In 2018, ZANU-PF achieved what appeared to be a run-away victory in 145 out of the available 210 seats. (68%). The MDC Alliance got 63 seats (30%), with the remaining two seats going to firebrand independent MP for Norton, Themba Mliswa, and controversial Midlands politician, Masango “Blackman” Matambanadzo, who represented National Patriotic Front (NPF).
In truth, maps like that in Figure 1 show that ZANU-PF swept the country (Green) with intermittent spots of Red for the MDC-Alliance. However, based on the popular vote at the parliamentary level and if we treated the country as one constituency and used presidential election results, the opposition deserved more for their showing, having officially mastered circa 44% of the vote to ZANU-PF's 50.8%.
In this article, I show the electoral system's unjust nature and how it tells us little about the partisan alignment in the country. Using the concept of battlegrounds, I highlight how much more competitive the 2023 election is and outline which constituencies I think are worth watching and on whose fate the election lies. Given the massive focus on some constituencies in Harare by ZANU-PF and the CCC's attempt to capture the rural vote, I will attempt a possible explanation for these confounding campaign moves.The Unfairness of the winner takes All System
Table 1 shows that despite the close contest in Matabeleland South, where the total vote difference for the province was about 17,000 votes, ZANU-PF got all the seats except 1, and that in Harare, ZANU-PF, with close to 30% of the vote, is much more competitive than the one seat they got indicates. Even more astounding was that the opposition urged ZANU-PF in Manicaland by a winning margin of 1%, but ZANU-PF got 73% of the seats.
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Winner Proportion Seats
Winning margin Presidency
Table 1: Provincial Level Seats And Vote Share, Incumbent Versus Main Opposition
The disconnect between actual support that political parties have and the number of seats that accrue to them is a function of the First-Past-The-Post or Winner-Takes-All system that we use to elect our lower house of parliament and the presidency. A better representation of partisan alignment in the country comes from other elements of our mixed electoral system, where 60 female members of the HoA, 60 Senators, 10 Youths, and +/-590 women (30% of local authority seats) are elected through a party-list proportional representation system.
Analysis based on the First Past the Post System often leads to overgeneralizations. It does little to direct campaigners toward where they should place their efforts and where they may be wasting their time. It also gives political enthusiasts limited to no information about the intensity of competition at the subnational level and why parties may be targeting constituencies that they do.Battlegrounds, Swings, And Lost Causes in the 2023 Elections
"Battleground," as a characterization of constituencies, is seldom used in African politics and Zimbabwean elections. The preference is often for the term swing constituencies, but even this is scarce. One of the few studies that attempt to address swing constituencies in Zimbabwe is a Freedom House study from 2011 which defines a swing "as a constituency where the difference in vote tallies between the MDC-T and ZANU PF was 10% or less." This aligns with generally accepted definitions of swing constituencies, equated to Battleground constituencies in jurisdictions like the UK. In the United States of America (USA), "battleground" states are the same as "swing" states, in line with the Freedom House (2011) definition. However, in the USA, the terminology denotes states that have regularly seen close contests between parties in previous elections and could reasonably be won by any leading contenders. Additionally, these states are considered critical to the overall outcome of the election.
While there is no formally accepted definition of Battleground constituencies, pegging the threshold at 10% does not reliably capture the full universe of constituencies whose outcomes in elections can be "too close to call" in the Zimbabwean context. I, therefore, move away from preceding conception to define battleground constituencies as constituencies in which the winner’s margin of victory is less than 20%, which given the volatility of elections in Zimbabwe, I consider too narrow for any candidate or political party to claim the constituency as a stroll in the park before an election.
Battleground constituencies generally possess the common characteristic of not being discernibly dominated by one party or candidate regarding electoral outcomes. Different political parties and interests can battle it out electorally in battleground constituencies, knowing that they stand a 50-50 chance of winning and that a significant portion of constituents will give them the time of day and listen to their appeals. For instance, constituencies in the districts of Tsholotsho and Goromonzi have been battleground constituencies over time. The two Tsholotsho constituencies have alternated between ZANU-PF, Independent, and MDC T and Alliance, appearing to consolidate in the opposition's favor and then swinging to ZANU-PF again. Gwanda South has been a consistent battleground with less than 15% winning margins but has yet to turn from ZANU-PF to the opposition since the 2002 presidential elections.
