cottoning on

In Zimbabwe, will Chamisa’s cotton promises reel in rural voters?

By Veneranda Langa

Premium badge Reserved for subscribers

Posted on July 27, 2023 15:24

Cotton originally promised a good living for Zimbabwean land settlers, but no more. (REUTERS/Howard Burditt)
Cotton originally promised a good living for Zimbabwean land settlers, but no more. (REUTERS/Howard Burditt)

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa is targeting Zanu-PF’s rural heartland in an effort to unseat Mnangagwa in August elections. 

In Zimbabwe, rural areas have long shown strong support for the Zimbabwe African Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).

Ahead of the 23 August presidential elections, it has been no different: President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been attracting huge crowds in rural areas, even though some have been bussed in.   

On 16 July, Mnangagwa boasted about addressing a crowd of 145,000 at a Zanu-PF rally in rural Zaka, while opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) only attracted 35,000 people in Gweru. 

However, Chamisa seems to have gone for the jugular. 

Land ownership

Chamisa’s rural campaign is specifically focused on farmers’ welfare, trying to capitalise on the Zanu-PF government’s failure to support the ailing cotton-farming sector. 

“I have been informed that farmers are getting a meagre $0.35 [US] per kilogram of cotton. This is an abuse. You must be paid $1 per kg of your cotton,” Chamisa said while outlining his campaign promises in Gokwe on 13 July.

Three days later, he launched the CCC campaign at Mkoba Stadium in Gweru, where he promised title deeds to all farmers in the country, as opposed to the 99-year land leases they have been offered by Zanu-PF. 

In rural areas like Gokwe, people have been surviving on cotton farming, but their spirits have been demoralised over the years by the government’s failure to support them, says CCC interim organising secretary Amos Chibaya. 

He tells The Africa Report that the CCC government will right the wrongs in the country’s farming sector, and will deliver meaningful messages to attract rural votes.   

“It is sad that some cotton farmers in Gokwe, say, in some instances, […] are given soya chunks as payment for their cotton. We will leave no stone unturned in our rural campaign, and we will continue to deliver messages that resonate with the struggling peasant farmers,” says Chibaya.

“We now have a clear rural approach because we want to increase our share of votes in rural areas. We are not an urban party; we are a national party. That is why we have begun our campaign rallies in rural areas, and our campaigns in big cities like Harare will be the last before elections.” 

Cotton decline  

The government’s failure to adequately pay cotton farmers on time has reduced production of the crop in most rural parts of Zimbabwe, such as Gokwe, Sanyati, Muzarabani, Mt Darwin, Guruve and Cheshire. This is despite the fact that cotton was one of the leading export crops in the country. 

In February last year, while addressing a post-cabinet media briefing, Zimbabwe’s information and publicity minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, said that in the 2021-2022 farming season a total of 367,945ha was utilised for cotton farming, a drop of 12,182ha compared to the previous year. 

Cotton farmers are getting poorer each farming season because the $0.35 per kg prices are not viable at all, and most cotton growers are abandoning the crop

Cotton production in Zimbabwe declined to an all-time low of 32,000tn in 2016, from 84,000tn in 2015 and 143,000tn in 2014. The prices for cotton are also very low, which has discouraged farmers from growing the crop. 

The once-booming cloth manufacturing industries in Kadoma and Chegutu districts have also shut down, and now the CCC is maximising on the Mnangagwa’s government ineptitude to attract farmers. 

According to Clement Gondo, the national chairperson of the Cotton Growers’ Association, cotton farming has not been a profitable venture in Zimbabwe. 

“Cotton farmers are getting poorer each farming season because the $0.35 per kg prices are not viable at all, and most cotton growers are abandoning the crop,” Gondo tells The Africa Report

Cotton is grown by more than 300,000 small farmers across the country, and is a major source of livelihood for more than 600,000 families. But the sector has suffered from a host of problems in recent years, including low prices for the lint and the closure of spinning mills and textile-manufacturing companies, Gondo says.


Political analyst Tinashe Gumbo tells The Africa Report that Chamisa’s promise to revive the cotton sector shows political maturity. 

“He is now able to connect with the real issues affecting people on the ground,” he says. “Politics is local and one really needs to talk to the people. The ordinary person must be connected to a party’s manifesto and, in this case, Chamisa is doing well on the ground.” 

Gumbo continues: “In the previous 2018 election, Chamisa was still abstract, and he had not matured enough to speak to issues that affect a particular community. His Gokwe rally showed that he is a presidential candidate who is connected, not only to peasant farmers there, but [also] to people in other rural areas who will know that he is now tackling their issues.” 

He says that in the past, cotton was referred to as ‘white gold’ because it was well-paying and peasant farmers sustained their families through cotton. 

“Government has not done so well to support the interests of farmers to grow more cotton, which is labour-intensive. For Chamisa to promise to revive the sector and to make Gokwe town a city is good news for the people of Gokwe, who hope to see beneficiation and value addition of the cotton crop and creation of employment.” 

He says Chamisa is now talking about local content development, which is likely to motivate rural areas to vote for him. 

“His message must resonate nationally, because, once the cotton sector is revived, several other industries will benefit from it. In 2018, Chamisa’s message was about building modern highways, which only resonated to the urban populace.” 

Gumbo says even if Zanu-PF tries to counter Chamisa’s message, voters will question why it has failed to revive the cotton sector for years. 

However, another political analyst, Methuseli Moyo, says rural people are diehard ZANU-PF supporters and will not take Chamisa’s messages seriously. 

“Chamisa is an offshoot of the original MDC [Movement for Democratic Change], a party that seemed to have been modelled to antagonise Zanu-PF’s agrarian reforms,” he says. “In that regard, it will be a miracle for a farmer or peasant to trust Chamisa.”

There's more to this story

Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.

Subscribe Now

cancel anytime