The stakes are as high as ever in Zimbabwe’s election. The opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), led by Nelson Chamisa, is hoping for an upset against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU PF, and has been targeting the ruling party’s rural strongholds in the campaign. On its part, ZANU PF is looking to grow its votes in its rural base, but has targeted some urban seats currently held by the opposition.
This has set up some interesting races in the election. Here, we talk about some of the key battlegrounds that we are watching in this election.
Uzumba and Maramba-Pfungwe: A ZANU PF fortress?
Three words that strike fear into the hearts of the opposition on election night: Uzumba Maramba-Pfungwe. The two constituencies, Uzumba and Maramba-Pfungwe, often harvest big numbers for ZANU PF. But will it be the same this time?
Combined, Mnangagwa got 44,706 of the votes in the two constituencies in 2018, compared to Chamisa’s 3,537.
In Maramba Pfungwe ZANU PF’s Tichawona Karumazondo won 24,317 votes over Admire Chakwiza’s 929 in 2018. This time, Karumazondo faces Chiratidzo Chimunhu of CCC. However, Karumazondo is not a favourite of many party supporters, who say he was imposed over another candidate, Ndinyarei Mupukuta. In July, the party’s district commissar was sent out to fix things, but was jeered at by supporters. After the party primaries, Mupukuta filed as an independent, but later withdrew.
That’s not the only problem ZANU PF has had to deal with. In 2021, villagers held a rare protest after a Chinese company, Heijin, began a process to evict them so it could mine granite. The Ministry of Mines had to step in, telling the company that its claims “encompassed people’s homestead and fields in Uzumba without the consent of the occupants of the portions of that land”.
Will these issues significantly whittle down ZANU PF’s tally? It would be something of a miracle. In Uzumba, the ZANU PF primaries gave an indication of the party’s ground game there. Wiriranayi Muchemwa won 9,166 votes out of a total of 15,480 votes.
Mabvuku-Tafara: Mbinga politics on the ballot
Scott Sakupwanya won a council seat in by-elections last year, and now wants to be MP. The gold dealer has thrown money at Mabvuku-Tafara residents – sometimes even literally. He claims to have spent over US$2.5 million fixing roads there, and has provided free buses and bought voters clothes and fried chicken. Then he brought in Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather just so voters can see the retired boxer shadowboxing.
He hopes all this will be enough to beat CCC’s Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi, a local councillor.
The race is interesting to watch to see how voters respond to “mbingas” – Harare’s flashy dealers. ZANU PF’s old faux leftist ideological mantras have long given way to the wheeler-dealer types who now call the party home. In this election, apart from Scott, the party has “mbinga” candidates such as Mike Chimombe, Farai Jere, and Chamu Chiwanza.
Manicaland: Battles within a battle
With over 800,000 registered voters, Manicaland is a big battle field. In 2018, Chamisa carried Manicaland in a tight race, winning 296,429 votes to Mnangagwa’s 292,938
Interesting battles to watch there will be in the Chipinge constituencies and in Makoni West. In Chipinge South, ZANU PF is accused of imposing Enock Porusingazi as a candidate. He faces the CCC’s Clifford Hlatswayo. There is also disgruntlement among ZANU PF supporters in Makoni West after Jenfan Muswere was declared the candidate after losing primaries.
In Nyanga South, Supa Mandiwanzira is in a tough battle against first-time candidate Ruxandra “Roxy” McCormick of CCC.
Masvingo: Old legacies, new fights
Two weeks before elections, at Mashate, a shopping centre in rural Masvingo Central, there are surprisingly more CCC posters than ZANU PF’s, and more people in Chamisa T-shirts than those in ZANU PF regalia. The battle here is between Moses Mavhaire of CCC and Edson Zvobgo Junior of ZANU PF. The race is interesting to watch as it pits the sons of Dzikamai Mavhaire and Edson Zvobgo (Sr), two political stalwarts who were allies for decades.
But, more broadly, it reflects a battle for the entire province. There is a reason Chamisa has campaigned hard in Masvingo in this election; he believes the province is there for the taking. In 2018, the MDC Alliance lost only narrowly in Bikita East and Gutu East. But ZANU PF won by wide margins in much of Chiredzi – where Chamisa held at least three rallies this time – and Mwenezi. Chamisa is likey to better in Gutu constituences, Zaka, Bikita and Chivi Central, where he may take advantage of internal ZANU PF disgruntlement.
In 2018, a total of 509,479 votes were cast in the Presidential election in Masvingo, with Mnangagwa winning 319,073 votes (61.43%) while Chamisa got 171,196 votes (33%). There are 723,228 voters registered in Masvingo this year, according to ZEC figures in July, making the province one of the biggest prizes.
Cowdray Park: Mthuli’s other budget
Mthuli Ncube has learnt quickly since he was appointed Finance Minister in 2018; you need a political base to thrive in government. His party picked Cowdray Park, a poor constituency in Bulawayo, for him to run. He has thrown everything at it, resurfacing roads, drilling boreholes, and donating a “cyber bus” on which residents can use the internet. A new clinic funded by the Government, and built by a UK contractor, has also been part of his campaign.
Mnangagwa held his Bulawayo rally there, showing how important this race is to ZANU PF. Ncube faces the CCC’s Pashor Sibanda, a former student leader.
In 2020, ZANU PF won a by-election in Ward 28, which now forms part of the new Cowdray Park constituency. In that by-election, ZANU PF won 1,899 votes while two opposition “double candidates” had a combined 1,450 votes. However, traditionally, opposition supporters do not vote in numbers in by-elections. In 2018, the MDC Alliance won that ward by 8,514 to ZANU PF’s 3,632 votes.
ZANU PF remains hugely unpopular in Bulawayo, where it only won in Bulawayo South in 2018 because of a split opposition vote.
A win for Mthuli would mark his transition from “technocrat” to full politician. A loss will be cheered loudly by critics who despise him for his role in the economic crisis.
Epworth: Anyone’s race
Epworth, an impoverished constituency south of Harare, has always seen tough battles between ZANU PF and the opposition.
In 2018, the MDC Alliance’s Earthrage Kureva won Epworth with 26,082 votes. He won because the ZANU PF vote was split between Zalera Makhari and Kuda Damson, whose combined vote was just 812 votes more than Kureva’s tally. The constituency has since been split into Epworth North and South. Makari returned to win the 2022 by-election, but is not on the ballot after a surprise loss in the ZANU PF primaries. ZANU PF’s Taedzwa Mutana faces CCC’s Kudakwashe Chatambudza, a councillor, in Epworth South.
A more interesting battle is in Epworth North, where ZANU PF’s Taurai Kandishaya, the party’s deputy youth commissar, is up against CCC’s Zivai Mhetu, who until last year was with the rival MDC-T but is popular in the constituency.
In a radio debate in July, an opponent shot at Kandishaya for using the promise of title deeds to win votes. Kandishaya replied: “If an election campaign leaves you with title deeds, that is good. Unlike an election campaign that leaves you only with jokes and Bible verses.”
A ZANU PF wins vindicates its strategy to use title deeds as a carrot for poor people in peri-urban settlements, while a CCC win is a rejection of ZANU PF’s plan to use poverty as a campaign tool.
Mat South: a stronghold for turning?
The CCC’s by-election win of two Bulilima ward seats in September last year gave it a reason to believe that the province, where ZANU PF is traditionally strong, can be turned.
In Insiza South, there is some anger among ZANU PF supporters over the primaries; Andrew Langa was forced to stand aside for another candidate, Spare Sithole. In Insiza North, Farai Taruvinga was declared winner after a controversial primary against Qhubani Moyo.
In 2018, Chamisa won 90,292 (41.7%) in Matabeleland South versus Mnangagwa’s 107,008 votes (49.4%).
Norton: Will it be Temba’s baby?
In Zimbabwe’s polarised environment, independent candidates rarely win. Temba Mliswa was the only independent candidate to win in 2018, benefitting from both disaffected ZANU PF voters and a weak opposition candidate. Can he do it again? This time, he comes up against Richard Tsvangirai of the CCC and ZANU PF’s Constance Shamu.
Both Tsvangirai and Shamu had to come through contentious party candidate selection processes, which left many bitter. But Tsvangirai can still count on urban voters’ tradition of choosing whatever candidate from their party, while Shamu and Mliswa have the disadvantage that the delimination took away two mostly rural wards that could have given them votes.