Analysis: Why Mliswa defeated Mugabe and what it means for Zimbabwe’s political trajectory

    Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has lost an election Mugabe desperately wanted to win “at all costs”. There are several reasons why this happened, and what this means for Zimbabwe’s political trajectory. Journalist Malvern Mkudu takes a deep long look at this.

    By Malvern Mkudu

    Independent candidate Temba Mliswa triumphed over the ruling party’s Ronald Chindedza in the Norton By election. There have been other by elections where ZANU PF has won with a landslide.

    This is the second time Temba Mliswa has participated in a by-election. The first time he narrowly lost to Keith Guzah in Hurungwe West in 2015.

    There are reasons why he has succeeded on the second attempt. The ruling party has serious internal contradictions while its patronage strategies have been exposed in the last few weeks. Moreover people have lost faith in ZANU PF’s promises. The economic situation is getting worse and government seems to have no solutions.

    Mliswa has money

    Mliswa is resilient and has the financial muscle to mount a credible political campaign. This includes t-shirts, banners and money for logistics to hold meetings and build structures. One needs at least $20000 in personal finances before they are endorsed as a ZANU PF candidate to campaign. Not many people have such resources.

    Zimbabwean politics has become materialistic. It’s no longer those with ideas that carry the day but those with the financial muscle to get people together and reward these people. Mliswa spent a lot in media campaigns and rallies.

    Mliswa is ‘scientific’  or at least attempts to be. At some point he shared with me figures of youths in his constituency and made an attempt to explain voter behavior using those numbers. He invests in research and has a method to his approach on politics.

    Internal contradictions within ZANU PF and withdrawal of ‘violence’ by war veterans and security apparatus

    It’s always a blessing to a wild cat or fox to walk in on chickens having a serious quarrel. It makes everything a whole lot easier for the fox. Mliswa is that proverbial fox that was at the right place at the right time.

    The Norton by election came at a time ZANU PF factional groups are at each other’s throats. War veterans who are the foot soldiers of the military elite withdrew their support for President Robert Mugabe in 2018 and publicly endorsed Mliswa. Mugabe told them to stay ‘clear of politics’ and has not hidden his bias towards the youthful G-40.

    G-40 are pushing the narrative that war veterans are no longer relevant in the ruling party. Youths organised a very successful ‘one million men’ march in support of Mugabe. This was achieved without the input of war veterans. The party also won all previous by-elections prompting Professor Jonathan Moyo to declare Saviour Kasukuwere as the ‘best’ political commissar ever.

    This did not go down well with war veterans who resolved to back Mliswa after the dismissal of war veteran Christopher Mutsvangwa as Norton legislator. Their strategy was to expose Kasukuwere’s ineptitude and hopefully get him fired by Mugabe.

    A ZANU PF victory would have emboldened Mugabe and G-40 and intensified their purge against war veterans. It would have left war veterans on the brink. What we saw in Norton was a system working against itself.  The battle for the soul of the party has created disharmony with each group working to prove that the party can succeed without the other group.

    The military elite fronted by war veterans carried the day on this occasion. They withdrew their ‘violence’ which has become the cornerstone of any successful ZANU PF election strategy. There were no cases of the military being deployed in Norton and no reports of war veterans brutalising civilians.

    The only people who were reported to have been perpetrators of violence are ZANU PF youths but Mliswa and his supporters were equal to the task and nullified this threat of violence.

    Without violence, Mugabe and ZANU PF are like fish without water, they cannot survive. Mugabe is very vulnerable without his ‘foot soldiers’ that have been key to his political survival since the turn of the millennium.

    Media coverage/ broadcast

    Mliswa is a beneficiary of radio coverage through the Star FM community programme sponsored by the Election Resource Centre which gave all three candidates air time on radio at least on two occasions during prime time. State media never gives opposition candidates coverage and this time around it clearly shows that there are some powerful political interests who wanted the playing field to be even.

    Endorsement by MDC-T

    Mliswa also benefitted from the public endorsement by other political parties especially the MDC-T which already has structures in Norton. There is no doubt that Norton residents heeded calls by their leadership to go out and vote for Mliswa.

    Voters no longer trust ZANU PF promises

    Even the dolling out of stands on the eve of the election failed to produce results for the ruling party. Urban dwellers have nasty experiences with residential stands parcelled out by ruling party functionaries. Homes have been demolished before under ZANU PF housing cooperatives. Revelations by President Mugabe weeks ago that there was corruption in the allocation of the residential stands made voters even more sceptical.

    With the economic situation getting worse and the impending introduction of the bond notes being misunderstood by many, it is not surprising that voters have decided to punish the ruling party. There is distrust against this government and this may have reflected in this result.

    School boy errors by ZANU Pf

    Damaging allegations of corruption against Professor Jonathan Moyo which Saviour Kasukuwere and Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko unwittingly tried to justify at a rally in Norton may have spoiled ZANU PF’s chances in this election. Instead of condemning corruption which many people believe is responsible for their poverty, these ZANU PF officials defended corruption and dared law enforcement to arrest them. People do not want to be taken for granted.

    So what does this Mliswa victory mean?

    Politically this by election is of no effect of little significance in the bigger scheme of things. ZANU PF continues to have two thirds majority in parliament so the party will continue to dictate the business of the house. More importantly it only mirrors the contradictions within ZANU PF. When these contradictions are settled the ruling party will regroup.

    Does this mean coalitions have the capacity to unseat ZANU PF? Not so fast, Mliswa has won in an urban constituency where the ruling ZANU PF party has consistently lost over the years. A victory in the urban areas for the opposition must not be overstated as it is an expectation. There is no real shift in political ground. This was just the case of the opposition reclaiming lost ground.

    This election will change nothing in opposition politics. There will be more calls for a coalition and renewed enthusiasm but whether this will be harnessed is another question.

    Within ZANU PF,Mliswa’s victory will put Mugabe under pressure. He may be forced to make political compromises with the war veterans. War veterans will use this result as a stick to beat G-40 with. Calls for Kasukuwere’s removal as political commissar are likely to grow louder and Mugabe may be forced to listen.

    • Malvern Mkudu is a Zimbabwean journalist, and published political analyst. Article appears on his breakingnewszw website.

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