Tendai Ruben Mbofana: Is Mnangagwa the most unpopular Zimbabwean leader since independence?
Not that Zimbabwe has had many presidents since attaining her independence from Britain in 1980, having known only three.
The first, Canaan Sodindo Banana, was merely a ceremonial one.
The other two – Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa – practically turned into tyrannical monsters.
In fact, it is only in Zimbabwe where entire generations have never witnessed a smooth democratic transfer of power from one president to another – let alone, one government to another.
No Zimbabwean has ever celebrated one president handing over the reins of power to his successor – something we only watch on television, in awe and envy, happening in other countries.
What an embarrassing record.
This is all because none of the ruling ZANU PF leaders – who became heads of state – were ever democratically elected in their own party.
Mugabe toppled the founding leader Ndabaningi Sithole in 1975, in an unconstitutionally move, without even going to Congress.
This was after accusing him (Sithole) of betraying the liberation struggle by renouncing it, whilst still in prison, in exchange for his release.
Mugabe was to rule Zimbabwe virtually unchallenged – from independence until he was also ousted unconstitutionally and outside Congress – via a military coup d’état in 2017, which ushered in his sacked deputy, Mnangagwa.
With such an unenviable and clearly unsustainable claim to power, is it surprising that Zimbabwe presidents have never felt comfortable and secure in their positions?
No wonder both Mugabe, and now Mnangagwa, was and still is, always on edge – fearing both an internal uprising or an opposition victory in a genuinely free, fair and credible election.
As these leaders’ claim to power was never through a popular vote, it is to be expected – regardless how long they have been in office – that they are not too sure just how the general Zimbabwe citizenry truly feel about them.
It becomes even worse when the same citizens, notably in rural areas, are regularly intimidated – through violence or threats of violence, politicization of food and agricultural aid, and the abuse of traditional leaders to force their subjects into supporting ZANU PF.
How then can a leader be certain that these people will actually vote for him when in the relative privacy of the ballot booth?
That is why even as the country heads towards the 23rd August 2023 harmonized elections, Mnangagwa feels it necessary to stifle all constitutional efforts by the main opposition CCC party (led by Nelson Chamisa) to campaign freely.
He is even haunted by the emergence of his former ZANU PF colleague – once political commissar and cabinet minister under Mugabe – Saviour Kasukuwere.
It is incredibly shameful that a president who claims to be overly popular – due to his ‘outstanding achievements’, ever since grabbing power six years ago – can still do everything to hinder his rivals from exercising their democratic rights.
I was actually most shocked learning that the ZANU PF administration had overnight promulgated new regulations for the erecting of billboards along the country’s roads – simply because Kasukuwere had put up one.
This, as other party members flood the courts with applications to have Kasukuwere disqualified and barred from participating in the forthcoming elections.
This, in spite of him having successfully submitted his nomination papers to the electoral commission (ZEC) to contest for the presidency as an independent candidate.
This court challenge was made under the pretext that he (Kasukuwere) had rendered himself ineligible to run for office, as he had not been in Zimbabwe for over 18 months – supposedly in violation of the Electoral Act.
Of course, the High Court, on 12th July 2023, ruled in favor of the disqualification – prompting his (Kasukuwere’s) team to immediately file an appeal at a higher court.
All these moves are undeniably motivated by Mnangagwa’s own insecurity and uncertainty as to his popularity even within ZANU PF itself.
What is anyone to expect from an individual who usurped power without actually the constitutional support of the party’s rank and file?
Besides, even ZANU PF grassroots supporters are amongst the half the population living in extreme poverty.
In fact, as Mnangagwa’s strongholds are predominantly rural – the majority of those suffering and enduring untold impoverishment in Zimbabwe are his own party members.
Yet, he and his cronies are some of the wealthiest moguls in the country – living in obscene opulence, flying around in a US$54 million presidential jet, and owning large tracts of land.
The only thing the ZANU PF regime is known for is its insatiable greedy for looting our natural resources for their own enrichment – with very little going into national development.
In spite of Mnangagwa always accusing the opposition of failing to maintain the urban areas they lead – his own local authorities, in rural areas, do not even have any roads of which to speak.
Driving to a village homestead can be one the most torturous experiences – a fact even ZANU PF Treasurer General Patrick Chinamasa once attested – when he was forced to abandon his vehicle, and walk to his rural home.
These are the same areas without any meaningful development – lacking decent educational and health care institutions, and without access to potable water or electricity in their homes.
Why would Mnangagwa think these people are such dimwits, who will continue accepting crumbs from the table of the powerful?
As it turns out, ZANU PF has not developed anything of substance since 1980 – even the urban roads and water provision of which Mnangagwa blames the opposition of failing to maintain – were all a product of colonial Rhodesia.
The main reason there is virtually zero development in rural areas is because the Rhodesians had not done the job for ZANU PF.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have the CCC being treated as an illegal entity.
Several of their rallies have been barred by the police on flimsy grounds – as lack of adequate ablution facilities at the proposed venue, or that it was already booked for another event, or the ‘owner’ did not grant permission.
One wonders just how ‘adequate’ the toilets are at those ZANU PF rallies – where people are bussed in from all corners of the country.
Even when the police finally allow the CCC to hold their rallies, unbelievably ridiculous conditions are given – such as being barred from ferrying supporters by busses, or marching and chanting slogans.
In fact, it is reported that in the city of Masvingo several CCC supporters were recently arrested for ‘toyi-toyiing’, which was regarded by the police as a public nuisance.
Wow, talk about double standards!
So, ZANU PF can demonstrate or march to their hearts’ content, and bus in supporters from across the country to venues clearly lacking sufficient ablution facilities to cater for all those thousands – yet the opposition can not do the same.
The Mnangagwa administration goes further by willfully violating the Constitution, which stipulates [under Section 155(2)], ‘all political parties and candidates contesting an election or participating in a referendum [should be given] fair and equal access to electronic and print media, both public and private’.
In fact, this right to access the media by all political players goes far beyond the election season – especially pertaining that owned by the State, and funded by the public.
Under Section 61(4) of the Constitution, ‘all State-owned media of communication must be impartial, and afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions’.
Can anyone ever imagine someone like me being interviewed or asked for my opinion on ZBC – or my articles appearing in The Herald or Sunday Mail?
Yet, that is exactly how it should be in any genuine democracy – moreover, in Zimbabwe, where the supreme law mandates that to happen.
We can then forget the likes of Chamisa or Kasukuwere – who are a real challenge to Mnangagwa – being ‘afforded fair opportunity for the presentation’ of their views in State-owned media.
What does this say about the president – when his government is prepared to violate the country’s Constitution, which he swore to defend and uphold – all in an effort to quash those opposed to him?
Does this not show that the man is not as popular and well-loved by the ordinary citizenry as he would want us, or himself, to believe?
Is there then any wonder he feels the need to bus crowds from all across the country for a rally in Zaka or Epworth or Chipinge?
Actually, a truly confident leader is quite comfortable with smaller crowds – since these rallies are ordinarily targeted at a particular community (and its surrounds) in which it is held.
Quite frankly, had I been a presidential candidate, and held a rally in my hometown of Redcliff, for instance – I would be more than satisfied with a gathering of a few hundreds.
Nonetheless, bussing supporters from all across the country – bragging of such figures as 140,000 – betrays a leader who lacks confidence, and is in desperate need of validation and affirmation.
Mnangagwa is fully aware that he lacks the necessary support for a resounding victory in a truly free, fair and credible election.
Whenever I see these despicable shenanigans, a certain image always plays out in my mind.
I imagine an athlete, in a 400 meter race, who opts not only to start 100 meters ahead of his competitors – but also has them bound in leg irons, with heavy loads strapped to their backs.
What would that say about this athlete?
Would this show someone brimming with confidence – or simply a pathetic individual who does not believe in his own abilities ?
Can he be justified in celebrating when he eventually ‘wins’ the race and gold medal?
Surely, after doling our handouts, ‘free’ agricultural inputs, so-called ‘empowerment projects’, and whatever mediocrity packaged as ‘economic development’ – why is Mnangagwa still so terrified of the opposition?
I thought his ‘works campaigned for themselves’!
Are these ‘works’ the clamping down on divergent views and voices of dissent?
In actual fact, barely eight months after ousting Mugabe, he still failed to ride on that wave of ‘emancipator’ to convincingly win the 2018 presidential elections against Chamisa.
This, despite the fact that Mugabe’s departure was long overdue and had become loathed by ordinary Zimbabweans.
As it turned out, ZANU PF legislative candidates actually garnered far more votes than Mnangagwa!
Who can then deny that Mnangagwa is perhaps the most unpopular leader to ever preside over Zimbabwe?
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: [email protected], or visit website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/