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In Zimbabwe Poll, Mud-Slinging Trumps Debate of Real Issues

  • Anita Powell

Much of the rhetoric surrounding Zimbabwe’s presidential election, set to take place on July 31, has involved personal attacks on the major candidates. But what have the ZANU-PF and MDC parties, both separately and as a coalition, achieved for ordinary Zimbabweans in the last five years? And what are they promising now?

One thing that rarely comes up in Zimbabwean politics is the issues. The past few weeks of campaigning have centered around allegations of vote-rigging and around the major personalities involved in the presidential race.

On the one side: longtime President Robert Mugabe; on the other, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Both are adept at slinging rhetoric at each other, which dominates much of the attention.

But both sides agree that Zimbabwe has serious needs. The economy was on the brink of collapse in 2008, during the last contentious election. It has improved since the inauguration of a power-sharing government comprising Mugabe and Tsvangirai. And now, both sides are trying to claim credit for that improvement.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive to address the final rally of his ZANU-PF party in Harare, July 28, 2013.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive to address the final rally of his ZANU-PF party in Harare, July 28, 2013.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF unveiled its manifesto earlier this month. The party favors nationalization and a program of indigenization - meaning all business should be majority black-owned. It also promised to create 2.3 million jobs in the next five years, to revamp infrastructure and to sell off non-performing state companies. The approach is rooted in Mugabe’s stubborn refusal to work with Western nations that have criticized his rule.

The opposing Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai’s party, has a more outward-looking view, and a plan to attract more foreign investment to a nation that has become increasingly isolated.

The MDC's treasurer, Roy Bennett, has lived in political exile in South Africa since 2010 -- when, he said, he was persecuted and forced to flee Zimbabwe. He said his party has clearly improved the nation since it entered into the power-sharing government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF following the violent 2008 poll.

“The people of Zimbabwe want change. They have had 13 years of repression, of violence, of rigged elections. And in those 13 years, ZANU-PF has created a failed state through their policies. As we sit here today, things are tough in Zimbabwe," he said.

"The MDC entered the government of national unity, which brought about economic stabilization, … a monetary system, a dual monetary system, which eased the lives of the people in Zimbabwe. It created an upturn in economics, it reduced inflation from 221 million percent down to under 4.5 percent. So, there’s a lot of positives and a lot that can be done for moving the process in Zimbabwe forward," he added.

Three different high-ranking ZANU-PF officials did not answer calls seeking comment on Monday.

But perhaps their feelings can be summed up by a large poster seen inside Zimbabwe's communications ministry. The poster features a large photograph of a slightly younger Mugabe, and has a simple message: “Mugabe is right.”