Zim­babwe’s elec­tion a real test for Mnan­gagwa

Count­down to to­mor­row’s elec­tion: it’s a key mo­ment in post-colo­nial his­tory, writes Brian Raftopou­los

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - ARTS -

TO­MOR­ROW Zim­babwe will hold its first elec­tion since the Novem­ber coup that led to the re­moval of Robert Mu­gabe and his Zanu-PF al­lies. This event was the out­come of long-term fac­tional strug­gles in the gov­ern­ing party, and set the stage for what could be the most in­ter­est­ing elec­tion in Zim­babwe’s post-colo­nial his­tory.

The regime has faced se­ri­ous chal­lenges since the coup.

Firstly, the prom­ise of eco­nomic growth and re­cov­ery, par­tic­u­larly through the neo-lib­eral “open for busi­ness” frame in which its poli­cies have been cast, has al­ready led to ma­jor so­cial chal­lenges in the first half of 2018.

This was par­tic­u­larly the case in the pub­lic sec­tor, in which the largest num­ber of for­mal sec­tor work­ers were lo­cated and where the gov­ern­ment pledged to re­duce pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture.

In March, doc­tors went on strike de­mand­ing bet­ter con­di­tions of ser­vice as well as the pro­vi­sion of ad­e­quate hospi­tal equip­ment and es­sen­tial drugs to treat pa­tients.

This strike was fol­lowed by a nurses’ strike in April 2018, re­sult­ing in Vice-Pres­i­dent Con­stantino Chi­wenga or­der­ing all strik­ing work­ers be fired. This clumsy and il­le­gal de­ci­sion was im­me­di­ately chal­lenged in the High Court by the Zim­babwe Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion.

Chi­wenga’s ac­tion was later with­drawn after fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions with the gov­ern­ment.

Se­condly, it is un­clear how Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa’s regime in­tends to deal with the con­tin­u­ing prob­lems around the Fast Track Land Re­form Pro­gramme.

The dif­fer­en­ti­ated forms of land own­er­ship that have emerged since the early 2000s, in ad­di­tion to the regime’s prom­ise to deal with com­pen­sa­tion of former white com­mer­cial farm­ers, “ac­cord­ing to the con­sti­tu­tion”, will re­quire a great deal of out­side fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and a var­ie­gated land pol­icy.

Thirdly, ten­sions ex­ist be­tween the Zanu-PF lead­er­ship and those who con­tinue to sup­port Mu­gabe. The for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Pa­tri­otic Front could lead to se­ri­ous con­flicts in the 2018 elec­tion.

More­over, these ten­sions threaten to spread through the se­cu­rity sec­tor where the army, on the one hand, and the po­lice (ZRP) and Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Or­gan­i­sa­tion (CIO), on the other, have marked the fac­tional bat­tles in the rul­ing party since the re­moval of former vice-pres­i­dent Joice Mu­juru in 2014.

The changes in lead­er­ship of both the ZRP and the CIO in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the coup were a clear in­di­ca­tion of these chal­lenges.

These prob­lems were also ev­i­dent in Zanu-PF’s pri­mary elec­tion process, where sev­eral lead­ing Mnan­gagwa sup­port­ers were beaten in the polls, with one of them even claim­ing that his de­feat was “en­gi­neered by the po­lice in charge of the polls”.

The at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Mnan­gagwa in Bu­l­awayo in

June could be another sign of the grow­ing ten­sions in the se­cu­rity sec­tor.

These con­tin­u­ing fac­tional di­vi­sions within Zanu-PF could im­pact neg­a­tively on Mnan­gagwa’s pres­i­den­tial elec­toral cam­paign.

Fourthly, the le­gacy of the Guku­rahundi mas­sacres in Mata­bele­land in the mid-1980s con­tin­ues to haunt Zanu-PF’s his­tory and the pol­i­tics of post­colo­nial Zim­babwe.

The grow­ing mo­men­tum for na­tional ac­count­abil­ity around this and other pe­ri­ods of vi­o­lence since 1980 will not nec­es­sar­ily be as­suaged by any cos­metic in­ter­ven­tions of the Na­tional Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion es­tab­lished un­der the 2013 con­sti­tu­tion.

Lastly, for the so-called re­formist mil­i­tary regime to move for­ward, Zanu-PF would need to con­duct a broadly ac­cept­able and cred­i­ble elec­tion in 2018.

Aside from the move­ment on the bio­met­ric voter reg­is­tra­tion process and the more tol­er­ant po­lit­i­cal lan­guage of the state, se­ri­ous ques­tions re­main con­cern­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the Zim­babwe Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (ZEC), the in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in the elec­tion process, and Zanu-PF’s con­tin­ued abuse of tra­di­tional lead­ers and pub­lic funds for elec­toral pur­poses.

How­ever, the Mnan­gagwa regime, fully aware of the need to move be­yond the shadow of the coup, has taken sev­eral steps to en­sure fu­ture le­git­i­macy.

