President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: Flickr/GovernmentZA President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: Flickr/GovernmentZA

What we are seeing in the first elections after Mugabe is the deep state clutching to power, but can it hold on? Asks Shabbir Lakha

Less than a year after a soft coup removed the authoritarian president after years of misrule, fresh elections cast doubt on the ability of the military’s chosen successor to keep control.

President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed victory in a tight race that saw him win 50.8 percent of the vote against the opposition Nelson Chamisa’s 44.3.

This followed the announcement that the ruling ZANU PF had won a two-thirds majority in parliament, following the most peaceful electoral campaign in almost two decades.

Yet a delay in results being announced cast a shadow over the election. Voting was complete on Monday 30 July but the final results of the election were not due until Friday 3 August.

Suspicious that the delay was a sign that the deep state was doctoring the results of the elections, the opposition MDC Alliance – re-uniting many of the parties that had made up the original Movement for Democratic Change that challenged ZANU PF rule in 2000 – called for street demonstrations.


The result was instant regime repression. Security forces brutally cracked down on protests in the capital Harare leaving at least six dead on Wednesday 1 August. On Thursday 2 August, 22 activists were arrested at the opposition party’s headquarters.

Domestic and international outrage has not stopped continued acts of state-sponsored violence over the weekend with military sweeps of urban areas against opposition activists.

Mnangagwa has regretted the loss of life but some commentators have questioned whether he is fully in control of the security apparatus. Others have accused the man popularly known in Zimbabwe as the Crocodile – or Lacoste – of shedding crocodile tears while orchestrating the crackdown.

Since Mnangagwa has made overtures to the West since taking over, however, media outrage and political reaction in Western capitals has largely been cautious. The hope is that Mnangagwa can be pressured and enticed to side-line hardliners and re-open Zimbabwe for Western business.

Opposition dilemmas

This has left the MDC Alliance in a quandary. Since its initial rise as the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition has tried to balance between two sources of strength. One was its trade union backbone. The other was support from the global centres of neoliberal power.

This is ironic, since the Movement for Democratic Change emerged from a militant wave of trade union struggles against an IMF-inspired austerity programme imposed by ZANU PF in the mid-1990s.

Nonetheless, since ZANU PF returned to its peasant roots to see off the challenge and revived a Pan Africanist defiant rhetoric against foreign meddling, the opposition found itself ‘blessed’ with outside support.

That support was only ever conditional and it is clear that ZANU PF is its possible beneficiary. The opposition’s decision, after its failure to take power in a rigged and violent election in 2000, to pursue a “self-limiting” mobilisation strategy – where mobilisation from below only served as a negotiating tactic with ZANU PF and the deep state – fatally weakened it ever since.

The party has never been able to decisively win over the peasantry from ZANU PF, leaving it electorally stifled. It was always seen in the rural areas as the party that may go back on land reform.

Yet it was also incapable of energising the urban masses for a confrontation with the deep state, since it had to maintain the aura of respectability in Washington, London and Pretoria. After sharing power with Mugabe following an election in 2008, the MDC was deeply compromised by the experience.

The power of the working class

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe’s working class clearly voted for the MDC Alliance as evidenced by decisive victories in urban areas, and it responded to calls to hit the streets after the election. It is clear that many in urban areas wanted an end to ZANU PF rule.

Yet again, though, the working class was betrayed by leaders who quickly backed down as soon as the army and police were called to action. Chamisa deleted tweets claiming he had won.

Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that ZANU PF will crack in the short term. But it clearly remains divided between a wing that wants to continue to rule in the old authoritarian ways and a modernising wing that would prefer to come to an agreement with international big business and the Western powers. This could come on the back of some kind of agreement with the MDC Alliance.

Neither outcome would serve the interests of Zimbabwe’s workers and poor, who will undoubtedly soon be back on strike and on the streets again as Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis continues. And pressure from below might shift events in a direction neither ZANU PF nor the MDC Alliance can currently predict – or control. This would be fertile terrain for a socialist message.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.