By Tafi Mhaka
The enforced disappearance of Dr Peter Magombeyi is simply the latest constitutional infringement to blight Zimbabwe, as politically motivated abductions have been a government specialty for the better part of our turbulent 39-year history.
However, President Emmerson Mnangagwa remains remarkably undisturbed by countless unresolved abductions. Yet, in an inauguration speech, delivered on 26 August 2018, Mnangagwa stated, “The Zimbabwe we want is a shared one and transcends political party lines. I pledge to act fairly and impartially, without fear or favour as a president of all Zimbabweans.”
One year and approximately three weeks later, as Magombeyi’s family, colleagues and a flabbergasted medical fraternity fret over the young doctor’s whereabouts and physical well-being, Mnangagwa’s words sound agonisingly untruthful. But, is the president’s abrasive, distant and divisive leadership style really that surprising?
To be sure, did we expect Mnangagwa to act with the dignity, magnanimity and leadership required of an elected leader? Lest we forget, on 24 November 2017, Mnangagwa described former president Robert Mugabe as “a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader”.
That blunt honesty might have served as a thinly veiled warning, a fairly unequivocal prediction of Mnangagwa’s coarse, discriminatory leadership style. Sadly, it didn’t. Indeed, many disregarded Mnangagwa’s very profound public admiration for Mugabe’s strongman modus operandi.
Instead, they praised pedestrian rhetoric about a new dispensation. However, the Zanu-PF president has stuck to his word and ruled just as Mugabe repressively did. The unresolved abductions in our midst amplify a stately desire to subvert the rule of law, silence dissent and instil tomblike fear into our growing civil rights movement.
Still, the larger, existential question, as a demoralising search for Magombeyi continues, is: does Zimbabwe truly have a president? In severely difficult times, Mnangagwa, it seems, always disappears.
He went missing on August 1, 2018, as six lives were lost, needlessly, on Harare’s streets.
He voluntarily disappeared as security forces raped women and killed 17 demonstrators during January’s fuel demonstrations. He stayed silent after security forces detained Farirai Gumbonzvanda and six activists for attending a capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in Maldives.
He remained unambiguously mum as the ZRP unleashed violence on unarmed, peaceful demonstrators during an aborted demonstration on August 16. And, in the aftermath of Magombeyi’s disappearance, Mnangagwa, as always, is missing in action.
Mugabe got away with similar, murderous repression for so long by releasing bureaucratic denunciations and bombastic declarations on unobserved constitutional commitment to the rule of law. Still, most deplorably, people never tired of celebrating their ‘mudhara’.
Even as the old man stoked unspeakably violent, deadly deeds from the comfort of a heavily guarded State House, Mugabe forever endured as our ‘president’. Even in death, people praised our former ‘president’ and wished him a peaceful rest in the afterworld.
That forgiving, gratuitous cycle of political violence and redundant bouts of misplaced pity and public clemency is making an unwelcome return.
Nevertheless, Zimbabwe’s experienced sufficient distress to fully understand that a presidency and government irreversibly wired to surreptitiously promote partisan, Zanu-PF interests won’t solve our economic problems and won’t stop ‘mysterious’ abductions.
I am tempted to go down on my knees, soul complete, hands clasped and eyes firmly shut, to pray for Magombeyi’s safe return, as well as Mnangagwa’s redemption. I am tempted to believe that God will ultimately judge Mnangagwa’s problematic, blood-spattered rule.
I am also tempted to believe that God will grant everyone forcibly disappeared, like Itai Dzamara and hundreds buried in shabby mass graves in Matabeleland, eternal life, happiness and justice – a small, gratifying measure of retribution they can relish in the afterlife.
Yet I am tired of praying for a miraculous change to materialise. I have become overly prone to intentionally avoiding prayer as a means to achieving a desired result. I’m in fact tempted to say it shouldn’t be left to God to decide if our ‘leaders’ deserve to be punished for human rights abuses, abductions, disappearances and illegal deaths.
I am tempted to believe that, whatever awaits us all after death, only physical justice on earth can help build a society where the sanctity of every Zimbabwean life is valued and protected by institutions of law and order. Indeed, our leaders should be punished for disregarding, defending and orchestrating violence well before they die. I do pray that Zimbabwe’s suffering masses will have a say on Mnangagwa’s rule way before God’s intervention comes to be.