|Manicaland Parliamentary Contest
by Kondwani Chirambo
Harare, 21 June 2000
Mutare is a scenic, mountainous town lying on the eastern reaches of Zimbabwe. The serene beauty of the lush, green farmlands punctuate Manicaland's picturesque landscape.
On 24 and 25 June, one of the most hotly contested poll will take place in Mutare Central constituency where the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZANU-PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) - two parties many consider the strongest in the country's fifth parliamentary elections - have to contend with the prospect of splitting votes with three highly regarded independents and a third peripheral contestant, the ZANU Ndonga party. Mutare South is contested by five MPs, two of them independents.
In total, six candidates take to the field, each of them anticipating victory over the other. The campaigning has been largely peaceful, both ZANU-PF and MDC acknowledge, although minor skirmishes have tended to raise tensions.
"Its likely to be an even battle in Manicaland", said a local journalist" most independents are former ZANU-PF and they have some clout. The chances of the vote splitting are quite high".
ZANU-PF provincial Chairman Shadreck Beta says his party is "very confident" of sweeping most of the 14 seats in Manicaland, one of ten provinces in Zimbabwe, but added that it was 'regrettable" that some ex-party members have gone it alone after losing out on primaries.
"But I guess that is what you call democracy", he said. Beta says ZANU-PF has driven home its most critical manifesto point - land. He is banking on what he called a peaceful campaign around the land issue which had seen some white farmers agreeing to negotiate for redistribution of their excess property to landless peasants. In the last few months, landless peasants, led by the veterans of the country's liberation war of the 1970s, have occupied white-owned farms, tired of waiting for land redistribution. About 4500 white farmers own 75 percent of the best farmland in the country, the result of a racially-biased colonial inheritance.
In his office, housed in a two-storey building in the centre of the town, hangs a large poster: "Land is the economy and the economy is land" it reads.
"You cannot separate land from the economy because this is where all the wealth; the natural resources; the crops and minerals come from. The people who are occupying land are not sponsored by ZANU-PF, they are landless peasants", Beta explained.
"War veterans are normal people; they should not be painted as thugs. They have taken advantage of the elections to press their demands for land which they have done for years now."
Beta said his party believes if more peasants were empowered with land, they would boost their production of the staple food crop-maize-which is not a priority for most commercial farmers, he said. Already, the peasants accounted for 60 percent of the maize production, he added.
The MDC's coordinator for Mutare-Central, Wallace Zimunya, believes ZANU-PF has missed the point. "Land has been politicised by ZANU-PF. People here are talking about high prices, unemployment, inflation and health", the youthful Zimunya argued.
"We are not saying land is not important. MDC believes there has to be a more orderly way for doing things; a transparent system and we therefore propose the creation of a land commission. Obviously, for one to till the land, one has to have the means. These are all things to be considered", he pointed out.
"We do not fore-see a fierce battle with ZANU-PF. Our campaigns here have been largely peaceful and issue-oriented; to be fair we have had no hassles with our opponents except for a few minor incidents," he said.
Zimunya believes his party's door-to-door campaign culminating in a 'star rally" by party President Morgan Tsvangirai two weeks ago, holds hope for a strong showing.
The overall picture is anything but clear. There are 120 constituencies in ten provinces to be fought for. MDC is banking on taking a lead in the urban areas while ZANU-PF is generally considered stronger in the rural zones where some 70 percent of the population dwell.
An added advantage is the fact that the State President, Robert Mugabe, can nominate an additional 20 members to the national assembly and possibly influence the selection of an extra ten from the House of Chiefs, the traditional enclaves being largely ZANU-PF inclined. In short, ZANU-PF need only win 46 seats to marshal a majority in the 150-seat assembly.
ZANU-PF argues that the opposition had a chance to change this scenario with the draft constitution which was rejected in a referendum last February, mainly because of an incessant civil society and opposition-led "no" campaign. The rejected draft, the ruling party says, should have eliminated the 30 extra nominated seats provided for in the British-tailored Lancaster House Constitution.
MDC however, believes the 'no" vote in the referendum had psychological impetus and still vows to fight the nominated seat provision after elections this weekend. Some independent analysts hold that a referendum and an election are two different things; that elections introduce the element of individual appeal, independent candidacy and multiple contestants that can split the vote, usually to the detriment of a challenger.
Tsvangirai's MDC rides on hopes of a labour-driven challenge for power, perhaps the strongest such challenge on the 20-year supremacy of ZANU-PF. His party is the first in Zimbabwe's history to field candidates in all the 120 constituencies.
This election, probably because of the promise of close competition, has enticed the larger part of the voting population to register and participate and attracted an incredible number of foreign observers estimated at more than 16000 from all over the world (SARDC).
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