Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Zimbabwe on July 31, 2013.
The System (in theory)
The President of Zimbabwe, who is the head of state, is directly elected to serve a five-year term, which is now renewable only once. Zimbabwean voters approved a new constitution in March 2013, which limits executive powers, notably restricting the President to two-consecutive terms (although it does not have retrospective effect) and curtailing his unfettered ability to appoint senators, governors or members of the commission overseeing judicial appointments (which he will continue to appoint). Each presidential candidate nominates two persons to serve as Vice Presidents.
After a power-sharing agreement concluded after the 2008 election, the office of Prime Minister – abolished in 1987 – was recreated, and granted some powers as head of government, although the President remained the most important figure. As in Kenya, the position was only temporary and it has been abolished in the new constitution.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe is bicameral, made up of the lower house – the National Assembly – and the upper house – the Senate. The National Assembly is made up of 210 members directly elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP. Under the new constitution approved in 2013, the first two legislatures after the passage of said constitution will include an additional 60 women members, six from each province, elected by proportional representation on the basis of votes cast for members of the National Assembly.
The Senate is composed of 80 senators: 60 are elected by proportional representation based on votes cast for members of the National Assembly, with each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces returning six senators; 16 are chiefs, with Zimbabwe’s 8 non-metropolitan provinces electing 2 chiefs; two are elected to represent persons with disabilities; finally, the President and Vice President of the Council of Chiefs are ex-officio members.
Both houses have the power to initiate and consider/reject legislation, except for money bills which may only originate in the lower house. After legislation is passed by both houses, the President must assent to it and sign it, or, if does not, he refers it back to Parliament with an explanation. The Parliament may reconsider the bill to accommodate the President’s reservations, or pass it again with a two-thirds majority. If the Presidents once again refuses to assent to the bill, he refers it to the Constitutional Court.
The Parliament, with a two-thirds majority in both houses, may vote a motion of no-confidence in the cabinet, which leads to the cabinet’s resignation and the dissolution of Parliament.
In practice, democracy and rule of law has been seriously eroded and undermined by Zimbabwe’s strongman President, Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s current politics and contentious political issues almost all have deep historical roots, and a full understanding of Zimbabwean contemporary politics would be incomplete without an understanding of its historical roots.
Zimbabwe, which was known as Southern Rhodesia (or Rhodesia) until full independence in 1980, came under British rule in the late nineteenth century. Until 1923, Southern Rhodesia was under “company rule” – administered by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Corporation. Originally intended primarily for gold mining, it was soon discovered that mining alone could not sustain Southern Rhodesia, therefore the Company started actively encouraging white immigration, attracted by the availability of tracts of prime farmland that could be purchased at a low cost. A mindset of racial superiority and policies of racial segregation quickly set in. Like in South Africa, the black majority was moved to “native reserves” – dispersed and isolated parcels of land with low rainfall amounts – which doubled up as reservoirs of cheap labour for white settlers.
By the 1920s, Southern Rhodesia became a rather profitable colony and the colony’s infrastructure – railways, new towns, mines – developed rapidly during this period, although with little to no benefit for the black majority. The white population of the territory increased from some 12.5k in 1904 to 38.2k in 1927; Southern Rhodesia (like South Africa and Kenya, but unlike Northern Rhodesia (Zambia)) therefore developed a large and politically influential white settler population. However, the white population in Southern Rhodesia never surpassed 10% of the population, peaking at 8% in 1960; blacks never constituted less than 90% of the population.
In the 1920s, white settlers, whose influence in the Legislative Council had increased considerably, began clamoring for responsible government. The Company, which was struggling to extract profits from the colony for a variety of reasons, eventually bowed down and, in a 1922 referendum, white voters rejected union with South Africa and approved responsible government. In 1923, Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing colony, something of a ‘semi-dominion’, with a responsible government having legislative autonomy over internal affairs, although Britain still controlled foreign affairs, railways, mining revenues, constitutional amendments and ‘native affairs’. Franchise in elections to the Legislative Assembly, while officially ‘non-racial’, effectively excluded the vast majority of the non-white population because voting rights were conditioned to a certain income and property ownership (similar to the Cape Qualified Franchise in the Cape Province in South Africa).
Segregationist land and social policies were passed in the 1930s, restricting blacks’ access to certain jobs while institutionalizing the racial division of land. Similarly to South Africa’s ‘petty apartheid’ laws, blacks were strictly segregated from whites in public offices and amenities. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 banned blacks from owning property outside the barren reserves, and the Rhodesian government, over 20 years, expelled over 67,000 blacks from their lands and forcibly moved them to reserves. Under the 1930 law, 51% of the land was owned by whites – barely 5% of the population. Similarly to South Africa, the reserves covered unproductive land which was isolated from the main means of communications.
Large scale white immigration to Rhodesia began after the Second World War, peaking at 223,000 (7% of the population) in 1960. Immigrants came from the UK (former British servicemen), eastern Europe and many whites from other African countries which were becoming independent – Kenya, Zambia but also non-British colonies such as Algeria, the Congo or Portuguese colonies (Angola, Mozambique). Rhodesia became something of a haven for white people ‘fleeing’ decolonization elsewhere in Africa or Asia (British India).
The ‘native reserves’ quickly become overpopulated, and the situation was only aggravated when land was cleared to make way for new white immigrants. The Southern Rhodesian government blamed the Africans for the situation on the reserves, and passed the Native Land Husbandry Act (1951) abolished communally-owned land in reserves and enforced de-stocking (killing livestock) and ‘conservation’ practices in the reserves. The Native Land Husbandry Act unleashed an African nationalist fervour unseen until that point.
In 1953, after much hesitation, the British government agreed to create a Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, linking the semi-dominion of Southern Rhodesia with the directly-administered colonies of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, less developed economically (although Northern Rhodesia’s rich copper deposits were attractive to Southern Rhodesia) and with a significantly smaller – and less conservative – white population. The goal of the federation, described as an “aberration of history” was to maintain white minority rule while still moving in a more progressive direction than South Africa’s apartheid government. Racial laws were liberalized somewhat, in that some segregationist laws were abolished, blacks were theoretically to be associated to governance and they, theoretically, had voting rights if they met the franchise conditions. In reality, less than a thousand blacks could actually meet these conditions.
The black majority rejected the federation as a scheme to perpetuate colonialism and white minority rule. Unrest grew throughout the three constituent entities, particularly in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in 1959. In Southern Rhodesia, a nascent black nationalist movement led by Joshua Nkomo was banned. However, at this point, black opposition was still relatively non-violent – Southern Rhodesian blacks demanded constitutional equality and one man, one vote. Southern Rhodesia’s white settlers, however, were obstinately opposed to any kind of racial and political equality. In 1958, Southern Rhodesian Premier Sir Garfield Todd, who had attempted to increase the black franchise from 2% to 16% of the black population, was removed from office and considered as a dangerous radical.
