Interview on the Zimbabwe Election with David Coltart

By Mpumelelo Nxumalo  |  Harvard Africa Policy Journal  | 6 August 2013

After presiding over economic decline marked by hyperinflation which brought Zimbabwe to its knees, president Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party have emerged as victors in the recent harmonized elections in Zimbabwe. Mugabe got 61% of the vote and his ZANU-PF party won 158 of the 210 parliament seats, giving it a two-thirds majority in the legislature. In order to understand what this means for Zimbabwe’s future, the Harvard Africa Policy Journal has obtained an exclusive telephone interview with the outgoing member of parliament of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from Bulawayo, Mr. David Coltart.

David Coltart, an MDC Senator, has been a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe since 1983. He was first elected to represent the Bulawayo South House of Assembly constituency in June 2000, and was re-elected in March 2005. In March 2008 he was elected as a Senator to represent the Khumalo Senatorial constituency in Bulawayo. Senator Coltart was sworn in as Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture in February 2009. He lost his seat in the recent election and has conceded defeat to Thabitha Khumalo of the MDC-T, and will not be seeking a recount despite a narrow margin. We discuss the Zimbabwean election and more below.

HAPJ: What is your opinion of the way the elections were conducted first in your constituency in Bulawayo and overall? 

DC: Whilst the election is one of the most peaceful, we have been subjected to electoral fraud on an unprecedented scale. I have seen it in my own constituency but I have also seen evidence of that countrywide, and to that extent it has thrown the country into a state of extreme crisis.

HAPJ: Please describe these incidences of electoral fraud and any breach of electoral law? Have you brought these concerns before the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer missions, and what has been their response?

DC: Well, even prior to the election on Tuesday (July 30th) I met with the head of the SADC mission here in Bulawayo, and presented a letter detailing six fundamental breaches of the electoral law. Since then there have been a variety of breaches of the electoral law and the constitution. There are six breaches I have identified (which took place prior to the election).

Firstly the initial proclamation of the election itself was illegal in that president Mugabe did not consult the cabinet in setting the date of the election. Secondly, the laws used to run the election using the Presidential Powers Act were in breach of section 157 of the constitution. Thirdly, the voter registration exercise was not done in compliance with the constitution. Fourthly, the section relating to state-owned media communication was regularly breached as there was failure to provide a fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and opinions in the run up to the election. Fifth, there was a biased application of section 152 of the Electoral Act (the provision which deals with election materials). The opposition MDC people were arrested for taking down posters of the ZANU PF despite lack of evidence. In contrast, ZANU-PF went on a wholesale campaign of tearing down campaign material sometimes in full view of the police but they were not arrested. The sixth issue is probably the most serious and absolutely critical was the breach of section 21:6/7 of the Electoral Act by the Zimbabwe Election Commission – the provision that obliges the Electoral Commission to supply each candidate one electronic copy of the constituency voters roll. This was a key element of this election that was never complied with. We are four days after the election and I still have not seen the said copy.

All the above happened prior to the election. On Election Day (July 31st) it became apparent that the absence of an elections voters roll was exploited. I saw hoards of shaven-head young men in my constituency, and we did not understand the full impact of what they were doing until the evening (See this video of Minister Biti facing what appears to be similar problems in his constituency on election day). There were seven polling stations that were located within a 2 kilometer radius of Brady Barracks, and when the results came out, they bore no relation to historical trends in that area. ZANU PF in those particular polling stations got ten times more votes than I did, which was completely disproportionate to what happened in other areas. The next thing is that hundreds of people were turned away in my constituency on allegedly not being on the voters’ roll. These were people that have voted before. There is a further provision of the Electoral Act that says that during the count, police are not permitted to be present. Yet in every single polling station police were present.

You see it is not just one issue; there are multiple reasons why this election was illegal and violated the constitution.

HAPJ: The two leading African observer groups –the AU, headed by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and the SADC– have said the elections were free and fair. What recourse does this leave the MDC and MDC-T going forward?

DC: The AU has a completely different attitude to SADC and it is not surprising that (the Zimbabwean election) has been given a clean bill of health by them. They were focused almost exclusively on whether or not the elections were violence-free. They did not focus much of the legality of it. So to that extent, their coverage is not surprising. SADC has not given a completely clean bill of health, and does not want to jump to any conclusion. They have not said to their knowledge that they found it fair. But ultimately, you asked what our options were. We have limited options, because we have seen how the courts have ruled (on matters like this) in recent times…But I think, ultimately, it is going to come down to economics, i.e. how they (ZANU-PF) are going to govern the country with such low confidence. There is a mood of depression right across this country. One would think that having won a landslide victory with 61% of the vote there would be a joyous mood in this country. It is just the opposite; there is a mood of extreme depression across the country.

