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Constraints on multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe: opposition politics and Zanu-PF (1980-2015).

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This study is informed by Gramsci’s hegemony theory complemented by instrumentalism to analyse the constraints on multiparty democracy under the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government. Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 was led by President Robert Gabriel Mugabe for 37 years up to 2017 when the military edifice deposed him. Electoral contests between the Mugabe-led ZANU-PF and pro-democratic opposition parties, inclusive of those that were formed out of ZANU-PF, gave the opposition no chance of gaining power. The closest the opposition came to winning was the March 2008 harmonised elections when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) broke ZANU-PF parliamentary hegemony, and when Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe for president, only to be prevented from forming a government on grounds of electoral technicalities. This dissertation is premised on the constraints on the institutionalisation of multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe. It analyses the efficacy of the growing opposition to ZANU-PF rule and how the liberation narrative espoused by ZANU-PF critically hampered the development of democratic traditions. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of attendant challenges to effective multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe in view of the military takeover in 2017. It is a study that transcends the narrow confines of analysing ZANU-PF alone and blaming it for mayhem in the country. Rather, the research posits that the governance crisis in Zimbabwe is a shared responsibility. The shortcomings in the objectives, strategies and modus operandi of opposition political parties in Zimbabwe and the strength of ZANU-PF are analysed. The extent to which opposition parties were sponsored by western countries to effect regime change, and the extent to which their political programmes were largely driven and shaped by internal considerations and reflected the ‘will of the people’, were evaluated. The thesis considers ethnic divisions and post-independence inheritances in making conflict inevitable. It argues that ZANU-PF built up strong liberation narratives designed to entrench its hegemony, with media portrayal of opposition parties and ZANU-PF to serve different ends. Finally, the role of the military in Zimbabwean politics, oftentimes characterised by unremitting violence, is considered as militating against peaceful democratic politics and a smooth political transition after the 2018 elections.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.