The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) held its second 2018 Elections Dialogue Series “Making Elections Make Sense” at the New Ambassador Hotel in Harare on 8 March 2018. This meeting focused on the state of preparedness of political parties for the upcoming harmonised elections. The panelists were Mr Glen Mpani a Political Consultant, Professor Charity Manyeruke from the University of Zimbabwe and Ms Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma the Executive Director of Women In Politics Support Unit (WIPSU). The event was hosted by Violet Gonda a renowned journalist who in her opening remarks, reiterated the purpose and focus of the dialogue series and promised the audience more engaging debates and dialogues in the run up to the impending elections.
There was unanimity among the panelists that political parties in Zimbabwe are not ready for the impending elections. Professor Manyeruke noted that although some political parties have been doing well by marketing themselves to the electorate, most political parties do not understand their mandate. She observed that some parties are behaving more or less like civil society organisations, engaging in activism instead of partaking in programmes that attract the vote of electorate. She exhorted political parties to act like governments in waiting and not like activists of civil society. Ms. Sifelani-Ngoma noted that Zimbabwean political parties are behind schedule in their preparation for polls. She was of the thinking that some internal processes like primary elections should have been done by this time. Mr. Mpani, observed that the major political parties in Zimbabwe are not yet ready for elections as they are confronted with a myriad of similar challenges including factionalism and lack of common vision.
In response to the Question “Has there been some growth and maturity in our political parties?”, Mr. Mpani was of the opinion that although the ruling ZANU-PF party has grown, structured itself and institutionalized over the years, the MDC and other smaller opposition parties are still lacking in many issues including proper structures and resources. Professor Manyeruke reiterated this view, noting that ZANU-PF is now a very mature party in terms of its principles and practice. Political parties were also castigated for viewing political office as avenues of making money. Ms Sifelani-Ngoma also blamed parties for not doing much to garner support at the grassroots for women.
One bone of contention among panelists was whether the concept of personality politics was embedded in Zimbabwean politics or not. With the exception of Professor Manyeruke, there was agreement among panelists that political parties in Zimbabwe are formed around personalities, and that parties tend to disintegrate when their founders are not there anymore. Mr. Mpani observed that the root cause of the Zimbabwean problem is a leadership crisis which cuts across all political parties, and that at the centre of this problem is dominating personalities who control the politics of the day. However, Professor Manyeruke disputed this line of thinking, noting that Zimbabweans are capable of going beyond personality politics and that political parties should not implode because their founders have left.
Political parties were also said to be ill prepared for elections because they have not been able to adequately address gender issues and politically motivated violence. In discussing political violence it was generally agreed that political parties were fueling hate speech and political violence, including against women. Professor Manyeruke attributed violence to the fact that some people want to be leaders but have nothing to offer, so they resort to violence in order to coerce people to support them. Asked what women movements have been doing against violence, Sakhile noted that they have been consistent in the narrative against violence and have also asked political parties to pledge that they will not condone violence.
The meeting was attended by members of the public, CSOs representatives, partners, policy makers, media practitioners and others with an estimated 100 participants.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)