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The Fear Factor

By the Research and Advocacy Unit:

There has been a small controversy over two recent reports dealing with the comparative popularity of ZANU PF and MDC-T.  However, it is a controversy with greater importance than it appears on face value. It is important because the issue is not merely over political party support and which party might win an impending election. We do not need to consider popularity of other political parties since both reports indicate that their support is negligible. The crunch issue is not whether support for MDC-T is waning and increasing for ZANU PF, and why. It is the problem to explain why such large numbers of people will not express a preference for one party or another, why this has been the case for nearly a decade, and whether the “fear factor” affects the crucial variable in political party support: does it affect who citizens actually vote for?

The Freedom House report says that support for MDC-T is waning, that fear of political violence is receding, but also that a very large number of citizens (47%) do not support either party. The Afrobarometer report argues that the gap between ZANU PF and MDC-T is negligible, but with still nearly a quarter of those polled having no party preference.


The big issue between the two surveys (and for politics in Zimbabwe generally) is fear. The Afrobarometer report argues that fear makes people either claim to support ZANU PF (when they don’t) or claim to be apolitical. The Freedom House report claims that fear is waning, and surprisingly that, with this waning, so has support for MDC-T declined. There is perhaps a methodological argument to be had between the two reports, but how to understand fear and its effects on politics and the citizenry in Zimbabwe is an even more crucial factor.

When Eldred Masunungure pointed out that Zimbabwean citizens were “risk averse” some years ago, he was not making a simple politico-psychological point, but indicating something fundamental about Zimbabwean politics. He was drawing our attention to the place of coercion in political life, and to the ready use by the state of violence and intimidation as a means of maintaining political power, what he termed “risk taking” as a strategy of governance. The use of coercive means has been more recently illustrated by Lloyd Sachikonye, shown in his detailed historical analysis of politics over the past four decades. The intimate relationship between politics and violence is embedded in the collective and individual psyche of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans. It is embedded in our ordinary language of political description.

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