Figure 3, based on 2018 electoral returns at the presidential level and my previous work entitled "Campaigning, Coercion, and Clientelism: ZANU-PF’s strategies in Zimbabwe’s presidential elections, 2008-13”, shows that the 2023 election is more competitive than initially meets the eye, with at least 52 constituencies falling into the battleground space. Figure 3 shows the opposition lost causes, i.e., ZANU-PF strongholds (34 constituencies), ZANU-PF lost causes, i.e., opposition strongholds (19 constituencies), and the 52 battleground constituencies divided against who has the edge at the moment (purple for CCC and sky blue for ZANU-PF, and black where Chamisa led the vote but ZANU-PF won the seat. These numbers are shown in Table 2.
The margin of victory in 2018
Number of constituencies
Less than 20%
0.7% to 18.41
50% to 83%
35% to 50%
18% to 35%
Table 2: Constituency Types Ahead of 23 August elections based on 2018 presidential election results.
Figure 3: 2023 Electoral map based on seven categories ahead of election day
Table 3 contains the complete list of battleground constituencies based on the winning margins formulas from Table 2 and shows that the bulk of these constituencies is in the provinces with the lowest winning margins, as shown in Table 1. Mash West, Masvingo, Mat South, Mat North, Manicaland, and Midlands. Mashonaland East and the Midlands lean ZANU-PF, but the margins are can be overcome. At the same time, Harare, Bulawayo, and Mashonaland Central are fairly decided depending on how far the dominant political parties can turn out their voters on election day.
0 ( with Bulawayo South & Cowdry park as constituencies of interest)
0 ( With Mbare, Manyame, Harare South, Churu, Mount Pleasant, Mabvuku-Tafara, Epworth, and Harare North as constituencies of interest)
Goromonzi North, Marondera West, Chikomba Central, and Chikomba Easteke
Mhondoro-Mubaira Magunje; Hurungwe West, Zvimba East, Kariba, Mhondoro-Ngezi, and Zvimba West
Bikita East, Gutu Centra,l Gutu East, Bikita West, and Gutu South
Matobo North, Bulilima, Matopo South, Gwanda South, Insiza South, Mangwe, Umzingwane, Beitbridge East Umzingwane Matobo South Gwanda South Bulilima West; Mangwe, and Insiza South
Nkayi North, Tsholotsho North, Tsholotsho North, Lupane; Lupane East Lupane West; Tsholotsho North; and Tsholotsho South;
Vungu; Zvishavane-Ngezi Chiwundura Gokwe-Sesame Gokwe Gokwe-Sengwa; and Silobela
Chimanimani West Nyanga North Mutare South Nyanga South Mutasa North Makoni South Makoni West; Chipinge South Chipinge East Buhera West, and Buhera South
Table 3: Battleground Constituencies across provincesConfounding Moves on the Campaign Trail
If the above is correct, one can be forgiven for asking why Chamisa and CCC wanted to launch their campaign in Mashonaland Central and why ZANU-PF seems intent on winning seats in Harare (Mabvuku-Tafara, Harare South, Mbare, Mount Pleasant, and Churu for example) or in Bulawayo ( Cowdry Park and Bulawayo South for instance).
For the CCC, the strategy for the 2023 election was a Chasing Strategy where the party sought new voters and supporters, especially in rural Zimbabwe, on the assumption that they have the cities and towns locked. This is likely why the Mugwazo (Rural mobilization strategy) was the centerpiece of CCC voter registration drives earlier in the year. A successful campaign launch in Bindura, Mashonaland Central, would have shown that the opposition can command attention and support in the strongest of ZANU-PF strongholds. The message would be if they can do that, imagine what they can do in shaky ZANU-PF constituencies.
Second, Mashonaland Central has always had a "godfather" or "God Mother" in ZANU PF through the Praesidium and Commissariat through the likes of Mujuru, Kasukuwere, and Gezi in the past. There is no such godfather at the moment, and without a patriarch or matriarch, the opposition may be forgiven for thinking that the province is up for grabs. This situation was made even more likely by stopping Kasukuwere from being on the ballot. Bindura itself, being a town, was a good choice because it has trended from a battleground constituency, even having an opposition MP for Bindura South in 2008, to being a marginal ZANU-PF constituency in 2018. However, despite best efforts, Mashonaland Central is unlikely to turn opposition in the 2023 election because of the huge margins CCC would have to overcome.Ruling party chasing urban areas A short look at Bulawayo South and Cowdry Park
On the other hand, ZANU-PF has conducted an onslaught on some perceived opposition strongholds in Harare and Bulawayo. Part of what explains this is that although both cities are bastions of opposition support, the data shows that they are not impregnable. ZANU-PF has succeeded in previous elections to take Mbare, Harare South, and Bulawayo South constituencies. For the latter, the incumbent ZANU-PF MP, Deputy Minister Modi Rajeshkumar Indukant, legitimately fancies his chances, and has the advantage of performance. However, part of his victory in 2018 was on account of double candidates from the MDC-Alliance (Kunashe Muchemwa and Francis Mubvirimi). The candidates votes combined of 6,404 would have outpolled Modi who got 5752 votes, while Chamisa outperformed all other candidates with 9853 votes to Mnangagwa’s 3939 votes.
