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Will Nkosana’s good looks get him votes?

By Nixon Nembaware

Enter the handsome Nkosana Moyo! He is rightly named ‘Nkosana’ which literary means the ‘prince’ but will the Prince be heir to the throne one of these fine coming days. 

Nkosana Moyo
Nkosana Moyo

Will his fatherly looks, confident gaze and an assuring face bordered by tints of grey hair be useful in his bid for the post? Like it or not, call it trivia or dismiss it as stuff for some Hollywood gossip tabloid, Nkosana’s looks will be a factor in the 2023 elections.

Those who will not vote for him will consider his downsides: first of all, he is Ndebele (some backward Zimbabweans will not say it but they will not vote for a candidate with a Ndebele surname) in a country that is rotten in its under-structure and led by a content of leaders who from the Gukurahundi times are very tribalist.

Secondly Nkosana is coming at a time when the MDC and its allies are looking for more allies not stand-alone candidates. The MDC and its offshoots and formations believes it has monopoly over opposition politics and anyone who opposes it is an enemy.

They believe anyone who opposes Mugabe owes them support. Nkosana’s looks will definitely be a sway factor. Even if he gets two votes, one of the votes will be because of his looks (probably from his wife.) He can even get three votes, if he has a ‘small-house’ like most of our politicians.

Looks worked their magic in the 1960s in Zimbabwe. A clean shaven, articulate teacher clad in a safari suit and think rimmed spectacles, parted hair and Elvis Presley styled side-bands, who had travelled the world charmed the masses in a 1960 rally than the rugged looking nationalists.

Even though the nationalists had genuinely been fighting the real wars whilst the elegant gentleman was listening to Elvis Presley and having fun with Ghanaian beauty. This is the same guy who later showed us his quest for western elegance donning Savile row suits, Rolex watches and traveling the world non-stop. He was purely an academic with no clue how to run a country and he never mastered the game till his glory days expired and he became an epitome of failed governance.

It’s basically the looks, the deportment, eloquence, good timing and the tricks that got the catholic bred Kutama-boy to power much to the detriment of the Zimbabwean dream.Voting is not necessarily controlled by the content of ideologies and political rationality alone, its controlled by a multiplicity of factors including perception and looks of the candidate.

I have had informal chats been talking to people about Nkosana Moyo.  Many Zimbabwean still do not know him. This will be a turn-off for would-be voters, because in the eyes of the Zimbabwean conservatives/nationalists, you need to have “died for this country” and have liberation war credentials for you to dream of being part of the gravy train.

On the other hand to the Zimbabwean labour party/democrats namely the MDC you need to have been harassed by ZANU P.F (which is the MDC’s equivalent of war credentials) for you to be part of the chosen few. In both parties, there is one post that no citizen should aspire for and that is the post of the president because the incumbents are sacred demigods whose failures should not be mentioned.

From the day he made his presidential intentions clear, I showed about 20 and men and ten women ladies a picture of Nkosana Moyo. I would simply flash a picture and ask if you they knew the guy. Six out 10 of the men did not know him and 4 out of ten of the women did not recognise his face. Of the men, five of them were from rural areas and one out of five recognised and named him.

Of the ladies all the rural women failed to identify his face and did not know that he was intending to run for presidency. (You would probably think they are insane and out of touch but this goes to show that you assumptions of the enlightened voter is mythical) As our conversation would continue the issue of his looks came up, in some instances I had to induce it.

One lady described him as “Sexy” and even jokingly remarked “where is Mrs Moyo.” One said, “I would vote for this guy, just because of his looks.” The other a 29 year old NGO worker said, “he has a father-figure look, I can trust him” One gentleman said, “he has more live that mudhara” One of the ladies asked me “have you heard of the sexy grandpa the one who was trending on social media last year”. She pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of Irvine Randle.

This will probably sound silly to most Zimbabweans who in my view are still all hooked on the myth of the Rational voter. (Bryan Kaplan) The assumption that just because the average Zimbabwean has wallowed in poor living conditions under the hands of Mugabe would vote for Morgan Tsvangirai is one key myth.

How do you explain the Trump win (with all his misogyny and lack of tact and the presidential grooming and deportment that Clinton exudes) the Mugabe win (with all his apparent failure and lack of a clear vision), The Zuma win (with all his innumeracy, corruption and silly blunders akin to that of a naughty teenager). Assuming that somewhere in the enclaves of the world a completely rational voter exists is wishful thinking.

The best you can do is to redefine rationality in an irrational way so that the new rationality would suit your ends. Even if it exists rationality has its limitations and the voter is impressionable and as gullible in ways we may ignore. The level of numeracy and literacy (since Zimbabweans noisily talk of their higher level of numeracy and literacy as second only to that of Tunisia in Africa) does not have a positive correlation with political enlightenment. No wonder why you hear a 40 year old educated Zimbabwean saying “Mudhara uya akapenga pa Chirungu haaaa anotaura mudhara uya”.

