Zimbabwean Elections 2023: Zanu-PF’s blood-stained regime retains power

Zanu-PF leader, Mnangagwa

After the 23rd and 24th August 2023 elections for the president, legislators and councillors, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) retained power, continuing its 43-year old reign since independence in 1980. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) declared Zanu-PF’s Mnangagwa, 80 years old, the winner of the presidential poll with 52% of the vote. Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa, contesting for a second time, secured 44%. Zanu-PF won 176 National Assembly seats (63%) against the CCC’s 103 (37%).

The CCC’s 44% is a 1% decline compared to that of the now effectively defunct MDC Alliance from which it split in January 2022. The opposition’s total number of seats increased by 15 compared to the MDC Alliance’s 88 in 2018. Despite his narrowed majority, Mnangagwa’s dictatorship, which began with Mugabe’s 2017 ousting, remains in power. It is a thinly disguised military dictatorship masquerading as “democratically elected” – a “gigantic fraud” as Chamisa described them.

Compared to previous elections, this year’s was relatively peaceful. 107 lost their lives in 2002, 200 in 2008, 6 during 2018. That “only” one person died in this election, is one too many. But the manner of CCC activist Tinashe Chitsunge’s stoning to death, by a Zanu-PF mob he was fleeing from, is indicative of the climate of terror Zanu-PF had sown.

Opposition criminalised in pre-election crackdown

The post-2018 election crackdown has targeted all forms of opposition, against political parties, trade unions and civil society activists, opposition leaders, journalists and activists for exposing allegations of corruption or organising protests. The 2023 elections were prepared by five years of brazen contempt for human rights, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Health workers protesting poor working conditions and salaries have been criminalized. The state charged twenty-two people involved in the protests for attempting to “subvert a constitutional government.”

Those targeted for arbitrary repeated arrest, abduction, torture and detention without trial include Acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombey, Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist, political activist Jacob Ngarivhume and Job Sikhala, MP and vice-chairperson of the CCC, who is approaching 500 days in prison after accusing Zanu-PF of killing CCC activist, Moreblessing. His doctor’s report that he is seriously ill due to conditions in Africa’s worst prison, Chikurubi. Others are political activist Jacob Ngarivhume, Evans Mawarire, a well-known local cleric and trade union leader Peter Mutasa, facing treason charges.

Amnesty International documented fifteen police killings in state violence against nationwide protests against fuel price hikes on 14 January. Mass arrests totalled nearly 400 by the end of April, with courts convicting most of them through hastily conducted trials. Police conducted house-to-house raids, used lethal force including tear gas, batons, water cannons and live ammunition.

Manipulation of elections

The rushed presidential inauguration was merely the final act in the blatant manipulation of the entire electoral process to ensure the “right” result. To start with the courts arbitrarily denied fifteen CCC candidates registration. They also disqualified ex-cabinet minister, SA-based Saviour Kasukuwere, from contesting for president for allegedly being out of Zimbabwe for over 18 months.

Of the official census counted 15 million population, only 6.5 million were registered to vote. Since 2018, 1.5-million young people have reached voting age. But by April 2022, not even 63,000 had registered to vote. The Zimbabwean diaspora is estimated to number up to 6 million. No provision was made for voting abroad, effectively disenfranchising them. For the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans in neighbouring countries, the vast majority in SA, this meant a costly journey and the risk of the loss of precarious jobs to go home to vote. Even then they were not guaranteed the right to vote.

The Zanu-PF regime captured state institutions including the courts. State television provided biased coverage. The High Court rejected the CCC’s application for the release of the updated voters roll on the basis that it was not urgent. The government manipulated the constituency boundary delimitation process. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) failed to deliver ballot papers to some polling stations. Some voters arrived to find their names absent from the constituency voters roll – the result of redrawn boundaries. Many whose names were on it, had been allocated to constituencies tens or hundreds of kilometres away from those they had registered to vote in.

Before the elections the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill was passed.  Referred to as the Patriotic Bill, it provides for punishment for “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”. Flavia Mangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for east and southern Africa, said this law “would allow for the death penalty against those perceived as critical of the government.”

Before the elections, Zimbabwean authorities denied several foreign media houses clearance to cover the elections, including Voice of AmericaARD of Germany and South Africa’s Daily Maverick. As vote counting started, the government halted independent observation by local civil society organisations. Police raided the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre data centres, arrested staff and accredited local observers, and confiscated laptops and cell phones. Government shut down the independent Parallel Vote Tabulation the ZESN had established which the ZEC and government had themselves used to corroborate the 2018 elections. Its intelligence agency claimed it had uncovered plans to “illegally announce results.”

