By Tafi Mhaka
On November 6, 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired from the position of Vice-President of Zimbabwe by then President Robert Mugabe. Two days later, on the widely publicised instigation of 10 provincial executive committees that were displeased with his allegedly divisive factional politics, the Midlands strongman was expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF.
After his rapid and farcical fall from Mugabe’s favoured circle of rich, powerful and sycophantic colleagues, Mnangagwa fled into exile through the thick jungles of Mozambique. Within a short and eventful space of 48 hours in a hot and rainy summer season, Mnangagwa’s lengthy political career looked dead in the water.
On hindsight, had Mnangagwa slipped back into Zimbabwe, wholly undetected and retired to Sherwood Precab farm, his massive commercial holding located in Kwekwe, nobody would have missed him. Nobody would have shed crocodile tears and begged him to return to politics.
That is because Mnangagwa had long developed into the stereotypical African politician who hides behind violent party slogans and relies on historical contributions to the liberation war effort to justify terrific incompetence and vapid intelligence.
But while his sudden and theatrical dismissal in November might have been the much-needed proverbial jolt in the arm – a God-given national blessing, if you will – which a troubled and comatose democracy desperately required, MDC-T, the main opposition party, failed to capitalise on the sharp and bitter divisions that had rocked the ruling party throughout 2017 and culminated in a military-led takeover.
When presented with an excellent opportunity to stand on the right side of democracy, the right side of an excruciatingly turbulent history that had witnessed MDC activist Talent Mabika burnt to death at the hands of a state security agent, Joseph Mwale, and a Zanu PF activist, Tom Kainos Kitsiyatota Zimunya, at Murambinda growth point in Buhera in Manicaland during the 2000 election campaign, MDC-T dithered, stumbled and failed the liberal democracy test.
In the aftermath of Mnangagwa’s dramatic dismissal and army-assisted comeback, MDC-T, in a grave miscalculation that could haunt them at the ballot box on July 30, chose to stand tall besides a hapless Mnangagwa.
MDC-T opted for an expedient short-term benefit – the removal of 93-year-old Mugabe – and didn’t appreciate that, without its critical political leverage, an ever-sceptical international community wouldn’t have supported Mnangagwa’s dubious inauguration on November 24, 2017.
And MDC-T didn’t fully recognise that the bullet-riddled climax to the long running factional war in Zanu-PF was indeed the perfect moment to strike a lethal blow for democratic change and deal with both Mugabe and Mnangagwa politically.
Yet, with all the obfuscating sweet talk about a fresh start and an inclusive transitional government swirling in the misty November air, MDC-T failed to hold Mnangagwa accountable for the despicable legacy of corruption, intolerance and state-sanctioned violence which had coloured an almost 20-year long period of plain brutality, international isolation, social deprivation and extreme poverty.
Enticed by the strong allure of potential plush ministerial posts in a coalition government after the November putsch, MDC-T lent Mnangagwa a strong, accommodating and decisive hand and helped craft a semblance of democratic transition to a post-Mugabe era.
Where the MDC should have called for the establishment of an independent transitional authority, an impartial caretaker government that would be tasked with implementing substantial electoral and media reforms before any election were to be held, MDC-T chose to help Mnangagwa become president of the country and await the announcement of a coalition government.
But, of course, that never happened, not least because Mnangagwa is not a unifier or reformist in the mould of Dr Simba Makoni. Besides that dismal fact, Mnangagwa and the “men in green fatigues” stood to gain nothing from a coalition government. What’s more, the struggle for a vibrant democracy is not about the allocation of posh political positions to MDC-T leaders. It is much bigger than that.
So MDC-T failed to carry forward the torch of democratic change and bury the repressive instruments of an undemocratic past when a fortuitous gathering of unlikely fatalistic political circumstances offered the biggest opposition party in Zimbabwe the chance to chart a fresh path of transparent democracy. Nelson Chamisa et al. chose to revive Mnangagwa’s career instead and not to consign the former security minister to the annals of history.
Mnangagwa the despot
Mnangagwa had enjoyed a long and thoroughly undistinguished career as a national politician. Among the many awful “highlights” in Mnangagwa’s ghastly post-independence CV is the 1982-1987 ethnic-laced Gukurahundi war that was waged on Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and the basic constitutional, human and economic liberties of hapless villagers in Midlands and Matabeleland.
Among the many examples of Mnangagwa’s opposition to progress is his determined and successful effort to block Dr Simba Makoni from challenging Mugabe in 2008.
As Zanu-PF Secretary of Administration, Mnangagwa plotted Mugabe’s unopposed presidential candidacy and engineered Makoni’s dismissal from Zanu-PF. That illiberal move allowed the devious Mugabe to enjoy a further nine highly controversial, wasteful and unproductive years in office.
Still, when the nation stood on the crux of a fresh dawn, fully supported by millions of harassed, unemployed and largely defeated people who desperately wanted to see a truly new Zimbabwe materialise, MDC-T stood behind an awkward inauguration and promptly trampled on all the noble values of democratic change envisioned at the founding of the party in 1999.
