THE disputed 23 August polls have added to a long history of sham elections in Zimbabwe dating back to the pre-colonial era in 1965 during the white minority rule of Ian Douglas Smith.
The Southern African Development Community and the international community are currently battling once again with the Zimbabwe crisis rooted in electoral capture and post-election political tensions following last week’s polls that have been widely condemned as neither free, fair nor credible.
The history of elections before and after Independence in 1980 shows Zimbabwe has hardly held any free, fair and credible polls, meaning the country has always been mired in legitimacy deficits.
Most elections have been charades, with the country repeatedly kicking the can down the road — failing to deal decisively with difficult issues and questions underlined by electoral capture.
Central to Zimbabwe’s elections and attendant disputes has been the perennial question of how the country is governed and its future trajectory.
General elections were held in Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia until 1964) on 7 May 1965. The result was a victory for the then ruling Rhodesian Front, which won 50 of the 65 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
The biggest issue at the time was the future direction of the country — Independence. Prior to that, a referendum on independence was held in Rhodesia on 5 November 1964. The question put to voters was: “Are you in favour of or against Rhodesia obtaining independence on the basis of the 1961 constitution of Rhodesia?”
The result was a landslide “yes” vote, which was the choice of over 90% of voters, although less than 15% of the voters’ roll was black. The legitimacy question loomed large.
The British government did not accept Rhodesian self-rule as it was not representative of all of Rhodesia. Later after the 1965 elections, the then Rhodesian prime minister Ian Douglas Smith infamously proclaimed the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965.
Rhodesia unilaterally declared itself independent from Britain. Not since the United States in 1776 had a former British colony declared itself independent. That afternoon Smith addressed the nation. He assured Britain that Rhodesians remained “second to none in our loyalty to the Queen”, but “the end of the road has been reached”.
The road to UDI began at the Victoria Falls conference in the summer of 1963. It was there that the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Central African Federation) was agreed.
Two of federation’s constituent member states, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, became independent in 1964 as Malawi and Zambia respectively.
Southern Rhodesia was more complex and problematic. Unlike Zambia and Malawi, which were previously British protectorates, Southern Rhodesia had been a self-governing colony since 1923.
Previously, it was governed by the British South Africa Company, a mercantile corporate based in London.
It was incorporated in 1889 under a Royal Charter at Cecil Rhodes’ instigation to embark on a historic colonial project in Southern Africa going into the interior.
The 1974 elections were also problematic.
They were largely seized with the question of detente during the liberation struggle. The Rhodesian Front took all of the 50 seats reserved for whites for the third successive time since 1962.
The general elections were held in Rhodesia on 30 July 1974. They came against a backdrop of three failed diplomatic negotiations — the 1974-1975 Kenneth Kaunda/John Vorster “detente”, the Henry Kissinger mediation that led to the Geneva Conference of 1976, and the Anglo-American initiatives of David Owen and Cyrus Vance in 1977-1978 and eventually the 1979 Lancaster House Conference on Rhodesia, chaired by Lord Carrington.
The Lancaster House Conference gave birth to a new Zimbabwe. It took Zimbabwe into a new era. Rhodesian elections had been charades as they largely excluded the black majority.
The April 1979 elections were also a sham. The polls followed the Internal Settlement negotiated by Smith and were intended to provide a peaceful transition to majority rule on white Rhodesians terms to secure their interests.
Under the Internal Settlement, on 1 June 1979, Rhodesia officially became Zimbabwe Rhodesia under Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council government.
Muzorewa’s party got about 1.2 million votes 67% of the vote. Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zanu Ndonga won 263 000 votes (14.5%), while Chief Khayisa Ndiweni’s United National Federal Party got 194 000 (10.8%).
Sithole bitterly complained that the April elections were marred by “gross and appalling irregularities”.
Above all, the elections lacked legitimacy as they excluded the bona fide liberation movements, Zapu and Zanu. Before the April 1979 general elections, a constitutional referendum had been held in Rhodesia on 30 January 1979.
The 1980 elections held between 14 February and 4 March — the biggest polls in Zimbabwean history — were again disputed by the late former vice-president Joshua Nkomo, popularly known as Father Zimbabwe or Umdala Wethu.
The elections were the first democratic elections in contemporary Zimbabwean history. People exercised their right to vote (one-man, one-vote), a key demand of the struggle and it was the first time people were given unfettered adult universal suffrage.
The polls were characterised by intimidation, violence and allegations of vote-rigging. There were no-go areas for Nkomo and his supporters during campaigns as the country was militarised.
The late president Robert Mugabe’s Zanu won 57 of the 80 common roll seats, giving it a majority in the 100-member House of Assembly, followed by Nkomo’s Patriotic Front (Zapu ran as the Patriotic Front) with 20 and Muzorewa’s UANC with 3 seats.
In these elections Nkomo claimed that he had been rigged.
The second post-colonial Zimbabwe elections were held in 1985 amid bloodshed due to Gukurahundi massacres that claimed thousands of lives of Nkomo supporters in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands.
The polls were dubbed the worst elections since 1980.
The 1990 elections were also bad and a sham. Mugabe and Zanu PF were under serious challenge from Edgar Tekere, their former secretary-general, and his Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum).
