“Democracy is and should remain disciplined rule requiring compliance with the law and social rules. Our Independence must thus not be construed as an instrument vesting individuals or groups with the right to harass and intimidate others into acting against their will. It is not the right to negate the freedom of others to think and act as they desire,” former president Robert Mugabe said on April 17 in 1980.
As early as 1986, at the burial of the Zipra commander, Lookout Masuku, Joshua Nkomo observed that: “What Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite. And one of the worst evils we see today is corruption. The country bleeds today because of corruption. There is something radically wrong with our country today and we are moving fast towards destruction …” Joshua Nkomo said on April 12, 1986.
Zimbabwe’s “imperial presidency” and leadership infallibility have four inseparable and consistent allies in populism, cronyism, grand corruption and violence. The deliberate re-organisation of all state structures to ensure an impenetrable network of allies from the State House, Treasury, military, intelligence, police, Foreign Affairs, judiciary up to the lowest strata of government. Where state capture fail, there has always been that sinister back-up toolbox so aptly used since Independence, namely criminalisation of opponents or deploying violence against them. This weaponisation of the law is a tragic re-enactment of Rhodesian fascism. A rule by law and terror!
There are many parallels between Zimbabwe and South Africa. The hole in the heart of the Zimbabwean governance is the lack of accountability, grand corruption, pervading impunity, phenomenal wastage in both state-owned enterprises (parastatals) and the public sector; and the epic capture of the state by a few families and corporations. There is a conspiracy against the very essence of the revolution and the state by its leadership who are attempting to turn the country into a private limited accountability company (Zimbabwe Inc). South Africans should ask whether their own country is in the early stages of its accelerated decline into politics similar to what we have seen in Zimbabwe? In the 1980s, a popular activist suggested that Zimbabwe is the trailer and South Africa is the movie.
Simple or simplistic strategy?
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s pre-occupation seems very simple: decimate all internal (Zanu PF) and external opponents. Start off by dismembering the opposition MDC; constructing a constituency of friendly or proxy opposition parties; neutralising the oppositional base in the Matabeleland provinces and Bulawayo; and assuaging the whites to ensure that any resurgent opposition does not have domestic financial support.
This is a simple or simplistic strategy with a sting in its tail. It assumes a static set of oppositional forces and an organised set of easily purchasable Matabeleland and Bulawayo groups. It also assumes that white commercial farmers and broader global finance capital interests are easy to win over through simplistic gestures.
Deviation in Zanu PF is keeping the old path when the leader has changed course. With the new insatiable appetite to appease global white interests and international finance capital, the Mnangagwa administration has begun a dangerous game that might put it on a collision course with veterans of the liberation struggle. Mnangagwa must now figure out how best to contain growing discontent with his policy direction and leadership style in an ideologically eclectic and less cohesive Zanu PF. His regime suffers from a significantly diminished mastery of narrative and diplomacy.
The plunder of state assets and the control of strategic economic sectors, such as agriculture, mining, roads and infrastructure, trade in game products, tourism, financial services, telecommunications, pension funds and commodity supply chains, now shape the new elite alliances and feuds. All this is happening in a country where inflation, unemployment, food insecurity, inequality, poverty, disease, uncertainty and corruption have become rampant. Zanu PF’s biggest opponent — by far — remains the ailing economy.
Approximately 800 000 to two million Zimbabweans live in South Africa regularly and/or irregularly. Any Zimbabwean social, economic or political developments that increase this number effectively become a domestic policy issue for South Africa and the African National Congress (ANC).
South Africa’s “quiet diplomacy” approach, anchored on the belief that Pretoria could influence the behaviour of others by secret negotiations or by refraining from taking a specific action, has over the years proved to be either counter-productive, ineffective or simply an unwitting postponement of catastrophe. The South African government’s reluctant to project its power to impose solutions on other African countries is often unbecoming of a regional hegemon. South Africa does not want to be seen as a policeman of Africa or, for that matter, a neighbourhood bully.
Despite the intractable nature of the Zimbabwean crisis and its direct and indirect impact on the South African economy and society, Pretoria is ever so cautious and reluctant to be seen throwing its weight around or force Zimbabwe towards any particular political course. This seems unsustainable in the context of Covid-19. Besides, South Africa has recently exhibited an ambition to play a more decisive role in both continental and global affairs by its international diplomatic commitments in countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq, Palestine, South Sudan and the Middle East. These foreign policy commitments are wide-ranging both in scope and purpose.
South Africa’s foreign policy strategy of cautious engagement in its immediate neighbourhood and more decisive and active engagement elsewhere in the continent and the world, betrays an irreconcilable contradiction in light of recurrent incidents of Afrophobia against black African foreign nationals in South Africa. Strategic national interests, defined as developments that could affect the lives of South African citizens, do not at all support this strategy. In the context of Covid-19, any implosion in Zimbabwe would have unwanted and unwelcome domino effects for South Africa and the SADC region as a whole.
Quiet diplomacy ultimately led to a deepening crisis within the Zimbabwean state and Zanu PF and resulted in the coup d’état that saw Mugabe ousted barely four years after his election in 2013.
