President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ZANU-PF party are set to stay in power in Zimbabwe following an election in which they used every trick in the book to ensure a favourable result. Tactics included bans of opposition rallies, detentions of opposition activists and the use of political violence by ZANU-PF supporters. Ahead of the election new laws exerted a chilling effect on dissent and further restricted the space for civil society. The opposition has rejected the results and international observers, including from African regional organisations, have criticised the conduct of the elections. Now African bodies need to work to hold the president and government to account.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to continue as president of Zimbabwe following an election in which the ruling ZANU-PF party used every means at its disposal to skew the result in its favour. According to the official tally, Mnangagwa secured 52.6 per cent of the vote, compared to the 44.03 per cent that went to Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). The election was preceded by a systematic crackdown on dissent and held amid a climate of violence and intimidation.

Pre-election crackdown

The CCC has accused ZANU-PF of ‘blatant and gigantic fraud’ and is calling for a rerun. International observers have criticised the conduct of the election: a team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said the vote fell short of Zimbabwe’s constitutional standards and SADC guidelines. Among the issues SADC identified were biased campaign coverage by state media, voter intimidation, problems with the voting roll and voting delays, which saw the vote extended into a second day in some areas, including parts of the capital, Harare.

And then there’s the criminalisation and intimidation. Some key opposition politicians remained behind bars as the election took place. Job Shikala of the CCC has been held in pretrial detention since June 2022, and several others are detained. Some opposition politicians were banned from standing in the election. Opposition rallies were repeatedly banned. Just days before the vote, 40 CCC supporters were arrested for attending a banned rally. In rural areas there were credible reports of voter coercion.

Job Shikala was detained after speaking out over the killing of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali, allegedly murdered by a ZANU-PF supporter last year. Her memorial service saw violent clashes between CCC and ZANU-PF supporters. Her killing wasn’t the only incident of lethal violence apparently meted out by ZANU-PF supporters. In August, Tinashe Chitsunge, an opposition supporter, died after the group he was part of was ambushed by suspected ruling party supporters while on its way to a campaign event. There have also been several cases of ZANU-PF supporters assaulting journalists. While both sides committed acts of violence, ZANU-PF supporters were by far the main source.

The prevalence of violence in all its manifestations – physical, structural and cultural – remains an unfortunate hallmark of Zimbabwean elections. Lives have been lost, injuries endured and property destroyed as a result.


Mnangagwa further boosted his chances by packing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission with loyalists last year. Ruling party hostility to opposition and any forms of dissent was also bolstered by the introduction of laws that further tightened restrictions. The Patriotic Act came into force in July, creating a new crime of ‘wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe’. This is an offence intentionally broad and vague. It could be used to criminalise pretty much anyone who disagrees with the government, including people who take part in meetings where sanctions or boycotts are discussed.

Another law, the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, sailed through the ZANU-PF-dominated parliament in February. Under the guise of complying with international anti-money laundering standards, it extends the state’s powers towards civil society groups, enabling it to place them under surveillance, take them over and close them down. The law still awaits presidential assent, but with civil society organisations already facing a recent deregistration drive and being subjected to police raids, it could only serve to encourage a climate of self-censorship in the run-up to the election. Those who called for the bill to be dropped were vilified by the government and smeared by state media, which accused them of working with the opposition and foreign powers towards regime change.

Observation challenges

Civil society did its best in difficult circumstances, including by acting as election observers and engaging with international observer missions. Some of those who did so however experienced harassment and intimidation. The civil society group Southern Defenders was denied accreditation to observe the election, as was human rights lawyer Musa Kika as part of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum team, among others barred for vague ‘security reasons’. Key observers from the US-based Carter Center’s team were also denied visas, while European Union observers were smeared by state media, which claimed they were giving enticements to journalists to make false reports of electoral misconduct.

Several major foreign media outlets were denied accreditation and four activists from the regional group Good Governance Africa were deported ahead of the election. On the evening of election day, police raided an election monitoring data centre, seized computers and mobile phones and arrested 41 people, even though the organisations involved had been accredited. The internet was also reportedly restricted on election day.

Voices from the frontline

Wellington Mbofana is the former director of the Civic Education Network Trust.


Over a considerable period, Zimbabwean elections, much like those in other parts of Africa, have ceased to revolve around substantive issues and have instead become centred on political parties and personalities. This trend is evident in this election, in which major political parties failed to present their manifestos in a timely manner. The CCC unveiled its programme merely two weeks prior to voting, while ZANU-PF didn’t even bother.

Given the crumbling state of the economy, reflected in record-breaking unemployment, pervasive economic informality, escalating poverty, the world’s second-highest inflation rate and a sense of hopelessness, economic strife remained the most prominent concern for voters. Ideally, the competition should have revolved around two or three contrasting strategies for addressing these economic woes. However, what we observed was a cloud of obfuscation.

The prevalence of violence in all its manifestations – physical, structural and cultural – remains an unfortunate hallmark of Zimbabwean elections. Lives have been lost, injuries endured and property destroyed as a result.

It is also important to note that because of its fractured politics, the country is in a perpetual election mode. Over the past five years, we have had multiple recalls from parliament and local authorities, leading to by-elections. Instances of intra-party violence have also occurred during parliamentary and primary elections. Violence is a cover for ideological ambivalence and lack of substantive programmes. Who needs a manifesto when you can use force?

The ruling party also stands accused of engaging in lawfare, a tactic that uses laws to constrain the opposition and human rights defenders. These efforts are facilitated by an allegedly captured judiciary.

Declaring the election to be free and fair would be unreasonable given the political environment characterised by violence, intimidation and voter suppression, non-transparent processes with the electoral roll and ballot paper printing, pre-voting by security personnel, biased media coverage, opposition rallies barred by the police, vote buying through handouts, influence from traditional and religious leaders on voters, misuse of government resources for party campaigns and indications that some parties will reject any outcome other than their own victory, implying that the ruling party wouldn’t have handed over power if it had lost.

Based on experience, disputes around results and their resolution by the courts are to be expected. Given that the judiciary is perceived to be captured and judges were given significant ‘housing loans’ before the election, judgements against the opposition are also rightly likely to be perceived as unfair.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Wellington. Read the full interview here.

Time to act

Perhaps the only silver lining is that in the concurrent parliamentary elections, ZANU-PF didn’t get the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. If it had, it would have likely moved to change presidential term limits.

But all hope has long been lost that Mnangagwa might be any different to his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe ruled for 37 increasingly dictatorial years from independence in 1980 until 2017, when the military ousted him and put Mnangagwa in his place. Mnangagwa has continued business as usual, running the country in the interests of a corrupt elite, underpinned by fierce repression.

The elite live well but Zimbabwe’s economy continues to be in crisis, with one of the world’s highest inflation rates and sky-high unemployment levels. Vital services are falling apart as highly qualified workers have migrated, taking their skills to other countries. These are hardly the sort of economic conditions in which an incumbent party might be expected to win an election, had the election been free and fair.

It’s yet to be seen whether the CCC will formally challenge the results, something the law says should happen within a week of results being announced – although with the courts consistently shewed towards the government due to the president interfering in judicial appointments, its chances of succeeding appear slim.

Responsibility should now fall to the key regional institutions – SADC and the African Union. They shouldn’t ignore the concerns expressed by international election monitoring missions, including their own, which rarely go this far. While Mnangagwa will continue to dismiss criticism from the west, that from his own continent should be harder to ignore. Regional observer missions must call for further investigation and accountability over abuses, and African institutions should be prepared to engage with both government and opposition to find a way forward.


  • The Zimbabwean government should repeal the Patriotic Act and withdraw the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill.
  • The government should release from detention all people held on spurious charges.
  • The Southern African Development Community and African Union should follow up on the concerns expressed in election observer missions and broker dialogue between the government and opposition.

Cover photo by Zinyange Auntony/AFP via Getty Images