HAPJ: What can ordinary Zimbabweans do? Has there been any civilian action?

 DC: I’m not sure there is any civilian action that can be taken. Tragically, now they (the ZANU-PF) are going to have to govern…We will be interested to see how they will do it.

HAPJ: The MDC-T leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has warned that this election will plunge Zimbabwe into crisis. Do you agree with this sentiment?

DC: I think Zimbabweans are in an extreme state of crisis. I know as Minister of Education how little money there was to run the education sector, and I don’t see anything changing in the short term. The only option is if those ZANU-PF officials who have been so corrupt stop being corrupt and channel more of the diamond resource revenues towards the education and health sectors. But I think that is unlikely.

HAPJ: Going back to the race in your constituency. You have already conceded despite what some have called a narrow victory for Thabitha Khumalo (MDC-T). Please explain your decision not to seek a recount?

DC: Given the narrowest of victories like this one can seek a recount. I had a very good team of polling agents including chartered accountants and people of that caliber. So I am pretty confident that they counted correctly. Also, my battle has never been against MDC-T. I was a founding member of the MDC-T. Had it been a ZANU-PF candidate, I probably would have sought a recount, and quite frankly in parliament it is not going to make too much of a difference whether I am there or Thabitha Khumalo is. I don’t think it is worth going to the extent of a recount. But I think there is a minimal chance of the figures changing and had I less confidence in my polling agents then I would have sought a recount.

HAPJ: We have spoken about what you see in the future for Zimbabwe. What about you? Do you plan on staying in politics in Zimbabwe after this?

DC: I have been involved in politics all my life, and God-willing, I don’t see this as the end of the political road for me. It is a time to regroup. I have been at this battle for thirty years against this regime and thirteen years in parliament. Over the next few weeks I will consider my options, whether I go back to law. But, generally I think that we need to regroup, not just myself. There is no doubt that the failure of the two MDC factions to reach a coalition agreement – although it would not have won the election – certainly handed a variety of seats over to ZANU-PF on a platter. We need to regroup and I will devote more of my energy to try to strike common ground with democrats in this country.


original at


  • comment-avatar
    chimsoro 11 years ago

    sour grapes!

    • comment-avatar
      ndumiso 11 years ago


  • comment-avatar
    Kevin Watson 11 years ago

    A very fair and balanced comment. Your father if he is still alive must be proud of you. I played golf with him way back in the 1960s and early 1970s and he had high hopes for you then.

    • comment-avatar
      jackie 11 years ago

      I agree with you Kevin. I have never met David, but I had been in communication with him over the years via email. I did speak to him over the telephone when I visited Zimbabwe in 2005. He is a man to be admired. He is selfless and dedicated to the well being of our beloved country. his father would certainly be proud of the son he has raised.

      • comment-avatar
        makotsi 11 years ago

        Haa is that so; so this election has delivered a devastating blow to the diehard Rhodies. Long live Gushungo.

    • comment-avatar
      Naison Nyereyegona 11 years ago

      Kevin Watson, so you used to play golf with Coultart’s father ha? That means you are one of those Rhodesian Demons still living with and among us, my God!!! I am sure you fought mercilessly for Rhodesia, and probably lost a limb or two, or you could be one of those foolish Rhodies who lost a son or two trying to preserve the artificial life of Rhodesians!! We are loughing at you today. We are loughing at your lost world, we are loughing, loughing and loughing at the life you must be living today!! David Coultart, a good man????? If you think you can still mock us from the seemingly comfort of whatever stone you crawl under, you are better advised to crawl back to that stone, hibanet and keep quiet!!!! Keep quiet before the spirits of the hundreds of freedom fighters that David Coultart killed as a memeber to Ian Smith’s nortorious Sellous Scouts start to sniff you out of your fox hole!!!!!! I think the rains do not come because Zimbabwe still has people like you and Coultart.

      • comment-avatar
        The Farside 11 years ago

        And I am loughing at how comically misinformed you are Naison about Coltart’s history. You need to stop blindly believing everything the puppet master Jonathan Moyo tells you my friend and start thinking for yourself. Moyo is a pathological liar and will literally say anything to further his own political career. In other words he’s a typical politician.

        • comment-avatar
          makotsi 11 years ago

          Surely times change, Do you think Coltat love black Zimbos? If indeed he loves black people why did he not refuse to join the murderous Rhodesian security system ?

          • comment-avatar

            unenge unatwoo iwe. Unoda kudiwa nevarungu sitereki. Learn to love and like yourself first.

