Accepted paper:

Preying on emotions: ZANU-PF Bigwig rallies in the 2008 and 2013 Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe


McDonald Lewanika (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

What is the purpose of the rally? Through a mapping of ZANU-PF's 2008 and 2013 bigwig rallies, this paper suggests rallies are an integral element of ZANU-PF's legitimacy seeking tools, and a platform at which the party preys on emotions to inspire action, activate structures and grow voter base.

Paper long abstract:

Political analysis on Zimbabwean elections is usually centred on outlines of ZANU-PF's authoritarian tendencies, proximate election day encounters, and technical elements of elections. While these issues are important, there is a limited focus on the most popular tool that political parties use to engage the electorate, the rally. This paper looks at ZANU-PF bigwig rallies/Star Rallies and argues first, that where, when and with whom they are staged can tell us about ZANU-PF's motives for campaigning, and whether they do so to enhance their legitimacy. Second, It analyses the kinds of appeals that are made and uses a dynamic redrawing of the 2008 and 2013 campaign trail, and messages that were communicated to argue that contrary to popular opinion, ZANU-PF rallies are a potent persuasive part of a dynamic political machine, used to win hearts and minds of voters. It argues that what some in the scholarship dismiss as instrumentalisation of history and Mugabe's history "lectures" at rallies were actually a play at persuasion aimed at manipulating peoples' emotions. In this respect, the articulation of history at rallies in Zimbabwe, for instance, also becomes the articulation of a record and a shared history aimed at inspiring pride, invoking shame and instigating fear. Beyond preying on emotions in various ways, rallies were also a key activation processes for ZANU-PF activists both in terms of direct instructions from the leadership as well as coded messages steeped in the knowledge of the ways of the party, and history.

panel Pol27
Playing to the crowd: performance and the politics of campaign rallies