TAONA BLESSING DENHERE
ON 23 and 24 August 2023, Zimbabweans across the political divide cast their votes to elect their public representatives.
They voted in the general elections to choose who is going to be their president, member of Parliament and councillors for the next five years. However, on 26 August 2023 the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) controversially announced the presidential results and declared Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner with 52.6% against Nelson Chamisa’s 44%.
Consequently, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) and its presidential candidate Chamisa, who were the main challengers to Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF, immediately rejected the results. They argued, among other things, that the results were fraudulent, illegitimate and falsified by Zec.
Therefore, ever since 26 August Zimbabwe has been plunged into a full-blown constitutional, electoral and governmental crisis. The main protagonists to this electoral and presidential battle are both claiming victory and refusing to concede and acknowledge the supposed winner.
This crisis has spilled over into the region as well as continentally and internationally. Which again has brought Zimbabwe back into the international limelight for all the wrong reasons.
Therefore, in this opinion piece, I will attempt to unpack this electoral and constitutional crisis engulfing the Zimbabwean polity. In doing so, I analyse both its immediate and far- reaching implications on both political and economic affairs of Zimbabwe. Moreover, this crisis will also raise pertinent questions on legitimacy or lack thereof and its likely implications on the Mnangagwa’s presidency and Zimbabwe in the next five years.
The season of long knives
Historically and since 1980, elections in Zimbabwe have always been fraught with electoral malpractices and grave commissions and omissions that have negatively impacted on the credibility of the final results. Thus, Zanu PF as a party and government has always been heavily involved in political chicanery and electoral shenanigans that has subverted the democratic and political will of the electorate.
Hence, Zimbabwe is considered to have entrenched electoral autocracy, where the results are already pre-determined. Accordingly, the 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2018 general elections are considered manifestations of electoral autocracy.Therefore, the 23 and 24 August 2023 elections were not the exception but the norm.
Suffice to say, the Achilles heel of Mnangagwa`s political career in post-independence Zimbabwe, especially since the turn of millennium, has been his lack of popularity. He lost in Kwekwe constituency in both the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections. Coupled with the fact that in the 2018 presidential elections he narrowly avoided a second round (run-off) by mere a 35 000 votes. Additionally, Mnangagwa has been hamstrung by lack of infectious and soaring charisma that his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, possessed in abundance.
Moreover, Mnangwaga entered the 2023 presidential race on the back of six years of incumbency. However, his last six years as president were punctuated by gross economic mismanagement and incompetence, massive corruption and failure to reintegrate Zimbabwe back into the progressive community of nations. Therefore, these overt liabilities posed an existential threat to Mnangagwa’s electability on 23 August 2023.
As a result of these glaring electoral and political liabilities, President Mnangagwa decided to go for the jugular, in an effort to mitigate potential losses to his archrival Chamisa and the CCC. Therefore, the period building up to the 23 August 2023 harmonised elections became a festival of absurdities and a circus of illegalities. That is, we witnessed numerous electoral and legal minefields and political obstacles being put in place against Mnangagwa’s real and perceived political opponents.
For instance, the judicialisation of politics went into overdrive as the High Court, Supreme Court and Constitutional Court were besieged by a deluge of litigation from both the state, Zanu PF and as well as the opposition movements, civil society and opposition leaders. The high-profile cases included the state-sanctioned systematic disenfranchisement of former Zanu PF minister cum opposition leader Saviour Kasukuwere who was disproportionately, unfairly and illegally denied the opportunity to contest the 2023 elections as a presidential candidate.
Mnangagwa’s desperation to win by any means necessary resulted in his designing parallel structures and formations outside Zanu PF. These parallel formations included the plethora of 4ED formations that mushroomed everywhere during the campaign period. However, the one which Mnangagwa thought was going to become his political ace was the dreaded and infamous Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz).
