By Gwinyai Taruvinga
IN August, Zimbabwe held its harmonised elections which are a combination of the presidential, legislative and council elections.
Of particular interest to citizens were two things: the presidential race which pitted the incumbent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling Zimbabwe African Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
As with many elections on the African continent, the Zimbabwean election exposed the weaknesses of institutions overseeing elections.
Although the election day was deemed to be peaceful, on the day, several challenges such as the late delivery of ballot papers in opposition strongholds were reported.
Many analysts believed that the delay in delivering ballot material in opposition strongholds was an effort to frustrate opposition followers to impact the results in those constituencies.
Of particular concern was the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Electoral Observation Mission report which concluded that the election did meet the regional body’s standards.
When making this announcement, the head of the mission, Dr Nevers Mumba, noted that the election challenges in Zimbabwe included voting delays, the banning of opposition rallies, and biased media reporting throughout the electoral process.
The report was received with great disdain from the ruling Zanu-PF leaders who felt that the SADC report was essentially rubber-stamping the opposition’s claim that the playing field in the Zimbabwean election was uneven.
Moreover, during late president Robert Mugabe’s reign, SADC was often seen as an organisation that tried to appease the regime in Harare at the expense of the citizenry’s will.
One case would be the 2008 election where former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, under the auspices of SADC, played a crucial role in brokering a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and then opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Zimbabwe’s elections have since 2000, been controversial with the opposition crying foul over the ruling Zanu-PF using state machinery as a mechanism to maintain its stranglehold on power.
Before the Zimbabwean election, the opposition party CCC bemoaned the fact that several of their rallies were banned by the police.
In addition, the arrest of several activists such as Job Sikhala cast doubt on the electoral environment before the elections. As scholars of democracy often argue, an election must be observed within the context of what transpires before, during and after an election.
When speaking at the Oliver Tambo Lecture at Wits University, prominent Zimbabwean academic, Dr Ibbo Mandaza, noted that Zanu-PF, using state machinery, frustrated the urban voters where the CCC enjoyed considerable support. By doing so, this resulted in the disenfranchisement of many within the opposition stronghold.
The Zimbabwean election has often had huge ramifications for the SADC region with several citizens migrating to neighbouring countries for greener pastures. Since the turn of the millennium, the Zimbabwean economy has resulted in the migration of citizens with the hope of obtaining better life in countries such as Botswana and South Africa. The regional body, therefore, has an important role in the political settlement of this continuing crisis in Zimbabwe.
When Mnangagwa was inaugurated last month, only three sitting presidents attended- Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi, Mozambique’s Filipe Nyusi and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
This is in stark contrast from Mnangagwa’s first inauguration in 2017 where several African leaders attended. It would seem that many people are questioning the legitimacy of his presidency, at least among his peers in the African region.
The regime in Harare has also gone to great lengths to vilify the SADC report with efforts directed towards both Dr Mumba and Zambian president Hakainde Hichilema in his capacity as chairperson on the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
The reason for this vilification many attributed to the solidarity among nationalist movements in southern Africa where Zanu-PF commands respect from regional parties such as the ANC.
This camaraderie is seen to be one of the contributing factors on why Zanu-PF has been able to remain at the apex of Zimbabwean politics since the country gained independence in 1980.
Zimbabwe, despite holding regular elections, has continued to find itself in an unending cycle of political crises dating back to 2000.
Without dialogue overseen by a neutral actor, it is highly unlikely that southern Africa will find political stability. It is, therefore, important that regional bodies such as SADC play a leading role in resolving the political impasse between Mnangagwa and the opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa.
In 2008, Mbeki, albeit being viewed differently by multiple actors in Zimbabwe, played an important role in negotiating a settlement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai and a similar outcome is required in this regard.
*Gwinyai Taruvinga is a post-doctoral fellow at the Wits Humanities Graduate Centre.