by Dr Ruth Murambadoro
I do not usually struggle to sleep but last night too many thoughts flooded my mind, making it difficult for me to fall asleep. During the day l had had a lengthy conversation with my uncle and brother-in-law about the 2018 elections, which will be the first election held in Zimbabwe without former ZANU-PF leader, Robert Mugabe, and the late Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T opposition party. Our discussion had been sparked by the press conference during the day by former president Robert Mugabe at his home (commonly known as the Blue Roof) in the posh suburb, Borrowdale Brooke, in Harare.
The 94-year-old man had invited various media houses to share his views on the upcoming 30 July elections and the future he hopes to see. He opened the press conference by relaying the incidents around his un-ceremonial removal from office in November last year, which he argued was unconstitutional and warranted him not to cast his vote for his opposers. In an election poll where there are 23 presidential candidates, Mugabe’s choice not to vote for ZANU-PF provides the other 22 candidates an opportunity to gain an extra vote ahead of the incumbent president.
The 2018 elections in Zimbabwe are probably the most contested elections the country has ever held. With 5.7 million registered voters expected to cast their vote at over 10 000 polling stations across the country, it is undeniable that this year’s election is much more significant than the independence elections that were held in 1980. Sixty percent of the registered electorate are between the ages of 18-40, which makes the bulk of them the ‘born free’ generation that did not witness the liberation struggle.
The 1980 elections signified a break from colonial rule and the birth of universal suffrage. However, the 2018 elections are expected to end corruption, economic inequalities and repression of Zimbabweans by the black elites, in the ranks of the ruling party and its allies.
Most of the born free generation has been educated but are struggling to secure employment and some people, though born in the city, have lived in homes without access to tap water and electricity. Decolonial scholars often argue that ending colonial rule in Africa did not in itself dismantled the structures of colonialism. African states have, thus far, only gained minimal juridical freedom because liberation movements, such as the ruling ZANU-PF party, only ascended to political office, but they have failed to exercise their political power to advance economic transformation needed to change the lives of all citizens. Instead, most African governments, have often become extensions of the colonial order – they have become an extension of the colonial authorities, colonising their own people – as described by Mamdani in ‘Citizen and subject’. The prevailing political crisis and inequalities between those in power and the citizens are pointers of how the current government has been instrumental in perpetuating coloniality.
Zimbabwe’s multi-party democratic system has however grown from one or two opposition parties that existed in the 1980s to over 130 political parties competing to win the 2018 elections. The electorate has thus a big pool of candidates promising to bring change. Given the long list of presidential candidates and multiple parties competing for the legislature, my old uncle has had to ask me and my brother-in-law to explain how an election winner will be determined.
My brother-in-law shared that a presidential win requires a 50% plus one vote and if none of the candidates secures an outright win, the country will have to hold a run-off election. At the mention of the words run-off election, my uncle’s face changed to a sad state and he began to recall the events of 2008. Throwing his hands in the air, he argued that the last time a presidential run-off was held in Zimbabwe (i.e. June 2008) many people suffered.
Surveillance and intimidation have been the modus operandi of the ruling ZANU-PF party to remain in power, and reports of election rigging have been recorded for all multi-party elections held in the country. Over the past three decades, many people have been unlawfully detained and tortured, others were raped, disappeared, abducted or had their properties destroyed, resulting in internal displacements or forced migration to neighbouring countries and further abroad for protection and economic relief. Through Operation Makavhoterapapi (Where did you put your vote?), for example, war veterans, state security agents and ZANU-PF youth militias were sanctioned by the ruling party to hunt down people that were accused of voting for the opposition in the 2008 election. The surge of electoral violence in 2008 had been stirred by the failure of the ruling party to retain the presidential win. These incidents became some of the darkest moments of the country in the post-independence era, the other being the Gukurahundi genocide of the 1980s, hence going for a run-off has made my uncle anxious.