This was Mnangagwa’s personalised campaign vehicle, which acted as a counter intelligence, quasi-paramilitary unit. Faz was involved in the dark arts of kamikazee-type of political and electoral sabotage tactics against Mnangagwa’s political opponents, both within and outside Zanu PF. Hence it left a trail of electoral and political carnage in Zanu PF primary elections, CCC candidate selection process and during voting on 23 and 24 August.
Chunia Achebe once prophetically said: “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.” Therefore, as the results of the 23 August harmonised elections started to trickle in , the police together with the central intelligence units raided the offices of the accredited local non-governmentsl organisations, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) and the Election Resourcd Centre (ERC) and arrested its members and staff.
This was a preemptive attack by Zanu PF to prevent Zesn and the ERC from conducting parallel vote tabulation that could have exposed Zec’s shenanigans and rigging schemes. Furthermore, we also witnessed spirited and desperate Press conferences from Zanu PF senior leaders like Chris Mutsvangwa, Ziyambi Ziyambi and Patrick Chinamasa.
These Press conferences sounded alarmist and portrayed the impression of people who knew they had lost the elections. They desperately went into a fearmongering and scaremongering meltdown by invoking the threatening war-of-liberation rhetoric in an attempt to instil fear among the restless citizens and prevent them from expressing anger and outrage against the rigged results.
However, noteworthy were the preliminary election postmortem reports issued by the election observer missions from the Southern African Development Community, European Union, Commonwealth, Carter Centre and other organisations All the observer missions were objective and scathing in their reports.
There was unanimity among these observer missions, which argued, among other things, that the elections in Zimbabwe were not credible, not transparent, not free and not fair. Therefore, it had fallen short of domestic, regional and international guidelines in terms of free, fair and credible elections. This was quite refreshing and novel coming from the Sadc Election Observer Mission (SEOM), which in previous elections was accused of sanitising and whitewashing illegitimate and fraudulent elections in Zimbabwe.
Dichotomy between the old and the new
Consequently, this inconclusive election and its subsequent fallout, recriminations and counter-recriminations between Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF against Chamisa’s CCC has also sucked in the international observer missions, particularly the Sadc mission which has been on the receiving end of Zanu PF’s vitriolic attacks. This situation has become symptomatic of what Antonio Gramsc describes as: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Therefore, applying the Gramscian thesis to the current electoral and political crisis ravaging the Zimbabwean polity, one can argue that over the last 23 years Zanu PF has ceased to be and has removed any pretence of being a normal political organisation. That is, it has been on a 23-year-old downward spiral. This has resulted in endemic misgovernance, economic mismanagement and rampant corruption.
Therefore, this has resulted in Zanu PF embracing authoritarian dirty tactics in its desperate attempts to retain power by any means necessary. This has been demonstrated by rampant voter suppression which affected the CCC strongholds in Harare and Bulawayo.
Voting was delayed by nearly 12 hours due to deliberate absence of enough ballot paper by the Zec. Coupled with the blatant voter intimidation conducted by Faz who stationed sentries near the polling stations, mostly in rural areas. In addition to a fraudulent delimitation exercise and gerrymandering exercise and failure by Zec to provide credible and searchable voters’ rolls to opposition parties.
Crucially, a clear sign that the old is dying can be demonstrated by the unprecedented failure of Zanu PF to produce and design an election manifesto. Therefore, this shows that the current Zanu PF in its shape and form is a post-intellectual and post-ideological political party. Consequently, as the old authoritarian edifice of Zanu PF is showing signs of dying, nonetheless, the new is struggling to emerge and disrupt the 43-year authoritarian stranglehold of Zanu PF.
Thus, historically opposition political movements have periods in which they have won the elections, but have however failed to win power. For instance, in March 2008 Morgan Tsvangirai won the elections, but failed to wrest power from Mugabe.
However, despite the old showing overt signs of dying, the new is still facing formidable obstacles from Zanu PF’s authoritarian stranglehold. Despite formidable and resilient authoritarian pushback from Chamisa and the CCC, Zimbabwe is still delivering stillborn democracy. That is, the pathway towards constitutional and electoral democracy is still being short-circuited by Zanu PF and state-sanctioned authoritarianism.
