Opinion Zimbabwe

Will Mnangagwa-Khupe puppetry project succeed where Smith-Muzorewa failed?

By Taona Denhere

MDC-T interim president, Thokozani Khupe

Legitimacy in political parlance simply means acceptability or justification of political power or authority and obligation. It explains a scenario wherein the government of the day derives an uncontested popular seal of approval, acceptance, and recognition from the general public.

Accordingly, in realpolitik, legitimacy manifests itself in the political, democratic, performance and international strands. Needless to say, for the past 18 years successive Zanu-PF governments have been plagued by all different strands of legitimacy deficits. This dearth of legitimacy has manifested itself in the 20-year-old socio-economic and politico crisis currently engulfing and suffocating the nation.

Accordingly, this opinion piece will adopt a contextualised deconstructionist analytical framework as it attempts to unpack the latest attempt by the Zanu-PF government to judicially manufacture legitimacy. Therefore, it will analyse the tragic failures and missteps of the post November 2017 dispensation to acquire domestic and international legitimacy.

Furthermore, it will also take a contextual political flight into the past and interface the current political shock doctrine of co-option and control, divide and fool with the past politics of colonial bantustanism puppetry and explicate why the same historical legitimacy pitfalls and failures of colonial bantustanism puppetry will befall this latest neo-Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project of E.D Mnangagwa turbocharged by their trojan horse the MDC-T.

Post November 2017 legitimacy edifices

Military coup d`etats/coups d’etat are by their very nature burdened by the lack of democratic and political legitimacy. As such, this explains why the military junta that took power in Mali after the coup de’tat that toppled President Ibrahim Keita in August 2020 was immediately automatically suspended from the African Union and the ECOWAS.

Accordingly, the praetorian rapture of 14 November 2017 in Zimbabwe’s political ecology was immediately beset by legitimacy issues. Thus, the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the power grab/transfer had serious repercussions on both the democratic and political legitimacy of the presidency of Emmerson Mnangagwa, irrespective of  the silent and tacit approval of the military coup by both regional and international players such as the AU, SADC and the UK government.

Consequently, the raison d`etre of holding the 2018 harmonised elections was to provide an antidote to the November 2017 coup de’tat. This explains why for the first time in 16 years, the Zanu-PF government decided to extend and open floodgates for election monitoring and observing to the international observer missions from the USA and the EU which had been previously declared persona nan grata by the Mugabe regime since 2002.

Nonetheless, the July 2018 harmonised elections, instead of providing an antidote to the November 2017 military coup, rather morphed into a secondary infection that instigated another festering wound of illegitimacy to the beleaguered Zanu-PF government. This was aggravated by the manner in which the transactionalist Zanu-PF regime guided by paranoia, conspired to shoot itself in the foot by callously gunning down six innocent civilians and injured dozens on 1 August 2018 in front of local, regional and international media vision cameras. This was justified as a reaction to protests that broke out in Harare organised by suspected opposition supporters annoyed by the long-delayed announcement of presidential elections, also sustained by the  fact that the 2018 losing presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, had made proclamations of refusal to concede defeat and recognise the presidency and authority of E.D Mnangagwa.

The refusal by Nelson Chamisa and the MDC-A to confer domestic legitimacy placed the Zanu-PF government in a very difficult and untenable position. Nonetheless, in his desperate bid for international legitimacy, Mnangagwa instituted and authorised a commission of enquiry to investigate the violence and civilian deaths at the hands of security operatives which occurred on 1 August 2018. The Motlanthe Commission was primarily driven by the need to appease the international community and win the favour and endorsement of the international community, particularly the EU and the USA, rather than being a genuine and sincere instrument of restorative justice, reparative justice, and retributive justice for the victims of the August 1 shootings.

Unsurprisingly, the Zanu-PF government later failed dismally to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, particularly the investigation and prosecution of security operatives involved in the shooting down of innocent civilians. As such, the commission failed to provide the much elusive international legitimacy sought by the beleaguered Zanu-PF government.

Faultline of shock politics of control and co-option (bantustanism)

The inconclusive and controversial 2018 elections and the Motlanthe Commission both failed to confer political, democratic, domestic, and international legitimacy to the Mnangagwa government. In a glaring act of subterfuge, the Zanu-PF government decided to make attempts towards the manufacture of legitimacy through the shock doctrine politics of bantustanism. That is politics of co-option, control, puppetry and divide and fool. This was perfected in apartheid South Africa through bantustan chiefs and colonial Rhodesia through the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project as their laboratories.

In present day Zimbabwe, the so-called Political Actors Dialogue is a replay of this erstwhile colonial deceit. POLAD was launched on 17 May 2019, made up of 15 insignificant political nonentities. The combined national voting percentage of all the political formations constituting POLAD adds up to a measly less than 3 per cent. POLAD in all its intents and purposes was a puppetry vehicle designed to act as a conveyor belt of ushering domestic legitimacy to E. D Mnangagwa. The idea was that by creating a façade of dialogue, co-existence, and cross-pollination among the July 2018 losing presidential contestants, E.D Mnangagwa would hoodwink the international community into believing that the issue of domestic legitimacy to his presidency had been genuinely settled via the route of local frameworks and homegrown indigenous mechanisms, thereby disposing of the need for external intervention in the legitimacy question.

