At the end of July 2018, Zimbabwe held its first elections that did not include former long-term President Robert Mugabe on the ballot. Mugabe had been president of the Southern African nation since he led the liberation war against the white minority rule that ended in 1980, and once famously said that he would never die because of his “special” DNA. In November 2018, he was forced out of office by his long-time right-hand man Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Zimbabwean military in a de-facto bloodless coup. The series of events that gripped Zimbabwe in November sent ripples across the region and the rest of the continent as observers watched in disbelief at the eventual ousting of Mugabe.
Known as a ruthless dictator who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist, his relationship with the people of Zimbabwe is complex. He is widely known and respected throughout the country as one of the main instruments of the liberation struggle and a true statesman. But as a country that was once predicted to be one of the most economically successful in Africa due to its resources and youth potential, it had struggled under Mugabe’s rule. With unemployment and inflation surging, certain international sanctions in place, and a severe lack of any foreign reserves or investment, Zimbabwe became a land of political elites and a hopeless generation. These new elections were meant to change all that, as a new era in the country’s history.
Zimbabwe’s current ruling party Zanu-PF – the part of Mugabe and his successor, President Mnangagwa – has been declared the winner of the most seats in parliament by the Zimbabwe Election Committee (ZEC), whilst the announcement of the presidential election results have been notably delayed. The party is poised to win a substantial parliamentary majority, with 122 seats out of the 210 total seats. The opposition, the MDC Alliance, led by the young and charismatic lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa, was announced to have won 53 seats. This comes a day after Chamisa had declared the MDC Alliance as the winner of the parliamentary elections and himself as the winner of the concurrently held presidential elections.
In the aftermath of the announcement and the lack thereof of an announcement for the presidential election, the MDC Alliance claimed that the election has been rigged, leading to clashes breaking out in Harare between supporters of the MDC Alliance and the police. Supporters surrounded the headquarters of the ZEC and police deployed the use of water cannons and tear gas. One opposition protestor has been killed so far after the army opened fire on protestors. US and EU election monitors who had been allowed to monitor these elections for the first time in 16 years, had praised the largely peaceful environment surrounding the elections, but noted the uneven playing field, with Zanu-PF using state resources, media bias, and voter intimidation in the run-up of the election. EU election monitors are now publicly questioning why the results of the presidential voting are taking so long to be made public.
In the months between the ousting of Mugabe and these landmark elections, there had been a buzzing feeling of hope throughout the nation, that change is coming after decades of economic mismanagement and a substantial repression of rights, and that the country’s divisions would finally heal. Perhaps that is most represented by the high turnout of the elections, at 70%, and 5 million registered voters. The mood now seems to have shifted back to anxiety and worry, however, as the divisions are laid bare on the streets for the whole world to see. Change might have to wait a little while.