The late Patrick Kombayi, who was challenging the late vice-president Simon Muzenda for the Gweru Urban seat under Zum, was shot and seriously wounded on 24 March 1990, three days before the general elections.
Central Intelligence Organisation operative Elias Kanengoni and Zanu MP Kizito Chivamba — both now late — were sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted for attempted murder after they pumped six bullets into the lower abdomen of Kombayi.
They got pardoned by Mugabe. Despite the violence, Zum performed well in urban areas as people voted for democracy against Mugabe’s one-party state agenda.
1995 parliamentary elections
In 1995, parliamentary polls were held on 8 and 9 April and, again, they were a sham.
Zanu PF won an overwhelming majority. There were 120 constituencies, but 55 MPs were re-elected unopposed amid complaints of intimidation.
Presidential elections were held on 16 and 17 March 1996, with Mugabe battling his Rhodesia- era opponents, Muzorewa and Sithole.
Mugabe won a landslide — over 92.8% of the vote — with just 32.3% turnout.
Sithole and Muzorewa had withdrawn at the last minute, but their names remained on the ballot. Muzorewa pulled out after the Supreme Court turned down his bid to postpone the polls, saying the electoral rules were unfair.
Sithole was under virtual house arrest on charges of attempting to assassinate Mugabe. He was convicted after the elections, and died in 2000 while on bail.
At the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe embarjed on a new era of brutal and violent elections yet again as Mugabe and Zanu PF battled the new opposition MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai.
The year 2000 elections were bloody as the military introduced what was called the straight jacket.
The MDC won 57 of the 120 elected seats, with 47% of the popular vote. Zanu PF won 63 seats and carried approximately 48% of the popular vote.
According to international observers, extensive electoral fraud and intimidation of voters occurred during this election.
2002 presidential elections
Presidential elections were held in between 9 and 11 March 2002.
The elections were contested by the then incumbent, president Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Zanu Ndonga leader Wilson Khumbula, Shakespeare Maya of the National Alliance for Good Governance and independent candidate Paul Siwela. Although Mugabe won with 56.2% of the vote, it was contested.
The elections were not free and fair, as they occurred under Zanu PF’s electoral manipulation and intimidation of the opposition rural supporters.
Several members of the opposition party were murdered in state-sanctioned assassinations.
2005 parliamentary elections
Parliamentary elections were held in on 31 March 2005 to elect members to the House of Assembly. As the results became clear the MDC described the elections as “the sham elections,” which it said had been marked by massive electoral fraud. All of the 120 elected seats in the 150-seat House of Assembly were up for election.
In addition, there were 20 members appointed by the President and 10 elected by the traditional chiefs, who mostly support the government. Electoral colleges for the election of 10 chiefs to Parliament were to be held on 8 April.
Zanu PF won the elections with an increased majority against the opposition MDC. Zanu PF won 78 seats to the MDC’s 41, with one independent.
In the 2000 election, the ruling Zanu PF won 62 seats to the MDC’s 57. Zanu PF polled nearly 60% of the vote, an increase of 11% over the 2000 results.
The 2008 elections were disputed amid violence, intimidation and vote-rigging protests. Hundreds of people were killed during those fierce run-off elections.
Sadc intervened and dispatched former South African leader Thabo Mbeki to lead negotiations.
As a result, a Government of National Unity was formed with Mugabe as president, Tsvangirai prime minister, deputised by Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe from the opposition parties.
In 2013, Zanu PF overran the MDC amid vote-rigging orchestrated by Nikuv, an Israeli security company which was paid millions of US dollars by the government.
The opposition MDC-T, following a meeting of its standing committee, said that it could prove that unnamed Nikuv officials met with senior army officials discussing how to rig the vote.
The proof, said the party, were minutes from the meeting held by top army officers at Manyame Air Force Base prior to the elections.
The minutes allegedly described how the election would be manipulated to ensure Zanu PF victory.
The first post-coup elections in 2018 were also hotly-disputed and ended up being decided in court after President Mnangagwa scraped through by a wafer-thin 50.8% against his main rival Nelson Chamisa who got 44.3%.
Chamisa put forward a presidential petition at the Constitutional Court challenging the results on the grounds that he had been denied victory through rigging and fraud.
However, Chief Justice Luke Malaba ruled that the opposition had no evidence of electoral rigging despite fierce arguments made by Advocate Thabani Mpofu.
Similarly, the 2023 elections held last week on 23 and 24 August were controversial. Mnangagwa got 52.6 and Chamisa 44%, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
The elections were marred by illegalities and irregularities, including voters’ roll unavailability and chaos at polling stations.
There was massive voter suppression in Harare and Bulawayo, which are opposition strongholds.
As a result, the Sadc election observer mission took a major unprecedented decision to reject the outcome.
Zimbabwe has therefore now become a classic case of a country conducting sham elections as virtually all its polls since pre-independence era have been disputed due to serious questions on the integrity, freeness, fairness, and credibility of the results announced by Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba.
Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya on Wednesday said due to the history of sham elections, external supervisors must be employed to run the polls.
“These elections, like the 1980 elections, should be supervised by independent bodies such as the UN, Sadc and AU. Zec is captured and compromised. It has no fidelity to administer credible polls. It’s too full of state agents and Zanu PF relatives to be impartial,” he said.