By Whitlaw Mugwiji
I was lucky to be among 23 student leaders who got scholarships to come and study in the Netherlands after having been expelled from Great Zimbabwe University and banned from attending any other state owned tertiary institution in Zimbabwe. It was a privilege that was not afforded to every victimised student leader of my generation. Other expelled leaders had to finish their studies through correspondence with the University of South Africa.
When we came to the Netherlands we regarded ourselves as exiled revolutionaries, it was as if we had no other interests. We discussed nothing but Zimbabwe. I am sure our friends outside our little Zimbabwean community found us very monotonous and boring.
For us, those days during the Government of National Unity were so exciting; there was so much drama going on in the body politic. Not only were those days exciting but they were also very promising. Change was within grasp, you could feel it in the air, thick and so dense you could almost touch it with your fingertips. As they say, so near yet so far. 2013 came and proved our feelings to be nothing but an illusion, empty emotions if I may say.
We too became disenchanted. How could we not, week in week out, year in year out, we spoke about the same things and saw no meaningful progress. Let’s face it, Zimbabwe has been stuck in the same place for the past 17 years. We have had the same conversations about Zanu PF corruption and incompetence for almost two decades.
It therefore comes as no surprise at all when people become more interested in discussing Olinda and Stunner than the political crises engulfing our country. Exciting as it might have been, whilst Olinda and Stunner’s drama was unfolding, civil servants were promising to go on strike and doctors were downing tools.
These are nothing but signs of political fatigue. People would rather entertain themselves with this marital drama unfolding live on Facebook than discuss about the impending Zanu PF manufactured crisis.
How do we reenergise the opposition’s political base?
When political fatigue sets in, things need to shift. It cannot be business as usual. The opposition cannot afford to have the same actors doing exactly the same actions they have done in the past, speaking exactly the same message they have spoken in the past 17 years.
Even for us political junkies, we are worn out. So, before the opposition tries to win over support from Zanu PF strongholds in the rural areas it must start by reenergising and revitalising its support base.
Coalition with the view of reenergising the electoral base.
In primary school, we were taught that 1+1=2; the logic being nothing can be created from non-existing materials. Interestingly, at university we were taught that synergies from mergers produce added value that is by combining two entities the result should sum up to an outcome larger than the separate entities, i.e. 1+1=3.
This is the logic behind the formation of a coalition. We hope by joining hands the coalition will have a larger value than its separate parts. By joining hands the opposition will send a clear and unambiguous message that they seriously want change and are prepared to do everything within their power to realise it. This is one message that can reenergise and revitalise the opposition’s political base.
Bringing young and new leaders to the fore.
There are some new and some not so new, young exciting players like pastor Evan Mawarire, Maureen Madeumanga, Linda Masarira, Promise Mkwananzi, Silvanos Mudzvova whom the opposition or rather the coalition must court in order to help mobilise the younger generation.
According to a 2013 report done by the Research and Advocacy Unit after the 2013 elections there were about roughly two million unregistered young voters under the age of 30. This is a significant chunk of the adult population. They constituted roughly about 40% of the total registered voters in 2013, knowing young voters want change its possible they could have won the election for the opposition.
The drive to get everyone registered to vote should start now, as Mr Jumbe my former headmaster at Mazowe Boys High would say, why do tomorrow what you can do today. We must launch a vigorous campaign targeting the young generation, those aged below 35, to register as voters using all available mediums to get our message across.
Times are changing, we must embrace new forms of media in order to communicate effectively with the potential young voters. Even Yoweri Museveni in 2010 had to go outside his comfort zone, rapping a song trying to entice the young generation to register and eventually vote for him.
Do not be distracted by my example of Museveni, the import of my message is that we have to adapt our methods of communication in order to effectively communicate with the young generation.
Reframing our message
For too long we have hammered Zanu PF’s faults. I think going forward we must emphasise what we stand for. Companies are closing, loads of young people are unemployed and a majority of our people underemployed, we therefore must articulate our economic policies unequivocally and sell our economic vision for the new Zimbabwe. Farai and Farisai must be able to understand our economic policies and explain them to their friends.
As the opposition, we must be in the business of selling hope, not fear. The people already know that Mugabe is the commander in thief, corrupt and incompetent. However, our key constituency is concerned not only with a functioning economy, but also service delivery, which is at the core of improving their everyday lives.
We must be ashamed with the way we have run the urban councils for the past 16 years, for we have not reflected the excellence we associate ourselves with. Of course, the government has been putting spanners in the running of our urban councils, but we have not articulated well enough how that challenge must be addressed in the future.
To me, devolution and decentralisation must be at the centre of our campaign for a new Zimbabwe. Not merely as a slogan but as a clear policy articulating how we want the devolution to work and how it can be used as a tool to address the marginalisation problem confronting many regions in our country.
In a nutshell
We can fault Zanu PF for many things, lack of good implementation included, but we cannot fault them for not coming up with clear and articulate policies. This is one vital lesson the opposition must learn from their rivals.
In a nutshell, negative campaigning can discredit one’s opponents but it does not reenergise and revitalise the electoral base. That can only be done through positive campaigning. We must not be afraid to promise, for the opposition must be in the business of selling hope.
I know this article is insufficient to provide adequate methods to counter political apathy but at least it should spark some conversation around the issue, hopefully together we can reengage the young voter.
Change is possible in Mugabe’s lifetime!
- Whitlaw Mugwiji is a political analyst and social commentator