n Journal of African Elections - Moods of bitterness : how political polarisation has influenced Zimbabwean elections




Since 2000 elections in Zimbabwe have been characterised by bitter struggles, mainly between the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In the 2000 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential elections these struggles became so violent that lives were lost on both sides, with the protagonists blaming each other for instigating the violence. Real and imagined violence became the language with which even the international community, especially the media, articulated the Zimbabwean crisis at the expense of other equally problematic issues such as the land question, the constitutional debate, economic and personal sanctions, drought and hunger, and poor political decisions by major players on both sides of the political divide. This paper argues that the violent character of the Zimbabwean crisis is a result of a general mood of bitterness that had been building up for decades prior to the current crisis. That mood is traceable to the brutality of the liberation struggle and the bitterness continued in the early 1980s with the Matebeleland crisis, whose violent suppression raised bitter ethnic questions. The mood continued to thicken with the militarisation of Zimbabwean politics when the war veterans entered the political fray especially after the February 2000 constitutional reform referendum. Although Zimbabwe has had a multi-party system since 1980, the real contribution of past political parties, civil society and the international community in Zimbabwe's democratic experiment has been lost in the rhetoric of violence of the last five years. The general mood of bitterness has made it impossible even for wellmeaning religious groups and concerned governments of neighbouring countries to negotiate a compromise political solution. Sections of the international media, human rights organisations and some Western diplomats, rather than helping to tone down the bitterness have increased tensions by employing the rhetoric of violence, even in the elections of March 2005, long after the conflicting parties had expressly and demonstrably abandoned violence.


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