This is for the two protagonists of Zimbabwe’s national politics — President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa: stop with the procrastination, swallow your pride and get with the talks now!
By Gabriel Manyati
The country is burning and every slight delay will be deleterious to both yourselves and the entire nation. You do not have a choice if you are serious about getting results for the beleaguered people of Zimbabwe, who for decades have had to endure untold hardship thanks to unmitigated misrule by former President Robert Mugabe.
The talks must be so all-encompassing, comprehensive and inclusive that they result in a broad consensus about finding national common ground to address the persistent challenges that have dogged the country for decades — even if it means forming a unity government. Nothing short of that will bring Zimbabwe out of its state of malaise and festering problems that have reduced the once-promising nation to a smouldering edifice.
We have heard plenty about the two leaders’ willingness to dialogue in the interest of the nation, but what has been lacking is concrete action, leaving many among the population suspecting that the calls are disingenuous. On one hand, Mnangagwa has been since he took power preaching the peace and dialogue gospel but nothing in material terms has happened to suggest that he means it, while on the other hand, Chamisa’s repeated onslaught against the president’s legitimacy is not the talk of someone serious about talking.
As the local and international goodwill invested in Mnangagwa dissipates in the wake of horrific reports of rights abuses by his government following violent protests over the last fortnight, questions about the leader’s sincerity abound. Only late last year, billionaire tycoon Strive Masiyiwa torched off a storm when he suggested in an interview with the CNBC news channel at an investment conference hosted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa that ED, as Mnangagwa is known among Zimbabweans, was sincere in what he wanted to achieve.
Many Zimbabweans were outraged by the comments because by their reckoning nothing on the ground has happened to prove this sincerity since he took power. Was the businessman sucking up to the regime in Harare for accommodation after years of being ostracised by the Mugabe administration, many wondered.
For starters, when Mugabe was ousted in a soft coup in November 2017, all citizens celebrated what was widely touted as the end of a perturbed episode in the young nation’s history.
Thousands of people marched in jubilation, seeing the fall of Mugabe as heralding the birth of a new era. Opposition figures, including Chamisa, the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and others gathered at Rufaro Stadium for a virtual carnival to mark the historic occasion, which took place following a week of intrigue during which the military grabbed power and put Mugabe under house arrest.
There was a palpable amalgam of sentiment in the atmosphere because Zimbabweans felt that the end of Mugabe was the end of all the ugly things associated with the Mugabe era.
While the nation was exultant and on the streets of Harare uniformed soldiers wielding AK47s suddenly became the darlings of everyone — posing for selfies with civilians at every turn — few people could have anticipated the statement by then finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to the effect that the removal of Mugabe was an internal ruling Zanu-PF matter that was meant to address the question of Mugabe’s succession. That was when it dawned on the cavorting opposition folks that they would most probably be deprived of the cake they thought they would get a piece of. It was and still is a Zanu-PF thing.
If fact, so widespread was the disappointment that stricken veteran MDC politician Job Sikhala posted on Facebook that Chinamasa was “divisive” for calling the coup an exclusively Zanu-PF matter.
In a way, the opposition leaders can be accused of naivety. They knew only too well that for the better part of the years since 2013 there had been a raging war of attrition between the two Zanu-PF factions; G40 and Lacoste. The clandestine leader of G40 had been Mugabe, fronted by his feisty, combative wife Grace, while Lacoste was led by Mnangagwa.
When Mugabe fired Mnangagwa, effectively eliminating him from the succession race, he pulled the safety pin from a grenade he scarcely knew lay under his seat all along. It exploded with the military generals led by now vice-president Constantino Chiwenga spearheading a coup that eviscerated what was for decades thought to be Mugabe’s unbreakable grip on power.
In celebrating the demise of Mugabe and seeing that as an opportunity for an inclusive new beginning for the country lay the naiveté of the opposition. Had it not been clear all along that there was an internecine battle to the death between the two Zanu-PF factions, complete with episodes reminiscent of a Shakespearean play, what with alleged poisonings and what have you? This was known in Zimbabwe even by children on township streets. So how did the melodramatic culmination of this saga suddenly herald the genesis of an inclusive epoch in our national politics?
What Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF did next is what sowed the seeds of the fractured state of Zimbabwean politics today. They wasted an opportunity for true nation building involving all stakeholders. By making the processes after the fall of Mugabe all and only about Zanu-PF, the stage was set for the opposition to pull in the opposite direction than that envisaged by ED and his government — who by sheer dint of the size of the rebuilding task before them needed all hands on deck. The polarisation that had typified Zimbabwean society since the formation of the MDC in September 1999, and had momentarily lifted in the jubilation of the fall of Mugabe, suddenly returned, making a mockery of the ephemeral stopgap unity of November 18. Both the politicians and society in general were back to their old ways of bickering and mutual demonisation along political party lines.
Many Zimbabweans fully expected ED to seek consensus about the way forward, forming a unity government with the opposition to put national reconstruction at the forefront of everything given the general malaise and disrepair in the economy and a myriad national institutions.
Needless to say, ED did not take long to announce an election. A part of the presumed thinking underlying this decision makes sense. The president had taken an unprecedented step in the history of Zimbabwean politics — taking power through a coup d’état — when he relegated his long-time mentor, Mugabe, to the trash heap of history. There was the question of legitimacy to be addressed. In a constitutional democracy such as Zimbabwe, presidential authority without getting power directly from the people through the ballot is a tenuous proposition. Mnangagwa understood that, hence calling elections despite the government being cash-strapped.
