Zim to the polls… despair, disinterest, determination to defend their votes…

Zimbabwe is going to the polls again this week in a mixed atmosphere of despair, apathy, hope, disappointment in the lack of service delivery by the opposition in urban areas, and talk of reform and transformation from the long-ruling ZANU PF government. This has emerged from an interview with Ringisai Chikohomero, a political analyst with The Institute for Security Studies (ISS). He speaks to BizNews from Bulawayo. He lists the reasons for the shift in support towards the ruling ZANU PF government in urban centres that have traditionally been “the backbone and the strongholds” of the opposition. He says the central business districts of Harare and Bulawayo have an “awful sense of dilapidation” – and does not in itself show the potential of the opposition in terms of managing and governing. “So this is what the citizens who are more perceptive could be looking at going into this round of elections.” Although there are also fears of election manipulation, people do feel they are better prepared to counter it, with “the young ones” saying: “But this time we’re going to defend our vote; this time I’m not leaving the polling station until all the votes have been counted.” Meanwhile, there has been some “recognition and realisation” in the ruling party that for the country to move forward, it needs to reengage with the international community.Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:40 – Ringisai Chikohomero on what the mood is like on the ground
  • 01:23 – What are the people saying
  • 02:29 – Free and fair elections or is the outcome a foregone conclusion
  • 03:46 – any incidents of intimidation or violence related to the upcoming election?
  • 04:16 – The incident in Harare
  • 05:45 – Zanu-PF support in Harare
  • 08:53 – what are the reasons behind the opposition’s failure to properly deliver services
  • 11:06 – How is the dismal state of a country deteriorated after so many years of sanctions
  • 13:12 – Are more people emigrating 
  • 15:20 – As the ruling party, taken any concrete steps to make Zimbabwe more palatable to the international community
  • 17:33 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

Zimbabwe is going to the polls again this week in a mixed atmosphere of despair, apathy, hope, disappointment in the lack of service delivery by the opposition in urban areas, and talk of reform and transformation from the long-ruling ZANU PF government.

This has emerged from an interview with Ringisai Chikohomero, a political analyst with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

He speaks to BizNews from Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe.

Asked about the mood on the ground, Chikohomero says: “So in the urban areas, I would describe it as more or less depressing. You do not get the same election fever or excitement that we have become accustomed to in Zimbabwean elections. I think there’s a lot of despair and apathy and disinterest in the forthcoming elections.”

Read more: Zimbabwe’s election tightrope: Katzenellenbogen on the alarming realities

This is what he has gleaned from personal discussions: “I think there is a sense that we have been here before…a kind of deja vu…There were once moments when we had our hopes and aspirations and we’re really looking forward to an election as something that would bring about a turnaround in our lives. But we’re at a point where we are not hopeful anymore. And we do not feel that there is much hope or expectation in this election.”

However, he points out that this is not the mood across the board. “You do get some people who are really, really hopeful – and they are really hoping that there will be a surprise turn of events on the 23rd of August.”

As for hopes that the elections will be free and fair, Chikohomero says: “So there is an expectation that there’s going to be manipulation. It’s almost like the people already foresee it or their prediction that there’s going to be manipulation. But… they feel that they are better prepared to counter any manipulation… you hear the young ones saying: ‘But this time we’re going to defend our vote; this time I’m not leaving the polling station until all the votes have been counted’.”

Chikohomero also talks about the shift in support towards the ruling ZANU PF government in urban centres that have traditionally been “the backbone and the strongholds” of the opposition.

He attributes this to a variety of factors, “some structural, some competence and capacity”, and the fact that there has not been “significant service delivery improvements” over the years that the opposition has been in charge of the urban centres.

Read more: Zimbabwe’s economic crossroads ahead of pivotal elections

The disappointment in the opposition can now be seen in how the “strong” ZANU PF candidates who are in urban areas “are really building and mobilising and organising citizens around them for a vote.”

As for the reasons behind the opposition’s failure to properly deliver services, Chikohomero says “there are incidences and cases of deliberate attempts to sabotage and frustrate all the efforts” of the city councils all over the country. 

However, “there’s also been… some evidence of corruption” involving councillors or opposition members using their positions “as a way of getting rich and empowering themselves”. 

“…when you see the state of Harare, when you see the state of Bulawayo, the central business districts, they have an awful sense of dilapidation – and does not in itself show the potential of the opposition in terms of managing and governing. So this is what the citizens who are more perceptive could be looking at going into this round of elections.”

Meanwhile, “a large number of people…are voting with their feet”, and “almost everyone I know is making plans to leave the country”. 

Read more: Cathy Buckle: Zimbabwe’s cry for freedom – Unfolding tragedy ahead of elections sparks international concern

It is against this background that the ZANU PF government has been showing signs of intent to reform. “There’s recognition and realisation that for the country to move forward, there’s need to build relations; there’s need to re engage with the international community, and there is need to be part of the international community on the whole. And this realisation is, I think, has been taken seriously within some quarters of the government”.

“This process started in…December 2022, and has been ongoing. And the talk has been good. The narrative that the government has been putting (out) is about commitment, is about really biting the bullet and making the hard decisions that need to be made. 

“What we are yet to see is can they walk the walk? The talk so far has been good, but we’re now moving into a phase where they need to begin to walk the commitments that they’ve made. And this is where I think we are going to see to what extent there is genuine commitment for reform and transformation.”

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