Zimbabwe Elections: Hopes, Contradictions and Opportunities

According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Act, the period within which a second election for the office of the president can take place is within 21 days of the date of announcement of results of the first poll. Initially, the presidential election runoff was scheduled to take place within this period; however, the Mugabe regime has recently announced that it has extended the period within which a second election can take place by 69 days.

This comes after the allegations that the Mugabe regime tampered with the results of the first poll. For instance, the MDC claims that Tsvangirai won 50.3 percent of the vote, compared with Mugabe’s 43.2 percent of the presidential vote. Nelson Chamisa, MDC’s spokesperson, is quoted as saying that "We maintain that we won the presidential election outright and that, in a fair and just world, there would be no need for the so-called runoff."

The Global Zimbabwe Forum (GZF) argues that the outcome of the first elections was compromised by the fact that over three million eligible voters who are living outside of Zimbabwe were excluded from participating in the process. The GZF adds it is concerned with the "rather inconclusive nature" of the presidential poll process. Furthermore, Mugabe no longer has "the express mandate of the majority of the Zimbabwean electorate and therefore must not be allowed to continue as the President of the country. He must step down," argues the GZF.

Although the results of the first elections did not get the MDC to win the absolute majority necessary to avoid a runoff election, they were a huge blow against the Mugabe regime. The present election results mean that the MDC has control of the legislative and budgetary processes on it, according to the Sunday Independent (a South African weekly newspaper). Furthermore, the MDC’s dominance in the national assembly has been reinforced by an agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the leaders of the MDC’s majority and minority factions respectively, to act in concert:

"Their pledge to form a single bloc ‘with one caucus and one speaker’ means that the MDC will command the allegiance of 57 percent of the national assembly’s representatives against the 43 percent who were elected under the colours of Zanu-PF."

Be that as it may, it is reported that Mugabe has unleashed militias to scare Zimbabweans into backing him in the runoff elections. According to the Sunday Independent, there are about 7,000 casualties of the rapidly worsening violence in Zimbabwe "as the military’s campaign against the MDC opposition party hots up." Another report reveals that "about 35 houses in a village near Shamva, about 80km north of Harare, were burned and smashed this week, ahead of the country learning that Mugabe had been beaten by Tsvangirai."

There are fears that the political violence might escalate. The ‘An Yue Jiang’, a Chinese ship carrying weapons to Mugabe, which was originally prevented by trade unionists and members of civil society from docking and offloading in South Africa, has two weeks later finally found a safe harbour at which to offload the weapons. It is reported that the ship offloaded at a port at Ponta Negra in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Civil society and human rights groups believe that Mugabe is going to use the weapons to repress and intimidate political opponents in order to win the runoff elections. According to The Weekender, a South African weekly newspaper, Mugabe has already deployed the army and police across Zimbabwe to campaign for him through intimidation and coercive tactics.

The ‘An Yue Jiang’ is reported to have offloaded 77 tons of Chinese arms – 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3000 mortar rounds. To the general public, the ship has earned itself a new name – ‘China’s ship of shame’. Actually, China’s record of supplying weapons to repressive regimes on the continent is shameful, to say the least.

The weapons (i.e. the machetes and axes) that were used in the Rwanda genocide were imported from China. In just a matter of 100 days, the Hutus organised and implemented the mass slaughter of about 800,000 Tutsis – using weapons imported from China. Melvern (2004) writes that the total number of machetes imported by the Hutu government in 1993 weighed 581,175 kilos; and that there was a new machete for every third male in the country. One of the companies involved in these purchases belonged to Felicien Kabuga, the businessman who had helped to finance RTLM – a radio station that served as the main sources of Hutu propaganda, which encouraged its Hutu audience to kill the Tutsis. Kabuga openly used his company to purchase huge amounts of machetes from a company called ‘Oriental Machinery Incorporated’ in Beijing, according to Melvern.

Bishop Tutu argues that shipping arms to African governments who could use them to abuse their own people is "an abhorrent but almost daily occurrence." He adds that at present there is nothing anyone can do about it because there are no effective global controls. "If you want to export weapons to a country that commits gross human rights abuses, you can."

Election Background

Mugabe has been in power for 28 years; he is a dictator who does not tolerate dissent. For example, the Mail &Guardian (M&G), a South African newspaper, reports that Zimbabwe remains one of the few countries in the world where the government enjoys a monopoly over broadcasting and controls the largest media company. The M&G argues that the Zimbabwe Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act does not allow access to information.

According to Amnesty International Canada, the Act is not about improving access to information or protecting privacy, rather, the Act is about protecting the government from scrutiny by restricting access to information held by public bodies and penalizing public and media inquiry into its actions.

Similarly, the Zimbabwe Public Order and Security Act and the Official Act is in fundamental conflict with the right to freedom of expression and of the media to access and disseminate information in the public interest, argues the M&G. AllAfrica.com reports that since 2000, the Act has been used by the ruling party to infringe on the fundamental right to freedom of association, and has been selectively applied to prohibit opposition party rallies and civic organisation meetings.

Mugabe, however, is not the only person who has contributed to the sad state of affairs in that country. In their paper entitled ‘The Zimbabwe Question and the Two Lefts’ , Moyo and Yeros argue that as long as Mugabe was implementing IMF and the World Bank policies, the Western governments did not consider Mugabe’s rule to be oppressive. They explain that:

"It was only after 1997 that relations with the IFIs and the West soured, resulting from the political economic turn-around in Zimbabwe that entailed the suspension of structural adjustment, the beginning of active state intervention in the land question, intervention in the DRC, and debt default. At that point, all the economic and political conditionalities began to be invoked, beginning with the suspension of balance of payments support by the World Bank, and followed by a broad range of formal and informal sanctions…"

Furthermore, in 1998, the UK refused to take responsibility for its historic obligation to fund land reform after the international donors’ conference in the same year. Moyo and Yeros add that in 1999 Zimbabwe’s relations with the IMF deteriorated, leading to the suspension of lending. They add that thereafter, the confrontation escalated, leading to the door being shut by the whole of the donor community. "It is estimated that overall development assistance contracted from a peak of US$562 million in 1994 to US$190 million by 2000, which was thereafter limited largely to ‘humanitarian aid’," write Moyo and Yeros.

These are some of the serious factors that have contributed to the status quo in Zimbabwe. According to Tendai Biti, secretary general of the MDC nationwide unemployment stands at 90%, and inflation at 400, 000 percent. In addition, the prime lending rate stands at 4,500 percent and the largest currency denomination; Z$50 million cannot buy a pint of beer.

How the MDC is going to deal with the present socio-economic situation, the land reform question and economic institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF remains to be seen.

Critics of the MDC, however, are convinced that the organisation has no qualms with the World Bank and the IMF agenda. The MDC was established in 1999, in a period that Moyo and Peros describe as a political phase in which a more generalized neo-colonial civil society emerged in Zimbabwe. They point out that during this period any domestic NGOs that did not conform to the ‘opposition’ line saw their financial aid blocked; while pro-opposition NGOs were systematically financed by US and UK government "via such agencies as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, the Southern African Media Development Fund, and USAID, including its Office of Transition Initiatives."

According to Moyo and Yeros, when a neo-colonial civil society emerged, no organisation could claim to represent a peasant-worker agenda. Consequently, this political vacuum was filled by a radical land occupation movement, led by the war veterans, which received the endorsement of the aspiring black bourgeoisie and the political support of the Mugabe regime.

Moyo and Yeros point out that the situation led to an inevitable clash between the black bourgeoisie and the rural landless organised by the war veterans under a ZANU-PF banner (the ruling party in Zimbabwe) and a small section of the ‘unaccommodated black bourgeoisies’, and workers organised by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), "with the help of imperialist forces, under an MDC banner".

Viewed from this angle, a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe is likely to translate into a neo-liberal democratic state. As despicable as neo-liberalism is, one hopes that when or if Mugabe exits the political stage, there will be room for radical voices to push for political reforms that could lead to fundamental change of society in that country. Needless to say, an ideal situation is to have radical voices pushing for fundamental change in the economy and how the society is arranged in Zimbabwe without making compromises. However, ideal situations are almost impossible to get in human and political affairs.


Mandisi Majavu is with the Africa Project for Participatory Society. He writes regularly for Zcommunications and has contributed a book chapter to the forthcoming "Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century," edited by Chris Spannos (AK press, 2008).


Amnesty International. (2005). Zimbabwe: Independent media under siege. Retrieved from: http://www.amnesty.ca/take_action/actions/zimbabwe_independent_media.php

Biti, T. (2008, May 16 to May 22). Zimbabwe: Where to now? Mail & Guardian, p. 33.

Global Zimbabwe Forum. (2008). "The Voice of the Zimbabwean Diaspora". 12 May 2008 Press Statement. http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/about.php

Melvern, L. (2004). Conspiracy to murder: The Rwandan genocide. London: Verso.

Moyo, J. & Tolsi, N. (2008, April 25 to May 1). Arms ship in retreat. Mail & Guardian, p. 4.

Moyo, S. & Yeros, P. Intervention: The Zimbabwe question and the two Lefts. Historical Materialism, 15, pp. 171 – 204.

Muleya, D. , Radebe, H. & Benjamin, C. (2008, May 17 – 18). China’s ‘ship of shame’ offloads. The Weekender, p. 2.

No name. (2008). Zimbabwe: Presidential Run-Off Set for Beginning of August. AllAfrica.com: http://allafrica.com/stories/200805141011.html

Laurence, P. (2008, May 4). Worldwide spread of liberal democracy may save Zimbabwe. The Sunday Independent.

Tutu, D. (2008, May 16 to May 22). Make the temporary victory more permanent. Mail & Guardian, p.32.

Mail & Guardian. (2002). Zimbabwe in no hurry to relax iron grip on press. http://www.mg.co.za/