Nonetheless, there have been reports that the CCC will file a Constitutional Court petition which seeks to argue for the total nullification and invalidation of the August 2023 elections. The CCC has been demanding fresh elections that will be supervised by the regional and continental bodies such as the AU and Sadc.
The party’s constitutional and legal grounds have been strengthened by the adverse findings of the regional and international observer missions. However, it seems Mnangagwa and Zanu PF had already ring fenced themselves against potential election challenges from the opposition.
This was done through the controversial and extralegal appointment and extension of the term of Chief Justice Luke Malaba in 2022. This was done through the infamous Constitutional Amendment No.2. Moreover, during the last two months senior Judges were awarded sweetheart deals of housing loans each amounting to US$400 000. Therefore, this raises a lot of questions on the likelihood of the CCC election challenge succeeding. Considering the fact that the same judges ruled against the Chamisa’s then MDC-Alliance election challenge in 2018.
However, another viable option available to Chamisa and the CCC is to launch an aggressive and offensive diplomatic mission, arguing and lobbying for fresh elections. This is only feasible after they have exhausted the domestic remedies, that is only after the CCC and Chamisa have used the local courts and local dispute resolution mechanism.
This was also emphasised in the majority of the regional and international observer mission reports. This then implies that the CCC and Chamisa cannot put the cart before the horse, that is they cannot embark on regional and continental lobbying exercises without challenging the election results in the Zimbabwean courts.
Consequently, in this interregnum a disparate range of morbid symptoms continue to manifest as the situation remains desperate and volatile. We are seeing Sadc`s Panel of Elders being despatched to Harare at the behest of Zanu PF and Mnangagwa. Former President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete was meant to head this delegation, however, he pulled out at the last minute.
This has been viewed as a major diplomatic snub of Zanu PF by a senior leader in the Sadc region. This has been further evidenced by the fact that it is only four leaders from 16 member states of Sadc who have officially congratulated Mnangagwa over his disputed and controversial election. This lack of regional and continental blessings and endorsement of Mnangagwa’s pyrrhic victory has led to the absurd situation were Zanu PF vice-presidents Kembo Mohadi and Constastino Chiwenga have found it necessary to send congratulatory messages to Mnangagwa.
Moreover, the 2023 elections, which had been widely condemned by a lot of stakeholders, witnessed the unprecedented authoritarian dirty tactics of Zec. For the first time in its history, Zec announced the final presidential election results in a mere six minutes and in the middle of the night. This was done without the systematic breakdown of the presidential elections on a constituency-by-constituency basis.
Even up to now, Zec is still yet to upload a breakdown of the presidential election results and its website has removed the disputed 2023 presidential results. Therefore, it seems Zec through its chairperson Priscilla Chigumba is engaging in Stalinist authoritarian brinkmanship along the lines: “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election; the people who count the votes do.”
There is now a greater likelihood that Mnangagwa will become the next president of Zimbabwe and form a Zanu PF government, despite the regional, continental and international condemnation of his controversial victory. His presidency will be plagued by a dearth of legitimacy. Mnangagwa and Zanu PF lack electoral legitimacy due to the fraudulent nature of their victory. This is also going to be made untenable by the fact that Mnangangwa and the Zanu PF government will find it difficult to have performance legitimacy, which might have mitigated their lack of electoral legitimacy.
That is, in terms of performance legitimacy Mnangagwa over the last six years has failed to improve and change the national economy of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing hyperinflation and 95% of its working population is either unemployed or underemployed. State-sanctioned corruption is spiralling out of control. As long the issues of electoral legitimacy remain unaddressed, Zimbabwe will continue to be ostracised from the community of progressive nations and struggle to discard the 23-year-old pariah state label.
About the writer: Taona Blessing Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer.