This Study Guide is made by: Netsai Marova, Maureen Nicol, Camilla Nielsen, Anne Köhncke, Courtney B. Cook, Phd/Education Manager, POV

Themes: Democracy, elections, electoral fraud, dictatorship/autocracy, political structural violence, election observation, media, Zimbabwe, Africa


Director: Camilla Nielsson
Genre: Documentary
Languages: English, Shona
Duration: 115 min.
Production Countries: Denmark, USA, Norway
Production Companies: Final Cut for Real (DK), Louverture Films (US), Sant & Usant (NO)
Year of Release: 2021


Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The new leader of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC A), Nelson Chamisa, is challenging the old guard, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic front (ZANU-PF), represented by the country’s incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The 2018 Zimbabwean general election will serve as the ultimate test of both the ruling party and the opposition. How will they interpret democracy in a post-Mugabe in discourse and in practice?


This guide is an invitation to dialogue. It is designed as a tool for teachers and people who want to use President to engage pupils, students, classmates, colleagues, and communities. Conversations that center on politics and democracy can be difficult to begin and facilitate, but this guide is meant to support you in sustaining conversations around democracy, activism, politics, colonialism, and the importance of community organizers. In contrast to initiatives that foster debates in which participants try to convince others that they are right, this document envisions conversations undertaken in a spirit of openness in which people listen actively and share divergent viewpoints with care and respect. We hope this discussion guide will inspire people and students with varying degrees of knowledge about these topics to enter the conversation and hopefully stay in the conversation in order to impact change and awareness.

The discussion prompts are intentionally crafted to help a wide range of audiences think more deeply about the topics in the film. Rather than attempting to address them all, choose one or two that best meet your needs and interests. 

On this website you can also find other material that can further inspire or give more insight on specific topics than this general guide.


●   Nelson Chamisa, main candidate for the opposition party/ now former president of Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (successor of the late, founder and President Dr Morgan Richard Tsvangirai), community organizer

●   Robert Mugabe, former president of the Republic of Zimbabwe (more below)

●   Emmerson Mnangagwa, current president of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Longtime ally of Mugabe and was Mugabe's Vice President until 2017.

●   The Political Parties - The major political parties in Zimbabwe are the following:

○      Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC A) is the political party that was formed in opposition to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

○      Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is a political party that was under the leadership of former president and prime minister Robert Mugabe. Originally, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) merged with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), and this political party became ZANU-PF. At one point ZANU-PF had sole control over parliament. This political party was formed and led by Mugabe, but in 2017, ZANU-PF led the coup to remove Mugabe from office. After Mugabe was removed, the ZANU-PF was led by the former vice president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

○      The Patriotic Front (PF) was organized as a military and political alliance between the ZANU and ZAPU parties.

○      Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) is the newest political party and was formed on the 24th of January 2022 by Nelson Chamisa after this upsetting loss in the presidential election. The CCC was formed after the film was finalized.


●  1980: Zimbabwe gained independence from British rule and ZANU political party leader, Robert Mugabe, became the first Black prime minister of Zimbabwe.

●      1987: Amendments to Zimbabwe’s Constitution created the new role of Executive President and gave Robert Mugabe power to run for office for an unlimited period of terms. This amendment effectively made Zimbabwe a de facto one-party authoritarian-ruled state.

●      1990s: Though Mugabe won elections in March 1990, according to Human Rights Watch, these elections were accompanied by intimidation of opposing parties and manipulation through government-controlled media. Throughout the 1990’s, the economy sharply contracted and was met with civil resistance, workers strike, and growing discontent with the government.

●      1999: The economic crisis in Zimbabwe worsens and the opposing political party, MDC, is formed and led by Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.

●      2002: Despite the MDC’s attempts, Mugabe is re-elected through elections that were neither free, nor fair. During this election cycle many opponents were assassinated through state-sanctioned violence.

●      2008: Tsvangirai (MDC) gains the parliamentary majority vote in March 2008 but in the presidential runoff elections in June 2008, Mugabe is declared the winner after Tsvangirai withdraws due to state violence under Mugabe’s rule which made free and fair elections impossible.

●      2013: Mugabe gains a seventh term leading Zimbabwe despite reports of unfair election.

○  The nation came together for the constitution making process which resulted in the writing and adoption of the new constitution which was adopted in May 2013. This process can be seen in the award-winning film Democrats.

●      2017: Mugabe resigns days after the military takes control as part of a coup coordinated by former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa becomes the president of Zimbabwe.

●      Early 2018: The first post-Mugabe election is held.

○  February 2018: Opposition candidate Tsvangirai dies of cancer. Nelson Chamisa takes the place of Tsvangirai and becomes the presidential candidate for the MDC Alliance, running against Mnangagwa.

○      July 30, 2018: The election takes place. At two p.m. the results stop coming in. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) delays announcing the results of the presidential election (suspected rigging taking place)

○      August 1, 2018: People protest because of the delayed announcement of the results. Protestors chant, “Please protect my vote” and six civilians are killed by the army in the streets of Harare.

○      August 2, 2018: The ZEC announces the results and declares Mnangagwa the winner.

○      August 2018: The MDC Alliance goes to court to argue that Mnangagwa's victory should be overturned due to fraud, but despite all of the data and stories the MDC Alliance has collected and presented, the court rejects the opposition’s plea to annul the election results. The constitutional court declares Mnangagwa the duly elected president of Zimbabwe.


●  Post-Election 19 September 2018: The Motlanthe Commission of enquiry was set by the government to probe the post-election violence that left 6 people dead after the July 30, 2018, elections. Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe was appointed the Chairman of the commission by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

○  The commission submitted an executive report to Emmerson Mnangagwa on 29 November 2018 (detailed report: https://www.veritaszim.net/node/3616 ) The report has a number of recommendations for changes. Mnangagwa sets up a Task Force, consisting of a number of ministers from his government and the head of ZEC, Judge Priscilla Chimumba.

●  Early 2020: world pandemic hits Zimbabwe. A national lockdown enforced; many lives lost due to lack of health services.

○  Around May 2020; The Government of Zimbabwe uses lockdown to close the democratic space. No political activity was allowed at the time.

○  Increased repression, many opposition activists were abducted, tortured, and jailed for protesting for citizens welfare.

●  Jan 2022: Citizens Coalition for change is formed, led by Nelson Chamisa

○  19 sections of the Zimbabwean Constitution were amended

●  2023: National election 23rd August 2023



●  Civic engagement

●  Unfair elections, voter suppression, and State violence

●  Authoritarian Regimes

●  Voting rights and legitimacy

●  Nationalism and citizenship rights

●  Human rights and violence

●  Community resistance

●  Political corruption, violence, and power

●  Grassroots political organizing, activism and mobilizing community

●  The key principles of democracy (freedom of expression, independent judiciary, independent election authorities)

●      The building of democratic institutions in an undemocratic environment





On April 18, 1980, the Republic of Zimbabwe gained independence from British colonial rule. Robert Mugabe served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as president from 1987 to 2017. Mugabe’s presidency was marked by controversy, rigged elections, and violence against his political opponents. Mugabe resigned from his post in response to political and military pressure organized by Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe’s resignation symbolized hope for a new beginning for Zimbabwe that centered the people—as evidenced by scenes of Zimbabweans cheering in the streets upon his resignation to illustrate their enthusiasm for change. Mnangagwa took over Mugabe’s role as president of Zimbabwe.

The political story of Zimbabwe is one of corruption and hope for democratic change. After Mugabe stepped down, the opposition leader of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), Morgan Tsvangirai, was seen as the favorite to win the first post-Mugabe election. Tsvangirai energized crowds with promises of no more violence and support for human rights. Unfortunately, Tsvangirai passed away four months before the 2018 presidential election. Nelson Chamisa stepped in and took over as the presidential candidate of the opposition. President Mnangagwa assured the people of Zimbabwe that a peaceful, fair, and transparent election would take place in 2018. The two main candidates were Chamisa (MDC) and Mnangagwa (ZANU-PF).



At the time of this film’s development, Nelson Chamisa was a 40-year-old lawyer who had been fighting the regime of former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe since he was a student activist. He had been fighting physically, financially, mentally, and emotionally for a new Zimbabwe for most of his life. In the film, Zimbabweans admirably call him “Mr. President” and the best hope for the country. Chamisa built incredible momentum for the 2018 election with little financial resources. Some people doubted him because of his age. But he did win people over with his charisma, by connecting with them at intense rallies, and with his honesty. During the course of the film, Chamisa shows himself to be a leader who can navigate systems and structures despite disruption and corruption (i.e., illegal ballot printing, death threats, and the murders of innocent people). Chamisa handles these upsets with grace and calm while remaining steadfastly dedicated to a free and fair election by any means necessary. When he was said to have lost the 2018 Zimbabwe election, The MDC challenged the election result in Zimbabwe’s constitutional court. However, despite the overwhelming evidence of voting irregularities, the judges, who were appointed by the ZANU-PF regime, ended up handing power to Emmerson Mnangagwa.

