Dynamics of the rural vote in Zimbabwean elections

By Dumisani Ncube

The recent developments in Zimbabwean Elections have once again demonstrated the important role that the peasantry plays in determining the country’s future.


Zimbabwe has 63 Districts of which 58 are rural districts thus giving a percentage figure of 92 % .Given the statistics it is evident that the rural vote has the final say on leadership and governance of the nation. The bulk of Rural Zimbabwe is divided into mainly communal and resettlement areas that are under the jurisdiction of chieftainships established under the Chiefs and Headmen ACT [CHAPTER 29:01].


An in-depth analysis of the rural vote is therefore necessary to help ascertain driving factors in critical decision making processes such as elections. The rural vote is fundamentally influenced by food security and access to and benefit from land. Economic demise coupled with the erosion of social safety nets continue to play a central role in the vote exchange market. Faced with eminent hunger and food insecurity, rural folk exchange their vote for buckets of maize and fertiliser distributed by the state on a partisan scale. Voting for any institution other than the ruling party is equated to “biting the hand that feeds you”.


The nexus between land and the vote can only be undermined at one’s peril as the former carries the propensity to determine who leads. The land ownership matrix entails a complex background of interactions between social, cultural and political factors that are pivotal in determining the outcome of election result.


When Traditional leaders (Chiefs) who are the custodians of the land turn partisan the rural populace has no option but to follow suit so as to guarantee tenure and access to aid. Most of government food and agro aid reaches its intended beneficiaries through lists compiled by village heads and this system of selection disenfranchises opposition sympathisers. State party conflation has cascaded down to village development structures that have been turned into quasi – party configurations. Lack of clear separation between structures creates room for intolerance and intimidation resulting in strong arming of voters towards the ruling party.


Over the past few years land reform has radically reconfigured the rural landscape. New resettlement areas make up nearly a quarter of the land area of the country. Without official entitlements to the land, resettled farmers are indirectly coerced to vote in exchange for tenure. A total of 3 resettlement wards in Matobo district namely wards 23, 24 & 25 had councilors who were duly elected unopposed in the recently held elections, a clear indication of ZANU PF hegemony.


Historically rural Zimbabwe has been a target of election violence where innocent villagers were tortured, kidnapped and gruesomely murdered as the ruling party sought to cling to power during Robert Mugabe’s era. Matabeleland region, principally Matabeleland South faced the worst forms of atrocities between 1982 and 1985 when the Robert Mugabe led ZANU party unleashed violence on a genocidal scale claiming over 20 000 lives in the process.


An elite unit of the army notoriously known as the 5th Brigade was trained and deployed in the region to carry out the massacres. The return of Emerson Mnangagwa, who was one of the chief architects of Gukurahundi as a presidential candidate could have possibly led to a vote cast in fear. Fear amongst the rural electorate has been compounded by the militarisation of the state since the forceful take over that ushered Mnangagwa into power in November last year. The army was also instrumental in violence that characterised the 2008 elections where thousands of opposition sympathisers in rural Mashonaland were beaten and mutilated.


As the adage goes “once beaten twice shy”, elections are not a matter of choice but design for rural folk.


This appears to be the case with Matabeleland South which appears to have voted for its nemesis.


Dumisani Ncube is a development practitioner and a Pastor. He can be contacted on lctdumie@gmail.com