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The historic Zimbabwe presidential and parliamentary “harmonised’ elections of 30 July 2018 have just been concluded. The final results tally saw President Emmerson Mnangagwa getting 2,460,463 votes (50.8 percent), ahead of his nearest rival Nelson Chamisa who got 2,147,436 votes (44.3 percent). The 50.8 percent by the President meant he scrapped above the legal 50 percent plus one vote necessary to avoid a run-off election. 

The 2018 elections will be remembered as the year where the opposition and the ruling party for the first time, behaved as Siamese twins in terms of presenting an equally neo-liberal economic outlook and for exhibiting similar problems with internal democracy as well as for calling for divine interventions in their political campaigns. On the last point, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ran under the prayer line “The voice of the people is the Voice of God” while the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-A) used the phrase “God is in it”.

No ideological differences in the neoliberal ruling and opposition parties

However, as the results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) trickled in, it became almost certain that the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (75) was headed for a landslide re-election. The main opposition MDC-A led by lawyer and Christian pastor Nelson Chamisa (40) was headed for a defeat. A perusal of the manifestos, however, makes the reader go at pains to see any differences in the politics and ideas of the two main parties. They went at length to embrace and campaign on the ideals of neo-liberal capitalist aspirations.

The manifestos of the two main parties seemed to be corporate strategy documents. For instance, in terms of neo-liberal economics, the ZANU-PF manifesto described its New Dispensation governable model in the following words:

“We are now in a New Dispensation under the leadership of ZANU-PF, where focus and preoccupation of the new administration is opening up the country for business…and promoting investment, economic empowerment and realigning to an investor-friendly trajectory that leads to economic growth…”[[i]].

Neo-liberal economists openly fronted the MDC-A, which strangely started off as a worker-led party but at the time of the elections, was led by neoliberal lawyers, economists and business people also issued a lengthy manifesto in the run-up to the election. The manifesto indicated that the Alliance transformation markers in government would include the following very neo-liberal economic measures:

  • Restoration of the land market and the issuance of title deeds to beneficiaries of the land reform programme;
  • Promotion of foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment through the enactment of a new foreign investment law and the ease of doing business [[ii]].

In hindsight, these opposition neo-liberal measures, notably a land market, were going to be rejected by the majority rural based farming and peasant communities. According to the 2012 census, 67 percent of Zimbabwe’s population lives in the countryside, while 33 percent is urban-based (See also, the ZEC Final Report on Biometric Voter Registration). In addition to anti-peasant policies, the opposition’s obsession with “ease of doing business” reforms (which are synonyms for anti-labour justice measures and laissez-faire economics) were out of sync with the ideals of a formerly workers’ party.

With the MDC-A, the tragedy was that workers and trade unions elites such as the leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) still believed that the party was pro-working class. This illusion persisted despite the involvement of the party leadership in anti-working class labour matters such as the Zuva Judgement of 2015 [[iii]]. The judgement made it easier for employers to dismiss employees. In 2018, the lawyers who worked on the case on the employer’s side became the leading candidates and legal advisors of the 2018 MDC-A campaign. This removal of such illusions and the reclaiming of the opposition voice by the working class is the primary task for anti-neoliberal forces in the post- 2018 election season.

Foreign policy: Seeking to be willing servants of Western states

The elections exposed a desire by both parties to be puppets of Western capitals. The opposition was at pains to align itself to the Americans while the ruling party sought to endear itself to the erstwhile British colonial power. These alliances may likely have future implications on the state’s foreign policy as former allies like the Peoples Republic of China and Russia will seek to maintain the hold they have had during the days of Western-imposed isolation and economic, political sanctions that were occasioned by the anti-imperialist rhetoric of former President Robert Mugabe.

The campaign period, by extension, started the moment the former President Robert Mugabe resigned following a military-led popular uprising in November 2017[[iv]]. On the international relations level, the campaign saw the two main candidates and parties going all out to seek the friendship of Western capitalist capitals. Mnangagwa went all out to court the annual World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, Switzerland and made pledges to re-join the Commonwealth grouping of ex-British colonies. The ZANU-PF Manifesto openly celebrated this:

“Cde Mnangagwa’s astuteness and principled stance on the role of the private sector in national development has seen him become the first Zimbabwean President to be invited to the prestigious 2018 World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps at Davos [[v]].

In the main opposition camp, the foreign policy was a bit of the dramatic and the non-strategic. The opposition indicated “neutrality”:

“The MDC-A government will pursue a conservative foreign policy in respect of which it will remain non-aligned and will seek to make friends with every decent state in the world, that shares its values of democracy, constitutionalism, socially just transparency, openness and inclusivity”[[vi]].

Their actions, however, highlighted lack of competence to deal with foreign matters in the contemporary world. For instance, there was explicit support from the MDC-A for the problematic State of Israel. Nelson Chamisa even made a probably ill-advised “private” trip to Israel in the midst of the campaign [[vii]]. The pro-Israel sentiments further went against the grain of most African and progressive states outside Africa. This global political stance can be seen by, for instance, how the world voted against Israel/United States in the 2017 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Jerusalem [[viii]]. All this was lost on the opposition and its campaign and policy advisors.

Furthermore, Nelson Chamisa and the MDC-A principals like Tendai Biti and Jacob Ngarivhume made trips to the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC pledging to be the future blue-eyed boys of American capital. Following the trips, at one of his ill-fated rallies in the diamond-rich Manicaland Province, Nelson Chamisa made a far-fetched, amateurish and non-strategic claim that United States President Donald Trump promised the opposition a US $15 billion-dollar victory present [[ix]].

In a nutshell, the foreign policies of both parties were neo-liberal in outlook. However, the opposition party was less strategic and ill-advised in its policy aspirations and conduct.

The way forward for the anti-neoliberal movement

The 2018 elections helped to open the eyes of the anti-neoliberal movement. The elections showed that the major parties of the moment in Zimbabwe are ideological twins. Hence only the building of a new alternative can at least represent the anti-neoliberal aspirations of the Zimbabwean people. The 2018 elections, therefore, present opportunities for the left in many ways. There is need for the continued perusal of the ZANU-PF and MDC-A manifestos to remove illusions from the ordinary peoples. Exposing the similar neo-liberal aspirations of the two main parties to the people is warranted.

Real leftists, to borrow from the words of Amilcar Cabral, must: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories...”[[x]]. Such political measures will assist in the building of a new anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist alternative for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. The new movement should have safeguards from the beginning against the ideological infiltration and opportunism that have become the gravediggers of both the liberation era ZANU-PF party and the former worker-led MDC party.


* Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is a writer, lawyer, researcher and socialist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He is currently studying International Human Rights and Public Policy at the University College Cork, Ireland.


[i] ZANU-PF, The People’s Manifesto 2018, p.1

[ii] MDC-A, New Zimbabwe Pledge For A Sustainable And Modernisation Agenda For Real Transformation, p. 26.

[v] ZANU-PF, The People’s Manifesto 2018, p. 5.

[vi] MDC-A, New Zimbabwe Pledge For A Sustainable And Modernisation Agenda For Real Transformation, p. 25

[vii] See The Standard, “Chamisa goes to Israel”, 1 July 2018.

[ix] Business Daily, “MDC-A apologises for Chamisa $15bn lie”, 4 February 2018.

[x] Cabral (1969), Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts.