By Hopewell Chin’ono
The battle for 2018 will be played out in the rural areas not in the cities, so the usage of social media political messaging will be rendered useless and nothing but an entertaining tool.
The majority of our people that we engage with on social media are not resident in Zimbabwe, but in South Africa followed by England. The majority of them are not even registered to vote.
So I agree with Prof Miles Tendi’s argument that social media is deceptive and a tool for the elite and that many who are active on it are actually in the diaspora.
The party that will capture the presidency is the one that will put its shoulders on the plough in rural areas which have been the bread and butter for ZANUPF electoral victories since 1980.
When General Solomon Mujuru decampaigned Robert Mugabe in the rural areas during the 2008 election, Mugabe lost that plebiscite to Morgan Tsvangirai. It became famously known as Bhora Musango.
Emmerson Mnangagwa uses social media sparingly and only for cosmetics to charm the international community and control the “New Dispensation, Open for Business” narrative.
He will mop up some votes in the cities from the middle class voters or what’s left of it.
This group is responding well to his overtures and prospects of a better business environment post the general election and many of them are somehow involved in helping government achieve its targets, be it quietly.
If indeed Nelson Chamisa becomes the MDC Alliance candidate after sorting out his legality issues within his party, he will indeed energize the youth voters in the cities but he will still have a long walk to victory with the rural folk.
I am reminded of my late father’s remarks when I brought a young doctor home to do a medical check on him. “Are you a real doctor?”, he asked.
“Unotondirapa ndikapora iwewe?, he inquired whilst cynically looking him top to bottom.
That will be a challenge that a youthful candidate like Nelson Chamisa will face against an older and experienced operator like Emmerson Mnangagwa.
However, Mnangagwa will find it a hard and unforgiving terrain in the cities with a youthful and aspirational voting block buoyed at seeing one of their own in the race.
The trouble with this lot is that it turns up for rallies as they provide some kind of carnival and entertainment atmosphere, but easily give up at the thought of spending half a day in the voting queues.
This is a challenge that the rural folk overcome easily because they are usually regimented and some see it as a duty to vote as a favor for the food and agriculture inputs they have been receiving in the past five year cycle.
The opposition has no money to do all this as they don’t control the national purse.
They rely on selling dreams and a hopeful future, a tough thing to hedge your bet on if you haven’t visualized that rosy garden due to 37 years of the same old struggle.
We are heading into the election season and the opposition hasn’t managed to get the media deregulated.
This will be their Achilles heel with the rural vote which relies on transistor radios for its media and news consumption.
Radio Zimbabwe is King for anyone wanting to reach this audience not social media or funky radio stations and trending radio personalities.
The death of Morgan Tsvangirai has removed a potent electoral tool which projected maturity and a sense of stability when the opposition campaigned in the rural areas.
His might turn out to be a hard act to follow for the new team of MDC Alliance leaders which will soon realize how useful he had been in their past electoral victories.
The big price is the presidency but that is not all that the opposition should focus their energies on.
They need to win parliamentary seats if they are going to be relevant and survive Tsvangirai’s passing on.
The governance of a country is done through the legislature and councils and that is where the opposition must not sleep on the wheel.
They need to win big if they are going to be a solid opposition party if they lose the presidency.
The nation and indeed ZANUPF will need a solid opposition for the county to move forward.
The opposition must select decent and competent candidates, the days of courage as the only currency and source of electoral candidature selection are over.
Most of the damage done to cities and councils controlled by the opposition was caused by the lack of good pedigree in city halls. As a result, we ended up with incompetent but courageous councilors running our metropolitan and local governments.
Then comes the topical issue, Nelson Chamisa is a very popular politician in the MDCT circles but he needs to regularize his position. He can get himself hurtling ahead but any sensible observer will tell you that being anointed loses you legitimacy.
He needs to have a snap congress where he emerges the victor if he is to carry his whole party with him. Bravado energized by MDCT thugs and rowdy youths does not border well for a leader campaigning on a change ticket.
If he doesn’t do that, his party presidency will be dogged by whispering campaigns around is illegitimacy. Their party must be united and can not afford to lose any votes due to infighting.
This is a time for Nelson Chamisa to show leadership and not be buoyed by crowds at rallies and supporters high on youthful exuberance. After an election defeat, crowds go back home depressed at the thought of an uncertain future.
That sense of invincibility currently characterizing his behavior and attitude towards his adversaries will disappear if they are clobbered. He loses nothing by being magnanimous and subjecting himself to a party presidential contest which will embolden his grip on the party.
The choices are available out there and the decision is his to make.
As they say, choices have consequences.
Those consequences will determine whether the party of Morgan Tsvangirai live or die with him.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning journalist and filmmaker. He is also a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman fellow. He can be contacted at [email protected]