The cock and bull show

Once we’d recognised each other (as arranged) by our Harris tweed jackets at the entrance to what my host insisted on still calling the Royal Salisbury Golf Club and taken our table on the veranda, my host made his most perceptive comment of a pleasant lunch: “Smithie, I suppose, was just a poker player, whereas Uncle Robert, as we like to call him here, is something of a bridge player, what?” Indeed.

Mugabe’s first five years have been characterised by an astutely chosen series of partnerships and alliances. His calls may sometimes have been a bit brassy for some white folk, but more often than not they have been rather subtle. He has not indulged in Smith’s crude bluff and brinkmanship.

The second five years which the black Zimbabwean electorate will give him, barring some catastrophe, on July 1 and 2, are unlikely to be too different. The pattern of partnership will persist, though the partners could change –depending on poll results in some key areas. The elections has been a hastily organised affair.

But the four-person delimitation commission has been praised by most parties as a well-balanced group, and its constituency maps have none of those strange voter corridors sometimes noticed in South Africa. Nomination deadlines were extended administratively, but only after ZAPU had spent a few thousand dollars: fruitlessly trying to have the same thing done through the courts.

Where there is cause for concern however, is whether ZANU (PF), using the cock once again as a symbol, and ZAPU, the bull, will allow other parties to campaign freely in their respective strongholds. The Government has promised strong and even-handed police action to protect political parties — signalling a recognition that Zimbabwe will gain nothing from an impression that its elections have been less than free and fair. Conventional wisdom at this early stage is that, of the 80 black seats in Zimbabwe’s 100 seat assembly, Mugabe’s ZANU (PF) will likely pick up about 65 (it won 57 seats in the 1980 elections).

The remaining 15 — in Matabeleland — will go to Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU (20 in 1980). And oblivion awaits Abel Muzorewa and his United African National Council (UANC), Ndabiningi Sithole and his Zimbabwe African National Union, as well as three obscure groupings styling themselves as the National Progressive Alliance, the National Front of Zimbabwe and the National Democratic Union. This apparent predictability has prompted the worst critics to dub this “the cock and bull election”.

Some people, Muzorewa xenophobes among them, argue there could be an increase in electoral support for the testy little cleric. The reason for this is that some urban workers don’t feel they’re being taken care of that well. But, in one of those coincidences that ruling party politicians always hope fate will plan for them just before an election, the Government just recently announced a national minimum wage and salary increase.

Zimbabwe’s hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers — who this year are expected to produce an unprecedented 40 percent of the national maize harvest — are likely to back Mugabe solidly. They have benefitted enormously from the help of energetic agriculture ministry. But political observers doubt that a possible increase in support for Muzorewa could translate itself into anything like the three seats the UANC won in the 1980 pre-independence election.

Sithole, Mugabe’s predecessor as flag-bearer of Zimbabwean black Nationalism before he reached an accomodation with Smith in the mid-1970s, had a similarly remote chance of picking up a seat in Chipinge, the locus of his Ndau tribal base. But he is in self- imposed exile in Europe and will not return for the elections. For the rest, in Mashonaland, Masvingo and Manicaland, ZANU (PF)’s cock will likely crow out the others, and ZAPU will probably lose the one Mashonaland seat it won in 1980.

The real battle — between ZANU (PF) and ZAPU — will be in the 12 midlands seats around Gokwe, Gweru and Kwekwe. The area has been the scene of some of the worst inter-party clashes over the past year and a number of these seats are regarded as marginal. Matabeleland will, however, be the most important battleground.

The ruling party says it has made some progress in Matabeleland, but independent political observers in the area generally predict a clean sweep for ZAPU. Notably, Mugabe has kicked off his party’s election campaign in this Zapu stronghold, and last week Mugabe drew 30 000 in Bulawayo. He clearly badly wants to break Nkomo and ZAPU.

But ZANU (PF) does not seem particularly confident about doing so. The party’s political commissar and director of elections, Transport Minister Herbert Ushewokunze, has decided not to stand in Matabeleland this time round.

Why take unnecessary political risks, the colourful and popular Ushewokunze may have counseled himself, when one’s yo-yo political career is on the up again, close to the right hand of the master himself?

Instead, the Matabeleland battle will be left to Minister of National Supplies Enos Nkala and Minister of Mines Callistus Ndlovu. The importance of the Matabeland result lies in the change it could bring in Zanu’s (PF)’s approach to the central, patriotic issue of the elections — the “national question” in Zimbabwe.

Some of the Young Turks in Zanu (PF) say there is a growing body of opinion within the patty that the ethnic Shona-Ndebele problem must be solved. Defeat for Nkala, Ndlovu and others could force Mugabe and other unity forces within the ruling party to deal once again with the credible leaders of the Ndebele-speaking people who are, by current appearances, the leaders of Zapu.

This could lead to a resumption of talks between the two parties and offer a more realistic solution. Over the past five years, Mugabe’s government has greatly indulged white commercial farmers. Whatever their conservatism and racism in some individual cases, they have grown to depend on and appreciate the Zanu (PF) Government, and vice versa.

A number are not card-carrying members of the ruling party, while others have, intelligently, forced their political representatives to leave Ian Smith’s antedeluvian Rhodesia Front (then Republican Front, now Conservative Alliance Zimbabwe) to form the amenable Independent Zimbabwe Group (IZG), an association of white notables under chicken king Bill Irvine.

The foreign and white-dominated mining, engineering and manufacturing sectors of the economy are now also scrambling for the same kind of access to government’s ear. This leaves Smith with a very small base. And it is likely to mean a pitiful showing by his CAZ.

The white election, being held separately on June 27, is likely to confirm this. Everyone seems to know that the game’s not poker anymore.

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