In 1961, a new constitution was approved in Southern Rhodesia. Blacks were to have 15 out of 65 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and there would be two separate electorate rolls: the dominant and predominantly white ‘A’ roll with high education, income and property qualifications; and the ‘B’ roll, with lower qualifications to allow some 10,600 voters – 90% of them black – to vote. A few MPs from the ruling party, including Ian Smith, opposed the new constitution and electoral qualifications, claiming that it was “racializing” politics (quite rich!). Nevertheless, the new constitution – which still granted Britain the right to change the constitution unilaterally – was approved by 65% of white voters. Nkomo initially approved the new document, but later rejected it. In December 1961, Nkomo founded the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
The so-called ‘Winds of Change’ (after British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s historic speech in Cape Town in 1960) were sweeping through Africa, and Britain was quickly losing the will to uphold shaky and widely reviled white minority rule in Africa. At the United Nations, the communist bloc and many Asian and African countries condemned colonialism and strongly backed national liberation movements in Africa. To avoid becoming an international pariah, Britain adopted a policy of “no independence before majority rule”.
Southern Rhodesian whites developed a siege mentality which made them instinctively hostile towards anything which reeked of liberalization or racial equality. The Rhodesian Front (RF), a new white conservative party running on a platform of independence, surprisingly won the December 1962 elections in Southern Rhodesia, defeating Premier Edgar Whitehead’s ruling United Federal Party, a rather moderate party. Whitehead, in an attempt to win black support, promised to repeal all discriminatory legislation (including the land apportionment laws), rattled white fears and his attempts to win black voters ran into a wall, with Nkomo’s ZAPU calling on blacks to boycott the election. Like South Africa’s Jan Smuts and his UP in the 1948 election, Whitehead had come to terms with the reality that Africans would eventually become influential political actors. The RF, led by Winston Field and Ian Smith, promised independence and strongly supported continuation of white minority rule and segregation. The RF claimed that the blacks were “not ready” to govern. This view, shared by most white Rhodesians, was influenced by the experience of newly-independent black African states which had quickly turned into autocratic one-party states. The Congo crisis in 1961 reinforced many white settlers’ view that the blacks were unfit to govern and that only white minority rule would protect their comfortable living conditions.
The Federation broke up in 1963. Both Northern Rhodesia – now Zambia – and Nyasaland – now Malawi – gained full independence (under black majority rule) quickly thereafter. Southern Rhodesia’s white leaders were dismayed that Zambia and Malawi, “less advanced” than they were, had been granted full independence upon the breakup of the federation, while Southern Rhodesia had not.
The new Premier, Winston Field, began negotiations with London in the hopes of gaining independence. By April 1964, however, Field’s inability to win independence led the RF caucus to remove him and replace him with Ian Smith, a Rhodesian-born war veteran who promised to take a much tougher stance against Britain. In October 1964, however, Britain’s position against Southern Rhodesian independence hardened with the election of the Labour Party under Harold Wilson. Labour was even less willing to come to terms with Ian Smith’s notion of white minority independence than the previous Conservative government had been. Smith tried to give a facade of black support for his project, by organizing an indaba with the 622 tribal chiefs – all coopted leaders who supported the white government given the hostility of black nationalists leaders towards them. The indaba ratified Smith’s push for independence, and the largely white electorate voted in favour of independence in a November 1964 referendum (90.5% in favour). Britain and black nationalists rejected the indaba as a sham, and Wilson’s government warned Smith of serious repercussions if he was to go ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).
Talks between London and Salisbury (Rhodesia’s capital) reached a stalemate, with both sides sticking to their guns. Britain could hardly back down from its policy of “no independence before majority rule”, and Smith held that he had a mandate from the Rhodesian people for independence. In May 1965, the RF swept all 50 ‘A’ roll seats in a snap general election, running on the promise of independence.
Meanwhile, in August 1963, ZAPU had split. A faction opposed to Nkomo, led by reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe, created the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). Most of the split had been along ethnic lines, with Nkomo’s ZAPU representing the Ndebele minority while ZANU came to represent the Shona majority.
After the 1965, Smith continued his push for independence and was increasingly alienated from Britain. A major row developed between London and Salisbury when the Rhodesians announced their intention to open a diplomatic mission in Lisbon. Salazar’s authoritarian Portuguese government, which controlled neighboring Mozambique, was a strong ally of Rhodesia and accepted the Rhodesian mission in Lisbon.
On November 11, 1965, Ian Smith declared Rhodesia’s independence and signed the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). There was little domestic white opposition to the UDI, but the UDI was met with quasi-universal opposition by the international community, first and foremost from Britain. The UN Security Council (UNSC), in Resolution 216, condemned the UDI as “illegal and racist” and called on the international community to refuse recognition to Salisbury.
Britain was unwilling to take military action against Rhodesia, but instead hoped to cripple Smith’s regime by imposing economic sanctions – a ban on the import of Rhodesian goods (such as tobacco) and an oil embargo. The UNSC endorsed similar international sanctions in 1966 and 1968. The sanctions did not cripple the Rhodesian government and the country was not internationally isolated. Portugal and South Africa openly flouted the sanctions, providing it with oil and other resources. To enforce the oil embargo, Britain dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to the Mozambique Channel, to monitor oil deliveries to the port of Beira (Mozambique), which was landlocked Rhodesia’s most direct link to the sea. Portugal marketed Rhodesian goods as their own, with false certificate of origins; Rhodesia continued to trade with West Germany, Switzerland, Japan and France. In 1971, the United States Congress allowed American firms to import chromium and nickel. Even many African countries who virulently denounced the “racist government” of Salisbury were forced to trade with Rhodesia out of economic necessity. For example, Zambia was energetically dependent on the Kariba dam, controlled by Rhodesia.
However, Ian Smith’s attempt to regain international legitimacy lost with the UDI through diplomatic recognition of Rhodesian independence were unsuccessful. Britain, naturally, never recognized Rhodesia and withdrew its diplomatic staff from Salisbury. But even allied nations like Portugal and South Africa, and more friendly (or indifferent) nations like France, West Germany, Japan and the US never extended diplomatic recognition.
Abortive talks were held between Wilson and Smith’s government in 1966 and 1968, with no results.
In 1969, Rhodesian voters approved a new republican constitution and on March 2, 1970, Rhodesia became a republic. Between 1965 and 1970, Rhodesia had continued to pretend that it was a member of the Commonwealth and it continued to swear loyalty to the Queen. Rhodesia, after 1970, became a parliamentary republic with a ceremonial President and a powerful Prime Minister, Ian Smith. The RF swept all 50 ‘white seats’ in the 1970, 1974 and 1977 elections. After 1969, 8 seats were elected by African voters who met high property, income and education qualifications and 8 ‘tribal’ seats were elected by coopted tribal leaders. Segregation, similar to apartheid, was strictly enforced and for black nationalists, Rhodesia became a police state. The Land Tenure Act (1969) replaced the 1930 legislation, granting roughly half the land to whites and the other half to blacks. These measures led to further overstocking, very high population densities, poverty, low agricultural productivity and environmental degradation in the black areas.
In April 1966, ZANU’s armed wing – ZANLA – tried to launch a sabotage campaign against the regime, but its plot was quickly foiled and its leaders arrested. The black resistance movements were uncoordinated and often fought among themselves. The Rhodesian Bush War began in earnest in 1972, first with scattered attacks against white-owned farms and intimidation against Africans who worked for white farmers. ZANU, backed by China and the Mozambican FRELIMO, launched scattered guerrilla attacks; while ZAPU (and its armed wing, ZIPRA), backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany, focused on conventional warfare. Nkomo’s ZAPU was the more moderate of the two parties, more amenable to compromise with the white regime, and on better terms with western countries than the radical and Maoist ZANU.
