Zimbabwe elections

Mugabe’s man wins

Print edition : September 14, 2018

President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the Heroes Day commemorations held at the National Heroes Acre in Harare on August 13. Photo: Jekesai NJIKIZANA /AFP

Former President Robert Mugabe at a polling station in Harare on July 30. His wife, Grace, is to his left. This was Zimbabweans first election without Mugabe on the ballot. Photo: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC, at a press conference in Harare on August 3. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Emmerson Mnangagwa, once Robert Mugabe’s right-hand man and a fixture in Zimbabwean politics since independence, retains the presidency and promises a new beginning for the country.

The final results of the presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe held on July 30 were on expected lines. Opinion polls conducted before the elections had predicted a narrow victory for the long-ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and its presidential candidate, the 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa. The opposition was not as united as it was when Zimbabwe went to the polls the last time around. Morgan Tsvangirai, who had led the main opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), since the late 1990s, passed away earlier in the year. Opposition disunity was most visible during the contest to select his successor. Thokozani Khupe, a senior MDC figure, split from the party to form an alliance with Joice Mujuru, once a leading light of the ZANU-PF. Joice Mujuru had been sacked from the post of Vice President of Zimbabwe and later from the party.

When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission finally announced the results of the presidential election after a delay of almost three days, Mnangagwa’s tally was put at 50.8 per cent of the votes. The figure was important as a candidate needs more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a second-round run-off. The MDC’s candidate for President, the 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a former student leader and a pastor, got 44.3 per cent of the vote. The rest of the votes were divided among a motley group of 21 candidates, many of whom had broken away from the MDC or the ZANU-PF.

The ruling party won 145 seats in Parliament, while the MDC got 63. This gives the ZANU-PF a two-thirds majority in Parliament, enough to amend the Constitution if the party’s leadership so wishes. Mnangagwa, who took over the presidency in August last year after the military-aided ouster of former President Robert Mugabe, was quick to thank his countrymen after the results were announced and promised a “new beginning” for the country. The President campaigned on a platform of “bringing new jobs and investments” to Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa has been a fixture in Zimbabwean politics since the time of independence in 1980. Nicknamed the “crocodile” of Zimbabwean politics for his political prowess and timing as he was for a long time viewed as the man who would eventually succeed Mugabe. His sudden falling out with Mugabe last year triggered a chain of events that led to the political demise of his former mentor. Mnangagwa is close to the security establishment and the powerful “national liberation war veterans association”. He has held several important posts in government, including that of Vice President. At a crucial period in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history, he headed the security and intelligence services.

Most of the independent election observers, including those from the African Union, certified that the elections this time were conducted in a largely transparent and peaceful manner. The monitoring group of the Southern African Development Community said that the elections were “peaceful and orderly” and had opened the door to strengthen the country’s democracy. There was a grenade attack at a rally addressed by President Mnangagwa in which two of his associates were killed and a few people were injured.

The Zimbabwean army strongly denied reports that had appeared in the Western media saying that it had helped the ruling party in the elections. Mnangagwa’s Vice President is the former army general Constantino Chiwenga, who had played a key role in the sidelining of Mugabe. Many supporters of the ZANU-PF, including those who fought in the liberation war, are unhappy that the security establishment still has a dominant role in the government.

In a surprise last-minute intervention just before the elections, Mugabe told Zimbabweans that he would not be voting for Mnangagwa, his former protege and right-hand man. In fact, he said that he was looking forward to congratulating Chamisa. The 94-year-old former President went on to say that Zimbabwe was no longer a democracy and had “now become a military regime”. Mugabe’s eleventh-hour intervention evidently did not have any impact on the elections as today he is a much diminished figure. His wife, Grace, who led the Generation-40 (G-40) faction of the ZANU-PF, is keeping a low profile. G-40 was the name given to the faction comprising younger leaders of the ZANU-PF who were aiming to step into the political void after Mugabe’s departure. The older generation of leaders supporting Mnangagwa, mainly comprising war veterans, is known as “Team Lacoste”. The “crocodile” is the symbol of the famous French clothing brand Lacoste. Many G-40 leaders are in exile or in the political wilderness while “Team Lacoste” is now ruling the roost.

