ZIMBABWE’S relations with Zambia have become frosty since the Sadc observer mission led by the neighbouring country’s former vice-president Nevers Mumba revealed gross irregularities in the country’s disputed general election, won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The polls, crucial for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the international community, have been flagged by observer missions over gross irregularities, amid indications of intimidation and logistical challenges that saw voting starting late at night at some polling stations, angering the opposition.
Zambia has been a strategic partner for the country since the liberation struggle, allowing Zimbabwean freedom fighters from Zipra and Zanla to use its territory for the training of guerillas.
The country also provided refuge to Zimbabwean nationalists, and a considerable number of high-profile Zanu and Zapu nationalists, including President Mnangagwa.
However, the Sadc observers’ report by Mumba has placed in the spotlight Zimbabwe’s frosty relations with Zambia. Signs of tension began showing after Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema in 2021successfully led the then opposition outfit United Party for National Development (UPND) to dislodge Zanu PF ally Edgar Lungu.
Mnangagwa’s government has become increasingly worried about the growing anti-ruling party wave sweeping across the region, which has threatened the government with diplomatic isolation, which has been worsened by the country’s tainted human rights record.
As previously reported, following shocks from the Zambian election, intelligence sources told The NewsHawks that Mnangagwa’s administration has been closely monitoring the relations between Chamisa and Hichilema’s and their manoeuvres, especially after the Zimbabwean opposition leader’s meetings with the Zambian President, first in Lusaka during his inauguration on 24 August 2021 and in South Africa on 26 January 2022 during a book launch.
They met again on 28 October last year, in Lesotho. The book launch was held at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, at 1 Duncombe Road, Forest Town.
Hichilema was guest speaker at the launch of a book titled Expensive Poverty: Why Aid Fails and How it Can Work, written by his friend Greg Mills, director of the Brenthurst Foundation, a Johannesburg-based organisation established by the Oppenheimer family in 2005 to promote new ideas and innovation to strengthen economic performance in Africa.
With Brenthurst, Mills has directed numerous reform projects in Africa, including Rwanda (2007-8), Mozambique (2005-11), Swaziland (2010-11), Malawi (2012-14, and again 2020/1), Kenya (2012 and 2020), Lesotho (2008; 2019- 20), Liberia (2006/7), Zambia (2010; 2016), Zimbabwe (2009-13), Ghana (2017), Ethiopia (2019-20), Nigeria (2017-18), and almost continuously at various levels of government in South Africa.
The foundation reportedly bankrolled Hichilema’s UPND during and before its general election.
“Since HH [Hichilema] came to power, the Zimbabwean intelligence has been working hard to figure out the nature of his relations with Chamisa and whether it involves financial support,” an intelligence source said. “Their worry is on various fronts: diplomatic, political and geopolitical.”
The waves of change in the region, inspired by Hichilema’s unusual feat have also kept Mnangagwa on the tenterhooks.
For instance, in October last year, Lesotho Prime Minister Sam Matekane pulled a surprise victory, despite being a political novice, after its two coalition partners won 56 out of 120 parliamentary seats, a slim majority in Parliament, making him Lesotho’s 10th prime minister, and setting a new political record in the region.
Matekane made the list of several opposition leaders in the region to defeat incumbents following Hichilema. In 2020, Lazarus Chakwera defeated Peter Mutharika in the Malawian general election, while Felix Tshisekedi also won the Democratic Republic of Congo plebiscite in 2019. Like Zambia’s Hichilema, Matekane is an ally of Zimbabwe’s main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa.
Chamisa attended the inauguration in Maseru and met with Matekane at the event which was also attended by regional leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Hichilema of Zambia.
Mnangagwa did not attend as he was presiding over Zanu PF’s nomination congress by then, and was represented by Foreign minister Frederick Shava instead.
In Kenya’s general election held last year, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is close to Chamisa, fell short, losing to former deputy president William Ruto.
Ruto has signaled that he will not attend Mnangagwa’s inauguration, but will be represented by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi.