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Zimbabwe political landmine: To remove the foot or not, 2018 in the horizon

By Chana ChaVatete

Childhood nurturing

Growing up in the muddy streets of Mucheke Township (kwaSisk), as a young boy privileged to stay in town, I grew to understand that to survive, one had to balance between being street wise and intellectually deep. The advantage I had also was that I attended a Catholic primary school, Don Bosco which has a rich history of balancing the religious faith and academic excellence.

Supporters of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai take part in a Harare rally by the main opposition parties calling for free and fair elections next year
Supporters of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai take part in a Harare rally by the main opposition parties calling for free and fair elections next year

At this school whether one was Catholic or not, it was fashionable to be associated with this church because of the gifts brought by Priests and nuns from overseas to excelling students. During week days we would have Mass every Tuesday and during free afternoons we would go for choir practice singing most of the latest Catholic songs.

It was the choir teacher whose name I never really got to know, but she was popularly known as Sister Mai, as she was the Mother General of the then Gweru   Diocese who either made one either to stay in the choir or quit.  Here was a tough nun, who would take no prisoners. She was so tough with the Catholic students since she knew them very well.

Outside school, we would meet them her on Saturdays during Catechism at the nearest Don Bosco Parish. She knew we despised her actions and would influenced other students, but because we were desperate to receive the Holy Communion, we knew we had nowhere to run to. We knew we would lose both home (school choir) and away (church) like in a soccer match with no option for away goals rule.

Having noticed our behavior, which she thought was heavily influenced by the bus marshals close by who we met every day on our way home,  since the school is located near Masvingo’s busiest and biggest bus station. As a way to tame us and understand her character and attitude and appreciate live in general, she made us to learn a short prayer and before we started each singing session,  she would softly call out  “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” and we all would answer back unbeknown to us “As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen”

Rebel youth

For the years I was at that school and going to church every God given Sunday, me and my friends became part of those who repeated that short prayer without going into the true meaning of it. Fast forward to my adulthood, whilst I remained Catholic, I collided with a ruthless political regime in the form of ZANU(PF).

I began to have serious questions on what motivated these former liberation war heroes, who were celebrated when they made grand entry from their bases in Mozambique, Botswana or Zambia only to change and become anti people progress without any provocation. From leaving the comfort of their villages and schools to fight the colonial regime that had taken away their dignity as a people simply because they were of a different race only to come back and destroyed every value that they had fought for.

Formation of the opposition(Movement of Democratic Change in particular) in the post independence Zimbabwe, was motivated by the absence of the keenness of these liberation war  comrades to finish the liberation war agenda which they mistook as something that ended with the independence day.

The opposition and majority of people up till now have since realized some of the dangers of allowing a small section of the society to dominate the governance of the nation on the basis that they went to war.  That sense of entitlement has disenfranchised many people in the socio-economic and political discourse of the country as the regime looted the youths’ future and the country to its knees .

Governance Rigidity

The decision to challenge Mugabe and ZANU(PF) must not have been an easy one for all  those who tried to  do so even before independence.  It is about facing a not just an individual but a system that has mutated into almost an occult movement. The history and fate of those who have opposed Mugabe or his party is in the public domain to prove this notion.

The current ZANU(PF) implosion  that has seen the party disintegrating in the past five years due to  its failure to adapt to changing socio-economic and political challenges  as well as the changed social base, has seen casualties within and outside that party. The moment they realized that they had lost ground both internally and externally they  shifted the blame on the opposition and  used violence as a tool of retaining power.

Upon independence ZANU(PF) created governance institutions that were tailor made for short term post independence consolidation and wealth accumulation. These national institutions were soon captured by powerful private interests as they ensured power and control of the State. The ZANU(PF) government thus instead of sustaining and transforming these institutions to accommodate changing context,  the social change brought about by a youthful generation and expiring of the nationalist agenda began to outstrip those institutions as new generation of citizens began to dominate different spaces.

