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When Zimbabwe stops pretending to be a democracy




On Saturday 14 January, Harare based lawyer Kudzai Kadzere was beaten by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), leaving him with a fractured hand that required surgery.




Images shared online show a long run of stitches up the inside of his arm and across his wrist, forming a bloody L shape. His “crime” was that he did his job by representing 24 four members of the opposition political party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), who had been arrested for allegedly holding an illegal meeting. “My car was blocked by riot police who started beating me … It’s sad that not only my rights have been infringed [on], but also the rights of my clients to access their lawyer,” Kadzere says




The next day tragedy turned into farce. Kadzere was arrested when he went to report the assault. Despite having visited the police station voluntarily, he was accused of having escaped from lawful custody. The thuggish treatment of Kadzere is depressing, but not surprising. No one who has been watching Zimbabwe in recent months would have expected anything else. Ahead of the general elections later this year, the government is reverting to its old ways. Behind in the polls, with limited support even within his own party and fresh out of ideas, President Emmerson Mnangagwa knows that only intimidation and electoral manipulation will keep him in power.




With a government that has given up on trying to hide its authoritarian foundations, 2023 is likely to be the country’s worst election for the next 15 years.




The squalid autocracy that President Mnangagwa presides over couldn’t be more different from the Zimbabwe he promised to create. Ahead of the 2018 general election, Mnangagwa pledged to usher in a new period of democracy and development distinguished by “free and fair” elections. The dark days experienced under his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, would be confined to the dustbin of history, as the country opened up both politically and economically.





Desperate to persuade Zimbabwean voters and international partners to overlook his violent past, Mnangagwa’s campaign even put up posters proclaiming his commitment to good governance and human rights. However, this was little more than a masquerade, a piece of political theatre that was not even sustained through the election period itself.





When opposition supporters gathered to protest against delays in announcing the presidential results and the manipulation of the process, some of the soldiers deployed to disperse them opened fire. Six people were killed. A new wave of intimidation of opposition leaders and activists followed, and still exists today.





One of the main reasons for this shift in approach is that Mnangagwa’s confidence trick didn’t work. His government failed to secure the international investment it needed, didn’t manage to remove sanctions, and has proved unable to provide even the most basic services to its citizens.




In turn, the combination of broken promises, economic hardship and rampant corruption has further undermined government support. According to the widely respected Afrobarometer survey, trust in the ruling party declined from 58% to 44% between 2017 and March/April 2022.


Robert Tapfumaneyi