Elections and Power Dynamics in Zimbabwe

Official portrait of Emmerson Mnangagwa edited by Giovana Fleck/Global Voices, used with permission.

Official portrait of Emmerson Mnangagwa edited by Giovana Fleck/Global Voices, used with permission.

Welcome to Undertones, your source for in-depth insights into global events and trends that shape our world. At the Civic Media Observatory, we turned our focus to Zimbabwe and the intricate dynamics surrounding its elections. As the nation was preparing for a pivotal moment, we delved into the strategies, narratives, and challenges that are shaping the political landscape.

What kinda legacy are we to leave for the coming generation?

Yes, I hope to see a better life, but it's an imagination

They talk about Democracy, mi look all I just see is hypocrisy

The dialogue is turning into a fallacy 

The verses above are from the song Dzimba Dzemabwe, sung by the Zimbabwe reggae artist Wallace Chirimuko, also known as Winky D. This song opens his new album Eureka Eureka. Since its release, authorities have issued a stern warning against playing certain of Winky D’s tracks. 

“I have been warned. I have been cautioned and they said if you sing that particular song there is going to be (a) disaster”, said the artist in an interview to the publication New Zimbabwe. 

The regime’s censorship of Winky D’s music is not unique. As noted by our Civic Media Observatory researcher, it is one example of authoritarianism coming from the country’s leading party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF). Emmerson Mnangagwa, the party’s leader, was re-elected as president in an election that ended on Saturday, August 26. Nelson Chamisa, of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party, was Mnangagwa’s main opposition and has accused the government of “blatant and massive fraud”.

The ruling party has been in power since the country's independence in 1980 and has never supported multi-party democracy. The ZANU PF, which has close cultural and political ties to the Chinese Communist Party, is a fervent believer in one-party control. 

Late Wednesday, hours after voting should have ended, vote sheets were still being printed. At the same time, police reports came out stating that over 40 workers of monitoring organizations such as the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center were arrested

Zimbabwe's political scene is characterized by a tense power struggle, with the ruling party employing various tactics to maintain its grip on authority. Banning opposition rallies, suppressing political activists, and reports of brutal violence paint a grim picture of the pre-election environment.

“Patriotism” and Political Manipulation 

A surprising element in Zimbabwe's political landscape involves the government's manipulation of cultural expressions to promote its agenda. Musicians like Winky D are censored or coerced to endorse the ruling party. Music is seen as a tool for political influence, as the government seeks to appeal to the youth demographic. 


Subtext: The tweet implies that Winky D faces potential unpatriotic labeling if he continues singing anti-ZANU PF regime songs. President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed the Patriotic Act, criminalizing activities that undermine sovereignty and national interests. The item suggests that artists should sing patriotic songs, interpreted as support for the ruling party, rather than exposing corruption and oppression.

Asserted narrative: Criticizing the government and ZANU PF is anti-patriotic and must be punished

See the full analysis here.


Those practices are justified under the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Act of 2022, popularly known as the Patriotic Act. This legislation employs overly broad provisions, including criminalizing attendance at meetings where sanctions and military operations are discussed or planned with the intention to undermine, disturb, topple, and overwhelm civil society. On December 23, 2022, the Act was initially published as a Bill in the Government Gazette. The Bill was approved by the National Assembly's lower house on May 31, 2023, and by the Senate on May 7, 2023. On July 14, 2023, the President signed it. 

As noted by our researcher: “Mnangagwa's regime is bent on closing down civic space and crushing any form of dissent. Punishments provided for by the Act include striking off one's citizenship, being denied the right to vote, and the death penalty”. 

By conducting analysis on civic discourse on X (formerly Twitter), we found posts pushing the idea that “Criticizing the government and ZANU PF is anti-patriotic and must be punished”, and “Following the ZANU PF party's ideology is the only way to be patriotic”. 

The same type of discourse was found across different ZANU PF supporters and party members, such as Mavis Gumbo. Gumbo, who once served as group public relations executive to the Premier Service Medical Society, defends that schools should hold ZANU PF Ideology courses. At the time of the post, she was attending a workshop at Herbert Chitepo School of Ideology – ZANU PF’s party school in the Midlands Provincial city of Gweru. 

Behind this tweet are months of strategy elaborated by ZANU PF to prepare for elections and regain influence among younger generations. Independent news reports show internal fissures within the party structure, with some youthful candidates becoming too politically ambitious. According to our researcher, the indoctrination seminars are intended to stymie the excessively ambitious members of the party and spread their notion of patriotism. 

Subtext: The tweet accuses education rights activist Obert Masaraure of being a traitor to Zimbabwe due to his association with US embassy officials. The Zimbabwean government, ZANU PF, opposes US officials’ interaction, claiming they are enemies. The tweet calls for the Patriot Act to silence opposition and provoke violence against Masaraure, a trait the ruling party is known for.

Asserted narrative:  “Criticizing the government and ZANU PF is anti-patriotic and must be punished

Note on civic impact: The item promotes hate speech and fear-mongering within opposition parties and civil society communities. The content and form of the message are designed to incite overzealous ruling party youths to act in unspecified ways against what the author calls sellouts.

See the full analysis here.

The tweet above carries multiple significances; from the patriotic perspective, it accuses activists invested in promoting education in rural areas of betraying the nation. But it justifies it by using an anti-West narrative. The ruling party's anti-Western stance serves as a core idea, with the West being blamed for Zimbabwe's troubles. Opposition parties are portrayed as Western puppets, fueling tensions that could escalate into a civil war. Relations with Russia, forged during the struggle for independence, play a pivotal role in influencing the country's political and economic landscape. 

Subtext: ZANU PF's political commissar Mike Bimha claims the ruling party is well-organized and ready for the August 2023 elections. He criticizes Western sanctions and highlights the country's success in overcoming high unemployment, with over half of its population living in extreme poverty.

Context: Due to high unemployment, according to the UN, more than half of the population of 14 million people lives in extreme poverty, earning less than USD1.90 a day.

Asserted narratives:  “Following the ZANU PF party's ideology is the only way to be patriotic” and “Sanctions are the primary cause of Zimbabwe’s problems

Note on civic impact: The item is a reflection of the ruling party leadership's denial that the country is almost in an economic comatose state, and most participants in the conversation express views contrary to the ruling party's line of thought. 

See the full analysis here.

Economic woes, including fluctuating prices, unemployment, and chronic power outages, have left Zimbabweans disillusioned. The ruling party attempts to counterbalance these challenges by promoting relations with Russia and China, but discontent with failed promises continues to shape public perception. 

Zimbabwe's cyberpunk cities fueled by China

Questioning corruption, despite news desertification 

A concerning trend has emerged in Zimbabwe's rural areas, where a blockade of mass media communications has isolated communities from crucial information. According to NetBlocks, the quality of internet connection deteriorated on August 22, harming millions of people who rely on the internet to get information.

Despite this and the implementation of the “Patriotic Act”, opposition voices have managed to expose their ideas. Citizens themselves have played a role, using social media platforms such as Twitter to share video clips that document intimidation and threats. 

While platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram thrive in urban centers, WhatsApp remains a nationwide staple. The messaging platform, however, is not immune to government interference. Citizens had reported being spammed with text messages and disinformation in support of Mnangagwa just before the election, after months of unsolicited SMS messages reaching registered voters’ inboxes. WhatsApp groups with specific political affiliations have become essential for sharing information, but infiltration and consequences loom large.


Subtext: The item's language implies that the ZANU PF regime is responsible for causing the country's political and economic challenges. The author also implies that the authorities will naturally leave the allegations without further investigation as ZANU PF is part of the problem.

Asserted narrative:  “Corruption practiced by ZANU PF is the cause of Zimbabwe's problems

Note on civic impact: This item is a good chatting point pertaining to discussions about the causes of the country's challenges. It generated a lot of debate and attracted a number of views; hence it provides more scope and depth of discourse surrounding issues about sanctions and corruption.

See the full analysis here.

As living standards degrade, citizens are more engaged in debate and discussion about the country's economic problems. Ambulances, functional medical equipment, and medication are in short supply at hospitals and clinics. The majority of inhabitants labor in the informal sector, while teachers, physicians, and nurses flee to richer pastures. A predatory political class is siphoning precious materials such as gold and diamonds out of the country. At the same time, government officials receive state-of-the-art SUVs and multi-million dollar house loans.

Subtext: The writer implies that the ruling party chooses political expediency in its favour rather than Zimbabwean citizens’ interests. This is evident in the photograph showing the president gleefully smiling at the political donation of the brand new cars. The writer insinuates that voters need to be careful about their political choices as they head for elections in August 2023. Patriotism thus becomes a secondary issue in the country's national interests as Mnangagwa seeks to consolidate his power.

Context: Ever since the days of colonialism in Rhodesia, the government sought to exploit traditional chiefs for political mileage. Traditional chiefs were always given preferential treatment to help the government in controlling and subjugating the African rural population. The donation referred to pertains to a historical 2018 recollection about Mnangagwa's bribing of chiefs with vehicles in the context of the 2018 elections at the time. 

Asserted narratives:  “Zimbabwe's government is exploiting the notion of patriotism

See the full analysis here.

As noted by our researcher, questioning the government's corruption seems to be one of the main avenues of civic engagement in the country. With Mnangagwa’s reelection and the execution of the Patriotic Act, resilience will be even more challenged in Zimbabwe.

If you would like to collaborate with the Community Civic Media Observatory, pitch us or join our next open training on Friday, September 1st.

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