Opinion

Zimbabweans, heal thyselves – don’t expect any outside help

At the end of the day, the fate of Zimbabwe will be wrought by Zimbabweans themselves. The outside world, including South Africa and SADC, has been ham-fisted in dealing with the situation.

By David Monyae

Discontent with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has hit a new high in Zimbabwe.

The unfolding narrative of the worsening crisis to the north of Limpopo involves new characters and intrigue. The current wave of instability started after citizens wanted to stage a protest against corruption and economic mismanagement. The protest was apposite because, for a long time, corruption in Zimbabwe has been endemic and economic failure is evident at first glance.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired Obadiah Moyo, his then minister of health, for corrupt practices. This was an implied admission that corruption runs deep in the government. It is concerning that the government went on a violent rampage to foil the protest, harking back to the violent days of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.

Whatever way one wants to see the current crisis, it resembles a floundering nationalist movement that has betrayed its own liberation ideals. Once again, Zimbabwe faces its usual periodical flares. This particular flare comes at the worst of times, whether seen from internal or external factors.

Despite the fanfare of a new dawn ushered in by the military in upending Mugabe’s almost four decades’ rule, both Zanu-PF and the splintered MDC formations failed to find ways of uniting the country around a meaningful reconstruction. This goes to show that Mugabe’s ouster was not an indictment on his leadership; it was a change of personnel, but business continues as usual.

The second most important factor that distinguishes the current situation from the previous disturbances is that the main guarantors of peace in Zimbabwe – mainly SADC led by South Africa, former colonial powers led by the UK and more importantly the US – have lost the power to influence the situation. Zimbabwe has always been a mirror of South Africa’s own domestic challenges.

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s handling of the Zimbabwe crisis during Mugabe’s tenure was pejoratively called “silent diplomacy”. Mbeki was constrained in being assertive towards Mugabe and this stemmed from the fact that Mbeki is a seasoned nationalist with reverence towards an illustrious nationalist of Mugabe’s ilk, and second, that the ANC and Zanu-PF also share certain ideals on land, historical consequences of racism and global politics in general. Thus, condemning Zanu-PF would be like condemning a kindred spirit.

The perceived power of Pretoria to influence President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF is eroding daily. While President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatches envoys, Baleka Mbete and Sydney Mufamadi, to Harare in an attempt to quieten the noise, his finance minister, Tito Mboweni, is preoccupied with the business of borrowing money from the IMF and the World Bank. This act of borrowing funds from the IMF was one of Zimbabwe’s original sins.

Britain and the US are too stuck in their own unravelling decline to be counted upon to marshal any influence in Zimbabwe. The UK, outside the EU, carries no sticks or carrots of note to be noticed in Harare. With all of the above, one wonders what exactly the envoys could possibly say to Mnangagwa and splintered MDC formations to really carry weight that warrants change? Not that the envoys even bothered speaking to the opposition. This leaves the entire crisis in the hands of Zimbabweans to resolve.

Back in the late 1980s, Mugabe, through his then minister of finance, the late Bernard Chidzero, knocked at IMF and World Bank doors. Although one is not privy to South Africa’s envoys’ message to Harare, it is absolutely clear that they are empty-handed. South Africa is in no position to talk about a financial rescue package for Zimbabwe.

What about the popular view that South Africa commands power over Harare through the military, Eskom, SAA and other levers? Eskom can’t keep the lights on at home due to sheer corruption and, similarly, SAA has no wings to talk about flying to Harare. 

Even the esteemed envoys are more likely to have flown to Harare on other national air carriers. One only has to follow the Zondo Commission, which replicates Zimbabwe’s own Willowgate scandal of the late 1980s.

The land question over which both Zanu-PF and the ANC fought bitter battles remains mired in corruption in Zimbabwe, and mainly indecisiveness on the part of the ANC. Zanu-PF has ultimately agreed to pay former white farmers for the land it once claimed would be taken without compensation – a current slogan in South Africa.

Britain and the US are too stuck in their own unravelling decline to be counted upon to marshal any influence in Zimbabwe. The UK, outside the EU, carries no sticks or carrots of note to be noticed in Harare. With all of the above, one wonders what exactly the envoys could possibly say to Mnangagwa and splintered MDC formations to really carry weight that warrants change? Not that the envoys even bothered speaking to the opposition. This leaves the entire crisis in the hands of Zimbabweans to resolve.

If I could speak to Zimbabwean leadership, both in government and opposition, I would say, “Don’t expect external players to assist. They have no power and influence to do so. Please grow up and fix the crisis without delay, starting with the economy and good governance. Neither ‘flushing out’ opponents nor ‘yellow revolution’ will hold in Zimbabwe.” 

At the end of the day, the fate of Zimbabwe will be wrought by Zimbabweans themselves. The outside world, starting with regional and continental bodies, has been ham-fisted in dealing with the situation. One of the regrettable facts about the so-called African agency and finding African solutions to African problems, is that Africans are not candid about the indiscretion of fellow Africans. 

It is only rarely that they call each other out, as happened in Gambia when former president Yahya Jammeh reversed his decision to concede electoral defeat and wanted to stay in power. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) showed uncharacteristic firmness and forced Jammeh to vacate the presidency. Unfortunately, this is not something that has been replicated in Zimbabwe’s situation.

SADC countries are well aware of how the government in Zimbabwe has been handling its politics. However, SADC chooses to look the other way, thus condemning Zimbabweans to state-sponsored terror that will drive millions out of their county. 

These realities should not discourage ordinary Zimbabweans. They should actually embolden them in the realisation that they are the ultimate arbiters of their country’s fate. DM

  • Dr David Monyae is the Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*