The scourging ill of independence, futility of elections and the vanity of hope

By Sydicks Muradzikwa and Artwell Chivandire

The story of our independence has proved to be a convoluted narrative in terms of its significance and symbolism. This month marks 37 years of independence and to many this day has been reduced to just a mere day on the calendar while in some quarters the day provides an opportunity for further politicking. Unbelievably, it stands as an uncontested fact that man is haunted by the vastness of eternity and that time inadvertently renders man and his past glorious exploits obsolete as each generation is faced with distinct challenges.

A reflection upon Zimbabwe’s post-independence struggles has shown a high level of intolerance and criminalisation of criticism which has threatened freedom and universal suffrage, one of the key fundamentals supposedly gained by the majority at independence. After a protracted liberation warfare, the conflict ended with a negotiated Lancaster house constitution which saw the country holding its first ‘democratic election’ in February 1980. It was indeed a ‘genuine victory’ for the people in general and for Mugabe in particular.

It therefore came into a reality that an election is a democratic formal decision-making process in which a mass cherry-picks an individual or people belonging to a particular association to hold public office. Elections, being a typical advanced mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century, they also became an essential attribute of our political independence. Understandably, the process and rational of elections is to fill offices in the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary and for provincial, regional and the local government.

The use of elections by modern nation states as a fair tool for selecting representatives in modern representative democracies is almost a universally accepted political system that supposedly gives power to the people. Unfortunately today, the original tenets and defining characteristics of an election which includes fairness and credibility, elsewhere in the world has been hijacked and its tenacity has been seriously tempered with in to further personal and totalitarian interests. As a result of that, various orthodox and modern political philosophers have converged without hesitation to a conclusion that elections are amongst the major drivers for both internal and external conflicts in the world.

The electoral process in Zimbabwe has been also marred with multifarious obscene conditions and institutional shenanigans that have rendered the outcome of elections not only contentious but retrogressive and destructive. The integrity of the electoral system has been undoubtedly compromised and impaired by a diverse range of issues arising from anti-pluralism doctrines, electoral fraud, and imposition of candidates, de facto ceremonial parliamentary representation and the predilection of state institutions.

Evidence abounds indicating that the plight of the electorate has been exacerbated by ideologically barren political parties stupefied by greed and an unquenchable obsession for power camouflaged either by songs of patriotism or regime change gospels clamoring for economic empowerment and political economy transformation. Multiple so-called watershed elections in Zimbabwe riding upon utopian promises have brought nothing apart from pain and vain hope for the electorate and yet continued aggrandizement and accumulation of state wealth by the elite few.

As 2017 excruciatingly progresses, political parties once again set in motion their rumbling campaigning trains as their fervor for another watershed election in 2018 gathers momentum. Typically, the protracted battle between the incumbent Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai continues their respective “parties” and the “people” have already endorsed them. The absence of primary elections to choose presidential candidates in both parties cemented by cynical congressional endorsements of uncontested candidates, facilitated by intra party dictatorship and centralisation of power has virtually crippled the opinions and choices of a timid electorate.

Multiple offshoot political parties from the MDC formed in 1999 provides enough justification for the assertion that perhaps the two belligerents, Mugabe and Tsvangirai, are just but two sides of the same coin, though ZANU PF is found at the apex of endless suppression and purging of dissenting voices and house arresting the political independence.

As noted during the early days of independence, forces of intolerance initiated a near genocide that culminated in a political marriage in 1987. Despite the 37 years of ‘independence’ in the country, political power in Zanu pf has been highly centralised to Mugabe a situation  that has also affected the MDC which since it’s conception has been building an individual rather than an institution thereby  inadvertently making Mugabe and Tsvangirai two parallel wheels of the same vehicle.

The electorate and grassroots supporters of their respective political parties lack political prowess to challenge these undemocratic tendencies since the two cadres are more powerful than their institutions and anyone attempting to question that, virtually becomes a dissident with a penalty of incontestable expulsion. In that respect, presidential elections have virtually become a battle between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe although time and calls of nature seems to be eating into the odds of the latter in the coming 2018 harmonised elections likely to be characterized by huge voter apathy.

The scourge of anti-pluralist sentiments has seen violence, murder and intimidation being indispensable attributes of the political environment in Zimbabwe. It is beyond doubt that political parties have become a symbol of identity among the Zimbabwean nationality where membership to either side is tantamount to enmity and war with the other, thereby relegating the independence spirit of nationalism and national unity to a mere historical rhetoric .

Whilst the politicians will be feasting and merrymaking in their castles, the impoverished electorate will be languishing and burning in this political abyss. Evidently, the magnitude of brutality inflicted upon the MDC and its supporters is amplified by Zanu-pf’s personalisation of state institutions.

In this regard the integrity and credibility of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in facilitating free and fair elections has remained a contentious issue. Apart from an archaic voter’s roll and obscene voter registration requirements, ZEC has been embroiled in the grand scheme of rigging elections. Consequently, this has intellectually proven that it’s not who votes that matters, it’s who counts the votes and it’s not also about who wins the election but it’s about who has the power to proclaim and effect an electoral victory.