After long-running government harassment of the MDC, Chamisa later abandoned the MDC and now runs a new political party, the Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC). He continues to fight tirelessly for a democratic Zimbabwe and the will of the people.

Zimbabwe was one of the last African countries to become independent from Britain and then was governed by the same leader and political party from 1980 to 2017. President illustrates how this recently independent country is hungry for change at a pivotal time and the efforts required of Chamisa and other leaders to liberate the people of Zimbabwe from the corrupt ruling party. The next election will take place in August 2023, and Nelson Chamisa is running again under the CCC banner.


Unfortunately, Zimbabwe has become known as a country that lacks credible elections. In 2018, Human Rights Watch published an article that highlighted the abusive laws and violence on the part of the ruling party that hamper free and fair voting. Military and security interference in elections has persisted since Mugabe was in office, as the film demonstrates. Additionally, the film brings to light how the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), a body tasked with overseeing the election as a neutral party, had trouble remaining independent and fair. The ZEC’s lack of impartiality was concerning in the 2018 election and ultimately led to the election being seen as illegitimate.

President illustrates how a democratic society is unachievable when constant violations interfere with fair and just elections. Illegal ballot printing, delayed voting results, abuse of poll workers, and suppression of voting rights are just a few of the elements that lead to voting and election fraud and ultimately obliterate the right to choose representatives and democracy itself. At one point in the film someone asks, “How do you govern a country when you know you have not won an election?” Voting is a democratic right that people use to select a leader who will represent them, their needs, and their dreams. The election between Chamisa and Mnangagwa tramples on democratic rights and the right of Zimbabwean voters to choose their leaders freely and potentially opt for change and hope. The MDC made known its concerns about a rigged election and provided sources and data regarding abuse of poll workers and voters, as well as examples of illegal actions taken by the ZANU-PF to secure leadership and “victory.” The evidence was shared in a high-profile court case. Ultimately, the court upheld the false election results. Democracy is a system that is governed by the will of the people. President shows how the freedom, and the will of the people may be unstable and oppressed by corruption, lack of transparency, and violence. The film opens discussions about what is at stake when the hopes of a democratic society are violated and threatened by state-sanctioned violence. This knowledge and the discussions that the film inspires could explain why this film was banned by the Zimbabwean government. Freedom of speech, freedom to vote safely, and freedom to seek change are what Chamisa wants for his country, but he was robbed of his opportunity to birth a democratic Zimbabwe in the post-Mugabe era.

SOURCES (click to expand)

Human Rights Watch (2018, June 7). “Zimbabwe: Lack of Reform Risks Credible Elections.” Human Rights Watch. (2020, October 28).

Retrieved August 25, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/07/zimbabwe-lack-reform-risks-credible-elections

Matiashe, F. S. (2022, April 25). “Zimbabwe: Who’s Who in Nelson Chamisa’s Inner Circle.” The Africa Report.com. Retrieved August 25, 2022, from https://www.theafricareport.com/193436/zimbabwe-whos-who-in-nelson-chamisas-inner-circle/

Moyo, J. (2018, August 24). “Zimbabwe Court Upholds Results of Presidential Election.” The New York

Times. Retrieved August 25, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/world/africa/zimbabwe-election.html

Public Broadcasting Service. (2018, August 3). “Legal Challenge Necessary for Zimbabwe Election

Legitimacy, Chamisa Adviser Says.” PBS NewsHour. Retrieved August 25, 2022, from



Elections and Election Observation:

For High school students who have not voted themselves yet, explain the basics of how you vote: how to use a ballot, the voting booth etc.

●  How does the election for Government work in your country?

●  Who can vote in your country?

●  What is Voter’s registration? Do you have to register to vote in your country?

●  Why is voting anonymous?

●  Discuss how you think an institution, or an individual can cheat at an election.

●  Do international observers observe elections in your country?

International election observation 

Election observation or election monitoring of an election is done by one or more independent parties, typically from another country or an international organization.

Election observers systematic gather information and formulate concrete recommendations to state authorities. They observe to which extent the electoral processes respect fundamental freedoms and are characterized by equality, universality, political pluralism, confidence, transparency and accountability.

The overall goal is to help the national authorities to improve the integrity of the electoral process and secure fundamental civil and political rights and promote democratic development and stability.


