By Hopewell Chin’ono
Yesterday when Robert Mugabe celebrated his 94th birthday after 37 years of initial hope and then subsequent plunder and a ruinous rule, it is an important point and day where one must reflect on where they want to go and what they have learnt from the past.
The MDC-T drama has made me realize that we have learnt very little about the past 37 years and that we are part of the problem and yet we blame politicians all the time for our misery.
A politician is like a child, they will try their luck until you stop them, Bob Marley said ‘… give them a yard and they will take a mile.’
We must understand and agree on why and how Zimbabwe became what it is today. Robert Mugabe did not wake up one day presiding over a ruined country, it was a journey which saw him recede our freedoms, rights and access to a better life.
Mugabe managed to do so because he weakened the pillars of the state through a patronage system.
He destroyed the very institutions that were meant to keep political rule in check and make the executive accountable to parliament.
Unfortunately, parliament became a rubber stamp for Robert Mugabe’s wild and corrupt frolics and as his megalomaniac attitude hurtled the country down the tubes, those that followed him religiously gave him more power.
He was a popular politician and great orator and we were reminded of that all the time we questioned his unconstitutional actions like taking the Zimbabwean army into the disastrous Congo adventure.
We were reminded of how popular that decision was and how he was doing the right thing for the region even though it was outside a parliamentary mandate.
Whenever a television news package with Mugabe was on our screens, everyone would be told to keep quiet in order for his admirers to suck in their high priest’s seductive words.
He knew that he spoke well and you could tell from his self assuredness, as he posed for dramatic effect, that he had a captive audience eating from his palm.
It was all talk and nothing else as we now know!
Mugabe the great wordsmiths and orator knew that his followers would not question his meandering ways. When Mugabe was faced with a problem, that is when his true colours would come out and he would resolve political disputes with wholesale violence.
He did that in Matebeleland, he also did that with ZUM with the shooting of Patrick Kombayi in Gweru, he unleashed disproportionate violence against the white farmers in 2000, he again deployed violence during Murambatsvina. Then in 2008 he unleashed a frightening terror campaign against all Zimbabwean districts that had voted for Morgan Tsvangirai.
Had Mugabe not been faced with tricky political situations, we would have been loving him to this very day and probably sending him birthday cards.
I don’t celebrate his broken legacy because he gave us independence with one hand and then he took it away with the other hand. We probably would have done much better with a different leader.
The one thing not to forget is that Mugabe’s rise was underpinned by his oratory skills and his wild popularity, his ability to make you want to listen and demand more, the same skill that Adolf Hitler possessed. Seduction is the right word for it but the outcomes of both men’s actions were extremely disastrous.
There is a reason why America can afford to elect a buffoon like Donald Trump and get away with it.
It is because America is a country with strong institutions and that it is big on constitutionalism and the rule of law.
There is also a reason why their constitution has to be adhered to resolutely, it is because it protects them from megalomaniacs like Trump and Mugabe.
Now looking at the recent MDCT tragic case of violence, intimidation and unconstitutional behavior, we have been told that Nelson Chamisa was selected as opposed to being elected by some back room process which according to his supporters is constitutional.
The other side has challenged the constitutionality of the so called 2014 amendments and demanded that they be produced, nobody has been able to produce them.
Even Morgan Tsvangirai’s former advisor, the lawyer Alex Magaisa has also been requesting for the same document for over half a year without luck.
I spoke to one of the lawyers advising Nelson Chamisa, the truth is that there is NO such constitution.
The lawyer says that amendments were tabled at the 2014 congress but Douglas Mwonzora as the Secretary General did not deal with the administrative filing of the amendments into the constitution. How that could happen, I have no idea.
The ascendancy of Nelson Chamisa became topical two weeks ago. I personally have been talking to Chamisa for over two years now about the need for him to step up and represent the younger generation.
I thought he would do that but in a clean way.
Just like Mugabe’s days, those of us calling for him to adhere to the MDC-T constitutional prescriptions, rules and regulations have been verbally abused on social media by trolls and his supporters.
We are labeled ZANU PF just like during the Mugabe days when we were labels MDC sell outs, we have been told that he is popular therefore the constitutional debate is irrelevant. Like seriously?