The government failed to ensure that these institutions had to exist beyond the tenure of the then political leadership, instead the leadership outlived the relevance of these institutions.  What Zimbabwe ended up having were leaders using  rich and powerful lobbyists either in the country or in the international community to gag information about what was happening on the ground such as the case of Gukurahundi  genocide where the international community only spoke after 20 000 people had already been killed by a government sanctioned military attack.

This rigidity has been made possible by retaining a ZANU (PF) government that fakes to be a product of democracy  where the pseudo-democrats  with a authoritarian  inclination have been managing the affairs of the nation for their own personal benefits. Elections have therefore been abused as a measure of democracy,  yet they lack any form of legitimacy, ensures development, evolution of national governance or leadership renewal. So elections have not managed to bring any meaningful political or socio-economic transformation to the ordinary Zimbabweans, but have worked as an excuse to return the ZANU(PF) presidential centralism.

Legitimate source of Power versus Neopatrimonialism

One of the dangers that the opposition in Zimbabwe realized under the Mugabe regime was that the post independence national institutions were now being so predictable in terms of their association and link with the state and the party in particular. They operated as one.  As an alternative, the opposition wanted national institutions that are not only complex, but adaptive, independent and coherent. The opposition being a product of the convergence of different social and economic sectors was alive to the fact that it should not copy the ZANU(PF) template where these national institutions face a danger of being rigid and fail to adapt when circumstances that brought them into being in the first place themselves change.

Through different policy pronouncements, the opposition wants to see a nation that must instead  have a central source of authority that exercise legitimate authority and not being captured by personal interest or fractured on factional lines as seen by the irreversible collapse of ZANU(PF). To bring this into being, the post Mugabe government will ensure that there is link between the manner in which the State in governed, the respect of the constitution and put in place mechanisms of accountability with the desires and mandate of the people at heart.

These  pillars will ensure that the State as the duty bearer will be legitimate and is capable of responding to  the people’s needs and that their voice come first through a participatory mechanism supported by a functional democrcay. This was not the case when the State unilaterally deicide on Gukurahundi, the decision to adopt the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), going into an unnecessary war in the DRC and embarking on an emotional unorganized and racist landform programme.

The later exposed the unwillingness by the State to respect the rule of law, worse when the MDC was formed when land was used as a election campaign tool. Fear and violence were used to assure people that ZANU(PF) was not willing to be accountable to anyone nor to see any political change and also reminding those within it what would befell them in case they become rebellious.

Corruption and lack of accountability and transparency became the DNA of Mugabe regime.  Citizens had to organize themselves either as simple community based organizations, civil society, church, labour or political formations, to get a legitimate national voice to demand for accountability from a selfish government.

These were led by a new youthful generation who could not be clouded by the cultural notion that they could not challenge their elders. These were the young people especially in the middle class whose new democratic demands of human rights, social service delivery, jobs and free and fair elections were met by a violent regime that resists being questioned.

The State would allow a pseudo multiparty democracy, fake to allow participation of civil society and political activists. However, this phenomenon is known as neopatrimonialism  where by the State would fake conformity to democratic needs where the political leaders adopt the outward forms of modern democratic State and yet in reality rule for private gain and primitive accumulation. This type of leadership will ensure that there is limited access to the political leadership by the citizens and instead draft hand outs such as the presidential agricultural input scheme, that makes the citizens continuously depended on the little available resources without actual empowering them.

For as long as elections, reforms, constitutionalism and avoidance of social change outstripping the existing national institutions, it remains very clear for the opposition that the 2018 election will not bring meaningful change and set into motion a legitimate, people driven and centred source of power to guarantee  that their voices are heard through available  democratic options.  The opposition thus has a clear mandate to ensure that it deals with the nature of the crisis that Zimbabwe is currently faced with which is the crisis of leadership, legitimacy, governance and the economy

State and national building: key obligation

The rigidity of ZANU(PF) from both internal change and coming up with strategies that can accommodate the changing socio-economic and political context, has made the nation to live a life of waiting for the next election with fading hope.  What the opposition envisions is a Zimbabwe that doesn’t just focus on how strong our army is, how wide spread our intelligence network stretches or how much the police can disrupt organized and legitimate demonstrations. The opposition knows that governing a country is not about having a national broadcast being aligned to the ruling party, or the abuse of government machinery to act as party commissariat. The State should serve everyone.

