The figures, compiled from a “nationally representative sample of 1,200 adult Zimbabweans” by an independent non-governmental organisation called Freedom House, paint an alarming picture of a population, which after more than a year of growing confidence following the formation of a power-sharing government and the halting of the country’s economic collapse, is once again beginning to cower.
Here’s one perspective on the mood in Zimbabwe, then, as the prospect of elections draws closer.
- 89% of respondents did “not feel free to express political views”
- 74% believe “that fear affects how people vote”
- 57% want elections this year, but almost the same number “stated that fear of violence makes Zimbabweans abstain from voting”
- support for the former opposition MDC-T has dropped sharply, from 55% to 38%. At the same time 42% of respondents chose not to declare their vote preference – an 11% rise from the previous year
- support for Zanu-PF has grown from 12 to 17%
- 58% of respondents had experienced “violence and intimidation in their communities in the past two years.”
These figures were presented by Freedom House at a news conference in Johannesburg, and then followed by panel discussions which focused on concerns about a new wave of intimidation by President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.
Zimbabwean journalist Faith Zaba told of being threatened with death for planning to write about a senior general; she also said “there’s a fear of Facebook,” because “we know they [state security] are monitoring.”
Women’s activist Grace Chirenje spoke of “fatigue and fear in civil society… there are so many human rights violations right now, perpetrated mainly by the police and army… and youth militias.”
Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama declared that the reconciliation process “has simply not happened. Nothing has changed… People are afraid. They are not prepared to sacrifice.”
Polling expert professor Eldred Masunungure told me the fall in support for the MDC was “a big but bitter lesson” for the party. “Though they’ve performed reasonably well in government, they’ve done very badly in terms of… resuscitating the party and readying it for the next electoral battle.”
Despite the generally gloomy tone of the survey’s findings, it’s worth pointing out that on Monday, Harare will play host to a much more upbeat gathering of foreign investors, lured for the most part by Zimbabwe’s vast mineral resources.
How to square the gloom and the optimism? Zimbabwe’s finance minister – also the MDC’s Secretary General – Tendai Biti can always be relied on for a choice turn of phrase.
“We’re fighting the most sophisticated dictator on the African continent,” he said, in reference to Mr Mugabe, and in answer to a series of questions I put to him.
“We are talking about two different messages. The past and the future.” He said most foreign investors were able to see beyond the “fiction and rhetoric” of Zanu-PF’s statements about seizing companies by force.
“No major players have pulled out,” he said.
As for the political struggle between the two parties: “It’s inevitable that there’s going to be a violent collision. But our vision is the future, and the future will always win. A new society is being built,” said Mr Biti.
“The only challenge is whether this baby is going to be delivered by violent caesarean section, or by normal delivery. But it will be delivered anyway,” he said.