Who typically carry out international election observation?

Individual countries and international organizations and can contribute with election observers, for instance OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), EU (European Union), Organization of American States, the Commonwealth Secretariat, The Council of Europe and the African Union. Before World War II election monitoring was unusual, but today most elections around the world are monitored by independent parties.


Immediately after the film, you may want to give people a few quiet moments to reflect on what they have seen or pose a general question (examples below) and give people some time to jot down or think about their answers before opening the discussion:

●  If you were going to tell a friend about this film, what would you say?

●  Describe a moment or scene in the film that you found particularly striking or moving. What was it about that scene that was especially compelling for you?

●  If you could ask anyone in the film a single question, whom would you ask and what would you want to know more about?

●  Did anything in the film surprise you?


The Separation of Powers

Separation of powers is a political and legal principle which states that state power must be distributed among three independent institutions: a legislative, an executive and a judicial power. The principle of separation of powers is enshrined in the constitutions of many countries. However, there are large differences between countries when it comes to how power is actually distributed between a legislative parliament, an executive government and judicial courts. 

●  This film shows us how democracy can be an elusive goal. Reflect on your ideas of democracy. What do you think the concepts of democracy are? What needs to be in place for these concepts to come to life?

●  What are some of the biggest threats to democracy?

●  Why should citizens be able to safely choose who represents them?

●  Can you think of ways your country could be more democratic?

●  Why is it important to have an independent judiciary?

●      What are the elements of democracy you think the people and Chamisa are fighting for?

●      What do you associate with the word corruption?

●      “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a famous quote (by British historian Lord Acton). What do you think it means?

●      How is corruption a problem for democracy? Do you have any examples from the film? Do you have any examples from your own country?

●      Nelson Chamisa calls himself a servant of the people. Do you think it is possible to represent the people without serving them? What does it mean for a leader to be a servant of the people?

●      How do politics and power connect to human rights issues?

●      What are the ways that politics and power provide some with opportunities and/or create barriers for others?

●      In what ways is it a politician’s responsibility to promote equality and to ensure that everyone has the same rights?

○      Why must politicians work to ensure that fairness and justice are cornerstones of countries that claim to be Democratic?

●      What is the role of people and communities in holding those with power (e.g., politicians) accountable?

○      How does violence and state power threaten the power of people and communities?

●      Should individuals stand up for what’s right when it puts them and those around them at risk?

○      What do the conditions of risk and threat suggest about systems and structures of power? Why, for example, are activists and political leaders who are fighting for justice and equality at heightened risk or threat? Who, and what, is threatening them?

○      What are the people in positions of power afraid of? Why?

●      Is making change worth risking it all? Why? / Why not?

●  Describe some of the broader implications of not fighting for democracy. Can you mention examples from the film that highlight the dangers of authoritarian power?



A healthy democracy depends on many things, and it is important that we are aware of and protect all the elements. The map here can be used as inspiration for further work and conversation.


●  Why is it important to have an independent election commission?

●  In the film, Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Zanu-PF party fraudulently win the presidential election. Do you think it is possible to govern a nation whose people did not elect you to lead and to do so with integrity and be of service to the people?

○  How is power mishandled in the election process and what are the implications for everyday citizens?

○  Chamisa and his people accuse ZANU-PF of abusing food aid as political weapon, that they distribute food aid to people only if they vote for the party. This was also stated in the full Election Report by EU. How do you understand this? What does this mean for the democratic rights of the poorest people in Zimbabwe?

●  The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is responsible for the management and administration of Zimbabwe's electoral processes. In the film we see how the new Chairperson Priscilla Makanyara Chigumba is sworn in by Emmerson Mnangagwa, after her predecessor resigned without explanation. How do you interpret what you see of her in the film?

●      Why is transparency in governance and elections important?

●  How do you see the role of the international community in this election as it was presented in the film?

●      Discuss the role, responsibilities and challenges for election observation in any election. Especially elections in countries that are emerging democracies or countries where democracy is under challenge.


To observe or not to observe, that is the question

Discuss the dilemma: Is it better to come and observe even if the observation and the report cannot be accurate, or is it better to not come at all and to say officially it is not possible to observe accurately?

○  How can a non-accurate report or press release be misused by the ruling party?

○  What can be the consequences if there are no international observers or media present?


See also Kåre Vollan's article "Election observation - does it help?" (LINK COMING)


Suggestions for thorough deep diving for higher levels and those particularly interested:

Read the election observers' press release and the full report that came later. (LINKS COMING)

● Apart from the length, what do you think are the main things that are different?