At this point, however, Rhodesia was still able to control the situation – bordering South Africa and Mozambique were still friendly, and Zambia remained dependent on Rhodesia for energy and copper exports. In 1973, Smith closed its borders to Zambia, a reaction to Zambian logistical support for ZAPU, but in doing so he annoyed South Africa, which had substantial interests in Zambia.
In late 1971-1972, Rhodesia and Britain came close to a compromise deal favourable to Smith and the white minority. The new Conservative government in London, elected in 1970, was more flexible that Harold Wilson’s Labour government, and accepted a compromise solution with Smith which would have recognized Rhodesia in exchange for a slow, progressive and phased transition to majority rule over many years. However, a royal commission found that blacks were heavily opposed to the negotiated settlement, and Britain shelved the plan (and Salisbury was never all that hot with it either).
1974 marked a turning point year for Rhodesia. In April 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal overthrew the dictatorial Estado Novo and marked the end of Portugal’s embattled colonial empire. Mozambique, led by the pro-ZANU FRELIMO, gained independence in June 1975. Rhodesia’s secret services backed, along with the US and South Africa, the right-wing RENAMO rebel group.
South Africa, facing troubles of its own at home, became less willing to provide enthusiastic support for Smith’s regime in Salisbury. Prodded by the US, South African Prime Minister BJ Vorster exerted pressure on Smith to open talks on a transition to majority rule. South Africa was now more interested in buying time for apartheid at home than propping up an apartheid-like regime abroad. Smith bowed to pressure and accepted, in principle, black majority rule, and held inconclusive talks with ZANU, ZAPU and reverend Abel Muzorewa’s anti-communist UANC in 1975 and 1976.
The guerrilla conflict spread throughout the conflict by the late 1970s, and Ian Smith’s strategy had become to hold off the ZANU/ZAPU (united in a ‘Patriotic Front’ since 1976) until he could reach a deal with moderate black leaders. Further talks in 1976 and 1977 all ended in deadlock. However, in November 1977, Smith shifted gears and came out in support of “one man, one vote”.
In March 1978, the Internal Settlement were signed, the result of a deal between Ian Smith’s white minority government and moderate black leaders led by reverend Abel Muzorewa and former moderate ZANU leader Ndabaningi Sithole’s faction of ZANU (called ZANU-Ndonga). The country would transition to majority rule with a multiracial government, but the country’s police, security forces, civil service and judiciary would remain in white hands for the time being. Furthermore, whites would hold 28 seats in a 100-seat Parliament, although they only represented 3% of the population. This agreement was rejected by most of the international community (spearheaded by the US and Britain), who demanded ZANU and ZAPU’s participation in elections and government, and by both factions of the ‘Patriotic Front’. ZANU and ZAPU both pledged violence against any black ‘traitors’ who accepted the Internal Settlement.
Violence and cruelty escalated further in 1978. In September 1978, a regular Air Rhodesia passenger flight was shot down by ZAPU with a surface-to-air missile. In February 1979, another Air Rhodesia plane was shot down by ZAPU. Both factions of the Patriotic Front were only willing to accept complete victory, and ZANU made no secret of the fact that it wanted a one-party socialist state.
White voters approved the Internal Settlement in a 1979 referendum with 84% in favour. The first multiracial elections were held in April 1979, boycotted by ZANU and ZAPU, whose guerrillas used violence and intimidation to keep black voters from participating. ZANU and ZAPU had both declined several invitations to participate, feeling that their positions would not be secure under a constitution which they had not drafted and which they perceived as retaining white minority rule.
In a generally clean election, reverend Abel Muzorewa’s UANC won 51 seats against 12 for Sithole’s ZANU-Ndonga and 9 seats for a small Matabeleland-based party. Ian Smith’s RF, facing little white opposition, won all 28 ‘white’ seats. In June 1979, Muzorewa became Prime Minister of ‘Zimbabwe Rhodesia’, the country’s first black leader.
However, the election went unrecognized by both Washington and London, and the UNSC passed two resolutions denouncing the elections as unrepresentative of the Zimbabwean people and designed to entrench white minority rule. The US Senate voted to lift sanctions, but President Jimmy Carter’s administration refused to recognize the legitimacy of Muzorewa’s government and did not lift sanctions. On the ground, both ZANU and ZAPU intensified their guerrilla campaign against the government.
Zimbabwe Rhodesia’s government had little choice but to bow down to the insurgents and reopen negotiations with them. Years of guerrilla fighting had weakened and exhausted the country, and whites had began emigrating from Rhodesia in 1975. Under American, British and African pressure, Muzorewa’s government agreed to a new round of talks at Lancaster House in London, where both factions of the Patriotic Front would participate.
Three delegations sat down at Lancaster House between September and December 1979: the Patriotic Front, represented by Mugabe’s ZANU and Nkomo’s ZAPU; the Salisbury government, represented by Prime Minister Muzorewa, Sithole and Ian Smith; and Margaret Thatcher’s British government, which had organized the talks. The first weeks of negotiations were unfruitful, in large part due to the PF’s intransigence. A particularly contentious issue was that of land reform – the British wanted to protect the white minority from expropriations, while the PF clamored for immediate land reform. It was only very reluctantly, pressured by Nkomo and African states tired of the Bush War, that ZANU agreed to a “willing buyer, willing seller” program to be funded by the US and the UK, and to guarantees for the white minority protecting them from expropriations for ten years. The Lancaster House Accords, signed in December 1979, created a parliamentary government for Zimbabwe, with 20 seats reserved for whites. Between the signature of the agreement and general elections in February 1980, the country temporarily reverted to British colonial rule and all parties agreed to a cease-fire.
Mugabe insisted that ZANU and ZAPU contest the election separately, because he was confident that his predominantly Shona ZANU could easily beat the ZAPU, backed by the much smaller Ndebele minority. The six-week election campaign was marked by violence and voter intimidation, with Mugabe’s ZANU guerrillas coercing thousands of black voters into voting for ZANU under threat of death if they did not. Muzorewa and Nkomo wanted Mugabe to be disqualified, given that the agreements allowed for a party’s disqualification if they used intimidation, but with Mugabe threatening to restart the war if he did not win, the British and Americans had little choice but to give in to his heavy-handed intimidation and allow the election to go forward.
Under such conditions, Mugabe’s ZANU swept to victory, taking 63% of the vote and 57 of the 80 black seats. Nkomo’s ZAPU won only 24% and 20 seats, the bulk of its support concentrated in Matabeleland. Muzorewa’s UANC only won 8% and 3 seats, while Sithole was shut out. Ian Smith’s RF, again facing token opposition, won 83% of the white vote and all 20 white seats. Mugabe became Prime Minister, with a government including two whites.
