Negative Advertising as a Strategy of Persuasion in the 2002 Presidential Election Campaign in Zimbabwe
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Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential election shall remain a fertile field of study for scholars in various areas of enquiry including rhetoric, the art of persuasive communication. The main reason for this is that the election generated so much controversy and interest, both locally and internationally. It is also true to say that this election attracted much more attention than ever before because of the emergence of a vibrant opposition party that offered the stiffest challenge to the incumbent president since the attainment of independence in 1980.The attention of scholars in rhetoric is drawn by the huge volume of rhetorical discourse produced in this election whose aim was to persuade voters to vote for a particular presidential candidate. It is the aim of this paper to examine the role negative advertising or persuasive attack played during the campaign period leading to the March 2002 presidential election. It provides a qualitative rhetorical analysis of major negative advertisements that were frequently used by the main contending parties, the ruling ZANU (PF) party and the opposition party, the MDC, in order to discredit the opponent. The researcher used mainly the print media as sources of the adverts that are analysed in this paper. The study shows that both negative candidate theme and issue (policy) theme advertisements were meant to induce negative images of the presidential candidates in the voters’ minds. The central theme in the ruling party’s negative advertising was that the opposition party leader was a sellout or a stooge of imperialists who wanted to reverse the gains of the liberation war. On the other hand, the opposition party’s negative advertising held the incumbent responsible for the socio-economic and political quagmire the country was in. The article argues that the sponsors of these advertisements believed that attack advertising played a significant role in influencing candidate choice.
This paper was first presented at an international conference dubbed About An African Athens: Rhetoric And Democracy that was held at the Centre for Rhetoric Studies, University of Cape Town from 6 to 11 June 2004. The conference was held to celebrate 10 years of democracy in South Africa at that time.