My uncle, like many other Zimbabweans, is anxious about the July 30 elections because in the previous elections the ruling ZANU-PF party has won by rigging. Electoral irregularities in this year’s elections have already been raised by the opposition, particularly the existence of ghost voters on the voter’s roll. On the contrary, the incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been portraying a transformed image of the government by inviting election observers from various parts of the world to witness this year’s election, which his predecessor had shunned from for many years. In his face-the-nation presidential speech, presented through the national broadcasting television station, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) on 29 July (the day before elections), Mnangagwa reiterated that his government had transformed the country’s political atmosphere. He indicated that the election season had gone with minimal incidents of violence and using the example of his own experience of an attempted assassination, he argued that the government has fostered a peaceful environment for its citizens. Mnangagwa even described the electoral process as transparent, citing how political parties have been allowed to campaign ‘freely’ and the electorate has been given a robust pool of candidates to choose from. He concluded his speech by urging all political leaders to remain responsible for maintaining peace in the country and to respond to the election outcome in a peaceful manner.
However, on the same evening, a YouTube video emerged in which president Mnangagwa gave a response to the press conferences held by former president Robert Mugabe and his main opponent Nelson Chamisa (leader of the MDC Alliance), on the same day. Talking with a straight face Mnangagwa urged the nation to choose wisely, “it is either they vote for Chamisa under the guise of Mugabe” or they vote for him to attain real change. In an election season that has been marred by fake news and many rumours of an alliance between Mugabe and Chamisa, the speculation from this video on the eve of elections raises concerns about whether the elections will result in peace in Zimbabwe.
Judging from past experiences where the ruling ZANU-PF party has been accused of using intimidation and rigging to win elections, the lack of concerted effort among the opposition parties (there are 22 opposition presidential candidates), and without proper action to address the underlying issues facing the country, it is more likely that the 2018 election results will stir conflict in Zimbabwe. Various scholars have argued that the fear of losing power and access to control state resources influences the ZANU-PF-led government to run the country as a military operation, whereby intimidation and fear are harnessed to silence any voice that challenge its authority. Many Zimbabweans, therefore, live in fear of their government and have become apolitical to be spared from the dehumanising actions of government security agents. However, continued economic hardship, uncertainty of a good future for the young generation and the reintroduction of bond notes by the Finance Minister Chinamasa in early 2016 in a bid to cushion the liquidity crisis, are likely to be key in influencing the decision of voters in picking leaders that will transform their livelihoods.
By the time we went to bed my uncle had whispered to me, “my daughter today might be the last night we sleep in peace.” In my mother tongue the word “peace” means runyarararo but this runyararo has varying meanings depending on the context in which the term is used. If one is in a church setting and hears, “runyararo ngaruvei nemi,” these words are calling for people to continue to be in harmony. When one goes to a funeral the preacher is likely to console the grieving parties by saying, “garai murunyararo”, which means take heart. When the incumbent president called for the nation to remain in peace during the elections and after the announcement of election results, his call refers to the condition of maintaining non-violence.
But my uncle’s use of the word peace had a much deeper personal meaning, it expressed his anxiety about the future that will come, after Zimbabweans had gone to the polls. It made me reflect on whose future will be determined by the 2018 elections and whether my desires as well as those of my uncle would be reflected in the future to be established after the polls. Over the past decades Zimbabweans have often been peace loving people and it is unlikely that people will fight over the election results, unless the violence is orchestrated by state machinery. The continued presence of outward peace will not necessarily mean that inner peace exists, hence my uncle had whispered to me that last night might be our last time to sleep in peace. There is so much anticipation that the old rule, oppression and corruption gets whipped out of our governing system, but looking forward to a new Zimbabwe through the polls is not a guarantee
Reflecting on the pains of queuing for basic commodities, receiving a salary in bond notes, being made to pay unnecessary fines by the traffic police or having to use bribes to access basic services from public institutions such as the passport office or a public hospital, filled my heart with the same anxiety that my uncle has. Over the past 37 years many innocent people have died waiting for medical attention at public healthcare facilities. Some have lost fortunes due to hyperinflation and others have incurred road fatalities due to the poor road infrastructure in my country. The quality of life of many ordinary citizens has been reduced to a shambles because of poor administration, the financial crisis and economic sanctions facing the country. All presidential candidates are promising to bring change to these, it remains to be seen whether the winning candidate will deliver. Waiting for a new dawn is the agony many people will carry in their heart; a peaceful electoral environment alone is not enough.
Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 to 1988. Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.
Mamdani, Mahmood., 1996. Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, & Sabelo, J., 2012. Elections in Zimbabwe: a recipe for tension or a remedy for reconciliation, Wynberg: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
Quijano, Anibal., 2007, Coloniality and modernity/rationality, Cultural studies, 21 (2-3), pp168-178
Raftopoulos, B., & Mlambo, A., (Eds.), 2009. Becoming Zimbabwe. A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008. Avondale, Harare: African Books Collective.
Rupiya, M.R., 2011. The military factor in Zimbabwe’s political and electoral affairs. Harare: Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
Sachikonye, Lloyd., 2011. When a state turns on its citizens: 60 years of institutionalised violence in Zimbabwe, Harare: Weaver Press.
 Mutsaka, Farai., Zimbabwe’s Mugabe emerges, rejects ruling party in election, < https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jul/29/zimbabwes-mugabe-addresses-nation-hours-before-ele/>, 29 July 2018.
 Thornycroft., Peta., I was illegally removed from power, says Mugabe, < https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/15/illegally-removed-power-says-robert-mugabe/>, 15 March 2018.
 Mhofu., Sebastian., Nearly Two Dozen Candidates Enter Zimbabwe’s Presidential Race,< https://www.voanews.com/a/candidates-zimbabwe-presidential-race/4440177.html>, 15 June 2018.
 Mbatha, Amogelang., Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections the most important ‘in our lifetime’, says Biti, < https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/world/africa/2018-04-19-zimbabwes-2018-elections-the-most-important-in-our-lifetime-says-biti/>, 19 April 2018.
 Quijano, Anibal., 2007, Coloniality and modernity/rationality, Cultural studies, 21 (2-3), pp168-178.
 Mamdani, Mahmood., 1996, Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
 Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo.J., 2012, Elections in Zimbabwe: a recipe for tension or a remedy for reconciliation, Wynberg: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
 Sachikonye, Lloyd., 2011, When a state turns on its citizens: 60 years of institutionalised violence in Zimbabwe, Harare: Weaver Press
 Solidarity Peace Trust 2008, Punishing Dissent, Silencing citizens: The Zimbabwe Elections 2008, < http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/download/report-files/punish_and_silence.pdf>.
 Gukurahundi is a Shona term used to refer to the killings and torture of over 20 000 people and the displacement of thousands of people in the Midlands and Matabeleland area in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s, (See: Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace in Zimbabwe and Legal Resources Foundation (Zimbabwe), 1997. Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 to 1988. Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.
 Mhlanga, Blessed., 250 000 ‘ghost voters’ on roll, < https://www.newsday.co.zw/2018/07/250-000-ghost-voters-on-roll/>, 10 July 2018.
 Sibanda, Maxwell., Invitation to poll observers applauded, < https://www.dailynews.co.zw/articles/2018/01/22/invitation-to-poll-observers-applauded>, 22 January 2018.
 See Kovacs, R.J., 2012, What makes a failed state? Examining the case of Zimbabwe, <http://www.e-ir.info/2012/05/31/what-makes-a-failed-state-examining-the-case-of-zimbabwe/>, and Rupiya, M.R., 2011, The military factor in Zimbabwe’s political and electoral affairs. Harare: Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
 See for example: Raftopoulos, B., & Mlambo, A., (Eds.), 2009. Becoming Zimbabwe. A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008. Avondale, Harare: African Books Collective.
 Chidza, Richard., No going back on bond notes: Chinamasa, < https://www.newsday.co.zw/2016/05/no-going-back-bond-notes-chinamasa/>, 17 May 2016.