Following Zimbabwe’s shambolic August elections, even the normally accommodating Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) observation mission acknowledged that the process “fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.” So, what did Southern African leaders do at the most recent SADC Summit in Luanda? They “noted” the observation mission’s report, and nothing more. At a time when African citizens are clearly signaling [PDF] their frustration with manipulated elections and democratic window-dressing serving as cover for corrupt and authoritarian leadership, SADC leaders bury their heads in the sand.
It’s certainly not because the post-election trend line in Zimbabwe is positive, or because “quiet diplomacy” is bearing any fruit. Political violence persists in the wake of the elections. In early November, opposition member of parliament Takudzwa Ngadziore reported being abducted and violently assaulted, becoming at least the third opposition figure to report such treatment since the August elections. Still more have been arrested on spurious charges.
The state also has sustained its campaign of aiding and abetting political identity theft. First, a group with little real political base was assisted by Zimbabwe’s pliant judiciary in co-opting the name and resources of the Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s main opposition party for years, and forcing the real opposition to rebrand as the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in 2022. Most recently, after a person claiming to be the “interim Secretary-General” of the CCC wrote to the speaker of the National Assembly claiming that fifteen newly elected opposition parliamentarians were no longer members of the party, riot police were dispatched to expel them from the chamber. The letter’s author has no legitimate claim to any leadership position in the CCC; he simply gave himself a title and carried on to pursue the agenda of the ruling ZANU-PF, which aims to hold by-elections to fill those seats in their quest to build a majority large enough to change the constitution. The same imposter has asked the Minister of Local Government to remove elected mayors and city councilors who were elected under the CCC banner. The absurdity of the situation is in part intended to convey the notion that petty infighting pervades the political scene, and that Zimbabwean citizens should simply steer clear.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his inner circle believe they can act with near-total impunity. While Southern African leaders bemoan the way Zimbabwe’s protracted crisis leads to politically explosive migration and dampens investor enthusiasm, they are unable or unwilling to confront the problem. It’s the same failure of leadership that has plunged other African regions into dangerous instability.