AN Afrobarometer survey report released in June this year showing a rise in the popularity of opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa against waning support for President Emmerson Mnangagwa has unsettled Zanu PF.
Jolted into action, the ruling party’s leadership is now canvassing political support in the church.
Afrobarometer conducted its survey via the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI).
The key finding was that if elections were held at that juncture, 33% of the respondents were going to vote for Chamisa while 30% would vote for Mnangagwa.
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life.
It was only the second time that an Afrobarometer survey had shown an opposition candidate leading in Zimbabwe. The first time was in 2009 when the late founding Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai led over the late Zanu PF strongman Robert Mugabe barely two weeks after the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU).
Zanu PF insiders this week told The NewsHawks that while in public the party leadership has been portraying a sense of invincibility, the recent charm offensives on churches by Mnangagwa and his acolytes evinced how much the Afrobarometer survey had unsettled the former liberation outfit.
“Number one (Mnangagwa) and other party leaders at our Harare headquarters where most of them are working full-time were particularly unsettled because in 2017 the same survey projected ED’s support at 38% and so coming down to 30% was a cause of concern for them. It was decided that the party harvest support in churches,” a Zanu PF insider said.
Another top Zanu PF official added: “It is not accidental that you see party leaders and government officials flocking to churches with huge followers to address them. It’s part of a planned move in response to the Afrobarometer survey. The party now believes that it can regroup and bolster its support from wooing churches. Our leader (Mnangagwa) himself is not a staunch Christian but he has been going to these churches and putting on different robes.”
In the past two months, Zanu PF officials have indeed been frequenting countless churches.
On 16 July, Mnangagwa was in Mafararikwa at St Noah where he attended the Passover Service with a record gathering at the shrine where the late Johanne Marange Apostolic Church leader, Noah Taguta, was buried.
Taguta died aged 82, leaving a church with huge followers and he was survived by 25 wives who gave birth to 120 children.
On the day Mnangagwa was at St Noah shrine, his wife Auxillia was in Mutare, attending an Apostolic Ejuweni Jekenisheni church service.
She was accompanied by Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa.
On 2 July, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was at the Catholic-run Monte Cassino Girls High School in Macheke when the mission marked its 60th anniversary. He attended mass and committed to building an Advanced Level classroom block and a bridge linking the school with surrounding communities.
During the last weekend of July, Chiwenga again addressed church members during the presbyteral and diaconate ordination of three Roman Catholic Church priests and a deacon at St George’s College in Harare.
On 7 August, Mnangagwa attended service at Zion Christian Church at Defe Dopota. Accompanied by the First Lady, he addressed thousands of congregants.
Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst, told The NewsHawks that the first family was luring churches in a bid to prolong its stay at State House.
“This goes to show the enormous and increasing power of the religious factor, particularly the indigenous African churches as well as the pentecostals. Remember, according to the recent Afrobarometer survey (March-April 2022), 90% of Zimbabweans declared that they are Christians.”
“This is coupled with the fact that religious leaders are by far the most trusted among public figures, with 71% of adult citizens saying they trust them compared to the next most trusted institutions, traditional leaders who attract 58% trust levels. In short, the first family – President and First Lady – have their fingers on the pulse.”
“But, let’s be clear: it’s not for the love of Jesus or the Bible but for love of power that proximity to religious figures yields. Also note that traditional leaders have long been targeted and are now in the fold, so are many other socio-political demographic groups. This is all part of a total strategy that leaves no stone unturned on the road to retaining State House,” he said.
Asked to comment on whether there are chances the strategy to lure churches could save Mnangagwa in next year’s elections, Prof Masunungure said:
“The chances are extremely high, especially in respect of the above religious movements – indigenous and pentecostal– where often the word of the bishop is taken as a directive to the congregants and there is little to no room for dissenting voices and defiant actions.”
However, Professor Stephen Chan, another political analyst, had a different view.
“I recall apostolics protesting against the government. It will be hard to win them over, especially as there are very many apostolic sects, not always with deep affection for one another. People can don as many white robes as they like. They will win only a handful of votes,” he said.