Zimbabwe’s Next Hero? Zimbabwe Celebrates Heroes’ Day on Their Way to the Polls

Later this month, Zimbabwe will elect a new president. The options include a 45-year-old youth leader and the 80-year-old sitting president, who has been in politics longer than the youth leader has been alive.

On Monday 14 August 2023, Zimbabwe celebrated its 43rd annual Heroes’ Day. The day is a celebration of the historical figures who sacrificed their lives to liberate Zimbabwe from colonialism. These figures include Herbert Chitepo, Ruth Chinamano and Josian Tongogara among others who helped transition the white-dominated Republic of Rhodesia into the independent nation of Zimbabwe. Set for 23 August 2023, Zimbabwe is headed to its 9th election as an independent nation. The significance of this election is even more apparent because of the closeness of the Heroes Day celebration. The day reminds the nation of its past leaders, such as Zimbabwe’s longest reigning president, Robert Mugabe, and inspires those who wish to come, such as the former Minister of ICT, Nelson Chamisa. 


The Republic of Rhodesia was a British colony and existed from 1965 to 1979. It was originally called Southern Rhodesia, a colony with a ruling white minority embattled by the wave of independence across Africa at the time, which declared itself independent and a republic in 1970. The result was a dissatisfied Black population, which led to an insurgency against the government by nationalist groups such as Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). The latter eventually emerged as the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The altercation is now referred to as the Rhodesian Bush War. The then-prime minister, Ian Smith, conceded to the demand for independence in 1978 when an internal settlement was signed. He was succeeded by Abel Muzorewa who stepped down not long after for an election under the supervision of British colonial powers. This ushered in the reign of Mugabe as the first prime minister of Zimbabwe after the country was internationally recognized as an independent nation in April 1980. 


Mugabe has become a somewhat controversial figure in African history. He was a revolutionary turned tyrant who passed away in 2019 after ruling for 37 years: first as prime minister, from 1980 to 1987 and then as president, from 1987 to 2017, when he was forced to step down. To date, discussions and debates still linger on whether he was a hero or a villain. His youth featured bouts of political frustration and radical activism. He was elected public secretary of the National Democratic Party, which was banned in 1961 and later joined ZAPU. Frustrated by the moderation of the group, he began publicly discussing starting a guerrilla war for independence. In 1963, he formed ZANU (now ZANU-PF) but was arrested and put in prison for almost ten years.  

While in power as president, Mugabe broadened access to health and education, but later used violence against his political opponents and allowed the economic degradation of Zimbabwe. Mugabe overstayed his welcome while in power and became authoritarian. His reign is a testament to the importance of political rotation, but the reality in Zimbabwe is still a while off as his party, ZANU-PF has continued to remain in power. 


The President is a 2018 documentary directed by Camilla Nielsson which speaks to the political reality in Zimbabwe. The 2018 election was the first presidential election held in the country without Mugabe in the running. But Mugabe had an heir in 80-year-old Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa who ran in his stead. The election was an important milestone for Zimbabwe as it was a symbol of freedom from Mugabe’s dictatorship. Nielsson’s The President closely followed the electoral process from the perspective of Mnangagwa’s opposition, the 45-year-old pastor, Nelson Chamisa. Mnangagwa won the election, and garnered international discontent as governments and international institutions suspected foul play from ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Amnesty International even described the last five years in Zimbabwe as ‘a brutal crackdown on human rights’. History is so far repeating itself with Chamisa once again running for the 2023 elections against Mnangagwa. 

Chamisa is running under the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). This is a party he formed after he was thrown out of the Movement for Democratic Change, which he ran under in 2018. His expulsion was the result of a power struggle that followed the death of the party leader and founder, Morgan Tsvangirai. Once again at the polls, Chamisa faces Mnangagwa, who has been in politics longer than the youth leader has been alive. 


In Zimbabwe, while the parliament candidates win by who has the most votes, presidential candidates need more than 50 per cent of the vote. Results are expected to be announced within five days after voting ends but there is uncertainty on whether this year’s election will be free and fair. The uncertainty stems from suspicious activity observed by ZANU-PF, one of which is the arrests and attacks of opposition members leading up to the election. One such instance was the murder of the CCC’s Mboneni Ncube leading up to the by-elections for parliamentary seats in March 2023. In August, Human Rights Watch reported that authorities in Zimbabwe have failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the general election meets international standards for free and fair elections. 

The long-standing precedence of ZANU-PF gives it an advantage in resources over the newly formed CCC. However, the shaky economy has sparked questions of change especially among the youth pool. Zimbabwe currently has one of the highest annual inflation rates in the world at 175.8 per cent. The harsh reality will make the election outcomes even more significant as Zimbabweans want a leader who will act as a modern hero to restore hope and elevate the country’s economic and social shortcomings. The results of this election will determine who will be labelled as the next Zimbabwean hero or who—by continuing the defective system Zimbabweans have become used to—will disappoint the masses

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