Emmerson Mnangagwa, the sitting president who came to power by way of a bloodless coup in November last year, was a key figure in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the sitting president who came to power by way of a bloodless coup in November last year, was a key figure in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

I'm travelling home to Zimbabwe to vote even though it may be a farce

By Dick Churu Time of article published Jul 27, 2018

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I am a 42-year-old Zimbabwean citizen resident in South Africa. Today, I will be travelling to Harare largely to cast my vote on Monday. I have lived through the worst that Zimbabwe has endured at the hands of Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF government of which current President E. D. Mnangagwa has been a senior member since independence. 

More relevantly, I have witnessed our votes stolen in numerous elections since the 2000 parliamentary elections. Despite this, in the immediate aftermath of the removal of Robert Mugabe as president, I leaned towards casting my vote for E.D. Mnangagwa in the coming election. My thinking was two-fold: (i) I did not have faith in Morgan Tsvangirai nor any of the multiple splinters of the MDC and (ii) For all the corruption that has destroyed Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa has never been implicated in any internal corruption scandal that I am aware of – so I was willing to give him the chance to lead Zimbabwe down a different path.

As I write this, I have so many mixed feelings and emotions. I have wondered whether it’s worth the expense and effort to travel to Harare to vote. 

I am angry, confused, disillusioned and many other things for which I can’t seem to find the words to adequately express. The reason for my current state is after months and months of digesting the ‘situation’ in Zimbabwe regarding the election, I have come to the inevitable conclusion that this election is nothing but a very expensive farce! There is only one official outcome of this election – a Mnangagwa victory! 

Below, I will lay out the case for my conclusion. Before I do though, let me share this ‘disclaimer’: I accept that it is entirely possible that Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa could very well win a truly “Free and Fair” election in Zimbabwe right now. The events that have transpired since November 2017 leave Zimbabwe in very unfamiliar territory with two first –time presidential candidates. 

For many Zimbabweans I have encountered, it was the Mugabe's they no longer wanted and not necessarily Zanu-PF. I don’t subscribe to the opposition narrative that Mnangagwa cannot win a free and fair election. Having said that, my belief is that the current leadership and the military will not take that chance. By whatever means they will ensure a Mnangagwa victory and here is why:

Chiwenga commits treason on November 13, 2017.

By now, the whole world is familiar with the press conference held by then-Zimbabwe Defense Forces Commander, C. G. Chiwenga, in which he not only inserted himself and the military into what, by his own words, was a civilian political process within Zanu-PF in contravention of both his oath of office and the constitution of the country but more importantly he committed treason by threatening the elected civilian president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces with military force. 

This point is, central to the case for why this election is a farce. Treason is an offence punishable by death and that is exactly what Chiwenga risked with that press conference. Only he never believed he really was risking his life (not from any internal authority anyway) because that press conference was the second step (the first having been to disarm and cripple any organs of the state with any capacity to protect Mugabe, chiefly the police force) of a very well-orchestrated plan that was authored long before it was implemented. Mnangagwa’s own words (“Let not your hearts be troubled for peace, love, unity, development and prosperity are around the corner.” I will be communicating with you soon and shall return to Zimbabwe to lead you.”), in his first public communication with the people of Zimbabwe once he was safe in South Africa clearly support this theory.

I do not believe that this elaborate and meticulous plan was devised and then actioned, at grave risk, to create a truly democratic Zimbabwe. Chiwenga’s own words at the aforementioned press conference made his motives abundantly clear: “….The current purging of which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith." At this press conference, Chiwenga made no mention of the will of the people in Zimbabwe. He did not even attempt to make a case for why the infighting within the ruling party was a threat to national security. Chiwenga has been clear in the past about where the military stand in as far as any would-be-president who holds no liberation war credentials.

Zimbabweans’ complicity in the coup d'etat

In the initial press conference, Chiwenga did not utter a single word that would imply he and the military were prioritising ordinary Zimbabweans, the constitution or even national security. This was no oversight, in my opinion. 

There was no constitutional or national security case to be made for the military intervening in what clearly was an internal party political matter that has existed in Zanu-PF for over a decade. There was a case, however, to be made on the “will of Zimbabweans’” front – even if it was moral rather than legal. 

I believe the reason this case was not made at that initial press conference is despite knowing that Zimbabweans in their masses no longer wanted Robert Mugabe (and his wife), Chiwenga couldn’t have anticipated the overwhelming public support his actions would eventually receive from all spheres including even the official opposition. Once that support became apparent, all subsequent communication regarding the unfolding coup was now framed in a narrative that made it clear the military was acting, at least in large part, in furtherance of the will if ordinary Zimbabweans. The unprecedented mass demonstrations of Saturday, November 18 2017, was the shield Chiwenga needed. Zimbabweans were so elated at the prospect of the removal of the man they hold responsible for their misery and few cared to recall that this very kind of peaceful expression of mass opposition to the tyranny of Zanu-PF and Mugabe was never ‘allowed’ by this very military. No one seemed to be willing to ask the bigger-picture question: what does this mean going forward? In that sense, Zimbabweans must accept their complicity not only in the unconstitutional removal of Mugabe but in the political dispensation ushered in by those actions. The first fruit of this new dispensation is this farce of an election and one can only believe this won’t be the last.

