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SADC Revolution: Some liberals within the bloc inspire new hope in Southern Africa

From the day the SADC Election Observer Mission to Zimbabwe released its preliminary findings and observations on the recently held Zimbabwean elections, no day ends without talk in the Zimbabwean streets about SADC.

Although SADC used to be talked about in an unfavourable manner as a club of dictators, citizens of Zimbabwe are talking about it in a positive manner.

In an unprecedented and probably inconceivable turn of events, the SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) opened a can of worms by reporting objectively about the Zimbabwean election.

It is undeniably veracious that since 1980, most of these African observer missions would come to sanitize disputed elections in Zimbabwe.

In spite of glaring and incontrovertible evidence of an unlevel playing field, they would just choose to bastardize the truth, to bastardize the truth on the altar of expediency and selfish motives, but now, the coming of the new Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and other progressive people within SADC seems to have turned the tables.

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Are we witnessing the birth of a new epoch or era in Southern Africa and Africa?, some are wondering. Considering that its observer mission agreed that the electoral process was flawed, what is SADC going to do about the Zimbabwean precarious and perilous situation?

Again, what is to be expected from the conservative and reactionary elements who continue to sing old songs about the Africa revolution against colonialism? Are the shouts about the Pan-Africanist revolution genuine? Isn’t the revolution devouring its own children?

Aren’t the reactionary former liberators plotting to stop the Hichilema revolution and aren’t they plotting the downfall of Hichilema in order to bury him together with his revolution?

Zimbabwe’s 2023 Disputed Election

On the 23rd of August 2023, Zimbabwe held its harmonised elections which many observer missions came to observe. Surely, most observer missions, particularly the SADC observer mission led by former Zambian Vice President Dr Nevers Mumba , noted that the process was fundamentally flawed, it failed to pass the credibility test.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Mission head, Nevers Mumba (Picture via eNCA)
Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Mission head, Nevers Mumba (Picture via eNCA)

Nevers Mumba and his colleagues noted that the election failed to meet the guidelines of SADC on free and fair elections. “If the process were flawed, the result cannot be legitimate”, Nevers Mumba remarked in one of his interviews after he read the preliminary report of the SADC Election Observer Mission(SEOM).

Note should be taken to realise that the preliminary report was not one individual’s product but a collective report made by more than 20 people from different SADC member states.

Previously, SADC observer missions would just come to rubberstamp disputed elections. Even though it was clear that things were not well, the guys would give the processes a thumps up, what a tragedy!

It is clear that these guys would be told what to say by those who would have sent them. In fact, they probably came with written reports before observing the process.

But this time, the tables have turned. Coincidentally, the Zimbabwean election happened when President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia was and is still chairman of the SADC Troika Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

The Troika Chairman, in this case President Hichilema, is responsible for appointing the head of the observer mission. The heads of these missions usually do as they are told. Previously it seems they would be told to say that black is white and white is black.

But this time, Dr Nevers Mumba said he was told by President Hichilema to report about the situation as it is. It is known that SADC despots use the principle, “I am my brother’s keeper”. Most of them cannot stand to see the fall from grace to grass of their counterparts.

There’s no witch who can ensure that another witch is exposed, why? Other witches are afraid of becoming the next victims so they protect each other by hook or by crook. “If this one is captured, l might also be captured”, they soliloquize.

But Hichilema is a new kid on the block. He became president under difficult circumstances, the then incumbent President Edgar Lungu tried to stop the idea whose time had come.

Hichilema understands what these guys do. He is now trying to do things properly. He understands that he cannot tell observers to okay a disputed process, they must report exactly what they see on the ground.

This is not to say that Hichilema wants to remove certain leaders, as some propagandists say, but Hichilema wants the truth and the truth only.

He understands that Africa is far behind other countries because of Machiavellian lies. Now is the time, the time to put a fullstop to all those stratagems. Let the truth prevail, Hichilema believes.

Indeed, one can proffer that the SEOM report on the Zimbabwean election corroborates and authenticates beyond any reasonable doubt that Hichilema and some progressive statesmen are breathing new air into SADC.

That Hichilema didn’t instruct them to distort the truth is very commendable. That’s why this author believes that Hichilema is waging a revolution in SADC. A revolution towards progressive reforms that are people-centered. Yes the effort might not be Hichilema’s alone, there are some who must be credited.

For example, the SADC Executive Secretary must be applauded for also ensuring that the Observer mission reports accurately. The Secretariat must be applauded for defending Mumba when he was under vicious verbal attacks from Zanu PF politicians who were infuriated by the report.

The SADC secretariat, in no uncertain terms, declared that the report read by Mumba was not a product of his personal opinions but it was approved by the SADC secretariat before it was published. In fact, what Mumba read is the irrevocable standpoint of SADC on the recently held elections in Zimbabwe.

