By Fungi Kwaramba
With a clenched fist punching the air in a marquee-filled to capacity with men and women dressed in colourful Zanu PF attire, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga declared that they would be no challengers to his principal, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
One would have been forgiven to think that the country’s ruling party is going for an election anytime soon, but alas, elections are far off the horizon — almost five years away.
Regardless, the praise singing reminiscent of the old days when former president Robert Mugabe bestrode the country like a colossus is now the in thing.
Mnangagwa, who claimed after coming to power through a soft coup that he would end deifying songs and encourage the singing of war songs is almost a changed man just over a year after.
He dances his “crocodile dance” as his followers sing themselves hoarse.
Indeed old habits die hard, the songs that were sang for Mugabe have been rehashed, the printed shirts have a new face and the percussion of praise singers has reinvented itself.
Indeed there is a connection between the old and new.
By Mnangagwa’s own admission, Mugabe “remains a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader”.
The parallels between the two are almost infinite.
History has it that it was Mugabe who taught Mnangagwa the political ropes while in prison and that it was Mugabe who invited Mnangagwa to the front in the twilight days of the liberation struggle to make him his aide de camp.
While addressing over 60 000 people who filled the National Sports Stadium in a frenzied mood after the fall of Mugabe, Mnangagwa paid tribute to the man who now regards him as a traitor
At the height of his reign, Mugabe had songs composed in his name, children named after him and towns were given a facelift just to ensure that his passage was comfortable.
Mugabe might be long gone but Mnangagwa appears to be trapped in the same system that created his predecessor.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure told the Daily News on Sunday that while there was a change of leadership last year there was no change of the system.
“We have to start from the premise of what happened last year. …there was change of leadership but there was no change of regime, the regime has continued, leadership change will not result in a change of systems and that explains what is happening. Mnangagwa is just continuing from where Mugabe left,” said Masunungure.
The respected professor said Zanu PF, instead of focusing on the bleeding economy is only concerned with power retention.
“The endorsements from provinces is something that happens where there is a preoccupation in the maintenance of power, they are doing so as if everything is in order when everything is actually collapsing, we have more of the same and this definitely looks like the old,” added Masunungure.
Just like in the past when towns were spruced-up ahead of Mugabe’s visit, the little township of Esigodini, where Zanu PF had its annual conference received a major facelift ahead of the ruling party’s annual jamboree, a fresh lick of paint here and resurfacing of roads there.
“We are happy that the roads are being paved, of course once they are done they will go and will not return again until maybe the next election,” an elderly man sipping local opaque ale said.
When there was no threat that anyone would challenge him, Zanu PF structures would fall on each other endorsing him and that is a script Mnangagwa’s praise-singers have copied.
Writing on his blog, United Kingdom-based academic Alex Magaisa said the changes that Mnangagwa brought were superficial and not a serious attempt to walk away from Mugabe’s shadow.
He said the removal of Mugabe, to the extent that this meant a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, was terribly mistaken.
Magaisa noted that the new rulers were the same men who had propped up and operationalised Mugabe’s ruling machinery; they aren’t democrats by any stretch of imagination.
“They wanted power, yes, but democracy was not a priority. It had never been a priority during their many years with Mugabe at the helm.
“They might perform some gimmicks here and there, to win the favour of the international community, but beyond those token gestures the mean machinery with inherently authoritarian features would be maintained,” he said.
The constitutional lawyer said it soon became clear that despite the smiles and clichés of being ‘open for business’, there were more continuities than changes from the old regime.
He said it has become a truism that Mugabeism managed to survive the departure of Mugabe and unless there are fundamental changes, it may live much longer after him.
According to Magaisa there has been no serious effort to disentangle the State from the grip of the party or to reduce the role and impact of the military in civilian affairs — both in the party and government.
Just like in the old when nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) were banned for allegedly dabbling in politics, ICT minister, acting as minister of Public Service Kazembe Kazembe has threatened to revoke licences of some NGOs that do not tow the line.
“The government has, however, noted with concern that some Private Voluntary Organisations and/ or NGOs have negated their objectives and are now meddling in politics.
“Should these organisations continue with this behaviour, the government will not hesitate to withdraw their registration certificates,” Kazembe threatened, repeating an old familiar statement many NGOs are all too aware of.
“Underneath the façade of tolerance and openness, the horns of authoritarianism are always threatening to emerge. And they do. They have already poked several holes into that façade,” said Magaisa. Daily News