I have been studying an interesting, if shocking, set of statistical results of a national survey on the socio-economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. It was conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), in partnership with Afrobarometer, both respected research institutions. The survey results were released yesterday, on 5th May 2015 and the survey itself was done between 16th and 29th November 2014. It is grim news for Zimbabwe’s opposition.

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By Dr Alex T. Magaisa

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It will also confound many people, especially those in urban Zimbabwe, who will no doubt argue that the survey’s results do not reflect their own circumstances. But while one is entitled to disagree with and critique a survey, it would be utterly preposterous to ignore and dismiss the results.

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One immediate effect of these results, when I studied them, was to cement a long-held view, expressed by the old cliché, that a people gets the government it deserves. The message conveyed by this cliché is that whatever government is in charge of a nation, it is because that nation, by its conduct and attitude deserves it. If a nation ends up with a bad government, it is because that nation has not done enough to not have such a government and therefore, so the logic goes, that nation deserves the bad government it gets.

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But upon reflection, I appreciated that a flippant response is not enough or helpful.

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Such survey outcomes require a sober approach because the messages they communicate can help political and social actors – in opposition and civil society – to have a better understanding of the terrain in which they are operating.

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In strategy, knowing your territory is important, as is knowing your enemy and knowing yourself. Because I am an avid disciple of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, this is a message that I often tried to communicate to colleagues in the MDC. Some got it but, sadly, not everybody. Old methods were preferred, which “scenario-mapping” was a key favourite. Mapping scenarios without knowing the enemy or the operating terrain. It was futile.

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Zimbabwe is an interesting country, where, very often, what appear to be popular perceptions do not always tally with the actual realities on the ground. To many people who are reading this and who think they know better, the results of the Afrobarometer survey will shock them and they will probably dismiss them outright. But they should listen more, rather than assume the defensive mode and thereby dismiss the survey results. That would be careless.

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Since this survey was done by respected and reputable research organisations, naturally, it commands attention and respect. And lest we forget, the last time these two carried out a similar survey, back in 2012, they were dismissed in some quarters, especially in the opposition, but this attitude was not helpful. The outcome of their survey seemed to back the outcome of July 13. Either they were closer to the truth or they were part of a grand conspiracy, though I think the latter suggestion would be churlish.

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Like all surveys, there are bound to be weaknesses, but I would rather people, especially in the opposition, use these survey results to understand the terrain in which they are operating and therefore, to map out strategies to deal with the challenges.

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By their nature, political surveys such as these do not offer detailed reasons for the positions that people hold on the various survey issues. The surveys only provide a broad, if skeletal picture and it is for functionaries in political parties to study and examine the reasons for that the state of affairs represented by that picture and, if necessary, what can be done to change and make it better. Strategy has to be based on what is known and not what is perceived.

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This, therefore, is the important task that must occupy opposition and civil society actors because the truth is that the results of this survey are not pretty. This is particularly so in light of the fact Zimbabwe is going through a time when the Zanu PF government seems to have failed to live up to grand election promises, and does not seem to have any clue or capacity to resolve the deteriorating socio-economic conditions. There is a lot of frustration and hopelessness among the people.

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And yet, against this grim background, the results of this survey present an astonishingly positive picture for President Mugabe and Zanu PF. Propagandists for the regime will obviously be very pleased and will beat the drum over and over again deluding themselves that all is well. But serious opposition parties must search and search very deeply, why things are the way they are and what it is they need to do to regain the trust of the people.

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Let me present highlights of the survey that are particularly relevant for purposes of this article:

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1. Trust in President Mugabe

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President Mugabe still enjoys the trust of the people. Apparently, 63% of Zimbabweans surveyed trust President Mugabe. He enjoys greater support in his traditional stronghold, the rural areas where 70% trust him while he only enjoys 45% trust of the urban people. By gender, 62% of males trust him, while he is trusted by 64% of the women. An additional statistic is that 54% of Zimbabweans trust the ruling party, Zanu PF. I am reliably advised that at the presentation of the results yesterday, one stat was that the opposition only enjoys a measly 34% trust among Zimbabweans.

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People will argue with this, but this is what the survey has produced.

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An interesting feature that will please President Mugabe’s supporters is that the overall result in terms of trust backs his rule and is also consistent with the outcome of the 2013 election. This result suggests that he has maintained his support, notwithstanding the negatives that have gone on since then.

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But this statistic also has implications for succession-planning and the succession race. It will disappoint presidential aspirants in Zanu PF who might have been hoping to succeed him at the next election in 2018, because this survey result will be used as confirmation that President Mugabe is still popular and remains the right man for the job. It backs those arguing that there is no vacancy at State House, now or in the foreseeable future, which means bar resignation, incapacitation or death, Zimbabwe is likely to be with President Mugabe for a very long time to come. It means the aspirants will have to wait longer.

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If it is correct that only 34% trust the opposition, this is grim news indeed because it begs the question why the level of trust is so low, and lower than that of Zanu PF, which is failing so badly to turnaround the fortunes of the country. Is it that these people see Zanu PF as a the better devil? Is it that the fights and splits in the opposition have reduced levels of confidence in the opposition?

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Rather than moan that this result is misleading and inaccurate, which it may be, the opposition and civil society must interrogate why, despite the failings of his government, President Mugabe still retains such considerable levels of trust among Zimbabweans, especially in the rural areas. What are the factors in the rural population that enable the President to maintain such high levels of trust? These are important enquiries that are necessary in mapping out strategies. You must engage them and not flippantly dismiss the survey as inaccurate.