While currently the purchasing and adoption of the Bio Metric Voter’s Registration system has become a serious bone of contention, it is imperatively essential to note that in reality the BVR system will not eliminate the diverse range of electoral ills such as gerrymandering of constituencies, assisted voters, violence and intimidation, not to mention that the system itself is susceptible to both mechanical and technical defects.

As the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) proponents are seriously advancing the calls for military disbandment of ZEC as part of their electoral reforms, the failure or otherwise premeditated delays by ZEC to establish a fair theater of war for the coming 2018 general elections is part of the Zanu pf’s calculated deceptions to thwart popular expectations of a just political dispensation in the country.

While Jonathan Moyo a wise chief propagandist of Zanu Pf condensed that no institution can reform itself out of power and that Zanu pf will not agree to NERA demands which might complicate Zanu pf’s monopoly over elections. Professor Moyo’s sentiments perturbed all the avenues of transitional hope and the prevalent democratic expectations have been reduced to be a pie in the air enjoyed only by daydreamers.

Despite the several calls for electoral reforms, the hopeless situation has been prolonged by a weak Parliamentary system since independence. Apart from being the “missing person” after being elected into offices, members of Parliament are subjected to a bureaucratic top down approach that renders their representation futile with regard to pertinent issues affecting their respective constituencies.

Most of the MPs regard their five year term in office as the grand opportunity to loot and amass wealth enough to sustain themselves for a lifetime. This has seen communities being robbed through unprecedented brazen abuse of constituency development funds in a system of partisanship that knows no accountability as the law is virtually applied to those who are politically wrong.

Sadly, existing political parties and the mushrooming ones are almost absent-minded to the real plights of the electorate until elections are around the corner, their primary concern is politics of continuity vs politics of change instead of converging to serve national interests and to ensure the continuity of peace and development in the country.

Their preoccupation with party survival agendas has relegated themselves into cowards and wealthy seeking individuals with helpless political attitudes towards the general populace whose hope for change is trembling under dead political economy.

While on the other hand, the character of the judiciary system has also pricelessly frustrated the idea of elections as a democratic panacea to a just Zimbabwe. Obviously, the Zimbabwean Justices cannot bite the hands which feed them apparently, their jurisprudential decisions has been extremely prejudiced by political alignment and incentives.

This predicament is traceable to the forced resignation of Anthony Gubbay as the Chief Justice and the appointment of the recently retired Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku which was a glaring political indication that the judiciary system is merely an appendix of the Executive. These constitutional calamities have been the embers of dictatorship which started burning at the turn of the new millennium. Very little if not nothing is expected from the recently appointed Chief Justice Luke Malaba whom we dub the ‘new wine in old bottles’ a title which a legal expect and  writer Alex Magaisa concurred to in his article “Chief Justice Luke Malaba-The dawn of a new era or of the same”. In the article Magaisa, underscored the factional squabbles within Zanu as the major reason why C.J Malaba was awarded the helm post of the judiciary instead of pure constitutionalism.

The fact is that, the absence of a distinct line between the executive and the judiciary profoundly and unequivocally compromise the integrity of elections since the famous referendum of 2000 and to be frank enough the regime’s annexation of the judiciary has endorsed its hand to disallow free and fair elections.

The antediluvian deterrent components and instruments of International Law is also a serious external security threat making elections chaotic, helpless and unproductive. The security measures and intervention strategies of United Nations and African Union have been the only trusted fall back measures by Zanu Pf’s opponents which ultimately did nothing to serve well as the external buffers against domestic electoral shocks.

The hypocrisy not failure per se of these international principal institutions coupled with their bias towards opposition parties and demonisation of incumbent regimes in light of overt political violence and heinous crimes against humanity before, during and after the elections is a hazard to any meaningful democratic transitional determinations. Courtesy of that, opposition parties’ high reliance on the useless gunboat diplomacy of these governing and regulating establishments has rendered all the Zimbabwean elections defunct and wastage of time and state resources.

As if that is not enough, the efforts of regional blocs as external actors in regulating, monitoring and ensuring fairness and credibility of elections has yield absolutely nothing positive to the electorate with a halted hope for change. SADC, a mere a paper tiger in solving conflicts and problems emanating from elections in the whole region has exacerbated the political predicament of helpless electorate in Zimbabwe. SADC as a regional bloc has played a blur role which however is not surprising to the intellectual community, which has accurately dubbed it a ‘brotherhood of dictators’.

The purpose of regional institutions was exemplarily demonstrated by the West Africa’s regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in protecting the legitimacy and integrity of elections in Gambia after the subsequent attempts to violently overturn the result by the incumbent president Yaya Jammeh. While the Gambian case saw the eventual victory of democratic forces and elevation of regional blocs, a similar case in Zimbabwe 2008 culminated in a government of national unity.

This has been a uniform trend across the African region were elections have been in essence a jungle warfare between liberation revolutionaries and post-independence liberal forces of change. Notably in Zimbabwe the presidium has been declared a prerogative of those with liberation credentials. Apart from that more than 2 million Diasporans have been effectively disenfranchised while trying to escape an economic catastrophe.

In a capsule, disenfranchisement and deprivation have undoubtedly become inherent features of our independence systematically structured in a deep political chasm and an economic quagmire that continues unabated with absolutely no hope of change or transformation emanating from the elections.

  • The authors, Sydicks Muradzikwa and Artwell Chivandire are independent social and political analysts.