But the environment created in the run-up to the July 31, 2018 election was such that the toxicity Zimbabweans had gotten only too familiar with since the Mugabe years returned and persists to this day. After biting the dust in the wake of Mugabe’s demise and losing what they insist was a stolen election, the opposition has come up with phrases like “kudira jecha”, a figurative reference to a deliberate effort to throw spanners into the works with a view to making the country either ungovernable or as difficult to govern as possible.
While it is true that the former Zinasu cohort of leaders currently at the forefront of opposition politics in Zimbabwe has always had an antagonistic approach to political contest learned from their days as student activists, part of their frustration is rooted in the false start November 18 became.
Stung by how things turned out, they have made no secret of the fact that they will resist ED’s government and make sure it fails, with MDC Alliance MP Tendai Biti on record for saying after last year’s elections, “We will make sure they do not get a cent. I can not tell you how but I can tell you we have done it before.”
It is difficult to say whether Chamisa believes in his heart that he indeed won the elections, or whether he claims to have won so as to pour sand into the meal, the literal meaning of kudira jecha. Since the elections, Chamisa and his acolytes in the MDC Alliance have wasted no occasion to pelt at the president’s legitimacy. Needless to say, one can only imagine the effect this has had on ED and Zanu-PF. Far from endearing the youthful opposition leader to the authorities in Harare, it must have alienated them.
One must bear in mind that ED’s all-out public relations drive before and after the elections was meant to depict him as a reformist and a rebuilder.
With the opposition felling his legitimacy with its relentless knuckleduster of accusations of electoral fraud, coupled with events such as the fuel price hike protests and the subsequent brutal state crackdown, all the PR efforts are dead in the water.
The period after the elections was another opportunity for dialogue and engagement to prevent the sort of problems Zimbabwe is now grappling with today.
If Mnangagwa was parochial by wanting all the spoils for his party, so to speak, opposition elements hardly helped the situation when they mobilised hoodlums to protest on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release presidential ballot results before the counting was completed.
It would be a different story if ED and Chamisa were the only warring parties. The uneasy and increasingly acrimonious relationship between Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance has had ripple effects cascading to the merest member of Zimbabwean society.
It is almost impossible today not to see Zimbabweans on platforms like the microblogging site Twitter pelting each other with deplorable angry insults along political party lines over the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country. Summarily, Zimbabwe is a wounded, limping nation and therefore President Mnangagwa is urged to show leadership by having audience with his political chief opponent Nelson Chamisa to save our burning country. So far ED has said all the correct things, but what the people want to see is action. He called for dialogue; it is now time to initiate it.
The opposition can certainly make a meaningful contribution to the recovery and development of the country.
The argument that there is no need for talks since the ruling party won last year’s elections merely panders to political correctness. It is not about the correct thing to do, but about the right thing to do. Many had looked at the end of Mugabe’s decades of troubled rule as a glimmer of hope, not only in Zimbabwe but also among the wider community of nations. But since the country has remained fragmented and is even perceived to be retrogressing Mugabe’s exit notwithstanding, more has to be done, and this writer feels that a unity government or a similar formation would be the way to go.
This would not be just a unity government like the 2009 — 2013 one, but one with a long enough mandate to make a lasting difference and clearly defined benchmarks for its dissolution. In other words, it would not be discontinued just because a certain number of years have passed, but perhaps because it has reached definite milestones in terms of forging economic recovery and national socio-political healing.
It is time to set the personality politics of hatred, gamesmanship and one-upmanship aside, time to set egos aside, and bring everyone on board.
Mnangagwa has been lauded several times for all the right things he has said since taking power. Following through with national dialogue in practical terms will definitely restore the waning confidence in his leadership. He needs to realise that the folks in the opposition are Zimbabweans too and that resuscitating the economy without their buy-in and co-operation will be tough. He can only gain by working with them.
For instance, Chamisa, Biti and human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga have been accused of begging for sanctions when they met United States congressmen after the elections. The narrative is that after these meetings, sanctions were extended against Zimbabwe. Supposing this is true, it stands to reason that it is possible that if ED can engage these men and get them to put in a good word for his government and perhaps meeting certain mutually agreed-upon reform thresholds, sanctions can be lifted against the country. That these men have the audience of the Americans is undeniable. It is about dealing with things as they are rather than as we would have them be in the name of an idle hardliner approach.
Regardless of what form of agreements and understandings the dialogue culminates in, most Zimbabweans would be delighted and relieved to see any progressive outcome that would seriously start the process of ameliorating a socio-political and economic logjam that has bedevilled the country for a tumultuous nigh-two decades.
Of course, there would naturally be anxiety regarding whether the MDC Alliance and its cohorts used sanctions to muscle ED to the talking table, but given how dire Zimbabwe’s situation is, that consideration is secondary. Great leaders are more concerned about results and their own legacy than they are about who gets the credit. All stops must be pulled in the uphill task of building a Zimbabwe all citizens can be proud of.
We have long been in the gutter and even other countries are weary of our seemingly intractable problems. ED must ask himself what sort of legacy he wants to leave behind because right now not only is he in the afternoon of his life, but his stature is also sliding as if to confirm all the fears and worries people had about the kind of leader he would turn out to be.
Veteran ruler Mugabe used to say he would not step down because no-one in his party was fit to succeed him. It is time to prove him wrong, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.