Promises and reality in the Zimbabwe elections: A Q&A with The Citizen Bulletin

Matabeleland has long been considered one of the regions most neglected in Zimbabwe, largely due to the Gukurahundi Genocide in the 1980s, and the consequences of the Land Acquisition Act passed in the 1990’s, leaving it underdeveloped and underserved. This unique position has made the region a key player in the August 23 national elections, as presidential candidates make promises to uplift Matabeleland.

Zanu PF, the incumbent party, has been vocal about establishing high-quality healthcare systems, extending its reach to Matabeleland. However, there’s been a lack of progress in this area over the past five years. Report for the World corps member Lynnia Ngwenya and former corps member  Cleopatra Mpande have recently highlighted the distressing state of healthcare in Matabeleland for The Citizen Bulletin. These stories shed light on the dire conditions of ill-equipped medical facilities across the region and the limited access to reproductive healthcare, particularly in the most marginalized corners.

Similarly, the country’s efforts to address climate change have been rather minimal, despite its participation in global events such as climate change symposiums and the UN convention. Rural communities in Matabeleland, especially in Hwange, continue to face the harsh consequences of climate change, including hunger stemming from El Niño-induced droughts. Our corps member, Calvin Manika, has been diligently covering climate change in Matabeleland, prooviding crucial insights from his firsthand experience in Hwange.

In anticipation of the elections we spoke with Divine Dube, CEO & Executive Editor of The Citizen Bulletin and our corps members Lynnia Ngwenya and Calvin Manika to get their perspective on the promises from the political parties and what is actually needed in their communities.

Their responses have been edited for length and clarity:

Report for the World: For readers who are not familiar with the political landscape of Zimbabwe, what are the key issues in this election?

Divine Dube:The key issues in this election revolve around the ongoing economic crisis, human rights abuses and lack of progress in improving living standards. Zimbabwe has been struggling with hyperinflation and shortages of foreign currency, fuel and basic goods. Many Zimbabweans, especially the youth, are frustrated by extremely high unemployment rates and are suffering from poverty.

In Matabeleland, the key issues are lack of development and access to basic services like healthcare and inadequate response to climate change impacts. While political candidates make promises to uplift the region, there has been little progress on the ground in the past years. Our reporting from Matabeleland has highlighted the distressing state of the region’s ill-equipped medical facilities and limited reproductive healthcare access. Climate change is also having severe effects through recurring droughts, yet the government response has been minimal.

RFW: What is missing from the candidate’s proposals that you think would make a big impact in the lives of Zimbabweans?

Dube: What is missing from the candidates’ proposals is concrete plans to address the root causes of Zimbabwe’s economic and governance crises. Vague promises of jobs and development are not enough. Candidates need to explain how they will restore investor confidence, tackle corruption and mismanagement, respect human rights and the constitution. For Matabeleland, there needs to be clear funding commitments and accountability frameworks to ensure expanded access to quality healthcare, education and social protection for communities affected by climate impacts like drought.

RFW: Analysts say that the ruling party Zanu PF has support in rural areas. Is that the case in Matabeleland and if it is, why do they retain popular support despite few advancements in the last few years?

Dube: While Zanu-PF traditionally enjoys support in rural areas due to patronage networks and dominance of traditional structures, their grip on Matabeleland has been weakening in recent elections due to lack of real change in people’s lives. Despite holding onto power for decades, basic services and livelihoods in the region remain severely inadequate.

However, the opposition also faces challenges in overcoming ethnic divisions and presenting a credible and coherent alternative. Unless candidates address the lived realities and root problems exposed in our reporting, voters in Matabeleland and nationwide may increasingly opt to protest through withholding support from both the incumbent and opposition.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa is surrounded by security as he leaves his last campaign rally in Harare, Monday, Aug 21, 2023. The upcoming general election in Zimbabwe is crucial to determining the future of a southern African nation endowed with vast mineral resources and rich agricultural land. (Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

Report for the World: Your coverage has highlighted the challenges that people in Matabeleland face to obtain quality healthcare. What reforms would have the biggest impact and improve the healthcare system?

Lynnia Ngwenya: The Matabeleland region in Zimbabwe has been marginalized and neglected from the rest of the country over the years. Despite the proposal for development, there has been a lack of progress, as evidenced by the dire state of the region’s healthcare sector. The healthcare situation in the region is distressing, characterized by a shortage of basic medical supplies.

As a health reporter focusing on this region, I have observed numerous challenges facing the healthcare system. These challenges include a shortage of skilled health workers, a lack of essential medicines and medical supplies, inadequate infrastructure, rampant corruption, and inequitable access to healthcare.

To improve the healthcare system, urgent reforms are necessary. These reforms should include increased investment in the health sector. The government needs to allocate more funding to improve infrastructure, train additional health workers, and procure essential medicines and medical supplies.

Furthermore, it is crucial to strengthen the health workforce to attract and retain skilled professionals in the country. The region has experienced a brain drain of doctors and nurses due to an unfavorable working environment and low salaries. The government should also provide opportunities for professional development.

Another important reform is to enhance access to essential medicines and medical supplies. These should be made available at all health facilities, regardless of their location. Therefore, the implementation of a central procurement system or collaboration with donors to secure funding for essential medicines is necessary.

Ensuring equitable access to healthcare is also paramount. The government must ensure that all Zimbabweans have access to quality healthcare, regardless of their income or location. Lastly, corruption, which is a major problem in the sector, needs to be addressed. Measures such as strengthening oversight mechanisms and punishing those found guilty of corruption are essential.


Report for the World: Have the candidates made any promises regarding the mitigation of the consequences of climate change?

Calvin Manika: While climate change has been discussed at various forums in Zimbabwe, more pressing action is needed from our leaders to address its dire impacts, especially in vulnerable regions like Matabeleland. The Citizen’s Bulletin has highlighted through local reporting how climate change is severely affecting people’s access to water and livelihoods due to drought. Unfortunately, responses have primarily come from community and NGO initiatives, with little high-level government support or coordination.

RFW: The Citizen’s Bulletin reporting has highlighted issues that connect with climate change, including the lack of access to clean water and the drought. Most of the responses seem to come from the community or NGOs. What can the winner of the elections do in the short term to address these issues?

Manika: The winner of our upcoming elections must make concrete, short-term commitments to tackle climate change head-on. First, they should prioritize conducting climate vulnerability assessments across Zimbabwe, but particularly in drought-prone areas to truly understand the scale of the crisis. These assessments should examine how climate shifts are impacting critical sectors like agriculture, tourism and ecosystems. With this evidence, the government can develop targeted adaptation strategies and projects.

Second, there needs to be increased funding and support for climate resilient agricultural practices. Farmers require resources, training and infrastructure to transition to more drought-tolerant crops and smart irrigation. This will help boost food security under rising temperatures. Third, more investment is warranted in water conservation and accessibility. Upgrading aging infrastructure, harvesting rainwater and improving water distribution networks can greatly relieve current water stress.

Lastly, promoting climate research and public awareness should be a priority. Our academic institutions are lagging behind and journalists lack specialized training, limiting understanding of solutions. By encouraging climate studies and partnering with media, the president can drive informed discussion and oversight on this existential issue. With concerted action in these areas, the next administration has a real chance to alleviate climate suffering and place Zimbabwe on a more sustainable path. Our future depends on it.