Suggested in depth research for higher levels:

Read the Election observers press release and the full report that came later. (links)

●      Apart from the length, what are the most important things, in your mind, that are different?


The next election in Zimbabwe is 23rd August 2023. What is important before an election?

Here are 6 key conditions* that can help determine the integrity of the election process in any democracy before an election is held. All 6 preconditions need to be in place, before an election can be called free and fair.

* Source: Siphosami Malunga, Executive Director ved The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

●      After having watched the documentary President, which of the 6 conditions do you think was in place before the election was held in Zimbabwe?


In June 2023, Zimbabwe’s parliament made criticism of the government before presidential and parliamentary elections in August illegal, and can be punished with up to 20 years in jail.

See link to news article


Here is director Camilla Nielsson's summary of how things were before the 2018 election:

The Voters’ Roll

In Zimbabwe the voters’ roll had for the past 30 years been badly organized and had not been released for inspection and verification. When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was pressured to release the register for verification, the versions released were incomplete and riddled with errors. Moreover, the ZEC were accused of allowing ZANU-PF access the voters’ roll.

The Ballots

The ZEC broke electoral law in its design of the ballots to favor President Emerson Mnangagwa. ZEC also made it incredibly difficult for independent observers to witness the printing, and there were widespread allegations of irregularities in the counting, posting and transmitting of ballot papers and results.

The independence of the Electoral Commission

In past elections, the ZEC had not been able to ensure a free and fair election, and again it failed to build trust or answer allegations that it was biased towards the ruling party and heavily staffed by former ZANU-PF members. The head of ZEC, Priscilla Chigumba also refused to meet opposition leaders, or address their concerns. 

The Laws

During the election campaigns, opposition candidates were allowed to campaign much more openly and in many more areas than during previous elections. However, the laws which could have been used to crack down on the opposition were not actually removed, just suspended temporarily.

The Military

The military is closely aligned with ZANU-PF and has been deeply involved in Zimbabwean politics for years. During the election campaign there were reports of intimidation, and six people were killed and many more were severely injured when the army opened fire on demonstrators protesting the delayed results of the elections.

The Media

As international observers noted, the ostensibly independent Zimbabwean state media essentially acted as the mouthpiece of the regime and manipulated coverage to downplay the popularity of the MDC.


Specific information about Voter’s registration in Zimbabwe: see link (LINK COMING)



President is an observational documentary, which means that the filmmaker does not offer commentary on her subject; she simply lets her viewers watch the story unfold.

●  How would the film have been different if she had used interviews with experts?

●  Did you like the observational style of this documentary? Why? /Why not?

●  What do you think of the picture of the Zimbabwean election that the film gave? Do you trust that this film told you the truth? Why? /Why not?

●  What makes a documentary film trustworthy and believable?

●  What does the term ’The 4th Estate’ mean?

●  What does it mean that the press/media is free?

●  Do you think that the media is free in Zimbabwe?

●  What role does the media play in creating democratic space or in limiting democratic space?

○  What role does media literacy play, particularly when media is run by the State?

●      What is the role of the media/journalists in the film?

●      In this film, is news media a trustworthy source? Do you think there a difference between national and international media?

●      Why do you think it is mainly the international journalists asking questions at the press conferences?

●      What is the relationship between the politics, political figures and the media in general and in Zimbabwe? Do you know how it is in your country?

●      How does the media benefit and/or hinder the political agendas of various politicians?

●      Do you think that this film would have been different if the story was told by a Zimbabwean filmmaker? If yes, in which ways?

●      President has been banned by the Zimbabwean government, and it is prohibited to screen the film in the country. Why do you think the film was banned?

●      Is free media and freedom of speech important? Why?





●  To learn more about Zimbabwe’s political history and how it informs the present, visit the webpage of Camilla Nielsson’s film Democrats. It is helpful to see both films (Democrats and President).

●  Zimbabwe Cultural Centre in Detroit is an educational center and archive promoting the country’s arts and culture.

●  Freedom House Reports on Zimbabwe look at the past and present of politics in Zimbabwe.

●      Variety article on the film President being banned in Zimbabwe by the government.

●  Abducted, beaten, sexually assaulted and jailed for protesting Amnesty International on Joanah Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecillia Chimbiri who were abducted, beaten and sexually assaulted after leading an anti-government protest in Zimbabwe.