In political circles in Matabeleland, particularly in Zanu-PF, the term “jacket”, did not, until July 31 simply mean a piece of clothing. It had gained a much more profound meaning as a political descriptor, since 2000.
There has or had been a belief in Matabeleland that any Zanu-PF candidate would not win any election in the region regardless of how able and experienced they are politically.
The Zanu-PF “jacket” that they had on would chase away voters; it was said, with apparently lesser candidates, even donkeys as former Zanu-PF Politburo member, Dr Dumiso Dabengwa said in 2000, from other parties being elected resoundingly.
“We lost not because people didn’t want us anymore but because they were voting for a party and not individuals,” commented Dr Dabengwa on 27 June 2000, two days after he lost as a Zanu-PF candidate to MDC representative, Mr Gibson Sibanda the Nkulumane House of Assembly seat.
“Even if you had put a donkey and labelled it ‘MDC,’ people would have voted for it.”
In the same interview, he characterised his loss and that of scores of other Zanu-PF candidates in Matabeleland as a rejection of the Unity Accord by the people.
“It is clear that this is a rejection of the Unity Accord by the people of Matabeleland,” he said, explaining that the failure by Zanu-PF in all but two constituencies in Matabeleland was an expression of anger by the masses who were not benefiting from the 22 December 1987 agreement between Zanu-PF and PF Zapu.
Out of the 23 constituencies that were in Matabeleland at that time, MDC won 22, Zanu-PF winning only two — Gwanda South and Beitbridge where Cdes Kembo Mohadi and Abednico Ncube beat MDC representatives, Messers Seiso Moyo and Paulos Matjaka Nare respectively.
In two by-elections that were held in the region later Zanu-PF took Insiza back from MDC in 2002 but failed in Lupane in 2004.
Subsequent elections in Matabeleland showed MDCs generally dominating Zanu-PF.
The revolutionary party has not won an election in Bulawayo since 2000 even in the 2005 senatorial elections that were boycotted by the larger MDC faction led by Mr Morgan Tsvangirai. In 2008, Zanu-PF won some seven seats with MDC’s reigning in the bulk of constituencies in Matabeleland.
But Election 2013 rendered the perception of dominance of MDCs in Matabeleland a myth.
Dr Lawton Hikwa, a Bulawayo-based political analyst however, explained that the perspective of Zanu-PF failing and MDCs succeeding in Matabeleland started well before 2000.
Before the Unity Accord, he said, the political jacket phenomenon was very evident, with Zapu consistently beating Zanu-PF candidates in the region.
“We need to properly contextualise the jacket perspective so it does not appear it started in 2000,” he said.
“Before 1987, Zapu would ordinarily take Matabeleland. Zanu-PF had no chance, but that changed after the Unity Accord. When the MDC came, the jacket story was assimilated in the protest vote based on the strong feeling that Matabeleland was neglected.
It appeared that any party or any candidate that stood against Zanu-PF would win in Matabeleland but 2013 changed it all.”
July 31 demonstrated that the jacket phenomenon is only a myth as was the MDCs’ invincibility in Matabeleland region said Dr Hikwa.
“We have seen that, with a good strategy and rigorous campaign, the jacket situation is only a fallacy,” said Dr Hikwa.
He however, said the 2008 harmonised elections and even the just-ended poll, tend to reflect the importance of one’s political party over his or her own ability.
He argued that some MDC-T representatives won in Bulawayo ahead of representatives from other parties despite the fact that they had inferior credentials to those they defeated. This, he said, showed that the electorate still considered the party one represented instead of one’s ability.
On July 31 in Matabeleland South, Zanu-PF beat the MDCs and Zapu to win all the 13 National Assembly seats and won seven out of 12 seats in Matabeleland North. It did poorly in Bulawayo although it substantially enhanced its support.
A Bulawayo-based political commentator who cannot be named for professional reasons said although Dr Dabengwa left Zanu-PF on 1 March 2008 to back the presidential candidacy of fellow former Politburo member, Dr Simba Makoni in harmonised election at the end of that month, his “new jacket” has not endeared him to the electorate.
In May 2009, Dr Dabengwa announced he was “reviving” Zapu and a few months later, was elected substantive president and ran as the party candidate last month. He finished last with 25 000 votes.
“With a ‘jacket’ he felt would boost his chances of being elected,” he said, “Dabengwa was only good enough to attract about 25 000 votes. So, in this respect, is it about the jacket, or a candidate’s ability and what he can potentially offer?”
Official results released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission show that only one Zapu candidate, a councillor in Matabeleland South won, the rest, consistently coming out last in all constituencies and wards. The MDC faction led by Professor Welshman Ncube did not win any seats in Parliament, but a few wards.
The law professor got a little more than 90 000 votes in the race to State House.
Zanu-PF controls all the National Assembly seats in Matabeleland South, contributes more members under proportional representation to the House than its rivals and would call the shots in the provincial council.
It shares influence in Matabeleland North with MDC-T but did not do well in Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association chairman, Cde Jabulani Sibanda said with hard work and unity of purpose, the political jacket theory had no chance this time.
“There was no trick to Zanu-PF’s electoral performance in the region,” said Cde Sibanda.
“It is because of hard work. Yes, I agree with you that there was that perception that Zanu-PF was finished in Matabeleland but the party worked hard and this time the stories about jackets did not arise.
There are times when a revolutionary party would go down but what is important is to find out how to come up. I must say the inclusive Government was a good thing for us as Zanu-PF. It exposed MDC more than anything else. They showed how corrupt they are and exposed their incompetence.
“I will give you an example of two ministries, one that was led by Zanu-PF and another by MDC. There was the Ministry of Health under MDC-T and Ministry of Transport under Zanu-PF. The Ministry of Health was well funded by western donors through NGOs while the Ministry of Transport and its minister, were under sanctions.
Who has achieved more between the two ministries? It is clear the Minister of Transport performed wonders despite being under sanctions but the Minister of Health despite all the donor funds, failed dismally.”