From all accounts, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has won a simple majority of seats in parliament, displacing President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Zanu-PF leaders, however, have challenged the results and are considering whether to contest a presidential run-off in three weeks’ time. Irrespective of what happens in the next few days, the fact remains that the disillusioned Zimbabwean electorate has voted out President Mugabe and his autocratic government.
Which is saying a great deal for Zimbabweans who used to be cowed into silence by Mr Mugabe’s strong-arm methods. His repressive regime never made any bones about its loathing for press freedoms, its militias unleashing violence in the streets to target opposition parties and intimidate critics and journalists. It is very sad that Zimbabwe — once the economic success story of southern Africa — should have wallowed in political and economic chaos for so long. To recall: Mugabe led a guerrilla movement that fought and ended white rule in what was then Rhodesia, and ushered in an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. But his initial policies of racial reconciliation and development that brought education and health to millions soon gave way to political cronyism. The unraveling probably began when the Mugabe government used violence to seize white-owned commercial farms, ostensibly to return them to the landless black majority. Instead, Mugabe gave the farms to his relatives and cronies whose indifference led to immense tracts of cultivated fields being destroyed. As a result, a third of the population today depends on imported food handouts, while another third has fled the country as economic and political refugees.
With the highest inflation in the world and unemployment topping 80 per cent, Zimbabweans face a shortage of everything — from food and water to medicine, electricity and fuel. In that sense, these elections mark a stunning change of course for Zimbabwe. Never mind if it will be an uphill task for the new government to undo the wrongs of years of dictatorship and misrule.