The electoral process was flawed! It failed to meet the guidelines of SADC on free and fair elections, which every member state of SADC, except the eSwatini (Swaziland) monarchy, is bound by. So Zimbabwe flouted one of the most important regulations of SADC.

That the electoral process was flawed is unquestionably correct. Using Steven Levitsky and Luncan Way’s 2002 article called Elections Without Democracy: The Rise Of Competitive Authoritarianism, there’s completely no doubt about the dubious nature of the Zimbabwe electoral process.

As noted by the two American scholars, “In competitive authoritarian regimes, violations of these rights (civil rights) are both frequent enough and serious enough to create an uneven playing field between government and the opposition. Although elections are regularly held and are generally free of massive fraud, incumbents routinely abuse state resources, deny the opposition adequate media coverage, harass opposition candidates and their supporters and in some cases manipulate electoral results. Journalists, opposition politicians and other government critics may be spied on, threatened, harassed or arrested. Members of the opposition may be jailed, exiled or less frequently even assaulted or murdered. Regimes characterized by such abuses cannot be called democratic”.

The two academics further note that in competitive authoritarian regimes, those regimes which give a facade of democracy when they are in fact tyrannical, four zones of contestation are captured, viz, the electoral arena, the legislature, the judiciary and the media.

When these are captured, the results produced cannot be regarded as the true reflection of the will of the majority of the citizenry.

Using the above analysis, one should note that indeed opposition politicians like Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume were jailed on trumped up charges. Towards the election, an opposition MP candidate in Glen View, Grandmore Hakata was arrested together with 39 of his supporters.

An opposition supporter Tinashe Chitsunge was murdered in cold blood by ruling party supporters at a rally in Churu, scores of opposition supporters were left nursing wounds and broken legs. Judges of the courts were bribed with money in order to pass heavily skewed rulings against the opposition.

The above is some of what was noticed by the SADC observer mission and indeed that is what happened.

Reactionary Propaganda Against Progressive SADC Reforms Must Be Debunked

Even though Hichilema and some progressive liberals within SADC are trying to bring back the lost vehicle on the right way, some reactionary counter-revolutionaries in Zanu PF and the ANC have begun to sing boring, obsolete and antiquated songs about imperialism and neo-colonialism.

Whenever they are caught pants down, in a compromising position, they begin to look for neatly wrapped excuses to attack the voices of the voiceless. By hook or by crook, power must be retained, according to them.

Their arsenal of outrageously dangerous lies is always well-equipped. Even though they are the ones who made the revolution lose its way, blaming others is their most favourite modus operandi.

The most vociferous of all is Fikile Mbalula, the secretary-general of the ruling ANC in South Africa. For the past days, he has been peddling dangerous lies about Zimbabwe. In his wisdom or lack of, in fact in his lack of wisdom, the problems of Zimbabwe are from external factors, viz, Western quest for hegemony.

He is always supported by the disgraced former minister of propaganda in Zimbabwe Professor Jonathan Moyo who is desperately preparing for life after Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zanu PF. These guys, Fikile Mbalula and Jonathan Moyo, supporting Herald lies, always refer to the main opposition leader of Zimbabwe Advocate Nelson Chamisa as “a puppet of the West and a running dog of imperialism”.

In fact, they have shamelessly begun to put the same title on Hakainde Hichilema. Just because they don’t agree with Hichilema policies or in fact, because they are afraid of the reforms he is bringing in Zambia and SADC, they tell the most perilous lies.

If Hichilema chooses to ally with the Western powers, the same way Zanu PF chooses to ally with Eastern powers, what’s wrong with that? This reminds me of what the late and great Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, once said, “One of the problems which some political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies”.

He said that in 1990 while in New York City, USA at a town hall meeting after being asked by some why he was hobnobbing , dining and wining with former Libyan and Palestinian strongmen Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat.

Mbalula has the guts to talk about neoliberalism in his attacks. Paradoxically and ironically, Mbalula is a supporter of Cyril Ramaphosa, SA President, the man who is heavily implicated in the killing of 34 striking mine workers in Marikana, South Africa because of his pursuit for neoliberal profits where he was director at one of the mines.

One wonders if Mbalula knows the definition of neoliberalism or it’s just hypocrisy of the worst order. This Animal Farm style of propaganda must be unmasked and rejected for that matter. Mbalula is bringing the ANC into disrepute. The ANC of the esteemed statesmen like Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Reginald Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela has been hijacked.

It used to stand for democracy but its now slowly becoming a shadow of its former self. On the 7th of September 2023, *respected Zimbabwean academic Dr Ibbo Mandaza was supposed to give a public lecture at the OR Tambo School of Leadership but Mbalula stopped it. Is that democracy?