Several videos emerged of the FAZ (Forever Associates Zimbabwe) — a shadowy group linked to Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation – waiting outside polling stations conducting “exit polls” to know who voters had voted for. The FAZ coerced a number of people in rural constituencies into claiming they were illiterate and needed “assistance” to mark their ballots.

Disaggregated results are not available. The ZEC claims it is not obliged to make them public despite this being international best practice. Ignoring calls to publish raw data on a polling station-by-polling station basis, the ZEC instead removed even the aggregated results from its website.

In sharp contrast to the dancing in the streets that followed Mugabe’s toppling in the coup that installed him as president in 2018, the outcome of these elections has been greeted with sullen resignation and a funereal silence in the streets. Liberation struggle veteran, Ibbo Mandaza, described these elections as the worst since independence. Zanu-PF has no mandate to govern.

International Observer Missions Divided

The election may have secured Zanu-PF another 5-years in office. However, this regime is seen as illegitimate, is propped up by securocrats, leaving the international legitimacy it craves, in doubt. So blatant was the manipulation of the elections that even institutions of imperialism which ordinarily lend legitimacy to outright dictatorships, was divided. Whilst the Commonwealth Observer Mission concluded that “the voting process was well conducted and peaceful,” the EU and the US’s Carter Centre, were much more forthright in declaring that they were not free and fair.

The African Union observer mission, though compelled to note the problems, refrained from either endorsing or rejecting the outcome. Far more potentially diplomatically troubling for Zanu-PF is the divisions the election outcome has laid bare amongst the 16-member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).


The Daily Maverick (25/08/23) reported: “Even the historically cautious SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) couldn’t ignore the flouting of regulations and SADC principles.” Its preliminary report found that the FAZ compromised the rural vote by alleged intimidation. The SEOM found a lack of transparency around the voters’ roll, the contentious delimitation report, skewed access to state media, manipulation of the judiciary and problematic legislation. “The SEOM’s unprecedented report was scathing.” It identified violations of the Zimbabwean constitution, Electoral Act and SADC’s Principles and Guidelines for Democratic Elections.”

Zanu-PF and the government, confident that nothing would come of these public criticisms, pushed back defiantly, attacking the SEOM report and its team leader, former Zambian vice president Dr Nevers Mumba. Mumba reported being followed by shadowy figures even in Zambia. Others received similar treatment, including a personal attack on the EU observer mission head.

Only Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa congratulated Mnangagwa. Out of the 16 SADC heads of state, only three attended the presidential inauguration: SA’s Ramaphosa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi, and Mozambique’s Filipe Nyusi.

ANC’s Zimbabwe foreign policy – a sordid record of betrayal, hypocrisy and falsification of history

Whatever doubt capitalist government election observer missions may have cast in 2023, the SADC, with regional powerhouse SA in the forefront, has tacitly and actively colluded in enabling Zanu-PF to remain in power by fraud and violence since at least the 2000 presidential elections.

The CCC parliamentary candidate for the Chipinge South constituency, Clifford Hlatshwayo, accused a member of Frelimo, the ruling party in neighbouring Mozambique, of leading a gang terrorising his party’s members. Identified as Magarabota, the Daily Maverick (23/07/2023) reported that a video went viral on social media showing him threatening that Mozambique would cut fuel supplies to Zimbabwe if inhabitants of that constituency, which is located near the Mozambican border, voted for the opposition. Frelimo said that businesspeople should strongly support Zanu-PF, or they will die.

SA’s President Ramaphosa’s defence of the outcome, in a cynical remark that there was “nothing like a perfect election anywhere in the world”, was unsurprising. Whereas many monitors, including from SA, were barred from the country, Mnangagwa invited his “brother” Ramaphosa’s security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, chair of SA owned mine, Zimplats, to endorse the fraud in advance.

Like all foreign policy, SA’s towards Zimbabwe is determined by calculations about the potential political ramifications at home. Constructed on the lie that the ANC/Zanu-PF’s alliance had been forged in the “trenches of the liberation struggle,” the ANC has slandered any challenge to Zanu-PF as a Western imperialist “regime change” conspiracy. ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula denounced the CCC as “the West’s puppets”.

