The Zhuwao Brief Reloaded Article 12 (ZBR12) Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The quandary of independent candidates in Zimbabwe

By Patrick Zhuwao

This week saw several young people announcing that they will contest local polls in the forthcoming general elections as independent candidates.

Patrick Zhuwao
Patrick Zhuwao

Over the past few weeks, I have been engaging with a number of these candidates to try and ascertain this development, whose pitfalls have been witnessed before. Most of them said their main reason for this trend is the marginalisation of women and youth by the mainstream political parties. But how can this be the reason, given that these political parties have vibrant women and youth wings?

Upon closer scrutiny, independent candidates find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They are in a quandary. The rock is defined by Zimbabwe’s mainstream political parties that have proven to be a major disappointment to themselves and their founding values, principles, ideologies and constitutions.

For example, ZANU PF was formed as a liberation movement to free the people of Zimbabwe from colonial bondage under which they lost their political and civil liberties. ZANU PF’s founding values, principles, ideology and constitution have been eroded with the most recent and dramatic assault being the 15 November 2017 coup that trampled on the Party’s time-honoured principle that politics must lead the gun. The recent massive expulsions of ZANU PF members in 2015, 2017 and 2018 were in the same vein.

The same malaise has been seen in the MDC which was formed in 1999 by, mainly, former ZANU PF members as a critique to ZANU PF’s reliance on the bullet against the ballot under the grip of stockholder politics. This MDC challenge inspired a broader quest for democratic change under the banner of “Movement for Democratic Change”.

Alas, the excitement around the MDC promise was short-lived as it too suffered the same fate as ZANU PF when it came to the Party’s failure to live by its founding values, principles and constitution. The highlights of this are the MDC splits of 2005, 2014 and 2018. Young people who wish to engage in politics are alive to these ZANU PF and MDC failures.

Plainly put, the current ZANU PF and MDC leadership are not products of democratic processes. Neither Emmerson Mnangagwa nor Nelson Chamisa are duly elected Presidents in their respective parties. Both of their incumbencies are tainted by cases of violence that have invited the speculation that they are two sides of one junta coin.

This point is aptly made in Derek Matyszak’s 27th March 2018 article for the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) entitled “MDC-T does succession the ZANU PF way” Consequently, some young aspiring politicians who eschew violence associated with both ZANU PF and MDC are understandably opting to stand as independent candidates to escape from the rock of mainstream parties.

But as they do that, they find themselves arrested by the political weaknesses of the independency of an individual. This is because independent candidature implies a dissociation from others; yet politics by its nature is inherently about association. Politics is about groups. Group is the opposite of independent candidates. The importance of the fact that to be political is to associate, is demonstrated by the provision of that right in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The freedom to associate does not need to arise if a person is alone; if they are independent. To be an independent candidate is to be a political hermit. That’s neither practical nor desirable in any community. It is therefore no surprise that 11 independent candidates for local elections in Harare have formed a coalition of independent candidates. One of the members of the coalition, called People’s Own Voice (POVO), has said they intend to field candidates in all 46 wards in Harare.

That sounds so much like a political party! It’s ironic that independent candidates are constituting themselves into a group. How does an independent candidate simultaneously become a member of a group of divergent individuals with no common manifesto? What happens if there are other individuals that want to contest in the same wards that these independent candidates are standing?

Do they become default members of the coalition in which members contest against each other? Whilst there is speculation that POVO is a political party in the making, the reality is that the POVO conceptualisation is schizophrenic in seeking to confine independent candidates within some form of political formation which now limits that independence even by the simple act of having common regalia, let alone an admittance criteria. I suspect that the POVO project will suffer the same fate as that of the association of Simba Makoni’s independent candidates in the 2008 elections.

Makoni stood as an independent presidential candidate together with a collection of independent local and parliamentary candidates none of whom won a seat. After having been walloped, they then formed a political formation, Mavambo Kusile Dawn, which was stillborn after the false start of seeking to hoodwink Zimbabwe’s sophisticated electorate with fake independent candidature.

It’s clear that when independent candidates seek to avoid the rock of mainstream political parties by being independent, they end up in a hard place which is no better than the rock. Their situation becomes akin to that of a person who loses his car keys on the dark side of the street only to look for them on the lit side, foolishly hoping to find them there!

He needs a strategy that addresses the fact that there is no light on the dark side of the street. Similarly, Zimbabwe’s aspiring candidates, including those who have been disillusioned by the bad behaviour of mainstream political parties, need frameworks that address the challenges of mainstream political parties that are forcing some of them into independent candidature.

Tine basa rekugadzira hurongwa hwacho (we have the responsibility of developing those frameworks). Iwe neni tine basa. Umsebenzi loUmkhulu. Asante Sana.

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