Lovemore Ranga Mataire
An ominous sign is on the horizon for former liberation movements in southern Africa following the recent outcome of Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections in which ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa scored a marginal victory over his closet rival, Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance.
Mnangagwa polled 2, 460,463 (50.8%) against Chamisa's 2,147,436 (44.3%) of the total votes cast.
Analysts say the marginal victory by the ruling party’s candidate must be a cause for concern for other former liberation movements in the region who over the years have experienced a decline in votes, particularly in urban areas.
They say while ZANU-PF can be consoled by an easy parliamentary majority, its poor showing in urban areas must be enough cause to jolt the party into serious introspection.
ZANU-PF won 145 seats in the National Assembly while the MDC Alliance managed to get 63 seats in parliament's 210-member chamber. The majority of the seats won by ZANU-PF are in rural areas while those won by MDC Alliance are mainly in urban areas.
The statistics reflect that while ZANU-PF, like the ANC of South Africa, is experiencing a decline in urban support, in relative terms the two parties remain popular in rural areas. But what should be of concern to ZANU-PF is that this massive rural appeal seems misaligned with the presidential votes, which are less than those polled by parliamentarians.
Granted that internal ructions could have impacted negatively on the presidential vote, there is no denying the fact that over the years in the SADC region, former liberation movements’ popularity is on a downward trend.
Although acknowledging ZANU-PF’s dominance in rural areas, the party’s secretary for administration, Obert Mpofu, insists that several interventions were being made to lure the urban vote.
“There is a growing concern among liberation movements about this rural-urban divide. Liberation movements are mass parties. We know that most of our activities during the struggle were in rural areas and most people in those areas still appreciate our standing in the pre- and post-independence era.
“However, we need to do something to win the urban vote. As you might be aware, I was recently in Tanzania where liberation movements unveiled the Julius Nyerere Leadership School. We need to meet the aspirations of the urban voter while at the same time bring to the fore the ideological awareness of where we stand in the global scheme of things,” Mpofu said.
Mpofu’s counterpart in Namibia, Sophia Shaningwa, who is SWAPO’s secretary-general, insists that the rural-urban divide is an inevitable historical reality born out of the liberation struggle.
Shaningwa told The Southern Times from Windhoek that the rural-urban divide had little effect on the overall support of former liberation movements in the region.
“SWAPO party being a yesteryear liberation movement and a sister party to ZANU-PF is very happy with the victory of Cde Emmerson Mnangangwa during last week’s Presidential election,” said Shaningwa.
She said the goal of any political party participating in an election is to win and ZANU-PF and President Mnangagwa's victory was a victory for all other liberation movements in the region.
“It is against that background that both candidates who offered themselves were assisted by their parties; the one and only aim was to campaign, convince and get electorates to vote for them. I say good luck to Cde Emmerson Mnangangwa, the President and a congratulations to ZANU-PF. We all must give him support. Surely if you win, winning is winning. Aluta continua for national development,” said Shaningwa.
Shaningwa’s celebration of President Mnangagwa’s victory does not, however, answer the pertinent question of how former liberation movements that became governing parties at independence of their respective countries’ seem to be losing the popular support they had during those early years of uhuru.
Other former liberation movements-cum-governing parties like FRELIMO of Mozambique, Chama Chamapinduzi of Tanzania and MPLA of Angola now depend on the countryside support for political longevity.
Head of Africa Programme at an international affairs think-tank, Chatham House, and senior lecturer at Coventry University, Dr Alex Vines, said the major advantage that the ANC has over other opposition political parties is its widespread reach.
Writing for The Conversation, a South African online publication on August 1, 2016, Dr Vines contends that the 2014 general elections indicated that the ANC's support declined significantly in four major metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, its electoral hegemony remained intact in the other four.
South Africa has eight major urban areas. Historically, the ANC was popular in all, but it has seen its support cut in half. Following the 2011 municipal elections, all major metropolitan areas with the exception of Cape Town, came under the control of ANC.
On the other hand, the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has been growing consistently but not to the extent of displacing the ANC’s electoral hegemony. This happened only in Cape Town, which has traditionally been out of ANC’s reach.
“Where its support declined, the margin relative to that of the opposition parties did not create an immediate possibility of displacement. In some cases this was true even if the DA and the EFF votes were combined,” Dr Vines says.
Dr Vines says it is important to note that the ANC has historically been popular in both rural and urban areas. He believes its presence in urban areas is still strong although not in the same way as it was in previous years and more of its support in recent elections has been coming from the countryside.
In elections held in Angola in August last year, the ruling MPLA party won a two-thirds majority but lost ground to the opposition in certain urban areas. The elections saw Joao Lourenco replacing long-standing Eduardo dos Santos as President of Angola.
The MPLA took 61.1 percent of the votes counted compared with the opposition UNITA party’s 26.7 percent.
Out of the nine million registered voters, about 23 percent did not go to the polls.
The electoral commission said the MPLA had won 150 of 220 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly, giving them the two-thirds majority needed to pass any legislation without help from another party.
However, UNITA’s share of seats rose from 32 to 51.
The opposition, UNITA and CASA-CE made big inroads with a combined 50 percent majority in the populous Luanda province. Despite UNITA’s gains, MPLA remains a dominant player in Angola.
Mozambique voted for a president and elected members to the national and provincial parliaments on 15 October 2014.
The ruling FRELIMO party was once again victorious in maintaining its stranglehold on power since independence in 1975. The official preliminary results handed the presidency to FRELIMO’s first time candidate Filipe Nyusi with 57,03%, followed by long-standing opposition candidate from RENAMO, the now late Afonso Dhlakama, with 36,68% and second time Movement for Democrácy in Mozambique (MDM) presidential candidate, Daviz Mbepo Simango, coming in third with 6,36%. The parliamentary results indicated 57% for FRELIMO, followed by RENAMO with 34% and MDM with 19%.
According to non-governmental organisation, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southern Africa, while the overall official results hailed FRELIMO as the victors, closer scrutiny reflected a different picture which showed the return of RENAMO to its undeniable position as the second largest opposition party in Mozambique, obfuscating the rapid advance of the MDM that had threatened RENAMO’s position prior to the national elections.
These results also revealed the declining popularity of FRELIMO and this largely attributed to the economic challenges Mozambicans were going through.
This saw FRELIMO's dominance cut from 75 percent to 57 percent. But the votes were sufficient to avoid a re-run.
Although the results meant that FRELIMO extended its 39-year grip on power, the declining votes for the presidential candidate were a cause for concern for a party that has dominated politics in the southern African country since independence from Portugal in 1975.