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In 1980, Zimbabwe achieved its independence. This was a great time for its people as they earned their freedom against the adversary colonial powers. Many would assume that once a nation becomes free and is granted emancipatory power, that everything would be an upward journey for that nation. This, unfortunately, was not the reality for Zimbabwe. Since its independence Zimbabwe has faced some great calamities which raises many questions. Does democracy necessarily determine freedom? Does freedom lead to peace and what makes Zimbabwe a democracy? All of these questions hold significant value in the quest for the understanding Zimbabwe’s democracy. This article aims to analyse and understand the key features of Zimbabwe’s democracy, illustrate both the positives and negatives of Zimbabwean leadership, as well as arrive at possible solutions and recommendations on how to solve the problems of democracy in Zimbabwe. 

Democracy has the aim to construct legitimacy within a nation, through a combination of factors. This sense of legitimacy is generated through the approval of a ruler by the people of that nation, through peaceful negotiations and the maintenance of stability through a system of enforcement and removal of political choices which are governed by a constitution. In relation to this, Zimbabwe may be viewed as democratic due to its electoral system in which voters are given the opportunity to choose a leader which is considered to be “free and fair”. This in essence would make Zimbabwe a democracy in theoretical terms but it may be contested in terms of practicality. 

The political elites have used this system of approval in their favour, creating the illusion of a democratic society. The Government for National Unity (GNU) is a major danger to the democracy of Zimbabwe. The ruling party, The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) which has been the ruling party of Zimbabwe for about 4 decades has used its power to manipulate elections and policies in their favour to remain in power. 

2008 was a very troubling year for Zimbabwe. The nation finally thought that ZANU-PF had lost to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC would be the new leader of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, this was not the case. ZANU-PF through their cunning tactics and motives, initiated an operation called “who did you vote for”. This resulted in those who voted against ZANU-PF being brutalised and terrorised by the Zimbabwean Reserve Police (ZRP) which was then followed by the delaying of election results, as the process of rigging took place. This resulted in the ZANU-PF remaining in power and many citizens facing dire circumstances.

The root cause of the problems which are faced in Zimbabwe, go against the meaning of democracy and stem from the failure in leadership and governance in Zimbabwe. Ex-president Robert Gabriel Mugabe plunged the country into a state of economic, political and social turmoil. Much of Mugabe’s policies and actions landed Zimbabwe in an unpleasant position, whereby western countries have imposed sanctions upon the Zimbabwean state. This has caused great difficulties for the citizens who wish to embark on their journeys to become global citizens and live liberal lives. Under the Mugabe regime, the executives’ ideologies and techniques became obsolete as they were now incapable of developing economic, political and social solutions which trapped Zimbabwe in a bubble away from the dynamic world. This made Zimbabwe a stagnant nation. Any opposition party at the time who was brave enough to challenge the ZANU-PF under Mugabe was targeted and threatened with violence, which put many potential voters in fear of voting as they were afraid of being victimised.

After almost a decade, in 2017 a military coup took place in Zimbabwe which lead to the stepping down of Mugabe and the induction of Emmerson Mnangagwa. Many thought that this was a new beginning for Zimbabwe. In 2018 elections were held. Many positives did however develop from this election. There was now a possibility of elections being free and fair, a presence of international observers and commitment to public peace. This gave the people a ray of hope in the future of Zimbabwean democracy. For the first time in Zimbabwean history there were over 20 political parties running for office. Citizens went out in their numbers to vote, free of any fear of victimisation. Emmerson Mnangagwa won and the ZANU-PF still remained the ruling party. Sadly, the people were let down yet again by the electoral results. An ex-military general who was Mugabe’s right-hand man took over. This was now a new challenge. Zimbabwe is now being governed under the rule of an ex-military dictator, with the illusion of being a democratic leader. Is this now democracy to dictatorship? Or has Zimbabwe fallen into garrison democracy? 

Despite the change of presidency, the economic, social and political situation remains poor. Democracy can be defined as “filling public offices through a competitive struggle for the popular vote” in relation to this definition, it is evident to see that democracy has been falsified in Zimbabwe due to the tension of it. Democracy in Zimbabwe has become a very contested, which has led to the leaders of the ruling party partaking in unethical behaviours in order to win elections, such as the bribing of traditional leaders who play a crucial role in the coercion of voters by buying them gifts and other incentives. Which include the rigging of elections and the unfairness of the GNU, which favours the ruling party. As a system, democracy serves the interest of the people regardless of their political participation. Democracy in Zimbabwe, is ill-defined as the corrupt leaders and political elites have manipulated elections in fear of being charged because of their historical crimes such as the Gukurahundi massacre as well as losing their grip on the wealth of the nation such as the Marange diamonds. The ruling elites have also put policies in place which are for their interests and at the cost of the population, such as the allowance of candidates into party vacancies on their terms. This shows that the leadership goes against what democracy actually entails as the political elite are self-interested.

For Zimbabwe to overcome these challenges of democracy, there needs to be a complete change of the political elites who are in office. When Mugabe was in power the ZRP defended him when the people stood up and it took the military to oust him from office. Now Emmerson Mnangagwa is being defended by the military. This is a great tragedy to the democracy. As posted on twitter in solidarity with the hashtag Zimbabwean lives matter (#ZLM), there needs to be a complete reform of Zimbabwe. As brutal as it may seem, Zimbabwe may need to go into a civil war and fight for their liberation. For democracy to be effective there must move away from the traditional and tribal mindset. Citizens need to vote for candidates based on their values for human rights and economic freedom not for a person based on their ethnicity or culture. They must also refuse to be coerced by “puppet” traditional leaders. An electoral system that works on utilitarian principles does not do justice for democracy, therefore, the voices of the minority need to be heard. Also, there needs to be significant changes in the constitution, which prevents any future military intervention such as the events which took place in 2017. The country needs to become more democratic in handling situations, as the interference of the military could lead to great social unrest. 

The people of Zimbabwe need to stand against the falsification of democracy, military and police brutality, corrupt leaders, mismanagement of public funds and other issues which are tainting the democracy of Zimbabwe. In addition to this, there needs to be a completely new GNU which is centred on fairness and consideration of citizens. The claims by Dr Gono to suspend elections and rebuild the economy should be disregarded. In order for Zimbabwe to prosper democratically the dictatorship of the political elites needs to be broken down through a liberation struggle. Furthermore, a more credible electoral commission needs to be put into place to ensure that the results of the elections are not tampered with in future elections. In addition to this, that there has been a restriction in the electoral process due to inaccuracies in the consensus before elections and problems of constitutional amendments without consultation of the public. Therefore, these issues need to be tackled to ensure that elections take place in a fair and effective manner. There also needs to be a completely new perspective on the law. The law should be correctly followed and the ZRP should invoke justice on any corruption within the government. In line with this there should be the removal of any corrupt police officials within the ZRP.

Suhail Lambat is a 21 year old 3rd year student in the degree BPolSci at the University of Pretoria. He has a keen mind on issues pertaining to international politics.

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