fear ruthlessly instilled in the minds of the rural people. This means an enhanced Nera presence in the rural areas, not wasting time preaching to the converted in urban centres.

Rural folk have not known freedom in successive previous elections. They have not known liberty or dignity. They have not lived life outside of the dictatorship of the Mugabe regime.

The rural people have been told time and time again that the only power that could rule their country was the Mugabe regime. Mugabe and his powerful generals have personally said the stroke of pen on a ballot paper cannot defeat a gun. Rural voters have also been grimly warned that an opposition victory would lead not to a change of power, but to a war by the regime against its own rebellious citizens.

Everyone in Nera knows this is how Zanu PF steals elections.

Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) leader Joice Mujuru, who served as Mugabe’s deputy for 10 years before she was booted out in December 2014, last week told journalist Violet Gonda on her Hot Seat programme that Zanu PF does not stuff ballot boxes.

“To me the rigging through stashing ballot boxes, I don’t think so, but asking people to vote when they are being supervised by the uniformed forces,” Mujuru said.

In July, Mujuru also told a maiden ZPF rally at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare: “Let’s respect our traditional leaders. You are not politicians. Don’t choose between children. Leave us to our political games but if you say so and so cannot participate in political activities then you are no longer traditional leaders, you should then resign and join political ranks.”

In a press statement, MDC vice president Elias Mudzuri said evidence and testimonies coming from all corners of rural Zimbabwe was that Zanu PF uses fear harvested from the 2002 and 2008 poll as the main rigging mechanism and to maintain a vice-like grip on rural folk.

“Rural voters are coerced to vote for Zanu PF against their will through violence and intimidation,” Mudzuri said. “Thus, even if Zanu PF accedes to all electoral law reforms, the outcome of any future elections will reflect those of the past if the conduct of the process is not reformed to give the rural electorate their constitutional right to freely cast their vote,” he said, adding, “contrary to the widely-held belief that Zanu PF enjoys massive support in the rural areas, there is no rural-urban divide in the support for change in Zimbabwe”.

Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe president Elton Mangoma also reiterated in a recent press statement calls to Zec that it must “stop abuse, intimidation and victimisation of traditional leaders and the security forces” and “disband youth and women ward officers whose main job is terrorising villagers”.

While almost all politicians in Nera seem to know how Zanu PF principally rigs the vote in rural areas, it is surprising that there seems to be a conspiracy of silence to tackle this electoral mischief head-on. Zanu PF has been relying on fear to rule rural people with an iron fist. That fear must now be lifted by Nera.

It is incumbent on Nera, as a matter of urgency, to destroy the fear factor, raise limitless poll expectations for villagers, and end suppression of rural folk.

The campaign to destroy the fear factor needs courage, not lily-livered politicians, and will certainly face harsh resistance from Zanu PF because it will be sufficient to put the survival of the worn-out Mugabe regime at stake.

It could take many forms, a mixture of the internal and external, the strategic and ideological; the escalation of opposition presence in rural areas to assure villagers that there will be no consequences for their electoral choices.

But Nera must be careful that if the international community muscle in on the rural vote reforms, the shock could disrupt this process, and unleash all the latent forces of chaos. So Nera is better advised to handle the destruction of rural fear factor on its own.

Traditional leaders must be kennelled on polling day, and perhaps Nera must codify this through amendments to the Electoral Act as part of the ongoing crusade for freedom and democracy.

Nera must urgently make the rural areas the central arena of its electoral reform struggle.

Nera must stop attacking on the wrong side of the problem by focusing too much on Zec. The coalition is best placed to agitate for reforms of the rural vote that will truly start to clean up the system and revolutionise the way elections are conducted in rural areas.

These all-important reforms, if implemented, will truly take this country to commanding heights among the world nations.

The benefit of rural vote reforms and the destruction of the fear factor is obvious — we will have an able and charismatic leader with a popular mandate who will truly represent the people of Zimbabwe.

Comments (5)

You have nailed it.NERA must address both ignorance/lack of knowledge and the fear factor in rural areas.It is easier said than done but that is the key to doing away with ZANU PF.

Chikata - 17 October 2016

This is the correct account of what ZANU pf does.However i think its more prudent for the opposition to push for the diaspora vote instead as well as making sure that all unregistered urban voters are registered.Trying to penetrate rural areas will lead to loss of precious lives.

Democrat - 17 October 2016

This is were everyone must act. When we go home or interact with rural folk inform them about the secrecy of the vote. No one should disclose their vote to anyone-serial # etc. No special boxes for a village etc.

Shumbaimwe - 25 October 2016

This is were everyone must act. When we go home or interact with rural folk inform them about the secrecy of the vote. No one should disclose their vote to anyone-serial # etc. No special boxes for a village etc.

Shumbaimwe - 25 October 2016

true to that.i have seen it with my very own eyes

wiseman - 25 October 2016

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