ANC hostility towards Movement for Democratic Change

The MDC’s birth was sparked by the opposition to the disastrous impact on working class living standards, collapsing social services, high inflation and interest rates, mass unemployment, deepening poverty and corruption, that Zanu-PF’s adoption of the neo-liberal economic, structural adjustment programme (ESAP) led to in 1991. Between 1995 and 1999, the biggest strike wave in the country’s pre- and post-independence history, including a national general strike in 1997, saw workers draw in students and moved rapidly onto the political plane. It birthed the MDC in 1999, led by former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Having imposed SA’s own ESAP, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy in 1996, Mbeki feared the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) could emulate the workers’ revolt in Zimbabwe and break from its Tripartite Alliance with the SA Communist Party. For this reason, the ANC was hostile towards the MDC from the onset.

The most infamous cover-up was that of the 2002 presidential elections Mbeki had been pressured into inquiring into. They took place after Zanu-PF had secured a narrow majority over the 16-month old MDC in the June 2000 elections in a campaign marked by violence that claimed the lives of 30 and injured over 6,000. With the additional insurance of presidential powers to appoint 30 MPs, the MDC was never going to be allowed to turn the referendum victory into electoral success.

High Court judges found that the elections had been fraudulent. Mbeki, interim president Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma suppressed their report. It became public 12 years later by a Constitutional Court order following a legal challenge by the Mail & Guardian. Mbeki was also to ignore a report presented to the ANC NEC by SA National Defence Force generals over the violence around the 2008 presidential elections. Just as Ramaphosa did for Mnangagwa, Mbeki rushed to Mugabe’s midnight inauguration, accompanying him on a flight to an African Union meeting in Cairo immediately afterwards. After the 2000 elections cover-up, the ANC government maintained its so-called “silent diplomacy”.

Economic Crisis

Zimbabwe’s economy is in free fall. Inflation was at 77% in August, interest rates more than 150% and the currency rapidly devaluing with foreign exchange shortages. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions puts unemployment north of 70%, far higher than the state agency ZimStat’s 46.7% on the expanded definition – ie including those who have given up looking for work. ZimStats, like other state institutions have been re-purposed to portray a Zimbabwe completely at odds with reality.

Between 2009 and 2019, Zimbabwe’s economy was dollarised after hyperinflation led the government to print trillion-Zimbabwe-dollar notes before abandoning its currency. Several attempts to change monetary policy, through switching the official currency from the Zim dollar to the Rand, to the US dollar, a special currency, bond notes declared to have parity with the US$ and multiple currencies, have failed to stem hyper-inflation and prevent the currency’s collapse to the pitiful levels it has plunged. Once second only to SA in economic development and the region’s breadbasket, with health and education the subcontinent’s envy, Zimbabwe is now deindustrialising.

Zimbabwe boasts resources of 40 precious minerals. But the economy has been pillaged through illicit financial flows and corporate tax incentives. According to Home Affairs Minister, Kazembe, Zimbabwe islosing $100-million dollars monthly through gold smuggling as revealed in an Al Jazeera expose. Annually, this adds up to $1.2bn, roughly equal to Zimbabwe’s total gold export earnings.

Today Zimbabwean graduates are working as car guards in neighbouring SA, exploited as cheap labour especially in the hospitality sector. As the Zimbabwe health system collapses, pregnant mothers crossing the Limpopo River for treatment in SA are insulted with accusations of draining social services with demands for upfront payment at public health facilities. To add further insult to injury, the ANC government’s officially sanctioned xenophobia has resulted in pressure for the repudiation of the Zimbabwe Exemptions Permit that provided refuge to 180 000 citizens of its claimed “comrades-in-arms” as the economy collapsed under Mugabe. The ANC government is now more or less openly planning mass deportations. Ramaphosa met his “elder” at the Limpopo River to “learn from him” as SA’s new Border Management Authority began operations to curb migration.

The SEOM and EU refusal to endorse the election outcome is unprecedented. But in the final analysis, these amount to no more than a public rebuke, a rap over the knuckles with a feather duster by the European capitalist class and their SADC counterparts. The purpose of SADC institutions like the so-called Troika Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, is to defend all the corrupt, dictatorial regimes across southern Africa from the Atlantic Ocean the Indian Ocean.

The Frontline States against colonialism and white minority rule have become a frontline of corrupt capitalist regimes coordinating an offensive against the working class and on democracy itself.  All of them are wracked by economic, social and political crises that have completely drained away the political capital of the liberation struggle.

The Daily Maverick (07/02/2023) revealed eye-watering details of the extent to which Mnangagwa’s regime has consolidated ties with oligarchs from across the world since the 2018 coup. It lists the top 15, from Belarus, Nigeria, South Africa and white Zimbabweans. Chinese oligarchs are exploiting “liberation struggle” historical relations to collude with the army in plundering the country.

