HARARE – President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC are in hand-to-hand combat, unfurling nationwide door-to-door (D2D) campaigns where district officials are dropping in and canvassing for support.
Get-out-to-vote efforts have moved front and centre for both Mugabe and Tsvangirai’s campaigns, reflecting the tightening of the race in all the battlegrounds nationally.
The latest poll confirming the trend was Freedom House’s national survey, which showed a statistical dead heat nationally with each candidate favoured by almost an equal number of likely voters, but underscored how Mugabe was continuing to make gains among voters while holding a marginal lead.
With Mugabe and Tsvangirai making their poll pitch on indigenisation and the $100 billion “Juice” economic blueprint respectively, their surrogates nationally are busy firing up their bases door-to-door, the essence of voter turnout.
Zanu PF has enlisted the services of youths, students, the Women’s League and war veterans to launch a door-to-door nationwide campaign dubbed “Your Vote is Your Voice; Your Voice is Your Vote”.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo says the campaign is urging voters to register in the ongoing mobile voter registration.
The MDC door-to-door campaign, dubbed D2D, has however been blighted by arrests mainly in Harare, with those arrested charged with contravening section 40 of the Zimbabwe Electoral Act, which forbids voter education without authority from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
Obert Gutu, Harare spokesperson for Tsvangirai’s MDC, said the “D2D campaign in Harare’s suburbs has been a resounding success, hence Zanu PF’s spirited efforts to sabotage the process by misusing and abusing the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s powers of arrest and detention.”
He spoke as police arrested five MDC activists Brain Reza, Kembo Kembo, Collin Chavengwa, Stewart Utaunashe and Netsai Tangai who were carrying out the D2D campaign in Msasa on Saturday.
The five’s arrests bring to 24, the number of those arrested in Harare alone conducting the campaign.
Volunteers have been showing up at the door and not just asking, “Vote for us” but vouch for us.
Gutu said: “We have recorded spectacular success in the low density suburbs where residents do not ordinarily turn up for our public rallies.
“For instance, our D2D team in Harare East Constituency had covered more than 5000 households before the unlawful arrests that took place in Msasa last weekend.”
He continued: “Most Harare residents feel perfectly comfortable discussing with our D2D teams. Moreover, our D2D teams are trained to be people-friendly and courteous. Residents naturally want to be treated with respect and dignity, which is precisely what our teams have been doing. Little wonder, therefore, that Zanu PF is now running scared.”
Both Zanu PF and MDC cite a blizzard of numbers to show who is doing a better job contacting and motivating voters one by one.
The MDC say that this time around, there are light-years ahead of the lacklustre voter turnout efforts in 2008.
Zanu PF has been pouring millions of dollars into State television ads, an area the MDC is barred from, creating an unfair parity in the air war.
In the coming week, the Tsvangirai campaign and its civil society allies have been banking on the door-to-door campaign for political advertising and voter education respectively.
That means that no voter in the State is likely to be unaware of Tsvangirai or Mugabe’s message, so the importance of motivating supporters to vote is all the more crucial in a race that both sides expect to be decided by one or two percentage points.
“I don’t think (door-to-door campaigning) it will assist much to woo voters to participate in the coming elections,” said political analyst and academic Pedzisai Ruhanya.
“The best way is to allow civic organisations to play their democratic roles and stop these coordinated cases of arrests and intimidation the State is doing against organisations like ERC, Zimrights, CCDZ and others.”
Civil society groups that have joined the volunteer door knocking as a form of voter contact, have fallen foul with the law.
Three volunteers from the Election Resource Centre (ERC) Farai Saungweme, Wadzanai Nyaku and Moses Chikura were arrested on Saturday for conducting the door-to-door “1st Time Voter Generation campaign.”
ERC director Tawanda Chimhini was forced to surrender himself to the police Monday to secure the release of the three volunteers and was also charged under section 40 of the Zimbabwe Electoral Act.
Earlier on Sunday, six members of the Youth Agenda Trust Anesu Tevera, Yemukai Singwere, Sanisai Masimo, Siria Sete , Arnold Svotwa and Russel Mutyambizi were arrested in Glen View Sunday on a door-to-door voter education campaign and charged for being a criminal nuisance and ordered to pay $10 fines each.
Meanwhile, both the MDC and Zanu PF claim so many new volunteers have come forward claiming that the intensity is on their side.
A senior member of the Mugabe campaign in Zvishavane, who was not authorised to speak publicly, said, “If it comes down to a dogfight over who can turn out the most votes, I feel very confident we can win that fight.”
In the Makwasha neighbourhood in Zvishavane, Mugabe volunteers, mostly elderly women, visited more than 200 houses on Saturday morning and were back to walk another neighbourhood in the afternoon.
Rather than engaging in lengthy conversations, as suggested by district leaders to field troops, the Zanu PF volunteers have a professional attitude.
“We would like you to register to vote and back President Robert Mugabe who brought independence to this country.”
Sometimes the conversation did not get far. “Hello,” one volunteer said at one house.
“Yes. But no, thanks,” said the woman who answered, eyeing the volunteer’s Zanu PF T-shirt, and closing her door.
A couple clearing their garden, listened to the volunteers reciting their script: “We would like you to register to vote and back President Robert…?”
The old man politely stated he supported the MDC.
“We have to move on,” one volunteer said politely, moving to the next house.
Most of those canvassing on behalf of Zanu PF grew up in the area, a suburb of Zvishavane which Tsvangirai won in 2008.
“We know these people,” said one volunteer, who hopes to make a career in politics. He recalled riding his bike through the neighbourhood, just the sort of advantage both campaigns cite when it comes to winning support voter by voter. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor