People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 15, 2013





Zimbabwe: Decisive Victory


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won a decisive victory in the general elections held on July 31. It was quite a comeback for President Robert Mugabe and his party after having had to share power with the opposition for the last five years. Mugabe won 61 percent of the vote in the presidential polls. Morgan Tsvangirai, his principal opponent got around 32 percent of the vote. Following the disputed 2008 elections, ZANU had reluctantly entered into a coalition with two factions of the pro-western Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was appointed the prime minister and important portfolios were also given to key MDC functionaries. The finance ministry was under Tendai Biti, the number three in the MDC.


It was an uneasy cohabitation. But during this period, the country’s constitution was rewritten and was approved in a national referendum and passed by the two houses of parliament. The new constitution had stipulated that the armed forces and the judiciary would remain independent from the executive and must remain impartial.  


In the July elections, the ZANU-PF also won more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Over 60 percent of the electorate turned out to cast their votes.  The scale of the victory not only allows the party to form a government on its own but also gives it the power to rewrite the constitution. Even before the polling ended, Tsvangirai alleged that the elections were rigged despite the presence of strong monitoring groups sent by the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Council (SADC).


A survey by the American based Freedom House in 2012 had revealed that the popular support for Tsvangirai’s and the MDC faction he led had dipped to 20 percent. The previous year Tsvangirai had the support of 38 percent. Tsvangirai’s taste for the high life coupled with a scandal plaguing his personal life, did not help matters. In the latest elections, the MDC lost votes to older parties like the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), which has its base in Matabeland in the northern part of the country. ZAPU which had initially spearheaded the liberation movement under Joshua Nkomo had merged with ZANU in 1988. The party, was again re-launched in 2008, but has not been able to make much of an impact in Zimbabwean politics.


The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the AU monitoring team in Zimbabwe, had no doubts about the fairness of the elections. He told the media that it was “peaceful, orderly, free and fair”. He said that he had witnessed an election “that is free and fair as we could see it”. The SADC observer mission head, Bernard Membe, also described the elections as “very free and very fair”. Despite the AU and the SADC giving a clean chit, Tsvangirai denounced the elections as “null and void” and called on his supporters to come on to the streets to demonstrate. His call had very few takers, even among the MDC supporters. There was no repeat of the widespread violence that followed in the wake of the disputed 2008 elections.


Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, advised Tsvangirai to take his complaints to the judiciary. “If anyone is dissatisfied, the courts are there. I invite Tsvangirai to go to the Court if he has any grounds to justify what he has been saying”. Chinamasa accused the West of trying to bring about regime change in his country by pumping in more than $2 billion dollars to NGO’s and financing “pirate radios”. The South African President, Jacob Zuma has challenged Tsvangirai to produce evidence of rigging. Zuma sent his “profound congratulations” to his Zimbabwean counterpart on his victory.


The West so far has chosen to go along with the accusations of Tsvangirai and the MDC. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, categorically stated that the results of the July elections “do not represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people”. The former colonial power, Britain, expressed its “grave concerns” on the conduct of the elections. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that the irregularities reported by the opposition “call into serious question the credibility of the elections”. The EU chipped in by claiming that “identifiable weaknesses in the electoral process and a lack of transparency” had marred the voting. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was carefully chosen with the nominees appointed with the concurrence of all the political parties.




The regional endorsement of Mugabe’s re-election has superseded western criticisms. Many observers of the Southern African scene are of the opinion that it will be difficult for the West to continue sanctioning Zimbabwe after the ringing endorsement given by the AU and SADC to the Zimbabwean government on the conduct of the elections. Many EU members like Belgium are reportedly keen to do open business with Zimbabwe, wanting to have a stake in the country’s growing diamond industry. The West is also not happy to see China further consolidate its position in Zimbabwe and the wider region. China is now the biggest investor in the country and had played an important role in bailing out the economy. The Chinese government was quick to congratulate Mugabe on his resounding victory.


British legislators are already pointing out that the EU has to follow guidelines and cannot go against decisions made by regional grouping like the AU and SADC and continue with the unilateral sanctions. They fear that the western double standards towards the African continent will be further exposed. Unlike the EU and Washington, the AU has characterised the regime change in Egypt as a military coup and has demanded the restoration of civilian rule. Kerry and Hague obviously have different yardsticks to measure democracy on the African continent.    


Mugabe has been at the helm of affairs since the country gained independence in 1980 after a brutal liberation war. He still remains committed to a socialist ideology unlike other political leaders in the region who have given up on the principles that guided the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. The results of the election are therefore a political vindication for the veteran revolutionary. For long, he has been one of the West’s international “bête noire”. Asked whether he was fit enough to run the country for another five years, the Zimbabwean leader called “Comrade Bob” by his supporters and as the “old man” by others, jocularly replied saying though he was “declared dead many times by the West”.  He had announced that he would quit gracefully if he was worsted at the polls.


Mugabe is also the last surviving active leader who personally led a guerilla army to liberate his country from colonial rule. The Zimbabweans got their freedom the hard way by waging a war against a brutal white colonial settler regime. In contrast, independence for South Africa came virtually on a platter. The main rationale behind the liberation war in Zimbabwe was ownership of the land by the native people. Britain, the colonial power had pledged to finance land redistribution at the Lancaster House talks in 1979. The talks had led to independence with the Zimbabwean rebel groups agreeing to a peaceful transfer of power the following year.  




The country has been under sanctions imposed by the West that had played a big role in the meltdown of the country’s economy in the last decade. The government was denied access to international loans and credits. The Zimbabwean currency had lost all its value. The Central Bank was even forced to prints $1 trillion Zimbabwean dollar notes. The American dollar has now become the de facto currency. Inflation has been brought to manageable levels but unemployment, especially among the youth, remains very high. Many educated Zimbabweans had left the country during its worst years of privation. Since the beginning of this decade, things are looking much better for the country. The discovery of vast deposits of precious metals, including gold, chrome, uranium and diamond and their commercial exploitation, has boosted the economy.


The land reforms, much derided in the West, not only brought political dividends for the ruling party but have now become a role model for other countries in the region. Agriculture has once again started contributing to the Zimbabwean economy. Farmers tilling their own land now grow 40 percent of the country’s tobacco and 49 percent of maize. Before the government undertook serious land reforms, one percent of white population owned more than 70 percent of the best land in the country. In neighboring South Africa, there has been an increasing clamour for farm land, which is still predominantly under white ownership, to be re-distributed.


The 89 year old Mugabe, while campaigning actively in the run-up to the elections, made local ownership of the land and indigenous control of the economy, his key talking point. Mugabe promised to undertake further reforms to bring foreign owned companies operating in Zimbabwe under “indigenous control”. A recent advertisement put out by the ruling party has promised to implement a five year plan that will move Zimbabwe towards “a unique wealth transfer model that will see ordinary people take charge of the economy”. The unemployment rate in the country is very high and this kind of rhetoric had given many of the youth hope for a better future. Tsvangirai and the MDC on the other hand were batting for the integration of the Zimbabwean economy with the West in particular and neo-liberal economic policies in general.


President Mugabe speaking for the first time after his re-election victory in the second week of August rejected the western criticism of the elections. “We are very happy that we have dealt the enemy a blow, and the enemy is not Tsvangirai”, he told the media. “Tsvangirai is a mere part of the enemy. The enemy is he who is behind Tsvangirai. Who is behind the MDC? The British and their allies. Those are the ones who are the real enemies”.


President Mugabe reiterated his pledge to go ahead with the radical economic reforms he had promised to implement. The West had indicated that sanctions on Zimbabwe would be lifted if the elections were held in a fair and free manner. It is now clear that this is not going to happen any time soon. Mugabe said that he was receiving congratulatory messages from all over the African continent while the West was criticising the elections. “But now they, even as the whole of Africa is sending congratulatory messages saying ‘well done’, they say the elections were not free. And where are they talking? London, Washington and Ottawa”, remarked Mugabe. He went on to add that the “policy of indigenisation and empowerment” would continue despite the disapproval of the West. Foreign owned banks and mining companies may be forced to cede control to local business entrepreneurs. The Zimbabwean president said that the immediate task of the government is “to raise the standard of living of our people”.