HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was re–elected for a second and final five–year term late Saturday in results announced much earlier than expected following another troubled vote in the southern African country with a history of violent and disputed elections.
An opposition party spokesperson said within minutes of Mnangagwa being declared the winner that they would reject the results as “hastily assembled without proper verification.”
Mnangagwa’s victory meant the ZANU–PF party retained the governmental leadership it has held for all 43 years of Zimbabwe’s history since the nation was re–named following independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Zimbabwe has had just two leaders in that time, long–ruling autocrat Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa.
Gwynne Dyer — August 21 2023
“No-one will stop us from ruling this country. You will be lost if you don’t vote for ZANU-PF,” said President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe. A bit more arrogant than the usual election pitch in most parts of the world, perhaps, but not unusual in Zimbabwe, one of the southern African countries suffering from ‘ruling party syndrome’.
There are plenty of military coups and dictatorships elsewhere in Africa. In parts of the Sahel, indeed, they come and go as frequently, and as pointlessly, as weather fronts. But the single party that rules for decades and monopolises all the political space available is a specialty of southern African countries that had to fight ‘liberation wars’.
Most of the countries in West and East Africa got their independence in the early 1960s with little or no fighting: the exhausted European empires just gave up and pulled out. One or two had brief anti-colonial insurgencies, like the Mau Mau in Kenya, but the norm is for ethnically based political parties to compete for power more or less democratically.
Further south, where there were powerful white settler minorities, it took long guerilla wars to end European rule, and that required a different kind of organisation.
African ethnic differences still mattered, but most southern African countries, starting with Angola, former Rhodesia and Mozambique and extending all the way down to South Africa, developed militarised liberation movements embracing most or all of the local African ethnic groups.
They all won power in the end, of course – but then they stayed together and became the more-or-less permanent ruling party in their country: ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Party) in Zimbawe, FRELIMO in Mozambique, MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia, and the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa.
SWAPO and the ANC managed to preserve a democratic political system, mainly because there was not major military action on their own territory except for their northern borders. And although they utterly dominated their respective political systems, civil rights, free speech and the impartial rule of law survived. So did a fair degree of prosperity.
And then there’s Zimbabwe, where fully one-quarter of the population has moved to the neighbouring countries in search of work and only a quarter of the adults still living at home have regular jobs.
Per capita income in Zimbabwe in 2022 was only $100 a year higher than it was forty years ago, just after independence, and half of that was probably remittances from family members working abroad. Yet the country is not poor; only its people are.
Zimbabwe had the most profitable commercial agriculture sector in Africa until ZANU destroyed it by handing most of the land out to its own cadres. It still has a rich mining sector, with new platinum and lithium enterprises opening this year – but most of the income from that goes to pay for army, police and civil service jobs for the same cadres.
The election this Wednesday will be the usual charade, with the outcome determined by ZANU’s control of the media, the police and the courts, but some brave souls still defy it. Most of them belong to the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), and they know they won’t win this time. (One of their members was stoned to death by ZANU activists last week.)
Yet they will win eventually, because everybody in Zimbabwe – literally everybody – knows that the regime is corrupt and the system is rigged. Indeed, everybody except its direct beneficiaries hates it.
Robert Mugabe, the hero of the independence war, ruled the country with an iron hand for 37 years until he tried to fire his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, at the behest of his wife, Grace Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, another liberation war hero (known as ‘The Crocodile’), overthrew Mugabe instead, but rules in exactly the same imperious and ruthless style. However, he is now 80, and there are no more liberation war heroes coming up behind him.
The ANC in South Africa will lose its majority in parliament in next year’s election, after 29 years of unchallenged rule. It will just acknowledge its defeat and start trying to make some sort of coalition government. In fact, it already has its feelers out.
ZANU has already been in power for longer than that (43 years), and its time is also almost up. The transition there may be rougher than that in South Africa, where the ANC never directly controlled the military and the courts always remained independent, but ZANU’s role as Zimbabwe’s eternal ‘ruling party’ is unlikely to survive.
Foreign poll observers on Friday said Zimbabwe’s presidential and legislative elections failed to conform to regional and international standards, placing in doubt the credibility of the tense vote.
Zimbabweans went to the ballot box on Wednesday and Thursday in polling marred by delays. The vote took place against a backdrop of discontent at Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.
Regional and international observers listed concerns over the canning of opposition rallies, denial of accreditation to several foreign media, missing voters’ names from the roll at their polling station, biased state media and voter intimidation among the issues that sullied the election.
The head of the European Union observer mission, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, said the election “fell short of many regional and international standards”.
“Violence and intimidation resulted ultimately in a climate of fear,” he said.
Commonwealth observer mission chair Amina Mohamed, of Kenya, said overall the voting process was “well conducted and peaceful” but a “number of significant issues” impacted on the election’s “credibility” and “transparency”.
“Some aspects of the… election fell short of the requirements of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the electoral act and the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections,” said head of the regional bloc’s delegation Nevers Mumba, a former Zambian vice president.
It was a rare rebuke from the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) whose observers usually endorse polls in the member countries.
The ruling ZANU-PF party reacted angrily, dismissing the findings from western countries as “sanctimonious notions” coming from former colonial powers with no right to teach democracy to Zimbabwe.
“We are dismissive of the rumblings, the mouthing of Nevers Mumba,” party spokesman Christopher Mutsvangwa told a press conference in Harare, describing the head of the SADC mission as a biased “preacher”.
“We can’t be perfect. But there is definitely no ill will in our imperfections,” he said of the voting process.
The election is being watched across southern Africa as a test of support for 80-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF, whose 43-year rule has been battered by a moribund economy and charges of authoritarianism.
Voting was forced to stretch into an unprecedented second day over delays in printing of ballot papers in some key districts including in the opposition stronghold Harare.
According to a preliminary tally shown by state broadcaster ZBC on Friday evening, ZANU-PF was leading in the parliamentary race, having secured 125 of the 210 seats up for grabs under a first-past-the-post system, against 59 for the largest opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
Another 60 seats are appointed through a party-list system of proportional representation.
The CCC, which had more than 100 of its campaign meetings banned, lashed the electoral process as “fundamentally flawed”.
Less than a quarter of polling stations in Harare — an opposition stronghold — opened on time on Wednesday, the first day of voting.
The problems forced Mnangagwa, who is seeking a second term, to issue a late-night directive extending the vote by another day.
Election authorities said they were still confident of announcing the final results before the Tuesday deadline.
– ‘Grave concern’ –
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa slammed the delays as “a clear case of voter suppression, a classic case of Stone Age… rigging”.
Chamisa, 45, is the main challenger to Mnangagwa, 80, who came to power after a coup that deposed late ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017.
Meanwhile 41 local monitors were arrested late at night on election day and had their computers and mobile phones confiscated by police who alleged the equipment was “used to unlawfully tabulate” results from polling stations, describing the activity as “subversive and criminal”.
Most of those arrested, mainly women and men in their 20s and early 30s who work for pro-democracy NGOs, arrived Friday at a Harare court crammed into the back of an open white truck to appear before a magistrate.
As they waited in the sun, some waved and held back tears as they were greeted by a small group of family and friends.
“Police heavily armed with AK-47 rifles, truncheons and other assortments of weapons swooped on the accused and arrested them in a dragnet style,” defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama told the judge who set bail at $200 (185 euros).
The arrests add “to our grave concerns”, said the EU polls observer chief.
“At this stage it’s all pointing towards a disputed election,” said Kealeboga Maphunye, an African studies professor at the University of South Africa in an online debate organised Friday by the South Africa-based Southern African Liaison Office.