By Maynard Manyowa
There is perhaps no other subject matter that confounds than elections in Zimbabwe, the once upon a time breadbasket of Africa, touted to become the torchbearer of electoral democracy once upon a time.
For the last twenty or so years, elections, the cause célèbre, have come, and gone, promising so much, yet delivering precious little, if anything at all, expediting the country’s slide into oblivion.
For starters, the processes are and were always shrouded in so much uncertainty. The implications are devastating in their simplicity. Once the country’s top parties enter election mode, some 18 months before the actual elections, everything grinds to a halt. Businesses, investors or whatever is left of them, and even ordinary citizens just cannot get on with their lives.
It is as if everything is scripted. The main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai will rouse rubble, jumping up and down about the voter’s roll, and making bold claims that the elections have been rigged already, are about to get rigged, or will get rigged.
This is not imagined however. Since the MDC was formed, Mugabe has never won an election legitimately.
In the aftermath of the disputed 2013 elections, it was revealed that at least a million irregular voters may have existed on the roll, or even cast votes. It’s a massive number, when one considers that Robert Mugabe’s support grew exponentially by an exact figure.
Furthermore, at least a million real voters were excluded from the voter’s roll entirely. Over 300,000 were turned away, while several were simply unable to register, sent on wild goose chases by the commission in charge of voter registration until they gave up. This was mostly in urban areas; traditional opposition strongholds.
It was a simple carry over from the elections held in 2008, which were equally marred by controversy. In one incident in Hatcliffe, a suburb on the outskirts of Harare, 8000 ghost voters were unearthed, with the roll claiming these resided in a block that had no single building, while one shack, apparently housed a whooping 75 voters.
The one’s held in 2002 were equally ‘stolen’. Over 10 years after the elections, it was revealed that a South African Observation Team lead by Justice Kampepe had reported massive irregularities, and stated that elections were neither free nor fair. South Africa, under President Thabo Mbeki, hid these facts from the international community, and sought to preserve Robert Mugabe’s stay in power.
But after 20 years and 3 elections stolen the very same way, questions are being asked about Morgan Tsvangirai’s ability to unseat Mugabe. A charismatic man, full of bravado, he is loved by many. Yet, on the ground, and by using the past as a yardstick, he is unable to outmaneuver Mugabe, unless the playing field is level.
In between the stolen elections, his party has split into several groups, nominated three Vice Presidents; one more than Mugabe’s Zanu PF, which they have for years routinely criticized for having dual deputies at the expense of the tax payer.
Yet perhaps, the most damning act, was literally voting with Zanu PF. In 2015, after disagreeing with some of its legislators, the MDC-T expelled 21 Members of Parliament – 17 from the National Assembly and 4 from the Senate. At a time when the MDC-T had resolved not to contest in any elections until reforms were implemented, the move effectively saw Zanu PF head to by-election polls unopposed, winning and consolidating their majority in parliament and senate.
As it stands, the party has lost much of its appeal to its urban electorate. Its latest flagship demo, for electoral reforms, flopped badly in the absence of Joice Mujuru, Mugabe’s former deputy and her National People’s Party.
Mujuru, through her spokesperson, Jealous Mawarire has stated that she did not sabotage the demo, but her party could not partake, as their elective congress was merely 48 after the planned demo. A sensible explanation, but one which leaves more questions than answers.
Mujuru herself, a former veteran of the liberation war, and a largely influential figure in the army and intelligence circles, is widely seen as a levelling force in the fight against Mugabe. She led government for 10 years, while Mugabe did what he does best – sleep and shit his pants.
It has been suggested that a coalition is the best possible way to unseat Mugabe. Mujuru brings the rural vote, the war veterans, and is a candidate that the army, famous for meddling can tolerate.
But she is not without her own problems. She fired three stalwarts, founding fathers and a mother from her party. Namely, Messrs. Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo. The former an ex-intelligence chief notorious for terrorizing opposition supporters in the 2008 elections, and masterminding the abduction of prominent activist Jestina Mukoko.
She changed her party’s name from Zimbabwe People First to National People’s Party, stating that she wanted a clean state. Understandably, the two fellows mentioned earlier have not shown much commitment to reform.
That said, they attended the flopped demo, and boldly stated that they endorsed Tsvangirai as the leader of the coalition. A jibe at Mujuru, whom is known have wanted to lead the coalition, but a destabilizing rouse of coalition rubble nonetheless.
Mujuru and Tsvangirai have both stated that they are willing to work together, but none of them, nor their spokespeople are willing to answer the tough question of who will lead it. With Mutasa and Gumbo joining ranks with Tsvangirai, the possibility of a successful demo just further complicates matters. It introduces further uncertainty and tension into an arrangement that is not short of both.
Meanwhile, things are getting tougher in the country. A liquidity crisis that has grappled the nation for the best part of a year has now evolved into a full-blown cash crisis, cash shortage, and economic decline.
The government’s introduction of bond notes, a pseudo currency meant to stop externalization of the green back has only made the situation worse. In some places, the zombie money trades at 1:2 with the dollar. The black market of 2008 is back.
Despite Zimbabwe’s slide back into potential anarchy and collapse of state, Robert Mugabe may yet be feeling more comfortable than ever. The challenges grappling opposition forces which were stated earlier mean that if things do not change for the advents of change, Mugabe will have the easiest ever ride back into the state house since 1996.
But that is if he can make it to 2018, alive, well, and in control. As it stands, his wife is in control, but hers is borrowed power. She is neither respected nor feared, by opposition, nor her own fellow party members.
For over two years she has failed to dislodge Emmerson Mnangagwa, a rock in Mugabe’s party, and the preferred candidate for the war veterans, the army, and intelligence. She has fallen out with her own trusted cadres, and those she trusted to maintain the assault against the Vice President. She now wants Sarah Mahoka and Eunice Sandi-Moyo expelled for denigrating her, albeit using proxies.
It is more than likely they will deflect to the Lacoste camp, loyalists pushing for Mnangagwa’s accent to power. It means less allies for the Mugabe’s and more enemies.
Mugabe himself is not in the best condition. Just a few weeks ago he had to be flown to Singapore after his health deteriorated. He struggles to walk, and often looks like a scene from a horror movie.
At 93, he may be in better shape than most of his peers of the same age. But then again, most of his peers are not leading a whole country, and fighting brutal and stressful factional fights. He might make it to 2018, and stand as a scarecrow candidate, just to keep his wife in power, but he will not live forever.
Whether we like it or not, Mugabe is fast approaching the end of his life. That is not even the question. The question is what happens next and after for Zimbabwe, a place that has known nothing but uncertainty for nearly three decades.
As it stands no one has the answer to that question. The conventional opposition and Tsvangirai, the Damascus opposition and Mujuru, nor Zanu PFs Lacoste or Young Turks. No one knows what will happen, not even us.
- Maynard Manyowa is a contributing editor for Khuluma Afrika – a center for political analysis, investigative journalism and social commentary