Mugabe, 33 years and going
Robert Mugabe did not transform the country into a Chinese or Soviet puppet stage or turn overnight into the despot he is widely seen as today. In fact, there was an aura of national unity right after his victory – but it didn’t last long. Former white liberal Premier Garfield Todd became a senator, while Nkomo – Mugabe’s old enemy – was named to cabinet. The old commander of the Rhodesian army was kept in office, and led the integration of ZANLA and ZIPRA guerrillas into the new Zimbabwean military. He increased wages, and put in place new social programs (in education and healthcare).
Many whites left the country between 1980 and 1990, dropping to 100,000 in 1985 and about 70,000 in 1990. Many whites who had come to Rhodesia after 1945 had come seeing the country as a ‘safe haven’ from the decolonization and black majority rule elsewhere in Africa; they had little deep emotional attachment to the country and left once Rhodesia disappeared. Black majority rule, despite the initial safeguards for whites, meant the end of a generous social welfare net and guaranteed jobs for whites. Many white farmers and businessmen, however, stayed in the country, and some adapted quite well to the new dispensation. A number of RF MPs decided to sit as independents and generally supported Mugabe’s ZANU.
Farming remained in the hands of the white minority, with around 4,000-6,000 white farmers (against 200,000 black farmers) controlling the vast majority of the land. White farms were the most productive, and allowed Zimbabwe to remain self-sufficient. However, the government faced intense pressure from landless black families who were demanding land. The 1985 Land Acquisition Act, drawn up in the spirit of the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle from Lancaster House, was able to resettle 71,000 families out of a targeted 162,000 families. White farmers were unwilling to sell their land and the government had limited money to compensate landowners, and the “willing buyer, willing seller” – valid for 10 years – meant that the government was powerless to take more decisive action.
Mugabe wanted to create a one-party system. Having successfully marginalized Nkomo’s ZAPU in the 1980 elections, the new ZANU government moved to integrate ZAPU and its troops (ZIPRA) into the ruling party and military respectively. ZAPU/ZIPRA quickly realized what awaited them, and violent clashes between ZANU and ZAPU began in 1980. In 1981, Nkomo had been removed from government. The political conflict escalated into an ethnic conflict. In 1983, Mugabe sent the North Korean-trained ‘Fifth Brigade’ to reestablish order in Matabeleland. After what amounted to ethnic cleansing in which Mugabe’s troops killed some 25,000 civilians, ZAPU’s leader Joshua Nkomo was compelled to sign a “unity agreement” with ZANU in December 1987. In exchange for a general amnesty, ZAPU merged into ZANU, which became ZANU-PF (PF for ‘Patriotic Front’).
In the meantime, ZANU had won an even larger majority in the 1985 election, taking 77% of the vote and 64 out of 80 black seats, against only 19% and 15 seats for ZAPU. For the 20 white seats, there was a genuine contest between Ian Smith’s rebranded RF (Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe) and a group of pro-ZANU white independents. Smith’s party won 55% of the vote and 15 seats, against 38% for the pro-ZANU independent group which won 4 seats. In September 1987, Mugabe, with a two-thirds majority, amended the constitution and removed the 20 ‘white roll’ seats and replaced them with 20 nominated MPs, leaving him with the support of 99 out 100 MPs. He also modified the constitution to establish a presidential republic, abolishing the office of Prime Minister and declaring himself President (head of state and government).
The first ten years of Mugabe’s regime were relatively successful in terms of human development. Government spending was primarily directed towards human development and support for smallholder agriculture, and, as a result, social indicators improved considerably compared to 1980. Numbers on infant mortality, immunization, child malnutrition, school enrollment and the adult literacy rate all improved. However, high public spending, heavily restrictive conditions on foreign investment, artificially capped interest rates and the discouragement of independent private businesses all dragged down the economy.
Zimbabwe’s transformation into a corrupt, authoritarian one-party state was confirmed in the 1990 elections. Mugabe was reelected to the presidency with 83% of the vote, and ZANU-PF won 117 out of 120 seats in Parliament. In 1995, ZANU-PF won 118 out of 120 seats and in 1996, Mugabe was reelected with 93% of the vote after his two opponents – Muzorewa and Sithole – withdrew from the competition.
In 1991, Mugabe’s government started an austerity program backed by the IMF and the World Bank. The reforms included liberalization of foreign exchange controls, removing price controls, reforming the inefficient state-owned companies and fiscal deficit reduction. However, the austerity program were unsuccessful, as public sector spending continued to grow and inflation increased. Growth, employment, wages and social services spending contracted sharply, while three years of drought (1992, 1993 and 1995) hurt the economy. Uncompetitive industries, now open to competition and unfamiliar economic conditions, collapsed.
Austerity policies angered black farmers and war veterans. In December 1997, the country faced general strike led by war veterans who demanded that pensions for their war service, even if the state didn’t have the money to pay such pensions. The government, abandoning austerity reforms, started paying war pensions. In 1998, Zimbabwe, despite a struggling economy at home, intervened militarily in the Congolese Civil War to support the DRC’s government, led by Laurent Kabila. Foreign aid was suspended after Mugabe’s intervention in Congo, which, it has been said, was to protect his personal investments and participate in commercial mining.
Land reform once again became a key issue in Zimbabwean politics in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1992, the government had abandoned the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle by allowing the government to compulsorily buy land for redistribution. Britain (whose aid had run out in 1996 and was no longer willing to pay for land reform in Zimbabwe) and the IMF warned Harare against forced redistribution of land, but by this point, Mugabe had become even more intransigent. ZANU-PF insisted that land reform, regardless of its economic impact, was necessary to correct past colonial injustices; whites argued that the issue was one of land development rather than land tenure, saying that the country had ample agricultural land which was not being cultivated. The government’s “compulsory acquisition with compensation” approach in the 1990s was largely unsuccessful, in part due to white farmers’ hostility. In 1999, the government initiated a “fast-track land reform” policy, aimed at transferring 4,000 white-owned farms to black ownership, often through ad-hoc measures or forcible seizure.
To move faster on land reform, Mugabe drafted a new constitution in 2000 which controversially gave the government the right to acquire land without compensation. The new constitution was opposed by a new opposition movement, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was organized by Morgan Tsvangirai, the former leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and lapsed supporter of ZANU-PF. The MDC argued that the constitution, which instituted non-retrospective two-term presidential term limits and immunized state and military officials from prosecution, was a means for Mugabe to entrench himself in power. In a major rebuke for Mugabe, voters rejected his new constitution with 55% against. A few months later, in June 2000, ZANU-PF barely won the legislative elections, taking 63 seats to the MDC’s 57 seats, although an additional 30 members nominated by the President shored up ZANU-PF’s parliamentary majority.
Mugabe responded to his first defeat at the polls with more repression and moving forward with fast-track land reform. Tsvangirai was arrested for the first time in October 2000. A few days after the referendum, war veterans marched on white-owned forms, violently forcing owners and farm workers off the land and occupying the land. The Parliament passed an amendment similar in wording to the draft constitution’s article on expropriation without compensation.
South African President Thabo Mbeki attempted to negotiate a settlement with Mugabe many times between 2000 and 2005, but Mugabe renounced all commitments he had made and South Africa’s controversial ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach towards Zimbabwe was harshly criticized by Mugabe’s opponents for allowing Mugabe to entrench himself in power.
