Post-Mugabe euphoria fades with Zimbabwe’s elections
When Robert Mugabe’s brutal rule finally came to an end, millions in Zimbabwe dreamed of a brighter future — but many fear his freshly elected former ally Emmerson Mnangagwa will simply offer more of the same.
In a Harare store specialising in decorative copper products, manager Christine said many Zimbabweans “want to run away” after a deadly crackdown on protesters alleging rigging in the first elections since Mugabe’s ouster last year. “It’s really hard having your friends, having your relatives being shot while they are minding their own business,” she said.
Mnangagwa, chosen to lead the ruling ZANU-PF party after the military intervention that brought down Mugabe, was declared the winner Friday with 50.8% of the vote. It was just enough to avoid a run-off round with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who has rejected the results as fraudulent and vowed a legal challenge. Mnangagwa has hailed the election as a fresh start for Zimbabwe after years of repression and economic mismanagement under Mugabe. His promise to entice back investors is appealing in a country with wrecked public services, mass poverty and mass unemployment. But while Mnangagwa has promised an investigation into the post-election killings, rights groups worry the crackdown was a sign of more Mugabe-style repression to come.
“The same soldiers who removed Mugabe and we celebrated are now being sent to kill people after we voted,” said Douglas Kumire, whose brother Ishmael was one of the six people killed. On the night after Mnangagwa’s victory, Christine said she saw troops beating civilians in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town south of Harare. “I don’t even know why they were beating those people — they haven’t done anything wrong,” she said. “It was the soldiers, they are still out there. We are even scared of going out.”
A woman passing by the shop, who said one of her domestic staff lived in the town, was aghast at news of the beatings. “It’s horrible. But I didn’t think this sort of thing would end when Mugabe went, no,” said the pensioner, who declined to be named.
For Christine, Mnangagwa — nicknamed “The Crocodile” — is “the most dangerous one“, perhaps more so than Mugabe. “When he came, people knew it was the change of the bus driver — but the bus was the same,” she said. Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, campaigned hard among young and urban electorates and won more than twice as many votes as Mnangagwa in Harare, where many professionals dream of better opportunities.
Businessman Emmanuel Masvikeni, 46, said people were “pessimistic, disappointed” about how events have unfolded since Mugabe’s departure. “I think Zimbabwe needs to reclaim its place in Africa, in the world. Right now we are at a standstill,” he said as he left a church service. “I just hope the political leadership can come together for the sake of people, for the sake of Zimbabwe,” he added. “I think if they put us first rather than personal egos, then we will move forward.”
Corruption is a fact of life in Zimbabwe where a small elite drive powerful sports cars and eat in high-end restaurants while the majority struggle with chronic poverty.
“The new president has promised a new future but some people are still afraid, we’re not sure,” said Rhodes, a driver originally from Malawi. “As a father, now I don’t see there’s a future here for my kids — especially if I see people shooting each other,” the 42-year-old said. Maryann, a bookseller, was cautious as she bagged customers’ purchases.
“Let’s see what happens,” she said. She showed a customer a roll of freshly printed bond notes, a little-trusted token currency introduced two years ago. Supposedly they trade at parity to the US dollar, but they actually change hands for a discount of around one-third. “They gave me brand new notes at the bank today — that’s not good that they’re still printing,” she said.
The Zimbabwean dollar collapsed and in 2009 was abandoned for the US dollar and the South African rand because of rampant hyperinflation caused by excessive cash printing. Christine said it was economic desperation that had pushed young protesters onto the streets on Wednesday, only to meet with army gunfire.
“They’re just so bitter,” she said.