In an Op-ed published in The Telegraph newspaper (August 4, 2018 ), David Coltart, Senator and founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) doubts if democratic countries will embrace Emmerson Mnangagwa as a pragmatic and inclusive leader Zimbabwe needs today.
Op-ed by David Coltart
4th August 2018
Emmerson Mnangagwa impressed me with his rhetoric when he took over as president. He spoke of a commitment to democracy, a zero tolerance to corruption, being open for business and that he would ensure free, fair and credible elections.
I was so impressed that I expressed the hope that he would be a Gorbachev rather than a Milosevic in a New Year’s message.
In the eight months since taking power the gulf between Mr Mnangagwa’s rhetoric and action has become increasingly apparent. And in the realm of democracy and the holding of credible elections, he has been found wanting.
He appointed an overtly partisan judge to head the Electoral Commission in February and since then the Commission has committed serial breaches of the Constitution and Electoral Act.
Whilst election day went smoothly and peacefully the moment the polls closed old tricks were reemployed. In one province only 105,000 people had voted between 7am and 5pm, but remarkably a further 375,000 pitched up to vote in the remaining two hours of polling.
In another province a further 10,100 voters suddenly appeared on a new voters roll illegally produced by the Commission just days before the poll.
All of this gave Mr Mnangagwa the narrow 0.8 per cent margin (some 38,000 votes) he needed to avoid a run off against Nelson Chamisa, who overcame tremendous odds to get even close.
Mr Chamisa took over a moribund MDC when Morgan Tsvangirai died in February and in a short time has totally transformed the party. By the end of his energetic campaign his rallies were attracting tens of thousands of people. On voting day he secured over a million more votes than Tsvangirai obtained in 2013.
Mr Chamisa’s defeat has shattered the hopes of young people who comprised the bulk of his support base. On Wednesday young men, sensing a fraud being perpetrated, protested. It turned violent when Zanu PF property was attacked.
Whilst the police could and should have dealt with the situation, Mr Mnangagwa (the only person constitutionally able) deployed soldiers, clearly with orders to shoot to kill with live bullets in central Harare. Six people, nearly all innocent bystanders, some women running away, were killed, another score seriously injured.
Any pretence that there is a “new dispensation” has been shattered in that one act.
Mr Mnangagwa had two objectives this year: he had to win an election and establish his legitimacy after the coup which he benefitted from. He has now won the election, but under such a cloud that it will be hard for democratic countries to embrace him as someone different to Mr Mugabe. Indeed he now bears the marks of a Milosovic, not a Gorbachev.
But Zimbabwe must not be allowed to wallow further. The international community should insist that compliance with Zimbabwe’s constitution be a prerequisite for further engagement.
Amongst other things that means the military must be returned to their barracks, the media opened up and basic civil liberties respected.
Zanu PF have won, by hook or by crook, the two thirds majority needed to change the Constitution as they please. Zimbabwe’s constitution, adopted by a 95 per cent majority in the 2013 referendum, enjoys the will of the people; Zanu PF should be told unequivocally that moves to dilute the democratic provisions in the constitution will be met by continued international isolation.
A carrot and stick approach should be adopted. If the Constitution is respected and implemented in all its fullness, then further engagement can proceed, but not before.
Mr Chamisa must be encouraged to remain committed to using the law and non-violent means to make his case before the court of international opinion.
Mr Chamisa has already confirmed that the MDC will use all legal and constitutional means to overturn this fraudulent result. The problem we face is that any electoral challenge will be brought before a partisan judiciary which has a notorious history of siding with Zanu PF. Accordingly the international community must insist on a demonstrably fair process before neutral judges (Zimbabwe has them) and provide observers to any such legal challenge.
Zimbabwe remains a country of enormous potential and opportunity, but that will remain illusory until democracy and the rule of law is respected by all Zimbabweans and the international community.
Senator David Coltart was a founder of the Movement for Democratic Change and Zimbabwean Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture 2009-2013. He is he author of “The Struggle Continues: 50 years of tyranny in Zimbabwe”