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2. Trust in Religious Leaders

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A second key feature of the survey is that the most trusted institutions/individuals in Zimbabwe today are religious leaders. They are trusted by 75% Zimbabweans as represented in the survey. They are trusted by 80% of the rural people and 66% of the urban population.

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This is a serious indictment on politicians, in that they have lost trust among the people most of whom prefer to invest their trust in religious leaders. This is consistent with the popular support of churches and the rise of charismatic church leaders in the Pentecostal Movement, whose gatherings far outnumber that of politicians.

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Politically, it poses important questions regarding not only potential strategic connections with the churches but also understanding the needs and expectations of the people since religion is clearly important to them. It also helps for politicians, across the board to self-introspect, and ask what it is that they have lost that has driven more and more people towards religious leaders, some of whom are not altogether clean in their ways and methods.

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Perhaps it points to the fact that politics has lost its soul; that politics and politicians have let the people down and the ordinary people have chosen to invest their faith, allegiance and trust in faith-based institutions where there is no threat to their lives but rather, there is the promise of salvation and vast fortune by way of miracles. This is something for politicians across the board to ponder upon, because they have lost the people.

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3. Trust in ZEC

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Another key feature of the survey’s outcomes is in respect of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). While it is one of the least trusted state institutions, it still manages to rake up 46% of Zimbabweans who trust it. There is an even split in that 46% do not trust it. Most of those who trust ZEC (54%) are in the rural areas whereas only 33% of urban people trust it. A massive 63% of urban people do not trust ZEC.

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The picture here is that ZEC is less trusted in urban areas than it is in the rural areas. Civil society and the opposition need to explore why this is so and more importantly, why ZEC continues to retain trust in rural areas notwithstanding its numerous failings in delivering its mandate on issues such as the voters roll.

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It is also interesting to note that by province, ZEC is less trusted in the two metropolitan provinces, Harare and Bulawayo, where respectively a huge 64% and 73% do not trust it. This is the same picture in the southern and western provinces of Matabeleland where less than 40% in each of the two provinces trust ZEC. However, it enjoys a lot of trust in the Mashonaland provinces where Mashonaland East has 57%, Mashonaland Central 59% and Mashonaland West at 67%. In Masvingo trust for ZEC is at 47%; the Midlands has 51% and Manicaland 44%.

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It is important to investigate and examine why this is the case. As for ZEC itself, it needs to engage in some self-introspection, to understand it does not command the trust of the majority and what it can do to improve levels of trust, especially in urban areas. This is where reforms, often referred to by the opposition are critical.

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4. Positive Trust Levels for State Institutions

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There is also general trust for state institutions, which include the police (50%), army (64%), traditional leaders (64%). Only Zimra has a very negative result, with only 40% who trust it and 49% who do not trust it.

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But it is interesting to also look at the differences by location because clearly, the state institutions are trusted more by people in the rural areas than by those in the urban areas. For example, while 50% trust the police, a massive 67% of the urban population do not trust the police while 62% of the rural population trust this state institution. Also, while the army enjoys an overall 64% trust, it commands trust from only 46% of the urban population but rakes up a big 72% of the rural population who say they trust the army.

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It is important to understand why this is so. Is trust a substitute for fear or is it pure trust in these institutions? Why, with all the criticisms of military interference and police corruption and all the other negatives do they still retain positive levels of trust among the people? It is important to investigate and understand these issues.

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5. Media Usage

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The other feature of this survey is in respect of media usage. It confirms that more people still rely on radio and television than they do on newspapers, the internet and social networks. Radio is still the most popular medium of communication largely because it is cheaper for most people, especially in rural areas. Television is more popular in the urban areas, naturally because of accessibility. The internet and social networks dominate in urban areas, again mainly because of ease of access. A future survey might help if it breaks down the different types of social networks as some, such as WhatsApp might be more popular than others because of ease of access and usage.

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This is important considering the use of the media in communicating political messages. The vast dominance of radio is the more reason why media reform is a critical facet of electoral reforms since those who control radio have greater access to audiences, especially in rural areas.

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In this regard, Zanu PF has enjoyed a massive advantage over other political parties because if its dominance in the state media. The other two so-called private radio stations are effectively controlled under Zanu PF control since one is owned by a Zanu PF politician and government minister and the other is a subsidiary of Zimpapers, the state media company. Both StarFM and ZiFM have provided better space for other political parties than the ZBC, but their coverage does not match that of the more established ZBC channels.

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Final Thoughts

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There are other features of the survey, including perceptions regarding corruption, China’s influence in Zimbabwe and male circumcision, but some of those will be dealt with separately. I have sought to deal here with selected issues that I thought were rather astonishing in light of commonly-held perceptions. These are issues that should occupy the minds and attention of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties and civil society.

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It would be naïve to dismiss the survey results but to take them as a useful picture to understand the terrain of political operation. Opposition parties have not enjoyed the best of times in the past year. Neither has civil society. The ruling party has struggled with its own politics and with the economy, which it cannot resuscitate. There is general frustration and an atmosphere of hopelessness.

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Yet against this bleak background, the Afrobarometer survey suggests that President Mugabe and Zanu PF continue to thrive, enjoying public trust, particularly in the rural areas. This will please President Mugabe and his supporters but it will annoy and frustrate those in the opposition. But it is important to take a sober approach to all this and try to understand why this survey has produced these results.

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Why this is so, and what can be done to change it should be the task occupying opposition parties. Some will say a lot has happened since the survey was carried out in November 2014. That may be true – because a lot has happened – but still, it does not completely diminish its value as a resource for crafting political strategy.

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wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk

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