These in­clude: se­lec­tive elec­toral re­forms such as the in­tro­duc­tion of the BVR vot­ing sys­tem and en­sur­ing a more peace­ful and tol­er­ant po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment; an in­vi­ta­tion to in­ter­na­tional ob­servers from the EU, US, SADC, AU and the Com­mon­wealth to mon­i­tor and re­port on the elec­tion; steps to­wards mov­ing Zim­babwe back to a broader in­ter­na­tional re-en­gage­ment be­yond the logic of Mu­gabe’s au­thor­i­tar­ian na­tion­al­ist pro­ject. In short, the mes­sag­ing of the coup lead­ers has con­verged with the long-stand­ing de­mands of the op­po­si­tion.

As part of this new nar­ra­tive of tol­er­ance and en­gage­ment, Mnan­gagwa has also con­ducted a series of meet­ings with mi­nor­ity racial groups, most re­cently with some rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the white com­mu­nity, to as­sure them of their in­clu­sion in Zim­babwe’s polity in the post-elec­tion pe­riod. This move re­sem­bles Mu­gabe’s pol­i­tics of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the 1980s.

One hopes that, as hap­pened with the pol­i­tics of that pe­riod, it does not presage the kind of vi­o­lence that fol­lowed in parts of the coun­try in the 1980s, and the mas­sive elec­toral vi­o­lence of the 2000s.

In the face of Zanu-PF’s new of­fen­sive, the main op­po­si­tion party, the MDC Al­liance, and its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Nel­son Chamisa, have had to deal with a plethora of chal­lenges.

The Novem­ber events caught the op­po­si­tion by sur­prise, as it did most Zim­bab­weans, and the MDC’s re­sponse moved from praise and sup­port for the coup to one of am­biva­lence.

In the process, the op­po­si­tion forces lost some ground in their claim to be­ing the torch-bear­ers of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism in Zim­bab­wean pol­i­tics.

This re­gres­sion was fur­ther am­pli­fied in the suc­ces­sion bat­tle that fol­lowed the death of op­po­si­tion icon Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai in

Fe­bru­ary this year.

The vi­o­lence, trib­al­ism and misog­yny that en­gulfed that process scarred the im­age of op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics deeply.

Not­with­stand­ing these set­backs, which were them­selves in part the re­sult of the his­tory of state vi­o­lence and re­pres­sion of op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics since the early 2000s, the MDC Al­liance has gained mo­men­tum un­der the new lead­er­ship of Chamisa. A re­cent opin­ion poll car­ried out by Afro Barom­e­ter pre­dicts a very tight elec­tion re­sult, with 40% of Zim­bab­weans who were both reg­is­tered to vote and likely to vote stat­ing that they would cast their bal­lots for Zanu-PF and 37% declar­ing their pref­er­ence for MDC.

How­ever the MDC Al­liance re­mains a frag­ile pro­ject with dis­agree­ment around the field­ing of par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates.

Thus in 14 con­stituen­cies the Al­liance has fielded more than one can­di­date. This is likely to weaken its per­for­mance in the elec­tion.

More­over, its strat­egy around the elec­tion has drifted be­tween a call for mass voter reg­is­tra­tion and mass par­tic­i­pa­tion, and the threat of protests if their de­mands for more elec­toral re­form mea­sures are not met.

These re­late in par­tic­u­lar to a “com­mit­ment to trans­parency and cred­i­bil­ity around the vot­ers roll and the print­ing and stor­age of bal­lot pa­pers”.

Such de­mands have been noted by in­ter­na­tional ob­servers, with the EU for ex­am­ple stat­ing that “these elec­tions are a crit­i­cal test of Zim­babwe’s re­form process” and that “great ef­forts need to be made to en­sure pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal con­fi­dence in the 2018 elec­tions”.

How­ever, it is not clear how much trac­tion such op­po­si­tion de­mands will gen­er­ate among the ob­servers. Since the end of the Global Po­lit­i­cal Agree­ment and the 2013 elec­tions, the EU has moved to­wards in­creased en­gage­ment with the Zim­babwe gov­ern­ment.

The Novem­ber coup cre­ated fur­ther ex­cite­ment around the en­gage­ment of in­ter­na­tional play­ers.

Out­side of a mas­sive out­break of vi­o­lence as hap­pened in the 2008 run-off elec­tions, it is un­likely that the op­po­si­tion will be able to gen­er­ate re­gional and in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus over the il­le­git­i­macy of these elec­tions.

Mon­day’s elec­tion will there­fore be a ma­jor chal­lenge not just for the coup-mak­ers and the op­po­si­tion, but also the in­ter­na­tional ob­servers who will be care­fully cal­cu­lat­ing their fu­ture pol­icy op­tions in Zim­babwe and the re­gion.

Raftopou­los is a direc­tor of Re­search and Ad­vo­cacy, Sol­i­dar­ity Peace Trust and Re­search Fel­low, In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Group, the Univer­sity of the Free State.


Sup­port­ers wait for Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa to ad­dress a Zanu-PF elec­tion rally in Bin­dura, Zim­babwe.


Leader of the main op­po­si­tion party in Zim­babwe, Nel­son Chamisa, ad­dresses party sup­port­ers in Harare re­cently.


Former Zim­bab­wean pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, who was ousted in a soft coup in Novem­ber.

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