Intimidation of voters

A European Union (E.U.) observer mission has claimed that there was an “unlevel playing field” and intimidation of voters but also conceded that the conduct of the elections had “a number of positive features”. It said that there was “an improved political climate, inclusive participation rights and a peaceful vote”. There were very few reported cases of violence against the opposition in the run-up to these elections. The MDC and its candidate for President were allowed to campaign freely all over the country, including in the rural strongholds of the ruling party. Most of the election-related violence took place in the capital, Harare, after the country’s election commission started announcing the results.

Chamisa had a role in fuelling the short-lived but deadly violence. As soon as the polls closed, he announced that the MDC had won the elections. When the results showed an opposite trend, without providing any proof, he said that the ZANU-PF had stolen the election and called on supporters to protest. Harare, an opposition stronghold, exploded. Six people were killed in a single day of violent protests. Swift intervention by the security forces stopped the situation from deteriorating further, and the city returned to normalcy and opened for business within a couple of days.

After the results were formally announced, Chamisa said that the MDC would not accept the “fake results” and added that the announcement of Mnangagwa as the winner was “regrettable”. He said that he would pursue all “legal and constitutional means possible to protect the people’s vote”. So far, the opposition has not been able to come up with any concrete evidence of vote tampering. Belatedly, Chamisa has accepted the veracity of the parliamentary results but is continuing to insist that he won the popular vote for the presidency. His line of argument is that the ZANU-PF with its stranglehold on the rural vote swept all the seats in the hinterland, but given the support base of the MDC in the urban areas, he should have emerged as the winner.

Mnangagwa had hailed the elections as being “fair, free and credible” and challenged the opposition to come up with evidence to back their allegations. Mnangagwa told the media that any Zimbabwean was free to challenge the election results. “We have introduced comprehensive democracy. Any member of the public or any political party can proceed in terms of the Constitution and the electoral Act to challenge the result in the courts.” At the same time, he said that he was talking to Chamisa and that the opposition leader would have an important role to play in shaping the country’s future. Mnangagwa apologised for the bloodshed that occurred in Harare before the announcement of the results.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was quick to congratulate Mnangagwa on his victory and urged all Zimbabweans “to accept the outcome of the elections or follow the legal route should they wish to challenge it.”. China was among the first countries to congratulate Mnangagwa on his victory. In a congratulatory statement, the Chinese government described the election process as “peaceful and orderly” and said that the choice of the Zimbabwean people “should be respected”.

Mnangagwa has been proclaiming for some time that Zimbabwe under his leadership is once again “open for business”. Britain, the country’s former colonial ruler, and China, its biggest trading partner, seem to be happy with the outcome of the elections. China wants stability in Zimbabwe and the region where it has invested heavily. The British are happy with Mnangagwa’s talk of letting some of the white farmers reclaim the land that was taken over from them. Mnangagwa’s proclamations of making Zimbabwe a “business-friendly” country again has won him many admirers in the West. The International Monetary Fund is planning to step in to help in the efforts to revive the economy. It is estimated that around two million Zimbabweans may be in need of food aid. Only around 6 per cent of the population has formal jobs.

The election results once again reflected the rural-urban divide in Zimbabwean politics. The majority of the people live in the countryside. Another factor was the role played by the war veterans’ association. Those who fought the war against the colonialists still wield a lot of influence in the country’s politics. They were the ones who forced Mugabe to give up his cosy relationship with the white business and farming elite. In February 2000, the war veterans’ association issued a strong statement criticising the Mugabe government for neglecting ordinary ZANU-PF party workers and groups supporting it, including widows and children of those who sacrificed their lives in the liberation war. In the statement, they called for “immediate land reforms”. White settlers, who comprise around 1 per cent of the population, controlled more than 70 per cent of the most fertile land in the country. Groups of “war veterans” then took the law into their own hands and started occupying land owned by white farmers.

The ZANU-PF government under Mugabe, politically beholden to the war veterans, had to acquiesce. It soon approved “a fast-track land reforms policy”. Although Zimbabwe soon after ceased to be the agricultural bread basket of southern Africa, expropriating land from those who sided with the colonisers was a popular move. The E.U. and the United States soon imposed stringent sanctions on Zimbabwe, triggering the country’s downward economic spiral. It will be difficult for Mnangagwa to put the land reforms genie back into the bottle. In fact, in neighbouring South Africa, there are growing demands for radical land reforms of the kind witnessed in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, too, much of the fertile land is still under the control of white farmers.