A new test for post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

ZWEMnangawa18HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabweans have high hopes for Monday’s elections, the first since the military ousted strongman Robert Mugabe late last year.

Supporters of incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he will improve the country’s moribund economy and respect civil rights because he already took the bold move of leading the coup d’état that ended Mugabe’s 37 years in power.

“He [Mnangagwa] is going to bring some changes,” said Hilda Shumba, a 43-year-old former high school teacher who is now unemployed. “So far he has done a lot in the short space of time. He will solve the cash crisis and banks will again be full of money."

"I expect to get a job and good living," she added. "I think Zimbabwe will be prosperous once again.”

But Tatenda Chaza, 24, said Mnangagwa’s past was tainted. A former Mugabe deputy who now leads the former president’s political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, the incumbent was nicknamed the “crocodile” for his brutality under Mugabe’s regime.

“I want the new government to fight corruption, and I don’t expect ZANU-PF to win because they are the mothers of all the corruption in this country,” said Chaza, who has not yet decided which opposition party will win his vote.

South African pollster Afrobarometer recently predicted Mnangagwa would win around 40 percent of the vote while his main challenger, Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, would garner around 37 percent. If neither reaches the 50 percent threshold, the country would hold a runoff.

The election is close because ZANU-PF no longer holds the same respect among voters like in the early 1980s when Mugabe, now 92, spearheaded Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain, said Pedzisai Ruhanya, a political analyst and executive director at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

Instead, voters younger than 50 with few memories of independence now comprise around 60 percent of the electorate. They associate ZANU-PF politicians with the collapse of agriculture, double-digit unemployment, suppression of civil rights and crooked officials.

“That demographic that has been affected by the past 20 years of economic meltdown and political turmoil,” said Ruhanya. “Most of them have no jobs. So those people will vote with their stomachs, they will vote with their mouths. They will vote looking for jobs, looking some someone who will bring jobs, who will bring employment, who will bring food on the table. This election is one about livelihoods.”

Meanwhile, fears of violence mar the ballot.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently warned against voter coercion. “We remain concerned however at the increasing number of reports, particularly in some rural areas, of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion, including people being forced to attend political rallies,” said the commissioner’s spokesperson Liz Throssell, who didn’t identify any specific parties.

In June, Mnangagwa was nearly killed when a bomb exploded after a political rally in a stadium in Bulawayo in southwestern Zimbabwe. The president avoided harm but eight were injured.

The African Union will be observing the elections. Already, though, Chamisa and others have charged ZANU-PF officials of trying to rig the vote.

“We demand a voters roll in electronic format and the law says that the electoral commission must provide the exact voters roll that will be used during an election,” said Chamisa, a former cabinet minister who oversees the country’s post office and telecommunications network in a coalition government that included opposition parties.

If Chamisa wins, Ruhanya added, the big question will be the military’s response.

“If these elections were to be free and fair, if there is no chicanery, we will have a problem of transition where the military will come in,” said Ruhanya. “The problem we have is a militarized state and the role of the military in the electoral and public affairs of the state.”

ZANU-PF spokesman Paul Mangwana dismissed those fears, saying the party and government had changed under Mnangagwa.

"I can't talk of Mugabe right now. Let bygones be bygones," he said. "We need to focus on what the future holds for Zimbabwe. We are tried and tested leadership."

But Hardwork Mugota said he would vote for Chamisa precisely because the incumbent’s leadership has failed.

“When Mnangagwa came into power, he made many promises. But he hasn’t delivered on any of them,” said Mugota, 44, who said he can’t find a job even though he’s trained as an aircraft engineer. “He promised to apprehend criminals surrounding the president. He hasn’t delivered on that one.”

Frank Chikowore contributed reporting from Harare.

Photo: July 21, 2018 - Harare, Zimbabwe - President and Zanu PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa during an election rally in the capital Harare.
Credit: Courtesy of the President of Zimbabwe's official Twitter profile. (07/21/18)

Story/photo published date: 07/26/18

A version of this story was published in The Washington Times.
You are here: Home Newsroom Sub-Saharan Africa A new test for post-Mugabe Zimbabwe