Whites who owned large tracts of land before 2000 ran efficient and productive farms, allowing the country to be self-sufficient. Fast-track land reform and land redistribution, which critics says primarily benefited Mugabe’s cronies, led to a sharp downturn in agricultural production, notably tobacco. Zimbabwe now struggles to feed its population. However, small farms, now owned by blacks, produce on a smaller scale and are said to be generally successful. Some studies have disputed the idea that the main beneficiaries of land reform were well-connected bureaucrats or ZANU-PF stooges, although it is possible that these individuals own larger tracts of land. There are only 300 white farmers left in Zimbabwe; many expropriated white owners have either left the country or made new livelihoods in business. Land reform, however, negatively impacted white farm workers, creating a class of “poor whites”. Overall, Zimbabwe’s white population has dropped to 20,000-30,000.
Land reform, among other factors, threw Zimbabwe into a spiral of economic collapse between 2000 and 2008. The country was in recession between 2002 and 2009, inflation vaulted to over 66,000%, and there were persistent shortages of hard currency, fiat currency, fuel, medicine, and food. GDP per capita dropped by 40%, agricultural output dropped by 51% and industrial production dropped by 47%. Life expectancy dropped from 61 years in 1989 to 43 in 2004.
In 1999, the IMF and the World Bank Group suspended their projects in Zimbabwe. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which imposed targeted economic sanctions and a credit freeze on the country. The government claims that such sanctions have crippled the economy; the opposition and the international community claim, that land reform, corruption and woeful economic mismanagement created the crisis.
In March 2002, Mugabe was reelected in an election marred by fraud and intimidation by ZANU-PF. Mugabe took 56% of the vote against Morgan Tsvangirai’s 42%. Although the OAU and South Africa, controversially, declared the election to be “free and fair”, international observers and the MDC condemned the election. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for one year, and the EU imposed economic sanctions. The government continued to crack down on the opposition, Tsvangirai was arrested again in 2003.
Economic mismanagement and money creation (beginning in 1998 to cover the Congo war) led to massive hyperinflation, especially in 2007-2008. Inflation peaked at 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000% in mid-November 2008. Successive government measures – price freezes, allowing use of foreign currencies and redenomination (a one hundred trillion dollar bill).
Despite economic collapse, the government’s repression and the MDC’s divisions and indecision allowed the ZANU-PF to sweep to victory in the 2005 legislative elections, taking 78 seats to the MDC’s 41; with the additional 30 appointees providing the ZANU-PF with a two-thirds majority. The MDC split that year, with Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction (MDC-T) opposing participation in the 2005 senatorial elections, while Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube led a rival faction, MDC-M, which supported participation.
In 2005, Mugabe’s government decided to destroy the shantytowns in Harare, which, incidentally, were opposition strongholds. The government claimed the goal of the operation was to crack down on crime and resettle inhabitants in decent living conditions. The opposition claimed the clearance of slums was politically-motivated, targeting poor voters in their urban strongholds. According to the UN, approximately 700,000 people were made homeless, and another 2.4 million were directly or indirectly affected
Mugabe’s thugs beat up opposition protesters, including Tsvangirai, in 2007. By this point, use of the ‘failed state’ epithet to describe Zimbabwe had become commonplace: over 70% of the population lived in poverty, unemployment ran at 80-90%, running water became a prized good, power shortages were common, the education system had crumbled and malnutrition was widespread.
The 2008 election was a disaster. Held on March 29, preliminary results released by the MDC showed their candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, to be ahead and the opposition claimed that Tsvangirai had won by the first round. However, the government stayed mum about the results. It announced parliamentary results on April 2, with the MDC-T winning 100 seats, ZANU-PF winning 99 and MDC-M winning 10 seats. In the Senate, ZANU-PF won 30 seats against 24 for MDC-T and 6 for MDC-M. The government, however, continuously delayed the publication of the presidential results, leading the MDC to claim that they were rigging the election to keep them from winning. Presidential results were only announced on May 2; according to these results, Tsvangirai (MDC-T) won 47.9% to Mugabe’s 43.2% and Simba Makoni (MDC-M)’s 8.3%; these numbers required a runoff election on June 27. The MDC-T claimed it had won 50.3% of the votes, but it had no choice but to participate in the runoff.
However, Mugabe and ZANU-PF unleashed a wave of violence against opposition supporters, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. As politically-motivated violence escalated, Tsvangirai was no longer able to participate in the runoff election, and withdrew on June 22. Western countries and some African countries (notably Zambia) called on the second round to be delayed and denounced violence, but the government stuck to its guns and went ahead with the June 27 ballot. Mugabe won the sham ballot with 90%.
To make a terrible situation even worse, over 4,000 people died after a cholera outbreak which began in August 2008.
Nevertheless, the 2008 elections badly weakened Mugabe’s hold on power, and he was forced to accept a power-sharing agreement with the MDC’s two factions. The deal, mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki in the name of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), was finalized in September 2008 but implementation of the agreement’s provisions dragged on until February 2009, when Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister. Mbeki and the SADC were once again criticized for failing to confront Mugabe, and granting him and his party too much power in the new ‘national unity’ environment.
Under the power-sharing agreement, Mugabe remained President and ZANU-PF won 14 ministries – including defense, state security, foreign affairs and justice; the MDC’s factions got 13 and 3 ministries respectively, with Tsvangirai’s MDC-T getting, among others, finance and health. The contentious Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the police, was split between ZANU-PF and the MDC-T.
Both parties despise and distrust one another, and both – especially Mugabe – did their best to undermine the intent of the power-sharing agreement. In 2009 and 2010, Mugabe unilaterally appointed central bank governor, the attorney general and the police commissioner; he also refused to swear in some MDC-T governors and ministers. Mugabe threatened to break up the government and call for snap elections several times in 2010 and 2011.
Mugabe, despite increasing frailty at 89, remains a very astute politician. Since 2009, he has successfully managed to steamroll the MDC and scam the SADC and South Africa. He refused to implement most of the power-sharing agreement’s conditions, while farm invasions, human rights and blatant disrespect for the rule of law have continued unabated. MDC officials, including cabinet ministers, continue to face harassment from authorities controlled by ZANU-PF. Although violence declined somewhat in 2012, state-sponsored and politically-motivated violence remains a major issue – targeting opposition activists, independent journalists or local NGOs. Freedom of assembly is still tightly curtailed by a repressive 2002 law requiring police permission for public meetings and demonstrations.
Conditions have improved somewhat since 2009 thanks to power-sharing. Controls on the print media have been loosened somewhat, and the new media commission appears slightly more independent than its state-controlled predecessor, and the government lifted a ban on foreign news organizations although they are subject to high accreditation fees.
The government’s main achievement has been restoring economic stability and more or less ending the decade-long economic crisis which began in 2000. Zimbabwe’s GDP growth rate skyrocketed from -18% in 2008 to +8.9% in 2009 (and grew by over 10% in 2010 and 2011) and it has maintained consistently high growth since then; growth over the next five years is projected to remain stable at 5%. In PPP terms, however, Zimbabwe’s GDP remains lower than it was in 2000. Despite higher agricultural output than in 2009, Zimbabwe’s tobacco and cotton exports remain below 2000 levels, and agriculture has only incompletely recovered from the “lost decade”. Inflation has been cut to 4-6%. Stores, once devoid of goods, are now shelved with imported goods. Finally, education and healthcare – will still deficient – have improved, with schools and hospitals reopened and operating more or less normally.