Doubts over the legitimacy of the elections will be on the agenda at the Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit of Heads of State and Government in Namibia on 31 January, 2024. Having done nothing about the recent sham eSwatini elections where King Mswati has not even put up democratic pretences, maintained a ban on opposition parties, nothing can be expected. Ibbo Mandaza suggests impeccable sources claim Mnangagwa sent envoys to Chamisa proposing a postponement of the elections and creation of a two-year transitional government of national unity (GNU). Confident of victory, Chamisa rejected it. The wealthy Mandaza is circulating a petition calling for a transitional authority. He suggests that Mnangagwa, mindful of Mugabe’s 2018 fate, is concerned that the army, has not returned to barracks after ousting Mugabe and is still de facto in power.

After the elections, what way forward for the working class?

The Zimbabwean masses can place no reliance on any force other than their own to free them from the tyranny of a regime remaining in power through an electoral coup. A “GNU” is a capitalist coalition tried and failed before. In 2009 the MDC’s Morgan Tsivangirai was installed as Prime Minister. Far from “sharing power” it was a forced marriage aimed to absorb an already split MDC into a supersized Zanu-PF. It was a second edition of the Patriotic Front, used in 1988 to turn Zapu into Zanu’s political accomplices in the oppression and exploitation of the working class. Unfortunately, the MDC leadership fell into the trap. They were not armed with a clear socialist programme or a clear policy for working class political independence from the different factions of the ruling class.

The CCC leadership appears to have failed to learn lessons from the failure of the MDC and so is completely and utterly incapable of providing a way forward. Apart from being pro-capitalist, the CCC is deeply undemocratic, has no elective structures and is run by Chamisa’s inner circle. It is facing an implosion since the election. Having arbitrarily disqualified candidates before the elections, the general secretary withdrew 15 CCC MPs from parliament after the election for allegedly challenging Chamisa’s leadership. In the protests against this in parliament, they accused him of colluding with Zanu-PF. The Zanu-PF speaker, having previously suspended the CCC MPs for boycotting the presidential inauguration, called in the riot police. He suspended them again, docking their pay and benefits for two weeks. The CCC has now followed its withdrawal of its planned Constitutional Court challenge by “disengaging” from parliament for two weeks in protest against the speaker’s actions, threatening to withdraw permanently. It now is appealing to the SADC. The ANC’s Mbalula has already made it abundantly clear that fresh elections are ruled out.

The CCC vote was not so much for it, as it was, in the absence of an alternative, against Zanu-PF. Of the other 9 parties contesting, all except one, the National Peoples Congress with 1.2%, received less than 1%. In a valiant effort to oust Zanu-PF the working class had united electorally behind the CCC. Despite the economic catastrophe and repression, the Zimbabwean working class’ willingness to struggle has not been extinguished. The fuel price hike protests, and teachers, health workers including doctors’ strikes occurred in defiance of Mnangagwa’s reign of terror.

The repression and the economic catastrophe may have weakened the Zimbabwean working class, but it retains its potential power. Moreover, it has a magnificent tradition of struggle as shown by the mid-1990s strike wave that moved rapidly onto the political plane and birthed the MDC out of the trade unions. The MDC leadership’s political bankruptcy led to it adopting a pro-capitalist policy. The MDC was sunk by corruption in municipalities it controlled and subsequently split into several fragments. The CCC, led by former presidential candidate, pastor and lawyer Chamisa, was formed after a court battle that split the MDC Alliance further from the original MDC.

The Zimbabwean working class must learn the lesson that the common thread running through the experience of Zanu-PF, the MDC, its splinters and the CCC is that they are all pro-capitalist. Zanu-PF’s adoption of the neo-liberal ESAP in 1990 did not spring from a clear blue sky. Despite the fiery socialist and anti-imperialist post-independence rhetoric, ZANU jettisoned socialism in practice. It suppressed strikes fearing independent action by the working class. ESAP was a more brutal continuation of the failed post-independence capitalist policies.

The Zimbabwean working class must unite their struggles in the workplace and the political plane through the establishment of a mass socialist workers party. The links forged during the liberation struggles which had inspired the masses and reinforced the struggle in each country, must be reestablished. The Southern African working class in each country must consciously revive these traditions, drawing the working class in the diaspora into their own struggles and in turn support the struggles in Zimbabwe. To cut across the xenophobia instigated by the political elites and thwart attempts the bosses to use Zimbabwean workers a s cheap labour, they must be organised into the unions. These internationalist links of working class solidarity must be re-forged on the basis of a programme to establish mass workers parties armed with socialist programmes.

For a socialist federation of southern African states as a step towards a socialist Africa and socialist world!


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October 2023