Calls for peace after Zimbabwe vote violence

Anarchy: As well as live ammunition, tear gas was also used on anti-government protesters. © Getty

Is there any hope for Zimbabwe? Nine months after the ousting of Robert Mugabe, the country has been plunged into violence following a general election. At least six people have died.

The queues started forming well before the polls opened at 7am as masses of Zimbabweans turned out to vote in the country’s first general election in the post-Mugabe era.

The campaign had been largely peaceful, with little of the voter intimidation that plagued elections under Mugabe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa was pitted against Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year-old opposition leader. Both campaigned to improve the economy and attract foreign investment.

But on Wednesday, events showed how much progress Zimbabwe still has to make. Huge crowds of opposition protesters took to the streets of the capital, Harare. The protests turned violent as the army opened fire on the demonstrators. At least six people are dead and dozens injured.

President Mnangagwa appealed for calm, tweeting that he had been in communication with his opponent. “We must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear.”

Mnangagwa has won. The country’s electoral commission announced on Wednesday that ZANU-PF won 145 of the 210 seats in the National Assembly.

It was Mnangagwa’s sacking as vice president in November that led to the coup against Mugabe.

Mnangagwa is known as “the crocodile”. Some say the name is a reference to African nationalist rebels who fought against white majority rule. Most, however, say “it stems from his power, ruthlessness and ability to survive the tough, sometimes aggressive world of African politics,” as Sky News put it.

His victory has enraged supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network reported that some voters were turned away at 6% of polling stations nationwide. But in Harare, an opposition stronghold, this rose to 19%.

Once known as the “jewel of Africa”, Zimbabwe was devastated by Mugabe’s mismanagement. His regime plundered resources, leaving most citizens impoverished. It chased white farmers off their land and persecuted political enemies.

This election was supposed to be a turning point. But will anything really change?

Breadbasket to basket case

Not in the foreseeable future, say pessimists. Mnangagwa hardly represents a break with the past. He’s an old Mugabe ally who is believed to have orchestrated massacres in the 1980s. Their falling out was more personal than political. He clearly has no respect for democracy or the rule of law. Mugabe’s legacy will last for decades.

Have some hope, reply others. Chamisa may not have won, but he energised young voters who had known nothing other than Mugabe’s repression. His youth means he will get another chance as a more experienced operator. And nobody expected an instant transition to liberal democracy in a country as troubled as Zimbabwe.

You Decide

  1. Will anything change in Zimbabwe?
  2. How would you feel if there was mass political violence in your country?

Activities

  1. Come up with a nickname for your country’s leader (it has to be both accurate and memorable). As a class, vote on the best one.
  2. Draw a timeline of Zimbabwe’s history marking on it the turning points in the country’s history.

Some People Say...

“This land is home to all of us, and we will sink or swim together.”

Emmerson Mnangagwa

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Robert Mugabe may be out of power, but his ZANU-PF party looks set to remain in charge of Zimbabwe after Emmerson Mnangagwa won the country’s general election. There was widespread violence in the capital, Harare, following the vote. The protesters’ actions were dismissed by ZANU-PF’s spokesman, Paul Mangwana, who accused them of “banditry” and claimed they had damaged property in Harare. The protesters believe the vote was rigged.
What do we not know?
How different Mnangagwa will be from his former boss. Nobody, not even foreign governments, protested when he seized power in November. That is because they believe he is more pragmatic and business-savvy than Mugabe. We also do not know whether there will be more violence in the coming weeks and months.

Word Watch

Nelson Chamisa
Leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.
Zimbabwe
Formerly known as Rhodesia, Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa with a population of 16 million. From 1965 until 1980, it was ruled by the white minority.
Announced on Wednesday
The commission delayed announcing the results of the presidential race amid fears of more violence. However this was interpreted by the opposition as a cover-up for vote-rigging.
ZANU-PF
Mnangagwa’s party. It stands for Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front.
Coup against Mugabe
On the evening of November 14, 2017, the Zimbabwe National Army gathered around Harare and seized control of Zimbabwe’s national television station and other areas in the city. They put Mugabe under house arrest.
Impoverished
In 2017, the International Monetary Fund ranked Zimbabwe 162nd out of 187 countries for GDP per capita. The country has also suffered from hyperinflation. At one point, US$1 was worth 2,621,984,228 Zimbabwean dollars.
White farmers
In 1965 there were 250,000 white people in Zimbabwe. As of 2012, there were just 28,732. Mugabe famously said: “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man.”

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