For Cowdry Park, there are new dynamics that come with new boundaries, and heavy financial and infrastructural investments during the campaign. However, when placed on the old pelandaba-mapopoma boundaries, there is evidence of clear interest in the constituency from ZANU-Pf, whose praesidium visited it thrice in 2018, and staged its 2023 Bulawayo rally in the constituency. In 2018, chamisa out polled Mangangwa with 9504 votes to 4232. However, at the level of the house, the competition was stiffer with the MDC-Alliance mastering only 7059 votes to its total opposition’s 73330 with ZANU-Pf contributing 4079 of those votes and the rest from 15 smaller parties. The joint total of the other parties would have been enough to beat the MDC-A which we proxy for CCC in the 2023 elections. In short, there is a chance that Finance Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube can fashion a winning coalition for the seat outside CCC supporters. He also has the advantage of credentials that some formerly CCC sympathisers can find attractive, while ordinary constituents may value the “development” he has brought and may bring as government Minister. His main opponent, CCC’s Pashor Raphael Sibanda’s chances lie in a heavy Chamisa endorsement and possible presence, as well as him putting on his mobiliser trousers to ensure a solid turnout of the CCC’s base on election day.
However, both Bulawayo constituencies and others across the country are likely to be sites of ballot splitting with people voting across party lines on the different ballots, i.e. a local councillor or MP and president who do not belong to same party. they know and think can deliver and a different presidential candidate.Drilling down on Harare
However, a finer-grained analysis of the geography of electoral support in Harare at the ward level helps to illuminate ZANU-PF’s interests and targets in Harare, including Mabvuku-Tafara, and Epworth which is currently represented by ZANU-PF in parliament.
The 2018 election results for council elections indicate that the opposition retains strongholds in Budiriro (Ward 33 and 43), Glen Norah (Ward 27), Harare Central (Ward 2), Hatfield (Ward 23), Highfield East ( Ward 24 and 25), Highfield West (Ward 29), Kuwadzana (ward 44), Kuwadzana East (Ward 37), Warren Park (Ward 15), and Glen View South (Ward 32). The following six wards, while in mainly opposition hands, are seriously contested terrain:
- Harare South (Ward 1), in the 2023 election, has now been divided into three constituencies (Churu, Manyame, and Harare South). ZANU-PF won this constituency in 2018 and hoped to retain the three new ones.
- Mabvuku-Tafara (Ward 21), where gold dealer Scott Sakupwanya has been investing heavily in campaigning through infrastructure development.
- Mbare (Wards 3 and 4), which ZANU-PF won in 2013, may have legitimate hopes of retaining.
- Mt Pleasant (Ward 34), a reasonably elite suburb that in 2013 was a battleground won marginally by the MDC-T, and in 2013 produced a three-horse race between the MDCT, ZANU-PF, and now CCC candidate Fadzai Mahere who was an independent. The ZANU-PF and independent votes there were more than the MDC-T’s.
- Warren Park (Ward 5).
The above indicates opposition dominance and fierce political contest in some of Harare's high-density suburbs. This is the case except for Mt Pleasant in the Battleground column and parts of Hatfield in the Opposition Stronghold Column. The rest of the list constitutes a veritable collection of some of Harare's poorest and most densely populated parts. The geography of partisan alignment in Harare is open to a few suggestions. First, two heavily congested areas, Mabvuku-Tafara and Harare South, are on the city's periphery, where they join Epworth to constitute the southern and south-eastern edges of the city. Harare South (Ward 1) was the largest Ward in the city, with over 76,425 eligible voters as of 2018, which is why it is now three constituencies and was constituted mainly of parts of what has traditionally been Harare Rural. Epworth has its own Local Board but is part of Harare Metropolitan Province. At the same time, Mabvuku and Tafara constitute the edge of Harare before getting into Mashonaland East Province at the border with Ruwa Town Council. Harare South also borders the dormitory town of Chitungwiza to the south.
