TAONA BLESSING DENHERE
IT is almost two weeks since the end of the 23 and 24 August general elections in Zimbabwe.
A lot of fluid and fast-flowing developments have happened, since the announcement of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the winner of the presidential elections with 52.6% of the vote against his closest rival Nelson Chamisa who garnered 44%.
The tragic fallout from these highly disputed and controversial presidential results has already provided interesting and controversial developments within the Zimbabwean body politic.
Therefore, these developments have provided an eye opportunity to analyse Zimbabwe’s trajectory in the next five years.
Consequently, in this opinion piece I will attempt to unpack whether Zimbabwe will trudge into another five years of chaotic, polarising and bleak existence under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa and Zanu PF, or that factors and developments within and outside Zanu PF and the strategies and actions of the Citizens’ for Coalition Change and the leader Nelson Chamisa will disrupt and change the course of events in Zimbabwe.
The past is not dead
On 4 September 2023, Mnangagwa was sworn in as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. This officially marked the beginning of his second and final term as head of state. The occasion to mark the official start of Mnangagwa`s second term was without its fair share of controversy.
The inauguration ceremony, which was conducted at the National Sports Stadium, will go into the record books as one of the lowest-key moments in the history of presidential inaugurations in Zimbabwe. Perhaps the only exception is Robert Mugabe`s infamous swearing-in ceremony conducted at State house in June 2008 after his blood-soaked one-man presidential election runoff.
However, during his first term President Mnangagwa never lost an opportunity to attend the inauguration ceremonies of his fellow counterparts in Africa. Accordingly, he attended the inauguration ceremonies of President William Ruto of Kenya, President Yoweri Museveni of Kenya, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, President João Lourenço of Angola, the late president of Tanzania John Magufulu, President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi, President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia and many others.
However, the inauguration ceremony of President Mnangagwa was characterised by a huge diplomatic snub by African leaders, especially those in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).
Among the 16 presidents from the Sadc region, it was only three who graced the inauguration ceremony in Harare on 4 September 2023, namely President Ramaphosa of South Africa, President Nyusi of Mozambique and President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). President Tshisekedi also won a controversial and disputed election in the DRC in 2019.
The election was also marred by vote rigging and several irregularities. However, the tragic indictment and contempt of President Mnangagwa’s “victory” was shown by the particular absence of the leaders of Sadc troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, especially its chairperson President Hichilema of Zambia. This was coupled with the fact that, the current chairperson of Sadc, President Lourenço of Angola, did not also bother to attend the inauguration ceremony.
This diplomatic snub by the key Sadc leaders clearly demonstrates that they endorsed the findings and the report of Sadc Election Observer Mission (SEOM) to Zimbabwe, which was led by Dr Nevers Mumba of Zambia. This was a clear diplomatic and political signal to Harare that Sadc will not endorse the fraudulent and illegitimate elections in Zimbabwe.
This was a significant breakaway from the usual ostrichism and quiet diplomacy associated with Sadc of endorsing and sanitising sham elections, to a more muscular diplomacy of diplomatic oversight, truth telling and forthright communication against a rogue member state.
This historical diplomatic departure from the past by Sadc was a huge political and diplomatic development within the region. Hence, there has been a huge chorus of approval towards Sadc by ordinary Zimbabweans and ordinary people within the region.
However, the inauguration speech of President Mnangagwa gives us a window of opportunity to look at the likely trajectory of his next five years. The speech was neither groundbreaking nor revolutionary, it was punctuated with regurgitating the same issues and the same unfulfilled promises he advocated over the previous five years.
Thus, the speech lacked magnanimity and a bridge-building approach towards the main opposition CCC and its leader Nelson Chamisa. Mnangagwa failed to extend an olive branch to the main opposition that could have acted as a foundational brick towards possible post-election dialogue initiatives. This was quite different from the magnanimous, nation building and reconciliation speech delivered by the then late prime minister Robert Mugabe on 4 April 1980, which is famous for its “turning our swords into ploughshares” remark.
Disappointedly, in his inauguration speech President Mnangagwa failed to mention how he was going to address the major economic challenges affecting Zimbabwe. He did not lay out how he was going to tackle hyperinflation, currently officially standing at 77%, which has ravaged the socio-economic wellbeing of already economically emaciated and financially malnourished Zimbabweans.
Neither did he mention how he was going to tackle the elephant in the room: that is, the African Development Bank (AFDB)-mediated debt resolution dialogue. Zimbabwe’s consolidated debt currently stands at US$18 billion. He probably knew that this had been made untenable by failing to hold a free and fair elections.
Crucially, the conduct and the actions of Zanu PF and President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the past two weeks raises serious questions and fears about how the next five years will be. Particularly with regards to respect of human rights, civil liberties and freedom of expression. On 31 August 2023, President Mnangagwa issued a chilling warning to anyone who had any intentions or plans to protest against his leadership.
He declared that “our prisons are not full”. This clearly shows that the exercise of the constitutionally enshrined right to protest in the next five years will be severely curtailed. Moreover, the newly elected CCC councillor for Glen Norah, Womberaiishe Nhende, was abducted and tortured on 2 September 2023 by suspected state agencies.
This is coupled with the fact that the newly appointed and combative spokesperson of CCC, Promise Mkwananzi, had to flee into exile after police had issued an arrest warrant on trumped-up charges against him. It is another systematic attempt by the Zanu PF government to decapitate and ultimately weaken the CCC by targeting some of its key personnel.
