President Mnangagwa is questioning the need for election observers … and it’s not hard to work out why

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a meeting with civil society organisations on August 22, 2020 at the State House in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. – Civil society groups met the president among other stakeholders for talks on the exhumation and reburial of Gukurahundi massacre victims. Some 20,000 people were killed during the 1980s, when late ex-president Robert Mugabe led a military-style crackdown on alleged militants known as Gukurahundi. (Photo by ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP)

On a recent state visit to Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa praised Malawi for successfully holding its election re-run without the presence of foreign observers and questioned whether they were required for polls in the region.

Sound familiar?

In 2011, the then British Ambassador to Zimbabwe sought clarity on whether Western observers would be allowed into the country. Mugabe answered explicitly in the negative: “Zimbabwe cannot invite people who have imposed sanctions on her to be observers because by imposing sanctions, Britain has demonstrated her dislike of one side while favouring the other.” Since then Zimbabwe has remained under sanctions from Britain, the European Union and the United States of America. Most international election observers are commonly drawn from these countries and are generally deployed in the region to help safeguard voting integrity.

Mnangagwa’s sentiment runs very similar to his predecessor’s when complimenting Malawi. Mnangagwa stated: “Here is a country which has held … elections without the United Nations, without SADC and almost all of these civil society organisations observing the elections, but they were successful, peaceful elections conducted by Malawi on its own … This makes us think whether it’s still necessary in future for SADC countries to look for supervisors from across oceans.”

While the success of Malawi’s re-run election should be commended, it must be noted that the election took place under extraordinary circumstances, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, making the absence of international observers more an act of fate than design. Travel restrictions, quarantine rules and health considerations in connection with Covid-19 also impacted the non-attendance of international election observers. However, it remains a seminal election because it was the first on the continent held as a result of a court overturning an election result.

We must question Mnangagwa’s true intentions for questioning foreign election observer teams deployed in his country.

In the absence of foreign election observers, how can Zimbabwe’s future elections be protected? Who all falls into the foreign election observers’ basket? Does it include the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer teams as well? Fortunately, for the sake of good governance and accountability, it is highly unlikely that either the continental or regional organisation would agree to a request to not deploy their election observer teams in the absence of Covid-19 restrictions.

Lessons from Malawi for Zimbabwe

Instead of subverting the lessons from the Malawi experience, Mnangagwa might rather learn and benefit from them, which may assist in the consolidation of democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe.

While there was the full participation of all political parties, doubts persisted relating to the timing of the re-run election, lack of international assistance and observers. A key lesson was Malawi’s adoption of a ‘home-grown ownership’ of the election process. While there were no international election observers present, embassies, the UN and international organisations with a pre-existing presence in the country were accredited as observers. There were also national election observers from about 20 different local stakeholders, including civil society groups, academia, ecclesiastical and human rights organisations. Most agreed that the re-run election process and results were legitimate. Malawi should be applauded for the manner, under very trying circumstances, in which it conducted a credible election.

Mnangagwa fails to appreciate the positive long-term effects of the ‘legal miracle’ that played out in the 2020 Malawi election, that was extraordinary because as stated it was the first on the continent held as a result of a court overturning an election result. Moreover, the incumbent was defeated and stepped down. The boldness of the Malawian judiciary in checking executive power and upholding critical election governance structures is laudable. It should catalyse regional pro-democracy activists to advocate for judicial independence, especially where the judiciary has been co-opted and corrupted, as in Zimbabwe. One should read between the lines when Mnangagwa focuses only on the absence of foreign observers rather than on the fact that the incumbent stepped down. The judiciary’s ability to hold the executive to account is one of the most crucial elements of establishing the rule of law.

A further lesson to be adopted from Malawi’s election relates to the finalisation of election reports typically produced by international election observer teams. A fundamental limitation was exposed in that most international observers compiled their reports based on the formal framework of the election, including the pre-and post-election periods. However, from the Malawi experience, the major contestation arose from the ballot counting process itself in the 2019 elections. By the time the results had been tallied, most observers had either left the country or completed their deployment and had submitted their election observation reports. This resulted in a situation whereby the international election observation reports unwittingly created the misconception that the election was held in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner and was in fact used as a justification by former President Mutharika to endorse his flawed election victory.