His party the MDC-T was founded on constitutionalism and the adherence to the rule of law. It was also rooted in the doctrine of transparency, tribal and racial tolerance and was originally totally against violence and intimidation!
We have seen embarrassing scenes of violence against Chamisa’s adversaries at Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral of all places.
This is nothing new, when there was a disagreement regarding the 2006 senatorial issue, Morgan Tsvangirai lost the vote but he subverted the rules by saying his decision was popular and that led to the party split hence the MDCT, T standing for Tsvangirai.
Violence was used and the enduring image is that of Trudy Stevenson lying in hospital battered and bruised.
In 2013 when Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership was challenged by Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti, again indiscriminate violence was used against those calling for him to retire and Elton Mangoma was one of the victims.
When Thokozani Khupe challenged Morgan Tsvangirai about the alliance electoral pact, the MDCT militia called the Vanguard went to Bulawayo and indiscriminately beat up Thokozani Khupe and her colleagues.
This time around when Nelson Chamisa’s ascendancy has been challenged by his colleagues, the same militia group used violence and this time the videos and pictures are glaring and readily available.
They called Chamisa by name in the video and referred to him by the moniker, Wamba Dia Wamba, a name of a Congolese former rebel commander who fought with and led the rebel group, Rally for Congolese Democracy.
The Vanguard leader Shaky Mukoyi dressed in military fatigues and a beret clearly states in one of the videos that he was getting his instructions from Nelson Chamisa, so it is ridiculous for anyone to say that Chamisa has nothing to do with this vigilante militia group.
Shaky Mukoyi tells the group, some high and drunk, that Chamisa has asked them to release the detained MDC-T Deputy President Thokozani Khupe and Secretary General Douglas Mwonzora from the hut where they were being threatened with a bonfire as punishment for their resistance to Chamisa’s ascendancy.
The thugs sang menacing songs saying that if anyone sells out, they will meet an unspecific fate. This is all in the videos.
Journalists were threatened and their equipment pulled from them. This is all in the videos.
Now is this how leaders should be chosen? Is this the kind of popularity which is underpinned by menacing violence and intimidation that we should tolerate and accept as a nation? What lessons have we learnt from 37 years of a rule underpinned by violence and intimidation.
I personally would have wanted to see Chamisa rise to the top but not in this way. This is not the kind of leadership behavior that this country needs after 37 years of Mugabe’s frightening political subjugation where Mugabe put the whole country under a yoke of terror.
There are many that believed in a dream of seeing Nelson Chamisa as the MDC-T legitimate president.
The longer he takes to order an independent commission to look at the violence and the leadership row, the more those look for alternative choices.
He can’t expect right thinking people to take his redress statements seriously by asking his security and intelligence units to preside over the matter over who instigated the violence. It is a bit like asking CIO to investigate the police over violence against the opposition.
As citizens, we have a moral responsibility and obligation to reject this kind of stone-age politics. It confirms that Mugabeism has become a way of life for some and that Mugabe’s departure was the removal of an architect but that his plans are still intact and remain embedded in our political psyche.
I hope and pray that Nelson Chamisa will reflect and realize that he must disband this MDC-T militia called Vanguard and that he must seek a mandate on a clean and untainted platform of ideas not violence, intimidation and constitutional chicanery.
This country has to decide whether it wants to continue with more of the same acts of violence, intimidation, unconstitutionalism and unbridled appetite for power that is taken at any cost with the citizens cheering on.
Citizenship is not just about being Zimbabwean but about being able to responsibly decide what Zimbabwe should look like.
If you chose to support any actions because they are being carried out by a populist politician, you have NO right to squirm when that decision backfires!
That will introduce you to becoming a victim of economic violence where your survival becomes dependent on the benevolence of your tormentors.
Zimbabwe needs a strong opposition party that can hold the government of the day to account. It can not do so when it is equally guilty of doing the very things it is accusing the government of the day of doing, unconstitutionalism, abuse of office and deployment of violence as a weapon of settling political disputes.
It will be constantly reminded that it is an illegal construction and its leader will be dogged by issues of legitimacy, hypocrisy and dishonest.
Zimbabweans should know and remember that any power taken illegally would have to be defended and kept illegally too!
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning journalist and filmmaker. He is also a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman fellow. He can be contacted at [email protected]