Celebrating English eloquence at a time when what Zimbabwe needs is an economic turnaround, reintegration into the international community, board based prosperity, a functional health delivery system,an environment that fosters enterprise  and employment to name just but a few.

This just shows you how the rationality is just but a myth. If Rationality exists the people of Tsholotsho would not have voted for Jonathan Moyo with his ideological inconsistencies where in the early 1990s he was an avid critic of the man he now utter praises.

We all want political battles to be decided on substance and politicians to be judged by  the content of their character and ideas, but research shows that those assessments are greatly influenced by signals we perceive on a subliminal level through an individual’s looks, through their body language, and even the pitch and cadence of their voice. The surprise in recent research is that a candidate’s appearance can lead to a far greater vote swing than even the cynics had imagined.

Researches in American universities found that the effect of a more competent look amounted to an average vote swing of 13%. (Alan Schroeder:Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV). “All other things being equal, good looks will get votes,” said sociologist Barry Glassner, author of “Bodies,” a book that explores in detail about the attractiveness quotient in people’s lives.

And then, in 2005, Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov found out that beauty didn’t tell the whole story as there were other factors and variables but they also concurred that voters appeared primarily drawn to faces that suggested competence.

The 1960s Presidential debate between Richard Nixon who looked nervous and with a haggard appearance, to the television viewers and the cool, dapper John Kennedy opened the eyes of political analysts to a critical variable whose influence many had ignore. I have watched the debate several times and indeed Kennedy was on point and visually convincing.

Many attributed Kennedy’s tiny margin of victory – less than one percentage point – to the impression left by that debate. Richard Nixon was said to have been deemed the winner by Americans listening on the radio and John F. Kennedy was preferred by those watching TV (this was a time when American TV viewership had increased). I am not sure but I am told they had to put Nixon on a milkshake diet to fatten him up and it worked better in the subsequent debates but the damage had already been done.

More recently in America’s 2008 presidential debate Barack Obama, despite a well-documented disadvantage in terms of race, won handily over John McCain on the physical impressions front. Obama’s deep voice, engaging hand gestures and habit of gazing on, intently, as McCain spoke, exuded a sense of charm, respect and competence. McCain, with his obviously forced grins and habit of rolling his eyes at Obama’s words, appeared angry and unlikable.

Meanwhile McCain’s white hair, bad shoulder (I say this with respect to those living with disability and also because some say he was injured whilst fighting for his country) and slight limp made him seem frail. In the next election, he faced a tougher competition from Mitt Romney who like David Cameron of Britain had a stiff posture and a muted body language that made him appear arrogant and posh.

One columnist for Politico.Com said, “Romney has chiselled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished grey at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.”

Earlier this year, xplaining why she lost election to interviewer Kara Swisher at the Code Conference 2017, former American Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton blamed her loss at least partly on misogyny and an electorate that was kinda not yet ready for a female president.

She was quick to allay fears that maybe the electorate was ready since they had just finished working with a president of colour. She categorically acknowledged that President Obama was able to overcome racial barriers due to his appearance.

To quote, her verbatim she said “And you know, President Obama broke that racial barrier, but you know, he’s a very attractive, good-looking man with lots of —”. The conversation did not end there, even the interviewer acknowledged Obamas looks and said “Well, he’s likable enough,” to which Clinton responded “He’s likable enough, absolutely!” (pun was probably intended by the interview because Obama had once said Clinton is “likeable” during a debate in the 2008 presidential primaries but Clinton was genuinely acknowledging the fact that Obamas looks made a difference. 

Closer home, Morgan Tsvangirayi was teased by Mugabe because of his looks and calling him the nickname “chamatama”. More openly in 2013 at a rally in Nzvimbo Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe described Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as “probably” the ugliest Zimbabwean man.

She went on to say the first time President Robert Mugabe, her husband met Tsvangirai, he came home trembling, as he had never seen an uglier man. Grace Mugabe said “He (Tsvangirai) is ugly both facially and in his heart,” Grace told a rally in Nzvimbo, Chiweshe.

“When Baba (Mugabe) first met him physically, he came home trembling and I asked him what the problem was, to which he (Mugabe) said he had never seen someone that ugly.”

Back in the days when the MDC was started avid supporters of Priscilla Misihairambwi used to passionately call her “chimoko chidanger” after a song that was trending those days where a guy was describing how beautiful his girlfriend was. This was because of her looks with nice flowing dreadlocks. 

Then ask me again Do looks matter – “Yes, they do” The answer will be disappointing to those who believe in the myth of the rational voter. Looks do indeed matter. But it’s not attractiveness alone that counts, but a group of traits people believe can be used to read in a character and their face.

The Bible in 1 samuel 9 verse 2 seems to acknowledge good looks as a factor in the selection of a leader , it says “Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” Nkosana has the looks but will he make it?

Nixon Nembaware is a Rotary Peace Fellow Class XII, International Christian University – Tokyo, Japan. You can reach him on [email protected] [email protected] or skype: nembawarenixon