With characters like Mbalula at the helm, the ANC is degenerating towards authoritarian consolidation. Mbalula knows that the African National Congress(ANC) is gradually losing popularity in South Africa, that’s why he’s recklessly defending Zanu PF because he knows that once Zanu PF loses power, the ANC is next.

The hunger and thirsty for change increase once change occurs next door. The birth of dictatorship in the ANC must be understood in the context of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Zibblat’s book How Democracies Die.

The scholars posit that, “the backsliding of democracy is often gradual, with its effects manifesting overtime”, “people are often slow to realize that their democracy is being dismantled, even if it happens in their eyes”, “the erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps, none of the steps truly appears to threaten democracy”.

Though it will be met with massive resistance, the guardrails of democracy in South Africa will be under attack. People like Mbalula are the ones who are bent on making sure that SADC doesn’t provide a solution to Zimbabwe.

Progressives like Hichilema and others in SADC will be under serious attack from obdurate and intransigent reactionaries like Mbalula who are not ready to heed any calls for democratic consolidation.

All these name-callings and smear campaigns done by Mbalula, Jonathan Moyo and Zanu PF are rooted in attempts to run away from their shadows. Why is Africa poor? Some nations like Zambia are beginning to progress yet Mbalula and company, a bad company which corrupts good behaviour are turning a blind eye.

What Mbalula, Moyo and Zanu PF don’t realize is that the people don’t care whether the cat is black or white for as long as it can catch mice. The citizens don’t care who’s governing for as long as the government is delivering.

The people don’t care whether you are pro-West or pro-East or you are neutral for as long as you are executing your duties efficiently.

In certain countries like China, Rwanda and Tanzania, most citizens are satisfied with life because their governments have performance legitimacy, that legitimacy emanating from progressive economic reforms.

That makes citizens satisfied and quite a number of them divorce and wean themselves from being too concerned about the prevailing situation in the political terrain.

Mbalula likes to talk about leftism yet his organization and its friend Zanu PF are the most right wing, conservative and anachronistic organisations. The Zanu PF and ANC comprador bourgeoisie are the exact opposite of what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about.

The scholars, in the Communist Manifesto talked about a classless society with the proletariats at the helm. Alas, Zanu PF and the ANC continue to destroy the proletariats (workers) through massive unemployment, thereby creating a dangerously unequal society.

Yes the ANC and Zanu PF fought liberation struggles but those are not passports to use to oppress, suppress and depress the masses. By so doing, you empty the meaning of the liberation struggles against colonialism and Apartheid.

As Blade Nzimande, the SA minister of higher education once remarked, “once ama liberation movements sense that they are losing power, they begin to do a lot of funny things, they begin to come up with radical concepts”.

Exactly what Robert Mugabe began to do when his popularity was wanning. He began to talk about imperialism and neo-colonialism yet prior to 1999, he was known for his romance and bromance with the Westerners.

In their book chapter, Colonialism, Poverty and Underdevelopment In Africa, Dr Takavafira Zhou and Peter Machenjera write about this at length. The two scholars acknowledge that indeed colonialism did not leave Africa in good shape through its “robbery economy” but the problem has been immeasurably exacerbated and compounded by African corrupt dictators who have turned “the veritable paradise promised into a bullet to the head and a diet of starvation”, thereby leaving Africa “in bandages”.

While they profoundly acknowledge the negative effects of colonialism, the academics label it “too simplistic and intellectually deficient” to continue to blame colonialism for our problems so many decades after independence.

“For Africa to turn things around, it must take responsibility for its own actions”, the scholars further posit. So, these are the issues that Zanu PF, Mbalula and Jonathan Moyo deliberately fail to comprehend.

All these counter-revolutionaries from Zanu PF and the ANC are the ones so determined to torpedo the SADC Revolution which is credited to Hichilema and other progressives within SADC.

Is SADC Likely To Help Zimbabwe?

Due to disputed electoral outcomes, Zimbabwe has become what some observers have referred to as “the sick man of Southern Africa”, a term that was used in reference to Turkey prior to the days of the First World War of 1914.

Among scholars, it is undisputed that Zimbabwe has never had an uncontested and undisputed electoral outcome. That scenario has adversely affected the Zimbabwean economy rendering it moribund and comatose. If politics is sick, the symptoms also manifest through the economy.

Now, Zimbabwe is again drowning in the sea of a deep crisis emanating from the 2023 harmonised but also flawed elections. What is SADC going to do, considering that its observer mission noted that the electoral process failed to meet the expected standards.

Zimbabwe is a member state of SADC and it is bound by SADC rules and regulations. Can SADC afford to ignore the report of its SEOM?

Though it is impossible for SADC to overturn and nullify the disputed election, it has got a duty to proffer some solution to the current crisis and also help Zimbabwe in ensuring that habitual and cultural reforms take place.

