Bekithemba Mhlanga...mixed bag of opinions on Zimbabwe

Bekithemba Mhlanga attempts to decipher Afrobarometer’s data as 2018 elections loom large over the troubled nation

The most remarkable thing about Afro barometer’s latest survey on Zimbabwe is the conclusion that 64% of Zimbabwean respondents say they trust President Robert Mugabe “somewhat” or “a lot.”

At the same time, the survey found that 65% of respondents were of the opinion that Mugabe’s government is doing “fairly badly” or “very badly” at managing the economy, while 88% criticized the administration’s dismal performance in creating jobs. 

Although Zimbabwe’s state media went into a predictable frenzy with regard to highlighting president Robert Mugabe’s perceived popularity, the least one can say about this mixed-bag of political opinions is that it may be a reflection of a political culture which has imbued respondents with an uncanny ability to give favourable answers to tricky questions.

Unfortunately it is not possible for any survey to deduce when or how the fear factor manifests itself, especially when respondents may be wary about repercussions.

No doubt the survey’s findings about Mugabe’s popularity will have been good news to to his party, Zanu-PF. The party has not had much good news lately with the succession battles hogging the lime light. Presumably the survey results are also likely to irritate MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, just some months before the election in 2018. In the past the MDC has dismissed results conducted by Afrobarometer as unreliable and not a reflection of the situation on the ground.

Mugabe has been in charge of Zimbabwe since 1980 . In that period Zimbabwe has gone from what Julius Nyerere once described as a jewel to what is now a basket case with no currency of its own.

Morgan Tsvangirai on the other hand has been leader of the opposition since 1999 . He has “lost” elections to Mugabe three times. His party has split three times since then. The MDC strongly believes that it is still the only game in town and will trounce Zanu PF in 2018.

There are gems in the survey that will please the opposition , political activists but irritate Zanu PF . Those gems will never see the day of light in the state media.

Interestingly more than 51% of the respondents in both urban and rural areas , male and females – felt that living conditions in Zimbabwe are very bad. Those in the rural areas described the situation as worse or much worse compared to those in other parts of Zimbabwe.

The figure is much higher in the urban areas at 61%. Across the board the prospects for improvement in the next twelve months are described as being bleak to limited.

It will come as no surprise that 78% of the respondents in urban areas felt they could not freely criticise Robert Mugabe and the figure was not different in rural areas where 77% gave a similar opinion.

Morgan Tsvangirai does not come off smelling of roses in this regard as 55% in urban areas felt they could not criticise him and the figure was 51% for those in rural areas. There is no explanation as to whether this is a result of the fear of retribution form MDC supporters or not. Either way this should be of concern to Tsvangirai and the MDC.

Interestingly significant portions of the respondents said they do not discuss politics with family and friends , 45% in urban areas and 38 % in rural areas. Add to that the majority felt they were not free at all to say what they think in both rural and urban areas – one gets the impression of how toxic the political landscape continues to be in Zimbabwe. In fact one can safely draw inferences from this that maybe the findings of the survey must be treated with caution.

Both subsets were of the opinion that there had been no change in their perception of the lack of freedom of speech and expression of views over the past 12 months.

Consequently, 74% of the urban respondents and 67% in the rural areas said they would not participate in a demonstration or a protest march!

Zimbabwe scores badly on the democracy scale, with 13% and 20% of the respondents in urban and rural areas respectively saying the country is a full democracy.

New aspiring presidential candidates and political parties will be comforted to learn that 51% of the urban respondents don’t trust opposition political parties while 49% don’t trust Zanu PF .

Zanu PF is more trusted in the rural areas than in the urban areas but opposition parties are distrusted in both settings.

The reaction is mixed on whether opposition parties should form a coalition in 2018 – 31% of the respondents favour this route in urban areas while 20% in rural areas disagreed.

It’s worth noting too that 83% of the rural population does not rely on television as a source for news in the rural areas, while only 45% are in the same bracket in urban areas . It would be safe to say “television” in this instance refers to bulletins from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

Only 9% get their news from newspapers every day in urban areas. Social media fares badly as well with 14% of people in urban areas using this as a source for news and 3% in rural areas.

Both subsets obviously use social media for other purposes. Despite what may have been thought will be a channel to reach the 18 – 35 age group political parties will be well advised to bear this limited reach. Not surprisingly, Zanu PF still prefers its tried and tested method of galvanizing young people to attend its rallies.