How did support for Mnangagwa’s ascendancy align with the values that Tichaona Chiminya died in a blaze of inglorious fire for? Sheer consistency in democratic thought and liberal action was obviously lacking last November: when Mnangagwa, a man who had been outsmarted by a rude, fresh-faced and comical Grace Mugabe and her G-40 allies, was down and out, why did MDC-T help him up?
Now, a poll conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute between April 28 and May 13, claims Mnangagwa will win the presidential election, but fail to secure more than 50% of the votes needed to avoid an electoral runoff. If he does win the eventual vote and secures a five-year electoral mandate, would that win signal a democratic evolution of sorts, or point to a seamlessly executed electoral heist by a man with a long history of ruthless repression?
The forthcoming election is likely to be held under the discriminatory conditions that MDC Alliance members have long opposed and the chances of substantial administrative changes ever being applied within the spirit of electoral law and constitutional intent by the ostensibly independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and government agencies remain wafer thin.
In January, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told Studio 7, “Everything that they are complaining about is clearly covered within our constitution and our laws”. He added, “Our constitution clearly stipulates that ZEC is an independent body not subject to the control of anyone.”
Ziyambi also claimed that Zimbabwe’s current electoral infrastructure and laws satisfy the guidelines of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African regional bloc SADC.
Which explains why, despite repeated formal protestations by the MDC Alliance and opposition figures, renewal of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) of 2001 sanctions and a colossal demonstration held in support of electoral, media and security sector reforms in Harare on June 2, Mnangagwa still refuses to lend countenance to any kind of substantial reforms.
On June 6, he said: “They are enjoying democracy which exists in this country.” Mnangagwa added, “I think they are so happy that there is an environment where they can express themselves right, left and centre. But of course in relation to the forthcoming harmonised elections, already less than two weeks ago, I signed into law the reforms relating to the Electoral Act, so the playing field is perfectly level.”
Although that latter statement is grossly misleading and wholly untrue, Mnangagwa is well aware of the fact that a violence free election will help him secure the support of the AU and SADC in the event of a post-electoral crisis. If SADC and the AU endorsed last November’s military coup, why would the two untrustworthy bodies oppose an election, which, by African democratic standards, looks fairly commendable on paper?
Juxtaposed with the shifty and murderous Joseph Kabila who has been violently suppressing demonstrations and vehemently refusing to hold elections in the DR Congo, Mnangagwa would look like an African angel. And, unfortunately, Zimbabwe has fallen off the global ‘problematic’ political radar. So victory for Mnangagwa on July 30 would suit most African states (including South Africa) and global powers just fine.
Chances are that if the MDC Alliance were to lose the presidential election and a contentious political dispute developed once again, the world will not intervene à la Mugabe versus Morgan Tsvangirai circa 2008. In Thabo Mbeki phraseology, everybody who matters would insist there is “no crisis” in Zimbabwe.
Compared to the Gaza / Israel crisis, the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, a spate of refugee crises in Italy, Greece and Germany, and bloody perennial conflicts in Egypt, Kenya, Somalia and Burundi, a post-election squabble in Zimbabwe would be no reason to panic for the international community, as such a commonplace conflict would be passed off as an example of an African democracy experiencing an overdue but difficult rebirth.
But, since MDC Alliance presidential candidate Chamisa has said that “it’s either a free and fair election or no election”, he must follow through on his bold declaration and not offer to contest the harmonised elections until all the requisite reforms he has demanded have been instituted. Only an all or nothing approach will force Mnangagwa and his armed associates to introduce changes.
While the world could somehow accept a flawed election, an election beset by an electoral boycott would be a different matter altogether. A totally blemished election would possibly invite the kind of close and critical international scrutiny that Mnangagwa and his deputy, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, want to avoid at all costs.
But everyone, this includes Chamisa and all political leaders, human rights organisations and the voting public from across the whole electoral spectrum, must insist on a fair and transparent election and discard the notion that an election held under old and thoroughly discredited rules in a somewhat ‘freer’ environment on July 30 remains the best option forward.
Look at how protesters have taken to the streets in Jordan to show their disgust towards an abysmal and depreciating economic situation. The protests, which began earlier this month, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki.
So everyone must demand reforms, demonstrate their displeasure on the streets through sustained marches and boycott any attempt to hold a flawed election until Mnangagwa accepts the electoral game has changed. A free and fair election is fundamental to an economic revival that will benefit all Zimbabweans no matter what their political affiliation is.
Without a free and fair election, Zimbabwe could be forever stuck in the kind of internal political paralysis that has crippled efforts to resuscitate the economy in the recent past. And without a credible result that is accepted by all and sundry, Zimbabwe could squander a wonderful opportunity to embrace real change. Going forward, Chamisa must let Mnangagwa know that Zimbabwe is now firmly wedged in the “no reforms, no elections” zone.