Recent promises made by Zimbabwe’s new president that free and fair elections will be held in 2018 are viewed with suspicion by people in Matabeleland, a part of the country that has suffered greatly under the ruling regime. From early 1983 to late 1984 government soldiers unleashed in the southwestern region by former president Robert Mugabe killed up to 20,000 Ndebele people, according to rights activists. Suspected of being affiliated with a rival nationalist party called Zapu, the victims were seen as a threat to the ruling Zanu-PF by the former dictator. Mugabe’s successor, the recently sworn-in President Emmerson Mnangagwa (75), was state security minister at the time and allegedly played a central role in co-ordinating attacks on civilians that became known locally as the Gukurahundi massacres. He denies any involvement.
Since then, Zanu-PF has continued to use violence and intimidation to coerce rural Zimbabweans into voting for it in the run-up to elections. The ruling party gets little support in urban areas, so without the rural vote it would struggle badly at the polls.
Given that Mnangagwa’s ascent to power in November was instigated by the military, Zimbabweans such as Paul Nyathi, who works in conflict resolution, are sceptical of his pledge to usher in democratic elections.
“The army is unlikely to allow its candidate to be defeated in a fair election when it has used force to install him [as Zimbabwe’s president],” the former opposition politician told The Irish Times.