Herein lies the lesson: the international election observers may have unwittingly contributed to the polarised situation that followed. Rather than simply questioning the efficacy of international election observers, regarding upcoming elections in the region, Mnangagwa should instead call for a careful study of the Malawian experience. This would help him to better understand the important lessons for future international election observer deployments as well as to develop measures to ensure that the irregularities of Malawi’s 2019 election and Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections do not create opportunities for the incumbent to abuse.

Playing the blame game

Mnangagwa’s utterances betray the fact that his regime would rather avoid electoral accountability altogether. Nonetheless, the fact that he commented at all suggests that we can assume that he harbours some residual concerns about the validity of future election outcomes in Zimbabwe.

Ironically, if indeed international election observers were stopped from observing, who will he blame for foreign interference and where will he find a plausible excuse for possible electoral fraud? Mnangagwa stated: “It’s a question which we are still interrogating.” For the sake of good governance and the consolidation of democracy, we can only hope in his statement he is referring to the “royal we” and does not include the other SADC regional leaders.

This article first appeared in Democracy In Africa here

Craig Moffat, PhD is the Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact for Good Governance Africa’s National Security Programme. He has more than 17 years of practical experience working for government institutions and multilateral organisations. He was previously employed by the South African Foreign Service, where he worked extensively at identifying and analysing security threats towards South Africa as well as the southern Africa region. Previously, he was the political advisor for the Pretoria Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stellenbosch University.

Zimbabwe’s ban on mobile money adds to suffering of its citizens

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which has also closed the stock exchange over forex concerns, has hit people already losing livelihood options during the Covid-19 lockdown hard

A man shows a wad of the new Zimbabwean ten-dollar notes received from an ATM outside a bank in Harare on May 20, 2020. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced this higher denomination bank note into circulation together with the Zimbabwean two-dollar and Zimbabwean five-dollar notes to ease perennial shortages of cash experienced in the country. Photo JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP

The Zimbabwean government has, for a prolonged period, been engaged in a losing battle to stem illegal foreign exchange market activities. As has been the fashion, the regime has blamed runaway inflation and spiraling price increases on nefarious activities by “market saboteurs”.

Among these innumerable efforts, in the first week of June, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) threatened to embark on an unusual exercise. It sought to pursue illegal foreign currency dealers via the surveillance of WhatsApp groups through its financial intelligence unit, in collaboration with the police, banks, mobile-money service providers and relevant regulatory agencies. It threatened to bar and freeze suspects’ mobile numbers and accounts. This proved impossible.

On June 23, the RBZ then introduced a foreign exchange auction system (FEAS), which resulted in a move from a fixed exchange rate on the interbank market, which had, since March, been pegged at one US dollar to 25 Zimbabwe dollars (ZWL). After the introduction of the FEAS, the US dollar is now officially trading at 57 ZWL, against a black-market rate of between 80 and 100 ZWL.

On June 26, three days after the introduction of the FEAS, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information and publicity, Nick Mangwana, announced a ban, with immediate effect, on all mobile-money transactions (MMTs) and trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE). These drastic measures were described as making way for “intrusive investigations” into illegal dealings linked to the foreign currency black market, in which EcoCash is cited as the “centre pivot”.

In terms of market share, EcoCash, a subsidiary of Econet, accounts for about 97% of Zimbabwe’s mobile-money services. In addressing a crucial gap in Zimbabwe’s cash crisis, MMT services have, nonetheless, made the country’s economy vulnerable to a multiplicity of illicit foreign currency activities.

That said, the RBZ must not lose sight of its contributory role to this crisis through its (mis)management of the nation’s banking system that led to the liquidity crisis in the first place. This birthed and nurtured the mobile-money system that has since spiraled off its radar and, hence, out of its control.

Like any other stock exchange, the ZSE serves as a critical link for investors in the country. The loudest, yet most unfortunate, message from the temporary ban on its trading is that Zimbabwe is not only closed for business but also has no regard for investors’ property rights. Indeed, typical of the proverbial “burning down the house to kill a rat” or “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, this drastic measure is not good for investor confidence.

Further to this looming ZSE national catastrophe, the repercussions of which are yet to fully play out, is the plight of citizens already burdened by a loss of livelihood options during this indefinitely extended Covid-19 lockdown, that is most concerning. After the shock announcement of a blanket suspension of mobile-money services, the RBZ emerged, seemingly to avert a crisis, and reviewed the ban. This reviewed statement indicated that the ban is on MMT agents and merchant mobile-money account holders, while individual transactions up to a maximum of 5,000 ZWL are permitted.

