“President,” an intentionally infuriating documentary of Camilla Nielsson, describes a presidential election in 2018 in Zimbabwe which is so obviously rigged, it is easy to imagine that it is satirized on an episode of “Veep.” After being oppressed by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regime for 38 years, in the military coup of November 2017 president Robert Mugabe is by force dismissed from power. However, this seeming move towards reform quickly demonstrates to be just a power play, when fellow ZANU-PF member Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to replace him in yet another fraudulent election. Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, a 40-year-old lawyer, is his big opponent, who opposed President Mugabe’s regime when he was a student activist, ending in him being hit with a metal pipe that cracked his skull.
It is transparent that he is a more well-known candidate, drawing huge crowds, whereas the number of supporters for Mnangagwa can’t even fill a stadium after bussing in alleged advocates. Nevertheless, there is no spoiler when Mnangagwa is determined that he won, in spite of the fact that the figures never support him, with 200,000 extra votes being arranged in a specified province. Being asked how it is possible when sixteen counties would have announced similar election results, the ZANU-PF’s ridiculous lawyer claims that there was only a behavioral scientist being able to explain how such an incredible accident could happen. Even a student at grade two does not believe in this pathetic lie—at least, there would be a hope.
“President”, which is executive produced by Danny Glover and Thandiwe Newton, works as a frightening continuation of Nielsson’s fairly riveting documentary in 2014, “Democrats,” an profound look at the three-year process where Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) was received the useless task of drafting a charter which would lead democratic laws to Mugabe’s dictatorship. In both films audiences could have a large amount of anxious laughter from both politicians and citizens, who seem to show their awareness that the very concept of democracy being strived in Zimbabwe is a foolery. Definitely, Paul Mangwana, a lawyer and unambiguously “yes man” for ZANU-PF, officially confirms with Nielsson that “the game of politics is pretending,” and that it is truly “useless” when trying to ruin Mugabe’s system.
I wrote, in my “Democrats” review, “How Nielsson could capture such honest responses—from a man whose very life depends on his ability to deceive—is one of the film’s lingering mysteries.” In “President”, Mangwana appears again during a crisis meeting organized by the Zimbabwe Election Committee (ZEC) one week before the election, where attendants show their indignation that MDC was denied approach to the ballot papers, the ballot printing process, and the voter roll itself. In a faint effort to swallow up these criticisms, Mangwana whimpers these “unproven” allegations before getting out of the room, showing all the Trumpian behaviors of a true loser.
Of course, this matter is not entertaining at all, especially when six civilians are fatally shot by soldiers after a protest against ZANU-PF, since the camera remains on the literal blood in the streets. Identified by a looming fear, Nielsson’s film isn’t very suspenseful. To some degree, this election works as a microcosm of democracy’s speedy decay in the global, and not even the optimistic swells of Jonas Colstrup’s sometimes invasive score can fool us into believing that Chamisa gets an opportunity of being announced the winner, in spite of the fact that the MDC’s “parallel voter tabulation process” evaluates he won by 69,000 votes. No question is asked why the people love Chamisa. At a rally, he draws the crowd by showing the ZANU-PF’s apparent crime of enabling $15 billion to disappear with no interruptions.
Standing in front of an anti-corruption team founded by President Mnangagwa, Chamisa jokes, “A mosquito can’t cure malaria.” It is not surprising when the ruling party can only win through oppression and force, driving this film to make a suitable double bill for Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus’ investigation of voter repression in the US, “All In: The Fight for Democracy.” We pay attention to how village chiefs in Zimbabwe advised residents at the voting stall that they would be rejected food if they vote for Chamisa, while the ZANU-PF promised food to get their votes. Other voting spots were merely attacked by thugs probably working for Mnangagwa, who would hit anyone assigned to tabulate the votes in an appropriate way.
Although Chamisa declares change can be postponed but no longer denied at the film’s end, the following years have only proved that such hope stays as inaccessible as Godot. During protests in early 2019, it is estimated that there were 17 people killed, 17 women raped by security forces; furthermore, it is reported that these horrors of Zimbabwe’s government have rose since the dawn of the pandemic. Just this past October, Chamisa endured two assassination tries when he successfully registered to be voters who have become revolted by ZANU-PF. It is no wonder that a number of unknown crew members’ names are shown over the end credits of Nielsson’s film because they endangered their safety to make sure that this footage appears for the first time.
The distortions of justice shown throughout “President” become extremely duplicative and unavoidable that it causes one fatigued; additionally, they will be thankful if only that the democracy has been killed so obviously and meticulously recorded. In spite of the fact that the MDC’s lawyer made his case in a bracingly brilliant way, Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court either rejected or were strongly banned from the first steps. While ZANU-PF’s victory is eventually protected as being “independent of figures,” an opposition member jokes that this was a “selection” rather than an “election.” It was slightly noticeable when police in riot gear tried to stop a press conference held by Chamisa after Mnangagwa’s foreordained win—until they discovered it might be inappropriate to the international press gathered there. In Mnangagwa’s rashly prepared rebuttal press conference, he claims that “With the eyes of the world on us, we delivered a free, fair and credible election”. The eyes all over the world were observing alright, and with a beaten sigh, they collectively grumbled.