Inadvertently, the international community would then be duty bound to embrace and welcome Zimbabwe into the community of progressive nations. However, the Achilles heel to E.D Mnangagwa`s neo-Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project of POLAD was that it suffered an imposing domestic legitimacy deficit due to the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC-A’s intransigence to the incorporation and due recognition of POLAD. Therefore, without the input and involvement of Nelson Chamisa, POLAD became a mere vanity political project which was doomed to suffer political stillbirth from conception.

Having failed to extract both domestic and international legitimacy through POLAD, E.D Mnangagwa decided to adopt the Soviet Union relic political brinkmanship of authoritarian consolidation. Accordingly, Vladimir Lenin once opined that “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”. As such, over the last nine months we have witnessed the unprecedented assault of parliamentary and electoral democracy in Zimbabwe. The Judiciary and the legislature have become theatres of authoritarian restoration and democratic backsliding, whilst the courts and parliament have been compromised and weaponised to decimate the parliamentary and political existence of Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-A in favour of Thokozani Khupe’s MDC-T.

In Lenin’s communist style of co-option and control, E. D Mnangagwa has managed to create a parliamentary opposition in his own liking and image. This Judicially Modified MDC-T is a weak-kneed, spineless, and pliant pseudo “opposition” which is more than willing to do the bidding on behalf of its master, the ZANU PF government. The coup de force swearing of Thokozani Khupe as the leader of the opposition in the parliament completed the political gangsterism jigsaw puzzle of the Zanu-PF government. However, at the heart of this electoral and parliamentary daylight robbery is a two-pronged political brinkmanship strategy. On one hand is the institutionalisation and constitutionalisation of a de facto one-party parliamentary autocracy, whilst on the other hand is the deployment of a Judicially Modified MDC-T as a trojan horse for soliciting international recognition for Zanu-PF government.

There is no such thing as a free lunch in the brutal competitive winner eats all game of realpolitik. Zanu-PF has never been known as a benevolent political Father Christmas to other political players. Therefore, in a couple of months we are likely going to witness a blitzkrieg globetrotting charming offensive campaign undertaken by the MDC-T at the behest of the Zanu-PF government. Senior MDC-T officials such as Thokozani Khupe, Douglas Mwonzora and Morgan Komichi will attempt to engage the EU bureaucrats, the UK government and the USA lobbying them to unconditionally re-engage with Harare, and the USA to unconditionally remove its sanctions regime on Harare.

They will attempt to sell the EU, UK and USA a political dummy to the effect that they are the official opposition representing the wishes of the opposition constituency, despite their duplicitous act of conferring domestic legitimacy to a Zanu-PF government. And likewise, the international community should come on board. On the home front, we will probably witness senior MDC-T officials headlining Zanu-PF controlled, supposedly “national “events. We should not be surprised to see senior MDC-T officials issuing solidarity statements, headlining, and speechifying on the forthcoming SADC anti-sanctions day pencilled for 25 October.

However, E.D Mnangagwa cannot have his cake and eat it. That is, it is one thing to deploy compromised and captured courts and parliament to bastardised parliamentary representative democracy and install puppets and stooges in the form of new look JMO MDC-T. Nonetheless, it is a different political ball game together to sell that puppetry project (MDC-T) to the international community as the genuine and true representative opposition movement in Zimbabwe. You can fool people sometimes, but you cannot fool people all the time. The international community through its diplomatic missions in Harare have witnessed first-hand this Soviet Union communist style of democratic recession and parliamentary depression. Therefore, the JMO MDCT will not be able to confer and provide both domestic and international legitimacy on the ZANU PF government.

This JMO MDC-T is already plagued by a domestic legitimacy deficit. In the opposition court of public opinion MDC-T is a detested anathema. It is frowned upon and not recognised as the genuine and true representative of the opposition constituency. It is held in contempt by the ordinary opposition electorate who rightly feel short-changed and robbed of their parliamentary representatives. Therefore, such an entity, irrespective of its state assisted court and parliamentary victories, will continue to suffer huge legitimacy liabilities that will militate against its capability to confer legitimacy capital on Zanu-PF both domestically and internationally.

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes and failures. Thus, Ian Smith tragically failed with his Rhodesia/Zimbabwe puppetry project to manufacture both domestic and international legitimacy. We should not forget that even Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Chief Chirau went as far as visiting the USA to engage Washington insiders in an effort to buy international legitimacy for the Smith/Muzorewa puppetry project. Nevertheless, the then-US President Jimmy Carter refused both to recognise the internal settlement or confer legitimacy on the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project. This was because President Jimmy Carter was fully appraised about the Rhodesia question by his Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, who had first-hand experience of the intricacies of the Rhodesian question. Andrew Young had visited guerrilla camps and nationalists in Zambia and Mozambique.

In the same vein, it is natural and obvious that the USA, the EU and the UK are being kept appraised by their diplomatic missions in Harare about the political shenanigans of the Zanu-PF government on its support of a parliamentary coup de force being undertaken by Khupe’s  MDC-T. History has indeed come full circle, 41 years after the historical pitfalls of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project. We are witnessing the replay of the same script with different actors, but which is likely to spawn the same pitfalls and outcomes that led to the collapse and demise of the Smith/Muzorewa puppetry project. The golden question besetting Zimbabwean politics is “Will Mnangagwa/Khupe puppetry project succeed where Smith/Muzorewa failed?” Only time will tell!

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