  • comment-avatar
    super mondo 11 years ago

    all your hard work david,,if they ask you to work for zanu tell them to fk off

  • comment-avatar
    joseph reads 11 years ago

    Its high time for all you Brits to see that Mugabe did not rig but pple just love him for his frankness and to the point he does not care whether you are white or black he calls a spade a spade not shovel. What can Coltat say its already predicable he was a cop in the Smith regime that incarcerated Mugabe for 11years in prison while he was fighting for democracy that you are now abusing. We know all this history and it is the same history that Mugabe said during campaigns and people voted him. Its better for the opposition to swallow their pride and accept defeat. They are exposing themselves to the electorate that they are puppets and cry babies as what Mugabe said to Tsvangirai two days be4 elections. Grapes are sower. Icho.

    • comment-avatar
      jackie 11 years ago

      mugabe failed to deliver in 33 years. what makes you think things will be different now. mugabe vowed Zimbabwe would never be a colony again, yet he has allowed china to colonise zimbabwe. Our people will never reap the riches of zimbabwe. China owns Zimbabwe. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  • comment-avatar

    Too late now but if the MDC’s had not split the vote they would have won at least another 10 seats (even without any rigging) which would have got them a lot closer to blocking the 2/3rds majority.

  • comment-avatar
    Nduru 11 years ago

    All you guys who love ZANU-PF, enjoy them! I hope they make all your dreams come true. Just don’t go crying to anyone else when they leave you washed up and desperate, as they always do. I will be the one ‘loughing’ when you have to scrape money together to get your children into schools and universities outside the country because Zimbabwean education collapses yet again. Good luck my friends!

  • comment-avatar

    so the result is fair because it was won by thabitha, but it is unfair if Zanupf had won, but all those polling agents were trained by ZEC. really, and jackie and watson ” you are so proud of the son “. really? the son who is that selective in his judjement of fair and what s not. Zanuwins by 300+ margin– its unfair, MDC wins by 19 votes, its fair!!

    Nonsense, manje we will run parliament and all those MDCMPS are going to cry tears , as we overule all their silly objections. You just wait. No more obstructions from those silly parties.

  • comment-avatar
    kelvin t 11 years ago

    Zimbabwe needs to be united whether its black or white ,Mr Coltart did a good job and for the president honestly that man has failed.

  • comment-avatar

    Zanu ngaitonge

  • comment-avatar

    I am probably 4th generation Zimbabwean, born in 1977…..looking back, I now thank God I was born in Zim. I am so grateful my school class in the ’80s and ’90s was filled with all races and cultures (this was normal to me)….we didn’t see colour! Yes, my forefathers had many successes and failures…. but I am the new generation….. I can’t take the blame or change the past…..but I do have control of the present and the future…. I do have the responsibility to love my God and love my neighbour as myself. In the Kingdom of God, there is no room for racism, hatred, judgemental/critical attitudes, revenge and pride…..only forgiveness, reconciliation and humbleness etc. So I am a white Zimbabwean whether I like it or not….. and I love my country. In the Kingdom of God, there is no right or wrong political party as such…… I believe God would have us pray…..”Oh Lord, thank you for this beautiful Nation. Lord, we stand as one~ all races ~ and we need you!! On behalf of those who have gone before us and us ourselves….. please forgive us for not following you, for not including you in our lives…. for not making you FIRST in our Nation….we invite you Lord…we say You are the only one who can heal and restore our Land. Forgive us for complaining, mumbling, moaning, judging and criticising and believing we can fix things in our own strength….. we fall humbly on our faces, we cry to You deliever us from our own sins, may we each look deep into our own hearts, search us oh Lord…help me to become more like You. We choose to place You on the throne as King over Zimbabwe ~ we invite You to have Your way….. we ask You to take Your rightful place as the leader of Zimbabwe. We pray for our leaders…. that whoever leads our Nation, will love You and put You first….thank you for a leader who has a heart and passion for the people….may their heart beat like Yours! All You ask is for the Zimbabwean people to stop trying to solve their problems in their own strength…..Oh God, You are a God of miracles, nothing is impossible for You! So we are not faced with the issue of which political party won etc. The issue is whether or not we as a people will humble ourselves, fall before God, cry out to Him for mercy…..oh for leaders who will put You FIRST!!!

  • comment-avatar
    Chatunga 11 years ago

    Racist comments in response to this article are just distasteful. Mr Coltart did a great job as a minister of education. I wouldn’t really mind if he was reappointed as a non constituent minister or whatever so that he finishes the job he started in 2009. Zvekuti Chinotimba aite education minister ndoo zvandaramba!