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"Broken Wings Of Change: Zimbabwean Polls And The Fight For Democracy"

Since the year 2000, Zimbabwe has experienced contested poll results. In spite of this, the general populace has been persistently voting due to the need for change and conviction that the opposition will sooner or later alternate power. However, this can no longer be said to be the opinion of some Zimbabwean voters after the August 2023 democratic suffocation. In this shambolic election, what the ruling party did was nothing other than pushing off limits. The long-standing election misconducts dismay through deliberate negligence only to stimulate election exhaustion among electorates to its zenith. So in this stand, in which wings of change seem to be broken each time when Zimbabweans seek to find the way out of their struggles, there has been shattered hope for change, hence raising concerns about the future of elections in Zimbabwe.

Background of the study.

To understand the contextual study, the incumbent has secured another term in the so-called second republic, which many citizens believe is an undeserved and stolen victory. At the same time, things are laid up to be scrutinised by the opposition as after each election the party is going on self-ruin, amid heavy infiltration allegations aimed to portray Nelson Chamisa as having a legitimacy crisis.

However, the incumbent also dismisses this view by suggesting the opposition as a band of musical discord, while the truth is that the incumbent holds a different political card compared to Mugabe, which is “one-party state”. This view rises from the fact that elections carried bad memories to President Emmerson Mnangagwa who had been said to have never won a free and fair election in his political career.

To achieve its goal, the incumbent dismantled the legacy of Morgan Tsvangirai, leaving the electorate with a struggling opposition party, forming new parties each and every time to avoid sinking into political oblivion. However, it must be noted that this move was not enough to dismantle such a strong opposition which masses do believe to be the saviour of their own plights, so the 2023 election was an opportunity to hit hard and deter electorates from participating in future elections as they are a stumbling block standing in-between them and their zeal for infinite rule.

Contextual study

Therefore, what must be understood about how August 2023 was unique in terms of marking a democratic death knell was that such novice rigging conveyed a clear message to frustrated Zimbabweans that their votes do not count. Such actions have directly put people in balloting depression vis-a-vis economic hardship which they used to think idealistically would be ended by voting. So facing such harsh realities might drive the electorates to believe that power transformation through elections is elusive; a Zimbabwean electorate is now a tired electorate who now has a mixed feeling of politics which causes despondency over it.

Electorates perceptions over the impact of their vote

First and foremost, the electorate now believes that their votes have little impact due to a long history of casting votes without seeing meaningful change. This pessimistic view stems from a sense of powerlessness and doubt regarding the opposition's ability to bring about change. The August 2023 elections have further reinforced this belief, amid a long period of complaining about the electoral body’s partiality towards the ruling party without reformation. To make matters worse, some regional body leaders have also reflected to be biassed through a brotherhood approach to the election controversy thereby betraying the voters' will and dreams. This action has a detrimental effect especially on Zimbabweans who had been heavily devoted to sending ZANU-PF out of office believing that someday there will be help out there of which the chance came and blew away when they were counting on SADC to be the saviour over their case.

History revealed that since 2000 opposition had been crying foul over vote rigging, in the 2008 elections it came out clear that the incumbent had lost the battle to Tsvangirai but due to rigging they proclaim the opposition winner to have not reached the majority vote which led to a pushed Government of national unity by SADC when everyone was expecting the total alternation of government. Similar disappointments occurred in the 2018 elections, where the hopes for change were dashed in front of the constitutional court.

August 2023 campaign messaging by the opposition leader has also unveiled how the question of vote rigging was becoming a relevant issue to electorates who had been voting and witnessing the ruling party prospering without any impactful response from the opposition. Thus in addressing the question, he used to proclaim a robust plan with a famous statement "rwendo rwuno hazvikoni, takarima mhiripiri". This was used as an assurance to voters with regards to vote rigging but soon after the results were announced, it appears that SADC was his only move which failed dismally. So when people reckon on all of this they might feel like never to vote again, they have seen opposition being crushed in courts and as well witnessed it being sidelined by the regional bodies which poses the question what if what we are fighting for is not attainable in Zimbabwe unlike other countries which used to be sources of inspiration.

More so, election lethargy is also a significant issue. Zimbabweans have witnessed so many years of undesirable experiences, including oppression, torture, and coercion during each election, which might now result in trauma and exhaustion. Whenever the results fall out of the incumbent's favour, the bullet always shreds the ballot. The ruling party constantly thwarted their efforts to defend the vote, often resorting to violence. The memories of widespread violence in the 2002 and 2008 elections, as well as the army's killing of citizens in 2018, have left a lasting impact. Even in rural areas, the patronization of social services has caused immense suffering to anyone who seems to oppose it. So when all this turns to count, electorates might disengage in politics, which brings more dangers and focus on their lives, which will neither be good nor better; they just shun politics and give everything to the future.

However, while some have labelled the opposition as feeble, the truth is that Zimbabweans understand their challenges. But still, it must be admitted that urgency now matters for the battle has been fought for so long and each time the morale and hopes are fading. Thus despite confiding with it, doubts about the opposition's motives and factional fights within the party have contributed to questioning the efficacy of their efforts. The continuous cycle of factions and power struggles raises suspicions about whether the opposition truly aims to transform the lives of the populace or if it is driven by power and personal gain. Surely, elections from 2008 have been accompanied by opposition factional fights, and all of them have been pointing to issues of power, and shockingly, elite politics have tended to develop within this system which is a blunder to the opposition which turns a blind eye to the fact that a leopard never changes its skin.

Biti, Job Sikhala, and Welshman Ncube broke away from Tsvangirai only to reunite with Nelson Chamisa in 2022, Thokozani Khupe broke away from the party in 2018 only to be readmitted in 2022 and now the same people are alleged to be behind the fall of Citizens Coalition for Change party. So when this comes to an electorate's mind in desperate times such political blunders do not add up to a meaningful determination for change rather than an elitist game of power. So to this end, it must be agreed that with such harsh realities, a Zimbabwean electorate is now a literate political animal which makes them rational, of course, they believe that revolutions take time but as we have different types of voters, the opposition is losing traction especially to non-party sympathisers for they now question that until when will they live with such discords, is the party going somewhere or is it standing still. Hence this alone will have a huge impact on the future of Zimbabwe though what must be agreed is that despite such questions and doubt electorates prefer the Nelson Chamisa party because it is the only hope for change.

Incumbent's actions and lack of international community response

The incumbent's actions and the lack of international community response have nurtured disenchantment with politics, which might allow the ruling party to achieve its goal of destroying democracy. After years of trying and witnessing the suffering of Zimbabweans, the lack of international community action has brought a severe blow to democracy in the country. The opposition's clear victory in the 2008 elections was undermined by the SADC regional body's push for a Government of National Unity. This lack of attention from the international community raises doubts about their commitment to the well-being of Zimbabweans. The inaction of regional bodies like SADC, who failed to take strong action against the incumbent for the shambolic elections in 2023, further reinforces the sense that no one can stop the ruling party. This renders elections meaningless and highlights the corruption within regional bodies.

In addition, the international community's purpose in observing and regulating elections through organisations like SADC is called into question when no action is taken to address electoral flaws. The Zimbabwean election failed to pass the litmus test, and the international community has robust evidence that the elections had many flaws to be considered an election but no response has been felt yet to cheer the desperate Zimbabweans. In fact, Zimbabweans now understand that an election is nothing more than a ritual by which external observers are being called upon just to be spectators, for these have nothing to help with rather than continue to write a repetition of the recommendation which they have been recommending from all along. However, these external observers might try to critique this view by revealing a set of their limitations but this will not push away such a flaw which renders them less relevant especially when such an international community voice is needed the most.

National sliding into one party state

Definitely, the 2023 election marked a death knell for democracy amid the massive need for the opposition to come up with a major plan to convince the electorate and give them a real reason why they should believe in the elections as a form of power transformation. Also through organised recalls, it is now open that the incumbent succeeded in democracy suffocation, its aim of securing a two-thirds majority was achieved, now in parliament they are pushing for constitutional amendments that facilitate unchecked looting of state funds through legislations such as Mutapa investment fund. There are even murmurs about pushing for another term for the incumbent.

The disenchantment and suffocation of democracy are slowly changing Zimbabwe into a de facto one-party state. This is a matter of concern, as countries in similar situations often face a high risk of coups. Unfortunately, Zimbabweans suit this criteria as their capacity to hold revolutions is limited because they are repressed citizens who are presumed to be law-abiding and peace-loving. To this view, suffice to say to understand the Zimbabwean situation you must be a Zimbabwean for their characterization is a battle of appearance and reality.


Considering what lies ahead for Zimbabweans, it becomes apparent that the wings of change have been broken. The events of August 23 constituted an unconstitutional change of government, yet regional bodies have offered only lip service. The African Union, despite its actions against Yaya Jammeh in Gambia, has ostensibly forgotten its responsibilities and determination towards democracy. This raises questions about who benefits from Zimbabwe's problems. If we truly believe that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, these organisations would not allow the incumbent to get away with such a sham election.

Edited by Avanie Hiranandani

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