By SAVIOUS KWINIKA
HARARE - FACED with what is projected to be a closely-fought election, and emerging from decades of iron-fisted rule by its now-deposed leader Robert Mugabe, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union –Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) is rebranding to remain relevant to the populace.
Central to the reforms are the reduction of public officials’ terms in office, fielding of younger candidates in elections as well as treating opposition parties with respect.
ZANU-PF now wants its elected leaders to be at the helm of not more than two terms of five years each.
The party, now led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, is fielding primarily candidates aged below 45 years of age ahead of the July 30 election.
This is in stark contrast to the ZANU-PF under Mugabe, who spent 37 years at the helm of the party post-independence, and 42 years in total (ZANU, was formed in 1963, and ZANU-PF was formed after a merger with Patriotic Front-Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF-ZAPU) in 1987).
The fact that Zimbabwe’s median age is 19, also influenced the fielding of younger candidates in polls.
Prior to the military intervention leading to the removal of Mugabe last November, a majority of the party's Members of Parliament (MPs) were above 60 years of age.
Before the intervention of the military, ZANU-PF had confirmed Mugabe as its candidate for the presidential poll. A faction of the party was also lining his wife, Grace, to eventually succeed him.
Engelbert Rugeje, the ZANU-PF national political commissar, who was a lieutenant-general in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) after Mugabe was
forced out of power, is credited for drawing these strategies to renew and reinvigorate the party.
“The ZANU-PF's self introspection has come at the right time,” a senior ZANU-PF activist and new black commercial farmer, Kudakwashe Macharaga, told
CAJ News Africa in Harare.
Before the election campaigns, Rugeje reportedly told the top brass of the revolutionary party that "deadwood" in Government should be removed in order to provide better governance, rule of law and democracy.
Several party stalwarts who spoke to CAJ News Africa pointed out unlike in previous polls when Mugabe was still in charge of ZANU-PF and country, the party had a reputation for violence.
“If one takes a closer look at what is happening in these ongoing election campaigns, truly there is no culture of violence, intimidation and frog-marching potential voters to their rallies,” Macharaga said.
The populace has endorsed the reforms by the party, which while lauded for playing a role in gaining independence from Britain in 1980, lost popularity amid a string of corruption and controversial economic policies.
“Most importantly, we are not seeing opposition rival activists being viewed as traitors or sellouts,” said commercial farmer Macharaga.
“This is indeed good news for democracy, and will for years to come see ZANU-PF being loved by majority people,” he added in an exclusive interview with CAJ News Africa in Beatrice, some 40km south of Harare.
The farmer added, “Gone are the days in which some countries were conducting their business in secret, secluded or concealed environments.
We are now in a global village where human rights, democracy, good governance and rule of law are not negotiable but a prerequisite.”
He predicted that the renewal of the ruling party will influence millions of despondent youths, who had dumped ZANU-PF in favour of opposition parties that championed the rule of law and democracy, to return.
Macharaga benefited from ZANU-PF's land reform programme of 2000, which drove out an estimated 4 000 white farmers owning almost 70 percent of the country's productive land.
Merjury Chatikobo, a widow trading at the Boka Tobacco Auction, the world's largest such floor, in the capital Harare, welcomed the prevailing freedom of expression in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the elections.
“These democratic changes and positive developments happening within ZANU-PF are not in the party's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Though the new political dispensation is largely made up of the same old veterans of the liberation struggle, we however laud them for soul-searching, heart-searching and self-observation,” Chatikobo said.
She noted that for the first time in the country’s history, citizens were openly criticising a sitting president without being arrested. As head of state and the party, Mnangagwa has been preaching peace, unity and forgiveness, arguing those were the basis for the country to achieve development.
“Under former president (Mugabe), if you dared mentioned even his age, you would disappear,” Chatikobo said of the reign of Mugabe (now 94).
“During campaigning last time, we saw disappearance of journalist and rights activist, Itai Dzamara, but under the new dispensation, which is currently rebranding itself in introspection, we have neither witnessed nor heard any violent election campaigns,” said Chatikobo.
Apart from the bombing incident during a rally Mnangagwa addressed in the second city Bulawayo last month, Zimbabwe's election campaign has been peaceful.
“Imagine if that bombing had happened during the time of Mugabe, the city and adjacent communities would have been severely punished," Chatikobo said.
The ZANU-PF supporter said she was not ashamed of publicly supporting the rebranded ZANU-PF.
“I'm very much convinced; even Western diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe have experienced this new lease of life premised on democracy and rule of law. It might take a few years to nurture but the current turn of events
is impressive," Chatikobo said.
Diplomats from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc have endorsed the peaceful campaigns by the over 100 registered political parties for the harmonised poll.
Observers from the Western countries, including former colonial master Britain, who had been barred from revious polls by the administration of Mugabe, have also been invited.
“There is no violence so far, and we are really happy that the run-up to the elections is quite encouraging,” said Balbina Daes Pienaar, Namibian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, whose country is the deputy chair of SADC.
Pedro Hendrik Vaal Neto, Angolan Ambassador to Zimbabwe, lauded the political parties for embracing peace.
Angola chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
“We have been observing how the process is going and we are pleased to see that all participants are interested in keeping the process totally
peaceful and the commitment of the Government and institutions to have free and fair elections," Neto added.
The SADC observer mission was to be deployed nationwide on Wednesday.
SADC’s endorsement quashes allegations that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) would rig the vote.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has raised the claim.
Supporters of the MDC have for the first time in years enjoyed campaigning in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation.
“When the military supported the November 2017 public protests aimed at removing former President Robert Mugabe, I never trusted the country would enjoy such peaceful campaigns, freedom of expression without intimidation,” said an opposition party activist in Southlea Park suburb, south of Harare.
Precious Muchemwa, also of the MDC, concurred.
“Encouragingly, the head of state (Mnangagwa) is walking the talk in preaching democracy and peace. I love the changes," said Muchemwa said.
She added, “Whoever wins the July 30 election must continue building from the foundation laid.”
Obert Mpofu, ZANU PF's Secretary for Administration, and Minister of Home Affairs, said win or lose, ZANU–PF would accept the outcome.
This represents a major shift in attitudes, with the ruling party in previous elections counting on the backing of the military that has formerly declared it would not accept a win for a presidential candidate that did not have liberation war credentials.
Regardless, it lost its legislative majority in 2008 and Mugabe retained power after longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now late, pulled out of the presidential runoff citing deadly violence.
Mpofu disclosed international observers had raised issues relating to whether ZANU-PF would accept a defeat.
“The issues raised (by African Union) related to the outcome of the election is whether ZANU-PF is prepared to accept the outcome if it did not favour it. We assured them that is what our President is saying is going to happen. The President (Mnangagwa) has opened this election to the world and it is the world that is going to observe and see how committed we are to this process,” Mpofu said.
- CAJ News