In the penultimate analysis, “quiet diplomacy” did not and will not result in any transformative change in Zimbabwe. That said, so where does this leave us now?
On September 7, 2020, the ANC secretary-general, Elias Magashule announced the delegation of the ANC national executive committee to hold “bilateral discussions with the leadership of the central committee of Zanu PF on Wednesday 09 September 2020”.
The delegation includes high-level ANC officials, including the chairperson (Gwede Manthashe), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Tony Yengeni, Lindiwe Zulu, Enoch Godongwana and the Magashule himself. On Tuesday, Zanu PF issued a statement on the visiting ANC delegation clarifying this visit is to discuss issues of mutual interest and that the ANC delegation will meet a Zanu PF delegation led by Obert Mpofu as part of party-to-party engagements.
The Zanu PF statement refers to what it terms “false claims of a nation in crisis” and promises to use the opportunity to “share the reality on the ground in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the region candidly and frankly with their revolutionary sister the ANC”. The Zanu PF statement issued by Patrick Chinamasa concludes by stating that “Zanu PF wishes to make it categorically clear that this is a meeting between the Zanu PF delegation and the ANC delegation only”.
Prior to the current overtures, on August 6, the ANC and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Dr Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete as his special envoys to Zimbabwe. They visited Harare and left without seeing any other stakeholder at the insistence of Zanu PF. A few months prior, on December 16, 2019, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the Global Political Agreement that established the 2009 inclusive government, visited Harare and met with both Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa. This raised hopes of a potential political dialogue, but nothing came out of it.
There is clearly a misunderstanding between Pretoria and Harare on the scope of the current party-to-party engagement as there seems to have been regarding the special envoys sent by Ramaphosa in August 2020. Zanu PF seems ready to lecture the ANC about the state of “Zimbabwe, South Africa and the region candidly and frankly”.
For its part, some of the ANC delegation members have insisted that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe and they will engage not just Zanu PF , but other key stakeholders as well. Reading between the lines, despite the euphemisms and the diplomatic niceties, this is unlikely to be the usual where the ANC is relegated to junior brother by Zanu PF. It is unlikely though that the ANC will engage in megaphone diplomacy, although it is clear that quiet diplomacy is no longer preferred.
Harare needs more friends now than it has ever done. But the leadership of Zimbabwe are supremely proud people and are unlikely to take too kindly to South Africa lecturing them on governance and human rights. Herein lies the dilemma for the hawks in Harare; they need South Africa’s neutrality or friendship. A hostile South Africa might complicate life significantly for the post-coup regime.
There is crisis in Zim
The questions one asks determine the quality and veracity of answers that one gets regarding the crisis in Zimbabwe. The first major question is when did Zimbabwe’s social, economic and political crises actually begin?
Is it 1961, with the constitutional crisis that led to the collapse of the constitutional conference? 1965, with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Rhodesian racist minority regime of Ian Douglas Smith?
Around 1974, when per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) began a fall from which it has never really recovered? Around 1979, with the escalation of the war of liberation?
In the early 1980s, with payment of Rhodesian apartheid debt?
Between 1984 to 1987, when the Mugabe government ran a military operation code-named “Gukurahundi” that resulted in the murder and/or disappearance of up to 20 000 civilians in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions?
In September 1991, when the stock market crashed after interest rates were raised to high levels following the imposition of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap)?
With the 1989 Sandura Commission on the Willowgate Scandal?
With looting of War Victims Compensation Fund and National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim)?
In early 1997, when war veterans were paid ZW$2,5 billion unbudgeted pensions and Zimbabwe deployed troops in the DRC spending on average US$1 million per day?
In November 1997, when “Black Friday” decimated the Zimbabwean dollar’s value by 74% in four hours?
The victory of the “No” vote in the constitutional referendum on February 12, 2000?
In February 2000, when Mugabe gave the go ahead for nationwide land occupations by war veterans?
In 2002, when the US Congress promulgated the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera)?
In 2006/07, when the government started to aggressively seize mines and other investments under the guise of implementing the indigenisation and economic empowerment policy?
In 2008, when the election result was held in abeyance for almost 45 days only to declare an inconclusive result?
With the June 2008 election re-run?
In 2013, when Mugabe won a 67% of the presidential vote? In 2014, when Mugabe fired Joice Mujuru? In November 2017, with the military coup? or
With the disputed July 30th post-coup election outcome?
There is a majority of disarticulated, disprivileged and dehumanised citizens who live each day an incident away from disaster.
Thomas Sankara summarised it this way: “Our revolution is not a public speaking tournament. Our revolution is not a battle of fine phrases. Our revolution is not simply spouting slogans that are no more signals used by manipulators trying to use them as catchwords, as code words, as foil for their own display. Our revolution is, and should continue to be, the collective effort of revolutionaries to transform reality, to improve the concrete situation of the masses of our country.”
- Brian Kagoro is a lawyer and political analyst. — Twitter: @TamukaKagoro77.