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United in Ambition, No High Stakes: Zimbabwe's Election Candidates

I have a number of friends and acquaintances that are running for political office in Zimbabwe’s scheduled harmonised election. The greater majority of them intend to be local government councillors, others still want to be members of parliament and one or two intend to be the president of the country.

Some are brazen while others are a little bit more circumspect about their ambitions. A few are doing it for fun. And a fewer more are doing it on behalf of their political party. One or two still believe they were chosen or sent by God to seek political office and as a result thereof strongly believe that they are guaranteed victory. Oddly there are some that are claiming to be testing the waters for the 2023 elections by running in 2018 where ironically they do not expect to win.

None of them appear enamored to any specific ideological perspectives. If they are they go with what’s trending and don’t ask too many questions. Be it of their respective party manifestos or some ‘free market’ persuasions they encountered at a learning institution or workshop.

The reasons for this are varied. But most significantly is that if they are in the opposition they probably feel that they have been in the trenches for long enough to be nonchalant about ideas. Or that their personal political experiences (torture, arbitrary arrest and detention) at the hands of the long ruling ZANU PF party are enough reason to deserve political office. A point that is somewhat understandable.

Regrettably a number of these colleagues are also in it for the benefits that come with political office. The prospect of allowances, perks, salaries and determination of tenders appears to be very motivational. In fact some of them deliberately chose to run for local government because of this as opposed to a specific desire to be closer to the people.

A number of the candidates I also know are also doing it because they are young. No more OR no less. They are strongly persuaded that it’s now their turn to lead because they are youthful and therefore much more able bodied to be in leadership. Given the population demographics, being young, on its own helps score political points or even electoral victories. Regrettably for them, it is still not enough to guarantee electoral success. Let alone to give one political gravity. But it most certainly helps. And there is always the rider that even if you are a young candidate that loses this time around, you can always try again next time. Health and life permitting.

What is however more important is that all of these colleagues, are playing an important part in enabling the democratic right of all Zimbabweans to choose leaders of their choice democratically. And in a democracy there is no such thing as ‘too many candidates’. Especially in an electoral period. People should be spoilt for democratic choice despite that the 23 presidential candidates make the ballot paper longer.

The only critical aspect to all of these candidates is that they must commit to the enhancing of a democratic culture not only for elections but in all aspects of Zimbabwean lives and the state itself. To participate in the 2018 election as a candidate essentially points to some sort of commitment to the democratic process, while at the same time accepting the possibility of defeat.

Because based on the party manifestos, candidate promises, there are no big ideas that are being pushed for. Most candidates for every contestable position are not saying much that is different. The proposed economic policies of all the major parties are neo-liberal. A majority of individual candidates share a messianic streak supported by religious dogma. And the rest of the field is largely opportunistic.

So the truth of the matter is that there are no high stakes in this election. At least not on substantive matters. It all appears to be a matter of preference. And that’s a good thing (at least for a functional democracy).

The only challenge is that the more our politics is imbued with materialism, celebrity style campaigns and non-contextual neo-liberal marketing pitches as ideas, and then it is bound to lose its organic feel with the people. But then again, we deal the hand that we are dealt.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

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