This complicity is important to note because with the run-up to elections having been open to outside observers and deemed the most peaceful, free and fair since 2000 at least, disputing their outcome will be difficult (barring any major development between now and results announcement).

The AU and SADC inaction

The African Union (AU) has intervened in all coups on the continent since the 2007 adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance: Guinea 2008, Madagascar 2009, Niger 2010, Mali 2012, Central African Republic 2013 and Burkina Faso 2014 are all examples. Then AU chair, Guinea president alpha Conde, on November 15, 2017, soon after it became apparent that a military takeover was underway in Zimbabwe said: “We will never accept a military coup d’état…”

There is no denying that the Chiwenga version of a coup was different from what we have seen on the continent previously but ultimately this was a coup and the AU did not intervene as they had done before. Rumours in Zimbabwe abound that military commanders of Zimbabwe’s neighbours (who would have been first in line to send any military assistance in aide of Mugabe) each received courtesy calls from Chiwenga that also served as warnings against any military involvement. It is said Chiwenga emphasised the fact that his plan had been baking for years while any intervention would be at short notice thus hurried. With Chiwenga having risked his life by undertaking the coup, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He would have no choice but to wage war on any country that intervened militarily. The warnings, if true, certainly served their purpose. 

Rumours and conjecture aside, to my mind, the reason for the AU’s departure in the Zimbabwean case results from a combination of factors, chief among them, the largely non-violent nature of the coup and the overwhelming support from the citizens. The irony in the latter point is that Chiwenga only knew for a fact that Mugabe had become this unpopular because, for at least the previous 17 years, he and the military were the only reason Mugabe was able to hold on to power!

The inaction of the AU (and SADC) is noteworthy because it has allowed the new regime the legitimacy that has led to these elections. Had the AU intervened, Chiwenga and Mnangagwa would likely have had to compromise on a number of fronts. Any refusal to compromise would render them illegitimate and yet a compromise would’ve likely yielded a different outcome to their perfect plan.

Chiwenga the ‘Civilian’

Once their operation was complete and Mnangagwa was installed as the new president of Zimbabwe, Chiwenga was ‘retired’ from the military and promptly appointed the vice president of the country. In addition to being the vice president of the country (despite no previous political pedigree of note), Chiwenga also crucially serves as minister of defence. His ‘retirement’ from the military is a very significant and an integral part of the overall plan. Chiwenga did not undertake the extraordinary, not to mention, highly risky steps of November 2017 just so he could walk off into the sunset as a civilian while Zimbabwe embarks on the post-Mugabe era free of any undue influences. Anyone who believes he did is plain naïve, in my opinion. I use the words retirement and civilian in quotes only to highlight my belief that Chiwenga is not truly retired from the military and thus is not really a civilian. 

Chiwenga became a ‘civilian’ so he could one day become the ruler of Zimbabwe without the shadow of the coup tainting his presidency. Chiwenga has no political base nor does he have any political pedigree of his own. While a case can be made that he intends to build both over the years that he will serve as Mnangagwa’s deputy, it is more likely that he will use the military as his insurance policy.

In conclusion: While there is some faint hope (faith may be a more appropriate word) that Mnangagwa, left to his own devices, would concede defeat and walk away from active politics considered a hero and liberator by most Zimbabweans, it is extinguished by the realization that this new dispensation is much more a Chiwenga dispensation than it is a Mnangagwa one. Mnangagwa was safely tucked away in South Africa while Chiwenga and his men risked their lives. Chiwenga now serves as the country’s deputy president and minister of defence! Can anyone write a better script for Chiwenga’s rise to the presidency? Does anyone (knowing what it took and what was at stake) believe that the man who orchestrated the new standard for military coups is simply going to transition into civilian life, subject himself to the constitution that he clearly and demonstrably doesn’t respect much when it doesn’t suit his agenda? Can Chiwenga afford a free and fair election if it means ushering in a Nelson Chamisa presidency? A presidency in which he will not only have any leverage but one that would also pose a real danger to his freedom not to mention non-protection of the wealth he and his military colleagues have amassed for themselves and their families?

I have no idea how they will achieve it BUT I am 100% convinced that the powers that control the electoral process in Zimbabwe will announce Emerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa the winner of the 2018 elections for president of Zimbabwe! 
I am conflicted because while he is the candidate I will likely cast my vote for, I am also convinced that the true result may not matter. Regardless, I urge all registered voters to go out and vote on Monday, July 30. If nothing else, history will eventually record the truth and I would rather that history tell the story that in this election, Mnangagwa was rejected and stole the election rather than have historians speculate that the citizens so feared their vote wouldn’t matter that they chose to stay at home and handed Mnangagwa a genuine victory.

* Dick Churu is an avid Power FM listener and reader.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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