On the eve of elections in 1980, then Zanu-PF leader, Robert Mugabe seemed uncharacteristically confident.
The run up to the elections had been fraught with violence and intimidation, with the colonial power, Britain, at one point, toying with the idea of postponing elections in some areas because the conditions were not conducive to free and fair polls.
There was a fear that Zanu-PF would pull out of the elections if ever they were delayed in any area and this position was reinforced by Tanzania and Mozambique, the leading lights of the Front Line States.
Mugabe, then told the media, that he would accept any result — although he expected to win — and if he lost he would work hard to make sure he would win the next time.
A day before the polls, he left for Mozambique and ultimately Tanzania where he was when the results were announced.
Mugabe projected that he would win an outright majority, with 56 seats and instead he got 57, raising the ire of his political opponents, particularly Joshua Nkomo of-PF (Zapu), who wondered how the Zanu-PF leader could have been that accurate in his projections.
Nkomo raised the spectre of rigging in the polls and accused the British of being complicit, but he could not prove it.
Fast forward 23 years later and Mugabe was his confident self again, hosting a press conference in 2013 just ahead of the elections.
He seemed calm and jovial before the elections, even being magnanimous to his opponents, which was uncharacteristic of Mugabe whose campaigns were usually quite tempestuous and always carried one threat or another.
When asked what would happen if he lost, Mugabe gave a response quite similar to one he gave in 1980, saying: “If you lose, then you must surrender to those who have won … We will do so, yeah, comply with the rules.”
Just as in 1980, Mugabe stormed to an outright parliamentary majority, leaving his opponents accusing him of rigging, but like the independence election, no evidence has been provided about the alleged chicanery.
We have all heard about Nikuv, but there is nothing quite substantive to prove the rigging.
The late MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai promised a dossier to prove the rigging, but pulled out of a court case where unimpeachable evidence on vote manipulation would have been presented.
A short five years later, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who sat at Mugabe’s side at that press conference in 2013 is now in charge.
Like Mugabe then, Mnangagwa is promising free, fair and credible elections and has called for a peaceful poll.
Maybe I am being too cynical, but it is quite easy to draw parallels between the 1980 and 2013 elections and draw inferences ahead of the 2018 polls.
In 1980, Mugabe had just pulled the rug under the feet of the coalition Patriotic Front and announced he would go it alone in the polls and in 2013, he had outmanoeuvred Tsvangirai and pronounced an election date without consulting his government partner and ignored all manner of protests.
The margin of victory in those two elections was quite staggering and left observers with more questions than answers.
In 2018, Mnangagwa seems to have borrowed from his mentor, with his campaign seemingly yet to start, while at the same time promising free elections, something not in keeping with how Zanu-PF does things.
There should be something that is driving this confidence that Zanu-PF will form the next government and the opposition should be wary about that.
Claims of vote rigging, if the opposition loses, will not carry, as this will be seen as a case of sour grapes.
And just like in 1980, there is fatigue with the Zimbabwe situation and the international community will be more open to working with Zanu-PF and protestations about rigging will be noted, but probably swatted away.
Foreign nations will ignore internal issues and would be more focused on international ones, with their eye on how they can benefit from Zimbabwe coming out of isolation, just like in 1980.
The opposition may fill up stadiums and every open space, but it is now time for them to investigate what is behind Zanu-PF’s buoyancy and calm before the election.
This is not to say they must stop campaigning, but their strategy should go beyond mass mobilisation and be premised on scientific research and intelligence of what their opponents are doing.
Without looking at these issues, the opposition may well be shadowboxing and will be in for a rude awakening in the elections.
It is reported that in 2013, MDC-T was impervious to research on Zanu-PF’s electoral strategy and we know what happened then.
The opposition must not rest on their laurels and be inebriated by the success of their mobilisation strategies, but must get into the minds of Zanu-PF and think like the ruling party so they have the ability to pre-empt their strategies.
Failure to do this and they would have only themselves to blame for their losses.
Zanu-PF has learnt that violence and intimidation subtract from their legitimacy and are now running a campaign that is subtler and whose excesses easily fly below the radar.
MDC-T leader, Nelson Chamisa may draw bigger crowds and be a better orator than Mnangagwa by far, but as long as he does not dig into the subtleties that drive the Zanu-PF campaign, then he is wasting his time.
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