The above suggests that ZANU-PF has decent election chances at the periphery, where the city borders dormitory towns and informal settlements. Party alignment has not been as oppositional in these places as the generalized analysis presents. This is partly a result of gerrymandering during delimitation processes, which led to the introduction of some peri-urban and rural areas as part of Harare. Resettlement schemes have also led to assembling settlers in certain areas with insecure tenure, whose presence on the land relies on ZANU-PF's backing. The ZANU-PF-led central government has allowed these people to settle with little disturbance. However, it has also occasionally demolished some settlements to show the results of errancy in areas like Epworth and Harare South.
The presence of ruling party support against the general grain in the City of Harare is almost understandable, given informal settlements, as stated above. However, the data also shows that some central Harare wards are seriously contested, including arguably the poorest and oldest suburb in Harare, Mbare. Wards 3 and 4 of Mbare have consistently turned Battlegrounds over the last two elections. Besides being battlegrounds, they have also swung between the ruling party, which won both wards in 2013, and the opposition, which reclaimed Ward 3 in 2018, with ZANU-PF winning Ward 4.
The battleground nature of the Wards in Mbare is also informed by informality regarding settlement and the economy. Mbare is central to informal trade in Harare, and economic opportunities, including access to trading stalls and transport hubs, are heavily politicized. There is clear politically mediated access to economic opportunities in Mbare and chances for rent-seeking by the council, party-aligned touts, and space barons.
Another confounding Ward is Mt Pleasant's Ward 7. Mount Pleasant is regarded as the wealthiest Ward per capita, with the most expensive land per square meter in Harare, because of "old money" and extensive economic, diplomatic, and educational activities in the Ward. This Ward has swung from ZANU-PF in 2013 to a marginal victory for the opposition in 2018. It is also the Ward for incumbent Harare Mayor Councillor Jacob Mafume and a prime target for campaigning by ZANU-PF. The reality that the middle class and wealthy residents of the Ward engage in limited political activity, with their domestic help (gardeners and maids in the main) being more involved in shaping the political destiny of the Ward, informs this confounding finding.
A similar pattern is discernible in the old Harare North, which houses some of the most affluent suburbs in Harare, like Borrowdale, Mandara, Chisipite, and Shawasha Hills. Ward 42 of Harare North was won by ZANU-PF in 2013 before being reclaimed by the opposition in 2018 based on similar political developments. In 2013, the Ward and the constituency, represented in Parliament by CCC Vice President and Former Finance Minister in the GNU, Tendai Biti, was specifically targeted for the extensive campaign by ZANU-PF in 2013 to remove the "troublesome" Minister from Parliament. In 2018, Vice President Retired General Dr. Chiwenga made campaign stops in the Ward, where he, the president, and other ZANU-PF elites also reside. ZANU-PF’s support in Harare straddles several cleavages, which include political, military, and business elites and subordinate classes dominated by civil servants, housing cooperatives, informal settlers, and ordinary card-carrying members of the ruling party. The elite and powerful in this group are mainly residents in the Northern Suburbs - usually affluent low-density areas. However, while the opposition is dominant or fairly dominant across most of the city's north and central zones, there are some contested wards and constituencies closer to the centre and the southern, peri-urban neighbourhoods of the city, where informal settlements often create clients for the ruling party.Conclusion: Race to watch
The 2023 election is much more competitive than a casual look might suggest. At provincial level, the battlegrounds which are likely to have stiff electoral competition are Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Mashonaland West. Harare and Bulawayo are likely to retain their opposition colours, while Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland east, and Chamisa’s home province Masvingo are likely to stay ZANU-PF. The margins of victory across the battleground provinces are likely to determine the fate of the presidency. Chamisa’s task will be to cutdown Mnangagwa’s support in his strongholds and turnover some of the battleground provinces to stand a chance, while also increasing his margins in Harare and Bulawayo. For Mnangagwa, the main play is a defensive one across the board with hopes of some gains in Harare and Bulawayo provinces. There are limited possibilities of a runaway victory either way, and the victor will depend a lot on who is able to turn out their supporters the most of 23 August 2023.
At constituency level, there are 52 constituencies that are likely to offer very competitive races. 34 constituencies are solidly ZANU-PF, 19 solidly opposition, with the rest being marginal either way. If the main parties are able to defend their strongholds and leaning constituencies, who gets what in parliament will be down to who gets the lion’s share of the 52 battleground constituencies. Ahead of elections, ZANU-PF has 86 constituencies trending its way, while the CCC has 72. On this calculous, avoiding a two-thirds majority either way is possible depending on how the parties defend their strongholds and gain from the battlegrounds.
Dr. Lewanika is a political scientist with over 20 years of experience working on governance and development issues in Zimbabwe. He is the Regional Director for Southern Africa at Accountability Lab and researches on African politics, election campaigns, governance, and accountability issues.