SADC must help us to ensure that we chase away the ghost of disputed elections that continues to haunt and injure our nation.

In the context of seeking to understand, l asked Dr Simba Makoni and Dr Takavafira Zhou on what they thought might happen.

Dr Simba Makoni, former finance minister in Zimbabwe and former executive secretary of SADC (1983 -1994) had this to say, “Hi Clayton, thank you for your communications in connection with the above matter. Here is my response: l think SADC is going to try to help Zimbabwe but they will not succeed in their efforts. They will not succeed, not because they are incapable of helping, but because Zimbabwean authorities are unwilling to be helped.

The SEOM report marks a serious departure from previous SEOMs. Its significance is in the message it conveys to the Zimbabwean authorities and Zanu PF, that they can no longer count on the blind solidarity of regional peers.

Allow me to add a message to the youths of Zimbabwe, that change is in their hands. Regional neighbors or even the international community can only help when/where they see us seriously making efforts to solve our problems. I urge the youths to live the struggle slogan, “WE OUR OWN LIBERATORS”.

Dr Takavafira Zhou, a prominent historian and politician is of the opinion that, “SADC certainly has the capacity to help Zimbabwe resolve the impasse of disputed election results. Zimbabwe cannot afford the opportunity to ignore SADC recommendations as days of splendid isolation are a non-event in the fast moving regional, continental and global geo-political relations of the 21st century. Non-disputable elections results are a basis for reconstruction of Zimbabwe based on transparency, accountability, justice, equity, frugality and thrift”.

Indeed, what these two gentlemen raise is very pertinent. SADC seems, in spite of the disruptive efforts of certain conservatives in the bloc, to be willing to help Zimbabwe get out of the mud.

There’s going to be obstinate resistance from Zimbabwean authorities who are still in denial but a multi-stakeholder delegation to SADC and the AU is the panacea. Not only aggrieved and discontented politicians should go but, in their superb efforts, they should rope in important people like church leaders, academics, business leaders and other key stakeholders from the civic society who will help to amplify our voice to the AU and SADC.

Already, some people who hail from the aforementioned stakeholders have expressed their deep displeasure towards the electoral process.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches which is made up of not just mainline but widely acclaimed churches like the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Salvation Army, Evangelical Lutheran, etc, and senior Catholic Bishops in Zimbabwe have noted that the election was disputed.

Including such stakeholders in the diplomatic offensive to SADC and the African Union will strengthen the case. This will also ensure that if SADC helps us with a solution, the solution won’t be just an elitist pact. It must be a people-centered settlement.

Most probably, SADC and the AU might try to broker for some unity government or a transitional mechanism. But the foresight about the next election should be always thought about so that a provision for the establishment of a credible body that will run elections in the future is put in place.

Part of helping ourselves is coming together so that we speak with one voice to SADC and the AU.

Obviously, SADC and probably the AU are divided about the Zimbabwean crisis at the moment. Yes the SADC and AU revolution is in its infancy but we should make sure that we fuel it by staging an organised multi-stakeholder diplomatic offensive so that dialogue might bring some relief while also preparing for a permanent solution.

After Zanu PF, in 2008, got into power through disputed elections, the AU and SADC refused to endorse the election and called for dialogue. Yes some relief came but we now need better terms if a settlement is proposed.

Considering that SADC and AU observer missions noted innumerable shortcomings in the past election, it is not erroneous to think that they will try their very best to resolve the problem considering that in 2008, despite its problems, a settlement was arrived at.

With progressives and liberals like Hichilema now in positions of power and Influence, what is needed is a concerted and united front of Zimbabweans who help to raise the volume of the voice of SADC and the AU progressives who will help in waging the struggle for a solution from SADC and the AU.

As noted above, the Zimbabwean authorities are allergic to reforms, therefore it is incumbent upon Zimbabweans to be their own liberators through galvanising themselves towards compelling the current government to take heed of the calls from SADC.


Gifts from God indeed, Hichilema and other progressives in Africa need the support of Zimbabweans and Africans in their journey of pursuing the truth while ensuring the jettisoning, abandonment of lies. Most pseudo and fake Pan-Africanists are probably plotting the fall of Hichilema through pumping in a lot of money to ensure that Hichilema doesn’t win the second term in Zambia.

Such plots must be resisted. The SADC Revolution of telling the truth about the nature of the elections must be made to continue. If possible, SADC and AU must be reformed enough to ensure that member states who brazenly flout the rules and regulations are punished with Pan-African sanctions.

I once had this discussion with the late Zimbabwean lawyer Dewa Mavhinga who said to me, “Pan-African sanctions against rogue regimes are the best”.

Venceremos (We Shall Prevail).

Clayton Gonese is a 22 year old emerging writer who is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa.