AS the logical conclusion to the Lancaster House Conference on Zimbabwe, political parties battled to gain control of the first democratically elected Government through the one-person-one-vote that ZANU and ZAPU had successfully fought for.
In the period after signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, emotionally charged campaigns and rallies became the order of the day.
It was indeed a game of numbers on who would emerge the winner.
In that short period, December 1979 to February 1980, about 11 political parties namely ZANU, ZAPU, Rhodesian Front, United African National Council, Zimbabwe Democratic Party (ZDP), ZANU-Ndonga, National Democratic Union (NDU), United National Federal Party (UNFP), Zimbabwe United People’s Organisation (ZUPO), National Front of Zimbabwe (NFZ) and United People’s Association of Matabeleland (UPAM) were preparing for Zimbabwe’s first election.
Exiled leaders returned to lead their political parties.
On January 13, Cde Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU, returned after three years’ exile and addressed a rally of 150 000 in Highfield Township in Salisbury (Harare).
He was followed on January 27 by Cde Robert Mugabe of ZANU (PF), who addressed 250 000 people, the largest crowd ever to attend a political rally in Rhodesia’s history.
The crowd could have even doubled had the Rhodesian security forces not stopped people from outside Harare from attending.
Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who had led the unity Government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, campaigned vigorously on behalf of UANC which had won the most votes the previous year after the ill-fated Internal Settlement.
However, attendance at his rallies was reportedly poor.
This sent a cold shiver down the spines of Rhodesians, who realised their favourite candidate, Bishop Muzorewa, was no match for the ‘hated’ guerilla leader, Cde Mugabe.
James Chikerema who had fallen out with Muzorewa in June 1979, entered the field with his ZDP.
Lord Soames, the British Governor, armed himself on February 5 1980 with new powers to restrict meetings, suspend people from campaigning and to disqualify a party from contesting the general election.
This was at the instigation of the vanquished Rhodesians, who hoped the popular liberation movements would be prohibited from contesting the general election.
Both ZANU (PF) and the PF found their offices raided and some of their meetings were banned.
Bear in mind ZAPU contested in the 1980 elections as Patriotic Front (PF).
Cde Mugabe, who survived two bomb attacks on February 6 and 10, claimed some 20 000 of his supporters were arrested during the campaign.
Furthermore, the Registrar-General of Elections refused to put the party’s intended logo on ballot papers because it carried the image of an AK47 rifle and he considered it a threat to public order.
ZANU (PF) posters were confiscated for being considered inflammatory, and many party activists and some candidates were arrested.
But a tide which was sweeping across the whole country proved impossible to contain.
The Rhodesians and their Western backers were so scared of Cde Muagbe’s ZANU (PF) that they hoped it would not get an outright majority, paving the way for Nkomo, Smith and Muzorewa to form a coalition Government.
This was among their several permutations which would see Cde Mugabe an ‘isolated’ loser.
But as they say: ‘If wishes were horses beggars would ride’.
A striking feature of the manifestos produced by the three major parties was the large area of common ground that they shared.
The PF, the UANC and ZANU (PF) were all agreed, for example, upon the need for free primary school education, major improvements in the health service and the necessity to provide better housing.
The policy differences that did emerge, such as the role of private capital in the future economy of an independent Zimbabwe, tended to be concerned with questions of degree rather than principle; all parties were agreed upon a mixed economy.
Even ZANU (PF), considered to be the most left-wing party in the election, stated in its manifesto it would ‘allow private enterprise to continue’.
Although committed to a ‘socialist economy’, ZANU (PF) resolved to ‘examine the need for state involvement’ in the key sectors of agriculture and mining; although few whites or foreign investors appeared to accept the ZANU (PF)’s apparent departure from a hardline Marxist stance, the manifesto and Cde Mugabe’s conciliatory tone, during the campaign, provided a measure of reassurance.
As a result of the many areas of policy agreement, the election campaign centred on the political credentials of the parties and their leaders.
In this respect Cde Mugabe and ZANU (PF) possessed a number of advantages from the start of campaigning.
First, as leader of the largest guerilla army which, in African eyes, forced the Salisbury Government and Britain to accept majority rule elections, Cde Mugabe returned to Rhodesia from exile as a conquering hero.
The record crowd which welcomed him at Zimbabwe Grounds confirmed this.
The major advantage possessed by Cde Mugabe was that he had not been tainted, in the eyes of the electorate, by any previous association with Ian Smith or South Africa, unlike Muzorewa.
Bishop Muzorewa was, of course, closely identified with Smith as a result of his participation in the internal settlement.
This, in itself, might not have proved detrimental to the Bishop — he did after all gain a large majority in the April 1979 elections over a year after signing the Internal Accord — had he been able to deliver some of his campaign promises; the most important of which were ending the war, gaining international recognition and securing the lifting of sanctions.
Having failed to achieve his three major objectives, the Bishop thus found it increasingly difficult to implement even a modest programme of economic and social reform as the PF intensified its war effort.
The Bishop’s waning image as a genuine nationalist leader was dealt further blows by his total dependence on the Rhodesian Security Forces to protect his political kingdom and the increased reliance his Government had placed on SA to prop up its counter-insurgency campaign.
Bishop Muzorewa’s UANC, the party favoured by SA and settler-interests, was accorded both financial and logistical support reported to be valued at Z$6million.
Note the similarity with present opposition parties like MDC and ZimPF, which have been falling over each other in their bid to woo foreign financial backers.
Eschel Rhoodie claimed that Muzorewa had received thousands of rands from the SA Government which was known to be subsidising the Rhodesian war effort at the rate of R1,5 million to R1,75 million per day by mid-1979.
During the February 1980 elections, the UANC was the only African party to support the presence of SA troops in the country during the campaign and the party also promised to trade ‘by day and not by night’ with SA, that is, to expand and develop economic and trade ties if it formed the next Government.
Although the three major parties were agreed over certain policy priorities, their campaign styles differed significantly.
The UANC campaign managers, with experience from the April 1979 elections behind them, ran a well-organised, European-style campaign.
Aided by a massive injection of funds from SA and Western business interests, the UANC produced tens of thousands of colour posters of the Bishop, T-shirts, hats and stickers were distributed free at UANC rallies and the Bishop and his entourage used three West German helicopters to tour the country.
Remember the fancy bus Morgan Tsvangirai was illegally given by his white friends during the 2008 elections as a campaign tool?
At the Bishop’s final rally, a massive four-day feast in Salisbury, 60 000 free meals a day were provided in addition to free overnight accommodation, and the party hired nine trains and 500 buses to ferry supporters to the capital and back home again.
The Bishop’s tone was vitriolic from the start, characterising Cde Nkomo and Cde Mugabe as ‘Ayatollahs operating a slaughter house’ immediately after he signed the Lancaster House Agreement.
Muzorewa’s major theme was to warn
the electorate of the dangers posed to Zimbabwe’s traditional values by ‘Marxism’ and ‘communism’.
And yet paradoxically, this is what the Zimbabwean electorate was yearning for, as long as it meant the end of white rule.
Much of the UANC’s election material was devoted to attacking ZANU (PF) and the PF, and their alleged desire to impose a Mozambique-style regime upon Zimbabwe. The material fell short in promoting Muzorewa himself.
In one, almost hysterical attack upon his opponents shortly before the election, the Bishop wrote, “In Mozambique, the people are literally dying of starvation… if ZANU (PF) or the PF are allowed to impose the same kind of Government upon us you will lose your house, your land, your cattle, goats and chickens… your children will be taken away… and taught to hate the ways of their parents and their tribe… to hate both God and the ancestral spirits. Machel is now vomiting this kind of Government; why do ZANU (PF) and the PF want us to eat other people’s vomit?”
This was the language which was sweet music to the white Rhodesians’ ears but anathema to the black electorate, whose vote the Bishop was seeking.
No wonder the UANC managed to get only three seats (which matched the three helicopters they used in the campaign) out of a possible 80 in the subsequent election
In stark contrast to the Bishop, PF assiduously refrained from attacking other party leaders.
In the first press conference that Cde Nkomo gave on his return from exile, he stressed the need for unity and reconciliation among Zimbabweans.
The PF campaign symbol, an unarmed guerilla cradling a small child above a hoe and ploughshare, emphasised the party’s commitment to peace and reconstruction.
PF election material stressed Cde Nkomo’s experience as a trade union and nationalist leader of 30 years standing, his role in initiating and pursuing the armed struggle and his ability to unite Zimbabweans of all races and tribes.
Cde Nkomo’s avuncular image as ‘Father Zimbabwe’ was captured on campaign clothing.
The ZANU-PF campaign had a military theme.
In both the manifesto and the campaign, however, ZANLA’s dominant role in the guerrilla war was stressed.
While Cde Mugabe spoke of the need for peace, he also made it clear that if the Governor banned ZANU (PF) or attempted to exclude the party from power, then the war would continue.
Cde Mugabe appeared only three times in public during the whole campaign period following two attempts on his life.
The campaign symbol eventually adopted by ZANU (PF) proved to be a masterstroke — a cockerel crowing against the background of a sunrise.
This symbol of an emergent Zimbabwe inspired supporters throughout the country to invent songs, dances and slogans exhorting the electorate to ‘Vhoterayi Jongwe (Vote for the cock)’.
The campaign for the 20 white seats was very low-key and excited little interest among the voters or the media.
The only organised party opposing the RF came from Nick McNally, leader of the Liberal National Unifying Force; McNally stood against the will of his Party, however, which voted to boycott the elections as they were racially segregated.
Smith was sufficiently confident the RF would win to leave the country on the eve of polling.
While in the US, Smith launched a fierce attack on ‘pure democracy’ and branded the PF and ZANU (PF) as ‘terrorists’
In Rhodesia, however, the RF adopted a more conciliatory tone during its campaign amid rumours that former Finance Minister, David Smith, was preparing to lead an anti-Ian Smith faction.
While refusing to renounce the principles of UDI when questioned, RF candidates stressed the need for whites to stay united and to keep faith in the country.
Pres Mugabe rally in Highfileds
Nkomo Father Zimababwe regalia
Muzorewa and his helicopters