Whilst State building was critical soon after independence, ZANU(PF) failed to ensure that this initiative was supposed to be accompanied by  mobilization of new social actors  and strong political leadership. What we have witnessed over the past 37 years has been the occupation of high offices by weak politicians  with either pre independence baggage or too many skeletons in the cardboard. This rewarding of mediocrity or group of  thieves  whose only known terms of reference is to protect only Mugabe, mutated the State into become equally weak.

Instead, State building which has been contaminated by ZANU(PF) must have rested on a foundation of nation building as a core value.  The opposition believes that this can only be done if a responsible government creates common national vision that can serve as a locus of loyalty.  The first casualty of this failure to build a common vision and identity was the atrocities of the early 80s  where in its infancy Zimbabwe began to be polarized along ethnicity and political lines. ZANU(PF) had to ensure that no other tribe could rule this nation besides the Shona majority.

Even after the so called national unity between ZANU(PF) and  (PF)ZAPU, the lines of divide in political leadership are still evident within the ‘united’ ZANU(PF).  As if that was not enough and with no lesson learnt, the State’s heavy handedness in dealing with opposition parties made polarization to go beyond tribes or regions but national.  Movement for Democratic Change was labeled as foreign crafted party with no national ethos in its ideology and was coming in to destroy the fruits of the liberation struggle. In the process those who supported it paid dearly either with their lives or property.

With each passing election, MDC proudly proved this notion wrong as even it failed to capture State power it proved beyond reasonable doubt that it has the majority following of Zimbabweans.  MDC became a national party both in practice and representation, that is inclusive of all social clusters, it became a viable alternative to ZANU(PF) rule. This was because upon its founding, MDC realized that for Zimbabwe to be a true democracy yet lacking national identity,  it would frequently have difficulties in agreeing on overarching national narrative and human equality.

Instead ZANU(PF) led government resisted this narrative and instead  strengthened its hold on power through patronage and State sponsored violence. As the economic collapse and social changes began to take centre stage within the country amidst unchanging existing institutional capacity to accommodate new demands for participation,  the people became the enemy of the State. Given the weak national institutions and governance culture, poverty and conflict became the order of the day.

Change that brings change

What the ZANU(PF) government has failed to realize over the past 37 years and yet still seek another mandate from the impoverished citizens is that  it is not in touch with the Citizens’ pulse. The ability of any  government  to perform  its functions is never simply a matter of measurable resources as ZANU(PF) would want to use to the extent of celebrating high literacy rate, yet retaining  shocking numbers of assisted voters during elections.

This regime has not in any way developed any meaningful strategy to enhance new organizational culture,  set a degree of how people who make up the government function cooperatively, engender trust, take risks and innovate. Instead, it has repeated the same methods of governance expecting a different result. This resistance to change and focus on measuring outputs can be misleading especially those of complex services in a collapsing economy.

It is this rigidity thus,  that I  saw in that childhood prayer which ZANU(PF) has made a template without understanding that divine eternity is different from political lifeline. This has caused even the younger people like Kudzai Chipanga to equate his leader as an equivalent of Jesus. Zimbabwe is a nation gearing for change come 2018 and that change is unstoppable. At the same time ZANU(PF)’s implosion will leave it completely changed both in form and character.

As Zimbabwe is now dominated by many young people whose new demands can no longer be met by a regime that failed to perform for the past thirty seven years only new political brains, blood and national reformed national institutions under a responsible government, will bring smiles to Zimbabweans.  It is about time that as a nation we realize that nothing new will come out of this tired, exhausted and recycled leadership. Zimbabweans must look into the options within the opposition and  evaluate their capacity to challenge this regime, and vote for real change that will bring change!



NB: Chana ChaVatete is a Zimbabwean writing in her personal capacity and her views do not represent that of any organization.