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Securing Democratic Development in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has stalled democratic development following the disputed July 30, 2018 elections with fears that the country may have regressed 10 years after the Harare shootings and violence on 01 August 2018. In the wake of such valid and founded fears, the country must immediately undertake reforms in key sectors and institutions to safeguard and promote democracy and human security which include the judiciary, security sector and the electoral commission.

In this article, I argue that Zimbabwe must immediately begin to put in place a reform trajectory with a view of strengthening the country’s constitutional democracy and regulate the exercise of power and subjects the exercise of that power through very specific micro democratic controls (the sum total is greater than the whole) and accountability institutions whose operations and conduct should be guided by the Constitution.

Developments over the past 27 days point to party capture of these key institutions whose bedrock for reform is Depoliticisation and upholding the principles of public administration enshrined in Chapter 9 of the Constitution. Such principles include transparency, accountability, nondiscrimination and fairness. The result of 30 July and the post July 30 epoch must acknowledge that in complex failed democracies political supremacy drives all levers of society and reform should target extricating supremacist systems, practices an

d beliefs to allow democracy to function and flourish.

Non adherence to these principles and non-disclosure by office bearers discharging their duties often breed an infertile ground for democratic development. The recent case where a Justice Rita Makarau who previously chaired the electoral commission and blocked reforms in that capacity would raise questions around non-disclosure and conflict of interest when the same individual sat on the Bench to decide a constitutional court challenge querying transparency and accountability of the same election commission she chaired.

In deeply divided societies the media should play a key role in uniting citizens by sharing correct, verified and objective information. It is common cause that journalism should be ethical upholding the following principles; Truth and Accuracy, Independence, Fairness and Impartiality, Humanity and Accountability. State owned media should uphold the highest attributes of journalistic professionalism and endeavor to deliver unbiased reportage and where the contrary obtains divisions in society are perpetuated.

In dealing with the pre- and post- election epochs in Zimbabwe, media has been at the forefront of sowing divisions and hatred amongst citizens as media manipulates its influence to prop up candidates of their choice. Numerous cases also come to the fore, journalists employed by the state clearly violating Section journalists working for state owned media houses participated in primary elections as candidates and after defeat the same persons are tasked with political commentary. Conflict of interest often extricates the capacity of an individual to make fair judgments and attempt to construct objective narratives. It is the role of the Zimbabwe Media Commission as established by Section 248 to ensure that citizens have access to fair and diverse information.

Codes of conduct and their enforce-ability is key in ensuring that individuals serving in public institutions remain ethical, professional and prepared to discharge their duties regardless of their political interests or inclination (Section 200 of the Constitution). Where such unfair conduct exist, frameworks and regulations should be in place to guide conduct and enforceability mechanism strengthened.

Because party state conflation has a downside of undermining fair political play and antagonizing the state and the citizen; where divergent opinion and preferences exist, the Executive should be a forefront of ensuring adherence with the national values that underscore nonpartisan conduct in the discharge of national/government/state duties. Using state resources in campaigns and manipulating state programmes for one’s political ends during election periods often creates unfair advantage and shake the foundations of our nationhood. The incumbent president Mnangagwa continued this trend from Mugabe’s modus operandi. A clear distinction of party and state programmes should be established by incumbents. Such reform is premised on political agency in which office bearers appreciate and acknowledge that legitimacy is foundational in returning Zimbabwe to a constitutional democracy.

Zimbabwe like most African countries answers to customary law, which law is the epitome of our tradition values and ethos and above all traditional institutions as provided in Section 280 of the Constitution. These traditional institutions have a role to discharge their duties in such a manner that they promote the social precepts of Ubuntu (unity). While it is obvious that ubuntu and customary law are not synonymous, it ought to be equally obvious that, as a fundamental value that informs the regulation of our society’s interpersonal relations and dispute resolution, ubuntu is inherent to customary law. This follows that the legislation of the Traditional Leaders Act is progressively premised on such precepts hence bars partisan conduct by traditional leaders. Instances where such traditional leadership in violation of Section 281 of the Constitution takes political sides and marshals the rest of the community to tow their preferred political interest not only defeats principle of Ubuntu but breeds hatred and disunity. The court should enforce punitive measures to those that disregard and undermine such progressive legislation and setting up a vibrant and robust Integrity and Ethics Committee in terms of Section 287 of the Constitution to enforce traditional leaders’ compliance with the Constitution and the Traditional Leaders Act. Learning from the pre-election situation, this item should form the crux of the legislative agenda for the 9th Parliament of Zimbabwe.

One of the main challenges of addressing political injustices is that the political establishment often relies on radical outfits that constitute its pillars of support. Such outfits have a tendency to manipulate what at some point was a popular national ideology to produce a narrative that props the establishment but in the process this is done negating the very principles of the preferred ideology. Complex groups with complex characters exist in our society driven by selfish and narrow interests. The complexity arises in that at some point these characters are ‘allies’ to pro-democracy movements when there is no cohesion among the ruling elite. Because there is proof that a system can be overthrown by an implosion in the ruling elite, civil society and citizens should rethink the feasibility and cost of realignment of forces and yet oblivious of the compelling realignment of forces in dismantling undemocratic governance.

As the nation comes to terms with the shock of 30 July and its aftermath, more focus must be on reforms and strengthening citizen agency where political leaders have no agency and appetite to reform. The cardinal point is that civil society and the citizen should be at the forefront of demanding and driving Zimbabwe’s movement towards a democratic and developmental society whose return to normative compliance can only be through a credible, free and fair election. State legitimacy and its (in) validation derives from the citizen.


Thulani Mswelanto is an International Relations scholar and the Director of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. He writes in his personal capacity and can contacted on

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