Is change really coming to Zimbabwe? President // Verzió X ELTE

“This is not the end of the road, but this is the beginning. Change is coming, change is coming. Whether it is delayed is another thing. It cannot be denied.” Those are the final words of Nelson Chamisa – Zimbabwean opposition leader – in Camilla Nielsson’s documentary President. Chamisa said this in August 2018, after the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed his challenge of the electoral results and Emmerson Mnangagwa was confirmed as President. What happened in Zimbabwe since then? Is change really coming to the country in the south of Africa?

The situation of human rights and free speech is still tense. In August 2019, police beat down protests about the dramatic economic circumstances by using tear gas. Human rights organizations reported that opposition members were abducted, tortured and killed in the time around the protests. Because of these issues, countries from Europe and North America added sanctions on Zimbabwe in the following months, which further worsened the economic situation. The country’s economy shrank by eleven percent in the years of 2019 and 2020.


Shortly after the sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country and brought even more problems. So far, over 133.000 cases have been confirmed in Zimbabwe and over 4.700 people died because of the virus, including multiple ministers. But in Zimbabwe, the Coronavirus is not only a health crisis, but it’s also about corruption and moneymaking schemes. As ‘Reporters without borders’ notes, the investigative journalist Hopewell Chin'ono was arrested following research about the government profiting by the sale of overpriced medicine. Stories like these sparked further demonstrations in Zimbabwe: Against arbitrary arrests, corruption and the broken health system in the country. Again, what followed were more arrests during the protests.


“The government is hitting hard down on any members of the opposition”

This situation also affects the people who helped Nielsson in the process of shooting the film, as she stated in a Q&A-session during Verzió Film Festival: “We have a lot of Zimbabwean people who are helping us, who are part of our crew, part of our team. I can’t talk so much about them at this point, they are also listed as anonymous in the credits, maybe you noticed”, she said. “And that’s because the security situation and the human rights situation in Zimbabwe is very, very difficult at the moment. The government is hitting hard down on any members of the opposition.”


In September 2021, 19 people, including ten journalists, were arrested in Harare during protests. And also opposition leader Nelson Chamisa still lives dangerously. In the month of October alone, there were two attacks on him and his convoy. During the first one, which happened on October 10th, around 200 people – suspected to have been mobilized by reigning Zanu-PF – blocked roads and threw stones at the convoy in which Chamisa was travelling, his party MDC Alliance claim. Less than two weeks later, his car was shot at after a political meeting. Instead of condemning these attacks, the ruling President Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed that Chamisa staged the events.


Following the attacks, supporters of the MDC Alliance set up a fundraiser to buy an armored car for Chamisa. Within about a month, over 2.400 donors raised over 90.000 US Dollars, showing the support of Zimbabweans and Internationals for Chamisa and a safe political environment for the opposition.


The same problems as in 2018

So did change come to Zimbabwe as Chamisa hoped? So far, it does not seem like it. In late November 2021, an MDC Alliance activist died after being assaulted by alleged Zanu-PF supporters during an event. The economy still struggles a lot, the police beat down protests and leading politicians are still involved in corruption scandals. Free speech, the possibility to attend protests without fear of being arrested and a healthy working environment for investigative journalists are still not given in Zimbabwe. At the same time, a new variant of the Coronavirus starts to spread in the southern African countries. Multiple countries already stopped flights from Zimbabwe due to the virus. From an outside view, the situation approaching the 2023 elections does not seem to be any better than in 2018. But the opposition, protesters and journalists do not seem to give up, hoping for fair balloting. Experts expect young people to play a deciding role in the outcome of the election – assuming that they would be held in a free environment and evaluated fairly.


So far, the change that Chamisa, the opposition and their supporters were hoping for does not seem to have happened in Zimbabwe. But as he said, it might just be delayed – but it cannot be denied.


Yannick Lemke

ELTE Film Studies student