However, the main reason for the economy’s rebound is the adoption of foreign currencies – first and foremost the US dollar and the South African rand – to replace Zimbabwe’s worthless former currency.
The opposition and ZANU-PF managed to agree to a new constitution, approved by 94.5% of voters in March 2013. The process was long, tortuous and drawn-out; both sides clashed on the content of the new document. Although imperfect, most critics of the new constitution agree that it is better than what it replaced. Presidential powers are reduced, the Parliament gains more power as a counterweight to the executive branch, there are new independent commissions, the judiciary should function more independently from the executive and there is a bill of rights. However, the new constitution prevents any legal challenges to farm expropriations.
On the international scene, the government – with South African support – was able to convince the EU to loosen some of the sanctions against the country, and foreign aid/investment has increased since 2009.
Although it has long been clear that Mugabe had zero interest in making the power-sharing agreement work and started breaking his promises as soon as he had signed it, it was able to hold out until the legal end of the presidential and parliamentary terms. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, although aware that his party was continuously outwitted and humiliated by ZANU-PF, was unwilling to pull the MDC out of the unity government, knowing that the alternative was allowing Mugabe and his military allies to run the country.
Candidates and issues
Incumbent President Robert Mugabe, the country’s strongman since independence in 1980, ran for yet another five-year term in office. Mugabe is 89 years old, and the new constitution’s non-retroactive term limits means that he could serve another 10 years as President.
Mugabe is a controversial figure, who has confounded his critics and opponents numerous times. He is widely reviled by the west, particularly Britain and the US, for a whole host of reasons. A lot of foreigners hate him because of his controversial farm occupations and expropriation of white farmers, but while this policy likely had a negative impact on the Zimbabwean economy, it is not the top issue for black Zimbabweans, even opposition supporters.
Others, both in Zimbabwe and around the world, revile him for crushing human rights, basic liberties and rule of law numerous times in his 33 years in power. Particularly controversial, especially in the eyes of foreign observers, has been his stances on homosexuality. In 1995, he called homosexuals “worse than dogs and pigs” and same-sex activities remain illegal in the country – and that law is enforced. ZANU-PF continues to use openly homophobic rhetoric, claiming that homosexuality is a sin and is “un-African”.
However, Mugabe has maintained a sizable and genuine base of popular support both in Zimbabwe and Africa. Mugabe still has some legitimacy leftover as a ‘liberation hero’, although his authoritarian style of governance has eroded that legitimacy somewhat, even in Africa. His supporters see him as a courageous African anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist leader, who stands up to the former western colonial powers and the other ‘imperialist’ states. Anti-imperialist rhetoric remains a favourite of Mugabe and ZANU-PF; for years, his party has used anti-imperialist/colonialist vitriol against Mugabe’s critics. For example, in 2008, ZANU-PF claimed that the cholera outbreak was a “terrorist plot” by these imperialist powers. Numerous times, Mugabe’s allies have denounced foreign meddling in Zimbabwean politics or even very tame South African/SADC mediation as part of an imperialist plot aimed at “regime change”.
Mugabe’s former aura as an African liberation leader, a type idolized the world over in the 1960s and 1970s, also explains why his African neighbours have been more conciliatory with him than the west would like. Mugabe has continuously presented himself as the embodiment of the African liberator, and many of his peers (such as former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda) and juniors (such as former South African president Thabo Mbeki) in other countries respected him for that.
However, things have changed. It is well established that Mugabe has resented Nelson Mandela for “stealing” the image of African liberator from him after 1994. Only recently, Mugabe said that Mandela had been “too soft” on the whites. Similarly, a new generation of African leaders seem slightly less willing to put up with Mugabe’s antics. Former Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was one of Mugabe’s first African critics before his death in 2008. Thabo Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, has been slightly tougher on Mugabe and, as the SADC’s “facilitator” for Zimbabwe since 2009 expressed his frustration with Mugabe’s behaviour in the power-sharing government.
Nevertheless, South Africa’s policy towards Zimbabwe has waffled. It has not taken any decisive actions to get Mugabe to abide to the agreement or even criticize him too harshly; but at the same time, it has been slightly less conciliatory and tame than Mbeki’s administration had been. One of South Africa’s main concern in relations with Zimbabwe has been to prevent another wave of immigration from its northern neighbour. There are already 2 million Zimbabwean immigrants living in South Africa, placing strains on service delivery and creating major social tensions with impoverished ‘native’ black South Africans.
The main plank of Mugabe’s platform in this election has been “indigenisation” and black empowerment. An indigenisation law passed in 2007, which came into effect in 2010, stipulates that 51% of shares in all companies operating in the country must be owned by black Zimbabweans. Details, however, remain murky. The government sent an ultimatum to foreign-owned groups to submit plans on share sales by September 2011, and most ultimately did so. In 2012, the government targeted four major foreign-owned banks. In his campaign, Mugabe mentioned 1,138 companies in 12 sectors which would be targeted in the next five-years. He has claimed that indigenisation will unlock $7.3 billion from foreign-owned entities, create 2.265 million jobs and grow the economy by about 9% a year by 2018. However, going by the impact of the “indigenisation” of the agricultural sector after 2000, ZANU-PF’s latest plan worries many foreign investors.
Mugabe is 89, and although he was almost as vibrant and bombastic as ever on the campaign trail, he’s showing signs of frailty and the rumour mill has been going crazy for a few years now with rumours of his impeding death. There are rumours that he has cancer, and that his recent trips to Singapore might have been to receive treatment. Mugabe’s health is not as big of an issue as in, say, the October 2012 presidential election in Venezuela, but the opposition has been playing on his old age and raising the prospect of his death.
It is said that there is a power struggle brewing within ZANU-PF. Under the constitution, the First Vice President, Joice Mujuru, would replace Mugabe until the end of his constitutional five-year term. Mujuru, who served in a number of cabinet posts since 1980, became First Vice President in December 2004 and has been considered the favourite potential successor to Mugabe. She is the widow of Solomon Mujuru, a former ZANLA guerrilla leader during the Bush War and later commander of the Zimbabwean military until 1990. He was a close ally of Mugabe and boosted his wife’s political ascendancy behind the scenes, but he allegedly fell out with Mugabe a few years before his death. He died in mysterious circumstances in August 2011, and his death has led some to think that his wife might no longer be the top choice to replace Mugabe. Joice Mujuru is said to be a moderate reformist.
Her main rival would be Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current Minister of Defense, who is one of the most powerful figures in the government and ZANU-PF. In the 1980s, as Minister of State Security, he oversaw the Matabeleland massacres and later served as Minister of Justice until 2000, at which point he became Speaker of Parliament (until 2005). Mnangagwa is said to be a hardliner closely connected to the military; he is the president of the Joint Operations Command, supposedly defunct but still quite powerful – Tsvangirai isn’t on it, and many claim that this body, which coordinates the state security apparatus, is running the country. Mnangagwa’s name has come up over and over in various secret plots or rumoured coups.
General Constantine Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and a member of ZANU-PF’s Politburo. He is said to have the support of powerful hardliners in the party and security apparatus.
On a lighter note, ZANU-PF’s Twitter account is an endless stream of hilarity. On election day, under the #votezanupf hashtag, it gave a bunch of rather – uhm, original – reasons to vote for Mugabe: “to avoid car accidents”, “to save sex as we know it”, “or what will you say to you wife when she marries a woman?”, “for world peace”, “for a longer love life”, “to protect us from racist thugs like Steve Hofmeyr” (an Afrikaner singer/actor in South Africa) – or – the best – “so we don’t become another South Africa.” ZANU-PF’s Twitter account also talked of “turning off the internet” because it had “too much ungovernable nonsense” and seeking help “from our Chinese sisters to ensure that this twitter thing and Facebook things are blocked.” It also often lashes out at Helen Zille, the South African opposition leader – it called Lindi Mazibuko, the house leader of the South African opposition, “fat”.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s unlikely “partner” in the moribund national unity government since 2009, is running in his third attempt to topple Mugabe from power. As always, Tsvangirai has stuck to his old mantra of ‘change’, which remains a powerful message with his mostly young and urban poor supporters.
His platform, however, highlights the achievements of the national unity government. Most of his focus is on job creation, promising to create 1 million jobs by 2018, mostly through an economic plan based on foreign investment.
Although the MDC has insisted it would win a “free and fair” election at any time since 2009, there have been signs that the MDC’s sheen has worn off after the national unity government. The MDC doesn’t have much of a record to stand on from that point of view, given that it was constantly steamrolled by ZANU-PF and Mugabe. Besides, some MDC cabinet ministers were quite incompetent and poor service delivery in local councils controlled by the MDC has hurt it as well. Mugabe’s men also tied Tsvangirai, whose wife died in a car crash in 2009, to a number of sex scandals which have apparently somewhat undermined his credibility as a credible alternative to Mugabe.
At the same time, however, Tsvangirai’s campaign nevertheless managed to draw out some huge crowds at his rallies.
Welshman Ncube, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, was the MDC-N’s candidate. His platform mostly focused on devolving powers to regional governments. He drew criticism for harshly attacking Tsvangirai and highlighting internal squabbles within the opposition.
Ncube formed a sort of coalition with Dumiso Dabengwa, the candidate of a small faction of ZAPU which recently split from ZANU-PF. Dabengwa, who was educated in Moscow, was head of intelligence for ZAPU during the Bush War and landed in prison following the ZAPU-ZANU split after 1980. He was Minister of Home Affairs between 1992 and 2000, after ZAPU’s Nkomo signed the ‘unity agreement’ with Mugabe in 1987. He left ZANU-PF in 2008 to back Simba Makoni’s presidential candidacy.
Kisinoti Mukwazhewas the nobody also-ran candidate, who dropped out a few days before the vote and apparently backed ZANU-PF.
After some hesitation, Mugabe went ahead with a July 31 date for the election. It was originally thought that the election would be held in September to allow time for more reforms, but Mugabe scammed the SADC and went ahead to decree an earlier date. An earlier date and a rushed election/campaign was more advantageous for Mugabe, to prevent that any real reforms could be made. An earlier date ensured that there was not enough time for voter registration and the electoral roll to be monitored independently, or for promised media coverage reforms to be made to provide the MDC with more airtime and fairer coverage.
A major problem was the electoral roll. For years, it has been said that the rolls include the names of thousands of voters aged over 100, in a country with a life expectancy below 50. On the other hand, many young voters had not been registered. More importantly, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a local observer group, said that only 68% of the voting-age population in urban areas – MDC strongholds – made it onto the lists, compared to nearly all voting-age adults in rural areas – ZANU-PF turf. Urban voters, reliable opposition supporters, were systematically denied the chance to register and were more likely to be turned away from the polls on election day, for “administrative reasons”.
ZANU-PF certainly fiddled with the electoral rolls, given that they were only published one day before the election.
ZANU-PF insisted it would win the election and unleashed the usual vitriol at the opposition – “Western puppets” or “traitors”. However, Mugabe said he would “surrender” if he lost the election and said that the election wouldn’t be rigged – because he insisted that none of Zimbabwe’s past elections had been rigged, and because ‘rigging’ was a foreign word altogether. That being said, very few thought that Mugabe – new constitution or not – would retire peacefully if he lost. The military and the police hierarchy is still strongly behind Mugabe, insisting that they would not serve under Tsvangirai. In the shadows, they’ve continued arresting, harassing or beating up members of civic groups and NGOs.
The police also banned radios, popular in rural areas, which carried foreign broadcasts critical of ZANU-PF. It said “unpatriotic individuals” had been distributing radios incompatible with state-owned stations.
Incomplete official results. Turnout increased significantly from 2.5 million in 2008 to 3.48 million today.
Robert Mugabe (ZANU-PF) 61.09%
Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) 33.94%
Welshman Ncube (MDC-N) 2.68%
Dumiso Dabengwa (ZAPU) 0.74%
Kisinoti Mukwazhe (ZDP) 0.28%
ZANU-PF 160 seats (+61)
MDC-T 49 seats (-51)
Independents 1 seat (nc)
MDC-N 0 seats (-10)
On official results, President Robert Mugabe won handsomely, a striking difference with the convoluted and controversial outcome of the 2008 election. On these numbers, Mugabe won reelection with 61% by the first round, while ZANU-PF won a crushing three-fourths majority in the lower house – more than enough for Mugabe’s party to amend the new constitution unilaterally.
However, the opposition has rejected these results. As early as August 1, before any results had been published, MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai effectively conceded defeat by claiming that it had been a “sham election” which did not reflect “the will of the people.” The MDC claims that it won the election. That being said, Tsvangirai has little road for recourse: he is challenging the result in the courts, but it is extremely unlikely that the courts – sympathetic to Mugabe – will overturn the election results, the court challenge will only delay Mugabe’s inevitable inauguration to a new term in office.
His second hope laid with the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the only two foreign organizations which sent election observers. However, the SADC – and its hegemon South Africa – has endorsed the elections. Both the SADC and AU noted irregularities, and the SADC stopped short of calling the election ‘fair’ but it did call it ‘free and peaceful’. The head of the AU mission, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said that the vote was “free, honest and credible.” That being said, this is coming from a former head of state whose own reelection in 2003 was marred by serious allegations of fraud.
South African President Jacob Zuma congratulated Mugabe on his reelection and calling on all parties to accept the results. Other southern African countries, except Botswana, have endorsed the results of the election. The SADC, the AU and especially South Africa’s main priority is maintaining regional stability, therefore they were able to swallow Mugabe’s contested reelection as a means of avoiding strife and conflict.
However, Western nations have all denounced the results of the elections. British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed ‘grave concerns’ and said that the irregularities called into question the election’s credibility. The EU voiced similar concerns, noting “weaknesses in the electoral process and a lack of transparency.” American Secretary of State John Kerry was even blunter, saying that the US did not believe that the results constituted a “credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.” Australia went even further by calling for a re-run of the election.
The independent domestic Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), which had 7,000 observers on the ground, said that the credibility of the elections were “seriously compromised by a systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated million voters.”
This article from the BBC outlines the main allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main issue has been electoral registration. The ZESN found that, in urban wards, only 67.9% of the voting-age population were registered to vote, against 99.97% in rural wards. Over 760,000 urban residents of voting age were therefore not registered to vote, and the electoral rolls were not published until the day before the vote. Because the rolls were not available – something which the AU also voiced concerns about – these rolls were likely filled with thousands of duplicates or centenarian voters. The MDC claims it found 838,000 duplicates (same name/address/date of birth, different IDs), 350,000 people aged over 85 – including 109,000 aged over 100 (Japan, which probably has the highest number of centenarians in the world, is estimated to have only 51,376 people aged over 100)!
The AU and ZESN also noted a worryingly high number of cases of “assisted voting” (officially designed to help illiterate voters – about 90% of the Zimbabwean population is literate). This was more pronounced in rural areas – according to the ZESN, over 25 people were ‘assisted’ to vote in 49% of rural polling stations, against 5% of urban polling stations.
Again, both the AU and ZESN voiced concern over the high number of voters turned away for administrative reasons at polling stations. This was especially the case in urban areas – the ZESN found that 82% of urban polling stations turned away potential voters for administrative reasons, compared with only 38% of rural stations.
Other concerns related to the election itself include the printing of 35% extra ballot papers, the late publication of the list of polling stations, intimidation of voters in rural areas, registration slips which might have allowed many ‘fake voters’ to vote and bused in voters. In addition, the control of public state-owned media by ZANU-PF and the open hostility of the security forces towards the opposition added to the poor electoral environment.
One of the nine commissioners of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Mkhululi Nyathi, resigned citing concerns about how the polls were proclaimed and conducted.
In contrast with the aftermath of the 2008 election, the reaction to the results has been fairly subdued. Although he rejected the results, Tsvangirai fell short of calling on his supporters to take to the streets in protests, fearing a repeat of the post-electoral violence in 2008. There have been no large pro or anti-Mugabe rallies so far. Many MDC supporters, concentrated in urban areas, are angry and shocked, but they probably fear for their personal safety if they were to protest against the results. Others seem more anxious to get on with their lives, and will grudgingly accept the result.
However, given the size of Mugabe’s landslide victory, it is possible that such a victory might not be explained by rigging/fraud alone. Mugabe won by 938,085 votes – such a massive margin makes it even less likely that Tsvangirai’s legal challenge(s) will succeed and raises questions about whether or not the margin is only the work of foul play by ZANU-PF and the government.
The MDC said it was certain that it would win before the election, and after the election, it has still proclaimed its victory. The opposition likely underestimated the strength and size of bedrock support for ZANU-PF and perhaps the degree of disillusion, apathy and disenchantment with the MDC after four tortuous years of a “national unity” government with ZANU-PF.
Tsvangirai’s star has faded pretty significantly since 2009. Sex scandals endlessly played up by ZANU-PF seriously undermined his credibility. He and other MDC leaders also face accusations that they lost touch with poorer, ordinary Zimbabweans after entering government in 2009 and enjoying the perks of power. After three successive defeats going up against Mugabe, Tsvangirai, who is only 61, might face challenges to his leadership as some voices within MDC clamor for a ‘rejuvenation’ of party ranks. Even after Mugabe dies, it is increasingly unlikely that Tsvangirai will be accepted as a successor, as some earlier rumours of a potential post-Mugabe deal between moderates in ZANU-PF and the MDC indicated. The outgoing finance minister, Tendai Biti, who is 45, is cited as a potential successor, but it is suggested that his intellectual image might put off some of Tsvangirai’s working poor supporters.
Tsvangirai and the MDC made a number of miscalculations in the past year(s). His biggest blunder was to participate in an hastily-organized July 31 election, likely knowing full well that such an early date was tailor made for Mugabe and that the electoral process – notably with voter registration – was prone to be marred by irregularities. The SADC allegedly told Tsvangirai in May or June not to participate in early elections, but Tsvangirai was too confident that he would win despite ZANU-PF’s dirty tricks that he ignored the advice. In dong so, Tsvangirai allowed himself to be outmaneuvered and steamrolled by ZANU-PF yet again. This apparent gullibility and naivete is another factor which might increase anti-Tsvangirai sentiments within the MDC.
The Guardian‘s data blog has an interactive map of the Zimbabwe election results, although only for the lower house. If 2008 is any indication, parliamentary results tend to be very similar to presidential results at the constituency level. In parliamentary elections, in which the MDC won only 49 out of 210 seats (against 160 for ZANU-PF), the opposition’s support was confined to its core urban strongholds – Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gwero and other smaller urban centres. In Bulawayo, Mutare and Gwero, the opposition still won all the seats. It suffered some loses in Harare, where it had won all but one of the capital’s 29 seats in 2008. This year, ZANU-PF managed to win 6 out of 29 seats in Harare, although the MDC held most of its other seats in the capital’s metro by huge margins.
In rural areas, with the exception of the Binga and Hwange districts in Matabeleland North province, ZANU-PF won nearly everything – in the vast majority of cases, with huge margins. Somewhat questionably, ZANU-PF was able to win every seat in Matabeleland South, where the smaller MDC faction had won 7 seats in 2010. The MDC suffered very heavy loses, for whatever reason, in Masvingo province, where it had performed very well in 2008.
In general, the opposition again tended to perform significantly better in Ndebele-populated regions (Matabeleland) or other ‘minority’ regions (the Tonga-populated Binga and Hwange districts, the Manyika and Ndau Shona sub-groups in Manicaland). As is usually the case, ZANU-PF won landslides in the rural Shona provinces (Mashonaland).
What next for Zimbabwe? Tsvangirai’s legal challenges will go nowhere, and Mugabe will be inaugurated for another term in office, probably without too much disturbances. With such a large parliamentary majority, the chaotic and uneasy power-sharing government will obviously go to the dustbins and ZANU-PF will regain full power over the government. With a three-fourths majority in the lower house (and probably a similar one in the upper house), ZANU-PF will have the power to amend the new constitution on its own. The justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa – who regained his parliamentary seat, lost to the MDC in 2008 – said that the new constitution “will need cleaning up” although it is unclear which provisions need to be cleaned up – perhaps those limiting presidential powers and imposing term limits.
Mugabe is 89, and although he shows no signs of impeding death, one may legitimately wonder whether he will live to 2018 – at which point he’ll be 94 years old. It’s quite possible that Mugabe will die in office during this term, something which, as detailed above, may spark some kind of succession conflict within ZANU-PF – probably between Vice President Joice Mujuru and hardline defense minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
With ZANU-PF in full control, and with regional backing, it will be able to push forward with its controversial “indigenisation” platform. This has led some to think that – combined with continued Western sanctions and declining foreign investment – Zimbabwe’s economy will sink back into the “lost decade” of hyperinflation and economic collapse. At the very least, ZANU-PF retaking full control over Zimbabwean politics means a return to the economic and political volatility of yesteryears.
How will ZANU-PF start dealing with the ever-more important issue of Zimbabwe without Mugabe? How will the opposition manage to lick its wounds and regroup after a startling defeat of this size? What does this election mean for Zimbabwe’s economy and political system? Those are the three most important questions which come out of this election.