In the similar fashion, the authorities have detained and imprisoned Job Sikhala for more than 450 days without fair trial.
Needless to say, the next five years under President Mnangagwa are going to be volatile and intriguing. This is due to the fact that, constitutionally, Mnangagwa is serving his final term. Therefore, he cannot legally and constitutionally extend his term beyond 2028. Consequently, this will make his final term a lame duck presidency.
This then raises the spectre of vicious intra-party and fratricidal factional infighting within Zanu PF as various factions will strategically position themselves to succeed President Mnangagwa. However, historically Zanu PF has always struggled to amicably and peacefully settle its succession politics.
Consequently, succession has always been settled extrajudicially, extralegally and violently. This dates back to the toppling of the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole as the leader of Zanu by Robert Mugabe during the liberation struggle. There is also the infamous 14 November military coup d’etat that eventually deposed Mugabe.
Therefore, in the next five years Zimbabwe will be entering another polarising and dangerous period, which will have a far-reaching impact on the socio-economic and political future of the country. Consequently, nobody is certain whether President Emmerson Mnangagwa will respect the constitutional term provisions or not. This is because African presidents have the propensity of violating term limits and extending them beyond their provisions.
Moreover, President Mnangagwa has not allayed any fears that he will not attempt to violate the constitution and stay beyond 2028. After all, one of his mantras is “2030 ndenge ndichipo”, that is “2030 I will still be in power”. Accordingly, the extralegal and extra-constitutional extension of the term of Chief Justice Luke Malaba in 2021 could be interpreted as a dress rehearsal for a similar constitutional transgression by the Zanu PF government for a possible third-term presidential stint in 2028.
The CCC conundrum
Suffice it to say that President Mnangagwa’s inauguration process went ahead after the main opposition CCC decided not to challenge the election results with the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. Some of the reasons that led to the CCC not petitioning the courts over the electoral results were that the judiciary over the last five years had been systematically biased against the CCC.
The judiciary in Zimbabwe has been thoroughly corrupted and captured by Zanu PF, to the extent that the majority of cases involving the opposition, pro-democratic forces and civil society activists have often been ruled against them. The CCC has laid out a litany of court cases in which the judges been blatantly ruled against them.
Notably, there is the 2018 presidential election petition, systematic pattern of denial of bail of CCC supporters, bogus electoral judgments such as cases involving Saviour Kasukuwere, double candidates case, final voters’ roll case and many others. Therefore, in light of these blatant cases of travesty of justice, the CCC felt that the chance of getting a fair hearing and fair outcome at the hands of the courts was negligible.
Crucially, by not filing an electoral petition with the Constitutional Court, the CCC managed to deny Mnangagwa the legal legitimacy he craves for. Therefore, it seems the CCC is going to use the diplomatic route to challenge the illegitimacy of President Mnangagwa and Zanu PF. Accordingly, one of the key demands of the CCC is for the total nullification and invalidation of the 23 August general elections and instead have fresh elections supervised by the African Union and Sadc.
The CCC has been emboldened to take this decision by the unprecedented diplomatic goodwill the people of Zimbabwe have received from the Sadc Election Observer Mission, the joint African Union-Comesa observer missions and other international observer missions, who have condemned the elections as fraudulent and illegitimate.
Therefore, the CCC will need to launch an aggressive diplomatic campaign within Sadc and the African continent and strongly argue out their case for fresh elections. However, they should devise strategies and plans on how they will circumvent potential bureaucratic red tape and the filibustering with the Sadc and AU corridors of powers.
This is due to the fact that Zanu PF will also likely going on a frontal diplomatic campaign within Sadc and the AU and argue that the elections were free and fair, notwithstanding the adverse reports of the election observer missions.
Therefore, there is going to be a battle to win the hearts and minds of the Sadc and AU member states between the CCC and Zanu PF. As we already observed, Zanu PF has three allies in Sadc already in this electoral dispute. That is, South Africa, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose leaders attended the inauguration ceremony in Harare on 4 September.
However, for the CCC to succeed in having free, fair and fresh elections in Zimbabwe, it will probably need more than the diplomatic route. The CCC will need a multipronged approach towards the fight for fresh elections. This entails the CCC fighting on all fronts: domestic, regional and continental.
For instance, the CCC has to start using its newly elected parliamentarians to use their positions in Parliament and table motions demanding fresh elections.
The CCC MPs need to embrace the combative and disruptive participatory parliamentary democracy of the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa who turn the South African Parliament into a theatre of radical contestation of ideas and democratic accountability. Crucially, if the CCC is really serious about its quest for fresh elections, at some point it has to organise peaceful and disciplined demonstrations in Zimbabwe, demanding fresh elections.
That is, the CCC has to show the regional and international community the untenability of the illegitimate elections and the subsequent constitutional crisis engulfing Zimbabwe. These omissions and commissions on part of the CCC will provide Sadc and the AU with much-needed political and diplomatic fuel to buttress the case for fresh elections in Zimbabwe.
A week is a long time in politics and therefore five years will be a lifetime in politics. Accordingly, the next five years are going to be unpredictable, challenging and volatile for all political actors in Zimbabwe and the ordinary citizens. President Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF government will be confronted by a plethora of domestic and international challenges.
Chief among them is the legitimacy deficit, the comatose economy and the increasingly restless and desperate citizens.
However, the CCC and its leader Chamisa, despite having unprecedented diplomatic goodwill from the regional and international community, will still face formidable obstacles and challenges in arguing and winning their case for free, fair and fresh elections.
About the writer: Taona Blessing Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer.