By Mutinta Himunyanga
The run-up to Zambia’s 11th of August 2016 elections has been characterised by violence and intimidation of political opponents. In addition, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) has been facing allegations of abusing state institutions, such as the police, military and Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to bully perceived political opponents. In response to the Machiavellian political tactics by the ruling party, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) launched the “Watermelon Campaign”.
The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) is describing the UPND “Operation Watermelon” as evil and a recipe for bloodshed. The “Watermelon Campaign” draws similar parallels to the PF’s “Donchi Kubeba” campaign during the 2011 elections campaign.
The reaction of the ruling PF to watermelon campaign show a political incumbency in panic under huge distress. The PF knows the effectiveness of non-violent underground campaigns having been beneficiaries of such a campaign strategy in the 2011 elections. The big question is whether the panic reaction of the PF is driven by the fear of the power of such a strategy or real concerns for violence?
In the 2011 general elections the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) were busy splashing out a lot of money and campaign materials to bribe voters. In addition, President Rupiah Banda and the MMD allegedly resorted to political violence and intimidation of voters. In response, the PF launched an underground and non-violent campaign strategy “Donchi Kubeba” (Don’t talk, your vote is your secret) to deal with then ruling MMD. The strategy successfully worked well as the PF triumphed in the 2011 elections.
The MMD rallies and meetings were highly subscribed, creating a lull that, it was still popular and yet what people were doing was shouting MMD slogans, pocket their money, materials and in turn voted for the PF.
To get more insights into the “Watermelon Campaign”, I spoke to a PF and UPND cadre based at the highly politicised Intercity Bus Terminal and Lusaka City Market respectively.
John Mwape (not real name) a strong PF supporter and a bus conductor at Intercity Bus Terminal said, “Markets and bus stations have been heavily politicized areas and a number of incidents have happened where people’s shops are rioted or burnt down because they are suspected of supporting the opposition”.
For Mwape, the politicisation of markets and bus terminus is not anything new and was not started by the PF. He argued that it part and parcel of Zambian politics. Mwape noted that the local city council has failed to take charge of the markets and bus stations and this has been the trend dating as far back to the time of the ruling MMD.
Mwape defended President Lungu, statement calling Operation Watermelon as evil saying the plan is evil because by wearing PF campaign materials the opposition can commit violence in the name of the PF. He argued that by wearing PF regalia the opposition is unnecessarily provoking and mocking the ruling party. For Mwape this could potential cause bloodshed if one is caught.
Susan Mwanza (not real name) a fruit and vegetable trader in Lusaka’s City Market defended Operation Watermelon. She said the PF is going to get a test of its own medicine come Thursday’s elections.
Mwanza said, this year the UPND is the one playing the Donchi Kubeba on PF, we are all appearing green outside but inside our hearts we know who exactly we are voting for.
Mwanza added that Operation Watermelon is a mind game and this is disturbing PF so much as it is torturing their minds on whom exactly is on their side.
Mwanza disclosed that in a market like City market where levies, shop rentals and all affairs of the market which includes security and cleaning are controlled by the ruling party, it is very dangerous for her to openly come out in the open on her political preferences.
“I could lose my shop and everything that I have invested here, if I openly came out as opposing the PF and therefore, the Operation Watermelon is a plan that works out well for people that are in places like markets” said Mwanza.
Mwanza said, violence is so much in Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces because these where the strongholds of PF but things have changed this year as the two provinces have split with both PF and UPND enjoying a fifty-fifty chance of winning.
And UPND has maintained that Operation Watermelon is a safety strategy aimed at protecting its members from been attacked by PF.
And Late President Michael Sata in 2011 supported the Donchi Kubeba theory and encouraged PF supporters to attend rallies and functions organised by MMD and other political parties among them the UPND and FDD and collect any gifts, money or materials
Mulenga Sata (son to late President Sata) now in the opposition UPND, claims that the police has failed them and is biased towards PF. Sata notes that his party has resolved that they only way to protect themselves is to appear green outside and remain red inside.
The only reason that President Lungu is calling this strategy evil is because he is fully aware of the impact that such a strategy has in terms of the election outcomes, Sata has charged.
For Sata, Operation Watermelon is Donchi Kubeba part two. He claims that, right now the PF is not sure how much support it has on the ground because the numbers of people wearing and shouting their slogans does not mean anything. It is the votes that will count at the end of the day, says Sata.
However, what remains to be seen is whether the UPND’s “Watermelon Campaign” will enjoy the same success as “Donchi Kubeba”? Zambians will decide with their vote tomorrow on the 11th of August 2016. It is only tomorrow’s elections, which will tell whether history has managed to repeat itself.