BY TAWANDA MAJONI
The history of Zimbabwean elections would never be complete without a loud enough reference to one big patch on our map. This place they call Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe (UMP) in Mashonaland East province.
In all elections since independence in 1980, UMP can easily claim a place in the Guinness Book of Records as having given the ruling Zanu PF the biggest number of votes all the time we went to the polls. That’s, in fact, an understatement. UMP has been posting such huge voter support for Zanu PF that you would think all the ants, owls, trees, stones, grass and chicken in the area turn into voters whenever there are elections.
Historians and election experts are still wide-eyed about how things have been like that in UMP, but what you can’t doubt is the fact that people from that area have been so brainwashed that, even in their village dreams, they haven’t seen anything outside Zanu PF beyond their noses.
Things seem to be changing, though. People from UMP are slowly walking out of their slumber. Zanu PF is no longer the sacred deity. Inhabitants of that vast stretch of Zimbabwean soil are actually threatening to vote Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-A party.
The reason? A Chinese company, Heijin, is threatening to kick them off their ancestral land so that it can mine black granite. The company has already pegged away an area where it wants to do its business. And the Zimbabwean government is mum about the impending displacements.
What’s particularly painful for the people of UMP is that they are not being told, in clear terms, where they would go if Heijin took over their land. They have heard about what the Chinese are capable of doing. In the nearby Mutoko district, fellow villagers are being kicked out without as much as a lie from the mouths of those that are in power.
Naturally, therefore, UMP is seeing betrayal. How can people from thousands of miles away come and occupy their land so easily? Is there any reason why they should keep voting Zanu PF and its leadership? Judging by the words that flew around at an emotional meeting they had recently, there isn’t any.
The story of UMP, Mutoko and other areas across the country shows how the ruling party’s so-called all-weather friends are going to sway a good number of votes into the opposition, particularly in rural areas that have mostly been Zanu PF’s strongholds.
You know all too well by now that the Chinese companies, which often come into Zimbabwe with the blessing and knowledge of Beijing, have been busy displacing thousands of rural people to make way for mostly mining ventures. You remember Dinde in Hwange there, for example? The authorities are helping the Asian investors drive thousands of people from their homeland.
Clearly, the Asian investors bribe key people in order to get their way. That’s the main reason why they always get their way. That’s the reason why relevant authorities from local and central governments don’t as much as raise a finger when the Chinese companies invade the land. When all is said, then, it’s a few people who benefit from the Chinese invasions. The rest suffer the consequences.
But the impunity stretches beyond the invasion of rural land. You might also know that quite a number of Chinese investors is taking over chrome business in Zimbabwe. This is particularly so in the Midlands province from which, tellingly, our president, Emmerson Mnangagwa comes. Local chrome miners are being haplessly thrown out to make way for Chinese companies. The poor chaps are bitter. Very bitter.
And even where you would say the Asian companies got their business licences above aboard—if such a thing were ever possible in Zimbabwe — the project managers are flouting labour laws head, waist and toes. Mark this word, the Chinese are awesomely notorious for treating their local employees badly. And we are talking of thousands of employees.
They are silting rivers up and leaving local communities high and dry. They are poisoning the rivers with cyanide and mercury, which, as it were, is now banned for use in mining. Livestock is dying because of that and the people are going hungry and poor.
The greedy eaters in government and Zanu PF may be downplaying this, but the truth is that their all-weather friends are going to give them a rough stretch on the sea, come the elections in 2023.
The ruling elite must learn one or two things from the Zambian elections. One of the major reasons why Edgar Lungu’s PF lost to Hakainde Hichilema’s United Party for National Development was China and the Chinese investors. Under Lungu, Zambia accumulated a multi-billion dollar debt from China. Granted, China was not the only debtor, but it was the biggest debtor. Zambian voters were not happy with that. But then, they were also bitter that Chinese people were becoming law unto themselves. Closing public roads and putting up notices to that effect in Mandarin, among other things.
Zimbabweans may not particularly fret about the debt that we accumulated from China, but most of them don’t like the way just a few people are eating off the Chinese trough while they suffer. They are telling their children, friends and enemies alike how bad the Chinese are. As we saw in UMP, rural voters are now clearly seeing how they are being played by the few eaters in government and the ruling party.
Because of the Chinese, the protest vote will increase in 2023. What’s particularly interesting is that die-hard Zanu PF loyalists like the UMP electorate are now looking to the opposition as their only option for survival.
While Zanu PF may not suffer complete losses in the rural areas, there is no doubt that it will lose a substantial amount of votes there. So, while the party may retain a good number of the constituencies that it has won in the past, there will be a bigger knock on the presidential poll, cumulatively.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org