Despite this reversal of the blanket ban and the assurance given by RBZ, Mangwana’s utterance has led to anxiety and a loss of confidence, with some street vendors and supermarkets already declining mobile-money payments.

For citizens battling a worsening economic crisis under the lockdown, this unfortunate development further impoverishes people, most of whom are Econet subscribers, who constitute an unbanked population that has found relief in transacting through mobile-money services.

For the few that are banked, the protracted liquidity crisis has seen citizens brave endless days and nights in long, winding queues in an effort to secure limited withdrawals each week. It is not unusual to leave the bank empty-handed even after dedicating oneself to these queues.

Apart from the often prohibitive costs associated with opening and maintaining a bank account, MMTs have offered a lifeline amid Zimbabwe’s protracted liquidity crisis. The Covid-19 context has also increased the demand for mobile-money services. This is because in light of the increasing levels of police abuse and brutality, they are a safer option in the current context in which citizen mobility, even for access to essential services, is restricted.

MMT services have also fulfilled transacting needs within an already failing banking sector, which, due to Covid-19 social-distancing regulations, has been operating below capacity. The digitalised transacting on mobile-money platforms offered by EcoCash, OneMoney, MyCash and Telecash have come to the rescue of consumers.

Last Friday’s announcement is evidence of a huge climbdown by the RBZ. Mangwana retweeted the climbdown with no hint of irony. This announcement has the potential to decimate what is left of Zimbabwe’s meagre economy and points to a governance system that has failed to subordinate itself to the rule of law.

The government should manage its communications system and segment information outflows so that announcements are delivered by the appropriate authorities, in this case the RBZ and the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Since this is not the first example of such a case in Zimbabwe, until such time as public officials are brought to publicly account for their utterances, with consequences, not much reform can be expected in this regard.

As observed by telecommunications expert Dennis Magaya, the government’s failure to contain illegal foreign currency activities confirms a “widening gap” between a fast-changing digital world and Zimbabwe’s current monetary policy framework. This should be subject to regular review, in line with prevailing digital advances, to ensure that while monetary operations are not beyond its purview, they remain investor- and citizen-friendly.

A long-term solution to Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis, which inevitably fuels the illegal foreign currency exchange market, must be found. Beyond the concerns of manipulation and illegality and hyperinflation as a result of money supply mismanagement, the latest crackdown compounds already immeasurable suffering for the majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

This article first appeared on Business Day here

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

From Willowgate to Covidgate: Three Decades of Malfeasance in Zimbabwe

The Robert Mugabe-led government’s response to the Willowgate scandal in Zimbabwe will go down in history as a missed opportunity for setting a precedent of combatting malfeasance. Although there had been earlier corruption scandals, like the Paweni grain supply scandal in the early 1980s, Willowgate is one of the country’s biggest “grand corruption” scandals, with some of its surviving beneficiaries, like Fredrick Shava and Jacob Mudenda, still enjoying the fruits of a culture of clientelism in the form of plum diplomatic assignments and continued service in public offices.

Malfeasance has become endemic in post-colonial Zimbabwe, as evidenced by other scandals dotted between Willowgate and Covidgate (also known as Draxgate, the 2020 COVID-19 medical supplies corruption scandal). There is a structural corruption continuum that has reinforced each president’s hold on power and enabled political elites’ personal enrichment. The evident absence of political will by the two respective presidents to acknowledge and support legitimate anti-corruption citizen initiatives reveals their compromised standing in this regard.

Firstly, President Robert Mugabe consciously and conveniently ignored Willowgate. This scandal occurred only four years after President Robert Mugabe launched the ZANU-PF Leadership Code that he ostensibly instituted to combat corruption after the Paweni grain scandal. The main consequence of him and his ruling coalition’s response to the Willowgate scandal has been the entrenchment, over at least three decades, of a culture of corruption in general, but also malfeasance with impunity. As indicated by the graphic below, the perception of corruption in the very institutions that are meant to uphold the rule of law and minimise malfeasance is widespread among citizens:

Source: Afrobarometer data; graphics by Monique Bennett ©

Mwatwara and Mujere’s analysis of grand corruption in Zimbabwe echoes these sentiments, noting that “in post-colonial Zimbabwe, the scourge has worsened because of the culture of impunity that the current government has established, especially in cases where politicians are involved”. Public resources meant to support critical services in various sectors such as public health and education continue to be misappropriated and plundered without any political will to deter, punish or even recover and restore them to their rightful use of improving services and developing public infrastructure.

The prevalence of malfeasance in the health ministry at such a critical juncture – when the world’s resources  are being channelled towards strengthening healthcare systems in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic – has proven beyond reasonable doubt that ordinary citizens bear the greatest brunt of high-level corruption. The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) notes: “This commitment to saving livelihoods cannot be separated from the political commitment to transparency and accountability towards eradicating endemic corruption for such measures to be affected and effective. Alas, in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, clientelism continues to mar such commitment through corruption scandals involving senior government officials and their families.”

Although the Zimbabwean Constitution provides for mechanisms to ensure the integrity and accountability of public officials, the investigations, prosecutions and sanctions of such identified cases has largely remained cosmetic. The government’s response has instead been an onslaught against citizen expression and media freedom. Three decades on, the response is still designed to protect the offender and disable, censor and even punish the whistle-blower. The sense of de javu in Geoff Nyarota’s dismissal from being editor of The Chronicle after exposing Willowgate and Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest on 20 of July 2020 for engaging in an unwavering social media anti-corruption campaign, is crushing.

In a bid to ignore the corruption scandal, Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest was framed conveniently as “inciting public violence” and not as exposing malfeasance. Although he was eventually granted bail after 44 days in pre-trial detention at the notorious Chikurubi prison, the stringent bail conditions that curtail his freedom of movement and bar him from using Twitter are testimony to the risks that accompany investigative journalism and the anti-corruption crusade. Further to this, Hopewell’s case points to how this endemic corruption has eroded, in its wake, the independence of the country’s judiciary.

To ensure the protection of public officials, there is a clear plot to control the operations of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, whose chairperson, Justice Loice Matanda Moyo, is wife to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and November 2017 coup announcer Sibusiso Moyo. It is a clear case of a conflict of interest.

Further to this, there is now a structural threat to the freedom of the judiciary in Chief Justice Malaba’s memorandum directing that all judgments are to be “seen and approved by the head of court division” before being issued. While this was strongly contested, the directive’s threat to the independence of the judiciary is evident in the delays and uncertainties that characterised Hopewell Chin’ono’s case. He was not only denied bail three times but was deprived even of his right to fair legal representation. The targeted personal attacks on his lead lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, her intimidation and subsequent barring from representing him, all point to the multi-sectoral cost of malfeasance in Zimbabwe. It has not only eroded the country’s economy but tragically, the independence of institutions that are meant to protect the citizens.

However, the Zimbabwean case confirms that despite the supreme law of the land having clearly defined provisions for combating corruption, this is insufficient. Much more needs to be done, as noted by the IIAG, to combat “the culture of clientelism that has bred continued disinvestment in infrastructure on the African continent”. Transparency International’s Delia Ferreira Rubio observes a correlation between high levels of corruption and weak rule of law, curtailed access to information and reduced citizen participation. Corruption is a threat to citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. Transparency International calls for strategies that will nip corruption in the bud, such as putting in place legal frameworks and institutions that reduce impunity for the corrupt and enlarging space for civil society voices as well as entrenching integrity and values through education.

As Zimbabwean citizens continue to dispute the legitimacy of the current government, it is worth imagining a different future, a future in which adequately punitive and judiciously executed consequences (that serve as a sufficient deterrent to corruption) are instituted. The Zimbabwean fight against malfeasance must indeed go beyond the verbal remonstrations characteristic of both eras, and the “catch and release” approach that has largely been a feature of the Mnangagwa regime.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.


Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Can South Africa get it right this time?

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)


Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent  clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.

For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken  an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.

South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.

The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks,  heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of  non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.

A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.


Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

Do citizen protests matter?

A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is required to create a genuine civilian government in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (C) and colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested during an anti-corruption protest march on July 31, 2020 in Harare. Police were enforcing a ban on protests coinciding with the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election.  PHOTO: ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP

Ahead of planned mass protests on July 31, Zimbabwe’s state security apparatus cracked down on citizens. Largely initiated via social media, the calls for the protests galvanised popular sentiment and mobilised citizens to exercise a co-ordinated political voice against corruption, the failing economy and repression.

The regime responded by sending a strong signal to would-be dissenters. In a startling resemblance to events unfolding in Belarus, it arrested journalists and detained, abducted and tortured opposition members, or indeed anyone appearing to question the state.

For consistently exposing government malfeasance and corruption, veteran journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was abducted from his home on July 20. In particular, Chin’ono had revealed Covid-19 related corruption to the tune of $60m.

He is being unlawfully detained at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Arrested on the same day was Jacob Ngarivhume, who had been spearheading the calls for a July 31 protest.

Both were spuriously charged under the auspices of inciting citizens to participate in public violence. Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was then accused of treating the court with contempt because of comments on a Facebook page associated with her.

She has since been barred from defending Chin’ono in a mockery of the rule of law.
In addition to these arrogations of justice, the military junta imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (ostensibly to slow the spread of Covid-19) and openly beat citizens and opposition members.

Five senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) and its two vice-presidents have recently appeared in court, along with other activists. The Zimbabwean judiciary has been co-opted by Zanu-PF, and opposition groups and many civil society organisations have been infiltrated by the regime.

Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono (R) watches while police search of his offices in Harare on July 21, 2020,  a day after he was arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence. PHOTO: JEKESAIi NJIKIZANA / AFP

The government then attacked a judicious pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference, stating that the letter’s “evil message reeks with all the vices that have perennially hobbled the progress of Africa”.

It accuses the archbishop of “fanning the psychosis of tribal victimisation”, dismissing the Gukurahundi massacre of the early 1980s as a mere “dark spot”. It is far worse than that, with upwards of 20,000 people recklessly murdered while the very perpetrators hold positions of power today.Despite this narrowing of the democratic space in Zimbabwe over recent months, largely behind the smokescreen of Covid-19, the Southern African Development Community has failed to condemn the behaviour of the regime.

Bilaterally, SA eventually responded by sending the first of what will likely be a number of diplomatic envoys to Zimbabwe. SA is at least now shedding the hollow excuse of non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign state that tends to animate foreign policy.

Through premeditated violence, the July 31 mass protests were scuppered before they started. Hopes of a southern Arab Spring were dashed. Does this suggest that public protest is not worth it, especially given that the Arab Spring largely turned to a prolonged winter of discontent?

No. Were it not for the planned uprising, the world would have continued to turn a blind eye. Some serious focus is now directed towards Zimbabwe, particularly through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign.

This is a necessary — if insufficient — condition for change, given the state’s denial of the crisis and its culpability in human rights violations.
A sustained combination of internal and external pressure is now required to convince the military to relinquish power and create the space for a genuine civilian government to be formed.

Internally, the probability of a credible coup attempt seems low. The 2017 coup that ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule is historically anomalous. Constantino Chiwenga (the vice-president) appears unlikely to upend President Emmerson Mnangagwa, despite apparent tensions between them.
Had credible internal support for a coup existed, it is difficult to see why Chiwenga wouldn’t have launched one already.

When Mnangagwa retired four generals loyal to Chiwenga in early 2019, that would, presumably, have been the opportunity. Either way, the internal dynamics of the governing coalition (and state-military relations) are not stable and could potentially be exploited to effect change.

South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa. PHOTO: GCIS

The probability of free and fair elections being held any time soon is close to zero. The last elections (2018) were a charade and resulted in a predictable unleashing of violence against citizens. Economically, the situation is dire, with 90% of the population out of formal employment and inflation above 700%.

As a result, citizen appetite for revolt appears ripe. While the regime’s calculus is that repression is less costly than reform, an active citizenry can nonetheless win out.

Externally, global powers presumably have a direct self-interest in ensuring regional stability and need to step up to the plate.

But the US and the UK face intense pressures on the home front that they are struggling to address. And China and Russia hardly epitomise respect for human rights. Their respective leaders have shattered internal power-sharing mechanisms and are hardly likely to condemn Zimbabwe for pursuing autocratic consolidation.

SA — its political leaders and its businesses with interests in Zimbabwe (such as Anglo Platinum, Implats, Old Mutual and Pick n Pay) — will therefore have to intensify efforts to intervene fruitfully in Zimbabwe. A serious second envoy, including President Cyril Ramaphosa himself, is surely the next step.

Below is a World Economic Forum video on the role of civil society in shaping a future where people matter.


This article first appeared in the South African newspaper Business Day here.


Dr Ross Harvey is Director of Research & Programmes at GGA. Ross is a natural resource economist and policy analyst, and he has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.

Zimbabwe: One vast informal business

The collapse of the economy has seen thousands of traders flooding into Harare

Downtown Harare. PHOTO Sadat Sanhehwe

Zimbabwe’s economy has seen a drastic collapse since 2000. Once a fairly highly industrialised country, Zimbabwe is now a vast informal economy after the collapse of its once-thriving manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Industry is operating at 30% of its capacity. Since 2011, more than 6,000 companies have closed shop, rendering hundreds of thousands unemployed, according to a 2016 Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) study. The CZI is the umbrella body of the manufacturing industry.

Hundreds of thousands of school leavers are graduating with no hope of formal employment, the CZI says. Unemployment now hovers around 85% and for many, the only hope is now in the informal sector.

With the late President Robert Mugabe holding onto power for 37 years, the chances of any respite are next to zero even under President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe is credited with lording it over a dying economy rife with corruption, fraud and tenderpreneurs, who are mostly politicians and well-connected party supporters.

Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, has historically prided itself as being Africa’s “Sunshine City”; its once- gorgeous First Street Mall was often referred to as “little London”. Its infrastructure and service provision were without comparison in the region outside South Africa.

Harare was a functional and hopeful city; it was peaceful, safe and pretty, especially with its jacaranda trees in full purple bloom. But no longer. The sun still shines, but more likely in anger as it looks down on an unsightly mess. Thousands of desperate informal traders, or vendors, have flooded into the city centre to sell all manner of goods in front of high-street shops. It’s only a matter of time before grinding mills – used for grinding maize into the staple, mealie meal – line up along First Street, adding their roar to the dissonance of vendors’ competing megaphones, touting underwear and affordable perfumes.

All this informal and largely unregulated activity, which offers all manner of products and services, including toiletries, motor vehicle spares and basic foodstuffs for sale to passersby, is seen as the “dark side” of the economy. Yet for many Zimbabweans it is a crucial resource for survival, given the collapse of formal employment.

“The best thing that ever happened to me is this stall,” says Marjorie Kandawa, a clothing vendor in her early thirties, who runs an informal business near Harare’s Copacabana bus terminus, in the central business district. Her selection of used clothes is spread out on the street, half of which she and her fellow vendors have taken over.


Vegetable seller Shorai Kavhute, Harare © Sadat Sanhehwe

Kandawa says she used to be a clothing designer for a leading retail group, but cheap clothes from China and elsewhere had rendered her industry redundant. “But when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” she says with a smile.

As she is interviewed, she continues to shout out the prices of her wares to passersby, competing with the din of traffic and hooting motorists – as well as the voices of fellow vendors calling out the virtues of their own offerings. Along the street, the goods and services on offer include clothes, agricultural produce, electronic goods, cosmetics, kitchen utensils, spices, fast foods, street photography and even farm implements.

Michael Hodobo, a young man barely out of his teens, is busy roasting fresh mealies (corn cobs) in the city centre. He says he has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Zimbabwe, but has never had a formal job. “My brother,” he says, “the only marketing I am now doing is of these mealies. But I am making a living from it!”

Another graduate, Hazel Mujuru, also in her early twenties, a psychology major, runs a thriving car-wash enterprise nearby with eight colleagues. Near the Machipisa Business Centre in Highfield, Emily Chikide, in her late forties, keeps a stall selling chickens, in competition with 12 others. Even so, she says, she earns about $400 a month from her business, after costs.

According to Stanley Zvorwadza, president of the Vendors Association of Zimbabwe, studies have shown that around 50% of the informal businesses are owner-run, with the other 50% staffed by employees. About 45% of the business owners earned $400 a month, 30% between $251 and $399, 15% between $100 and $200, and 10% less than $100 from their informal business activities. The cash is used for education, remittances, rent and buying food. About 50% earned enough to sustain their household needs.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority describes an informal trader as an “individual who carries on a trade for his own account from which he derives gross income of less than $6,000… This includes a hawker, street vendor, a person who sells articles at a peoples’ market or flea market, and a person who manufactures or processes any articles in or from residential premises”.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu says retailers are grappling with the challenges posed by the mass of vendors in the city centre. They have asked local authorities to ensure that vendors operate in designated trading areas, rather than occupying space in front of formally registered businesses, which they see as unfair competition.

“Harare has literally legalised vending carts. These, with illegal street vending, have given the retail business nightmares,” Mutashu says. He added that night-time vending was also “rampant” in other cities.

Across town in the sprawling high-density suburb of Highfield, a different type of informal business is underway. Here the clanking of hammer on metal is everywhere. Car mechanics, panelbeaters, wood and metal fabricators thrive here. “I run my own carpentry shop here,” says Laxon Zvakavapano, 37. “I employ five young men who help me out. Business is booming. Even if the economy were to change for the better, I will not seek employment elsewhere.”

This section of Highfield is called Engineering, a reference to the range of engineering or manufacturing trades underway here. Zvakavapano sells his products to the big furniture shops in the city. “The big companies which used to manufacture furniture have long ceased to exist,” he explains. “But we, the carpenters, are still around. Now we are producing the same quality products, but at less cost.”

Technology-savvy young men have ventured into new industries created by innovation. Computer and cellular phone sales and repairs, internet cafés and pirated music discs for resale, thrive.

Photographer Britho Musara, Harare © Sadat Sanhehwe

According to a recently released BSA Global Software study, Zimbabwe has the highest percentage of pirated software on the planet. At virtually every corner of the capital, millions of pirated movies, music and pornographic videos and CDs are on sale.

Remembrance Dzapita, who lost his job last year, now manufactures and sells toiletries. “I started my business after realising that I could not get a new job but that I could earn more by developing a new line of toiletries to sell to local hotels,” he told Africa in Fact.

A 2016 study by the CZI found that at least 2.7 million people were making their living in the informal sector. According to economist John Robertson, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is more than 85%. Fewer than 900,000 people are formally employed, out of a population of 13 million. An estimated 200,000 jobs have been lost since 2004, as government has failed to stimulate the economy or to foster job creation.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) pegs the country’s unemployment rate at 10.7%. But perhaps conveniently, ZIMSTAT defines unemployment as lack of any means of contributing to the country’s gross domestic product. Industry officials say the informal sector is thriving because it faces fewer regulations or taxes compared to the formal sector.

“In the informal and black market there are fewer regulations or taxes, so costs are low,” Mutashu says. “The formal sector is overtaxed and laden with rules, regulations and red tape. That’s why it is shrinking while the informal sector is flourishing.”

A 2016 study of the sector by the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit found that although people active in the informal sector had few resources in isolation, they could become a formidable source of resources when combined.

“Banks should thus engage informal sector players and embrace the idea of fostering partnerships and clusters,” according to the study. “Under this arrangement, informal sector players, through the assistance of banks, pool their resources by bringing their capital and expertise together to make a meaningful investment. This also allows them to gain more knowledge and skills from their partners than when operating as individuals.”

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), organising the informal sector and recognising its role as a profitable activity may contribute to economic development. This can also improve the capacity of informal workers to meet their basic needs by raising their incomes and strengthening their legal status. According to the AfDB, little attention has been paid to the role of the informal sector in fostering growth and creating jobs.

In fact, the informal sector contributes about 55% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and 80% of the labour force. “Nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs in Africa and most employees are women and youth. The prominence of the informal sector in most African economies stems from the opportunities it offers to the most vulnerable populations such as the poorest, women and youth,” the bank says.

The Zimbabwean government has finally realised the importance of the informal sector, and is making moves to tax informal traders. In his national budget last year, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced government plans to tax the informal sector by levying a presumptive tax on landlords whose premises are leased by the traders.

Respected economist Witness Chinyama, however, doubted the efficacy of the move. “The problem with trying to formalise the informal sector is that the informal sector will simply go underground and the economy will go down as well,” Chinyama told Africa in Fact.

Another economist, Francis Mukora, urges caution. Taxing the informal sector might sound like a great idea to the broke Zanu-PF government, he says, but there are no quick fixes to the country’s multi- faceted crisis.

BARNABAS THONDHLANA has worked for Dow Jones and Bloomberg newswires as their Zimbabwe correspondent. He is the publisher of three community newspapers and a national daily, and a media trainer in investigative journalism. He has been instrumental in the formation of several independent newspapers, including the Zimbabwe Independent, The Daily News, The Daily News on Sunday, Newsday and The Observer.