The past few weeks witnessed the dramatic culmination of a protracted contestation for power in Zimbabwe between various factions. The former vice-president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, emerged as the victor and First Secretary of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the third president of the Republic of Zimbabwe on the 24th of November, 2017, albeit through an unprecedented quasi-reset of the political stage. One of the key lessons in politics is that loyalty is fickle and interests are permanent. Less than 7 days before President Robert Mugabe was recalled from ZANU-PF as its First Secretary, many from within the party were cheering him and declaring that he would be their candidate in next year’s harmonized elections. However, just a few weeks on and many of his supporters have evidently changed course.
As an individual who has always believed that politics must not be led by the gun, the presence of the military on the foreground of Zimbabwean politics unsettles me. This is not only because of the precedence it sets but also because praetorian politics are never a harbinger of democracy or development, but rather one of repression and plunder. This culmination of events was a major overreach by the military and a direct violation of the Zimbabwean constitution. There is, furthermore, a huge danger associated with this military intervention as research has found that coups often create unstable political climates that lead to more coups in the future.
Amina Ibrahim, for instance, argues that a necessary precondition for coups is “the state of the national economy”, and the current biting state of the weak economy may have prompted the efforts of the Zimbabwean military. It is also postulated that the coup may have been spearheaded by the Chinese government to secure their interests; however, Jonathan Holslag disagrees stating: “If China is guided by any strategy, it is the strategy of adapting to political realities, rather than trying to shape them.” Whatever the case, demilitarising the politics of Zimbabwe after these recent events will not be easy; it should, however, be a priority, because if it does not happen, quite certainly, there will be a constant replay of military interventions and changing political coalitions. The military takeover strongly suggests that the men in uniform are intent on determining the country’s political trajectory.
Despite statements by the African Union that the removal of Mugabe was not a military backed coup but a “legitimate expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people”, the cabinet appointees of Emerson Mnangagwa do little to dispel that inclination. On Dec 1st, 2017 President Mnangagwa unveiled a cabinet in which “two senior military officials who played a central role in bringing him to power” were given key jobs. Major General Sibusiso Moyo, the army officer cum ‘broadcaster’ who went on state TV on the 15th of November 2017, to announce the military’s takeover of power, was appointed foreign minister, while air force commander, Perrance Shiri, is the new minister of lands, agriculture and rural resettlement.
It was an unfortunate but somewhat dignified end to the career of President Robert Mugabe, a multifaceted character that has been at the helm of Zimbabwe since 1980; and at the helm of politics in the predecessor state of the Republic of Rhodesia since the 1960s. Mugabe was a polarising figure that will be remembered by some as an impressive mind and a principled Pan-Africanist and by others as a ruler who grossly overstayed his welcome. Nevertheless, Mugabe’s pride, dignity and audacity were unassailable. It can be understood that his service to Zimbabwe had always been based on the vision, principles and values that guided ZANU-PF as it prosecuted a difficult, turbulent and dangerous struggle in the decades before the attainment of independence in 1980. His time at the helm has now come to an end and the new commander-in-chief, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is faced with a cocktail of problems to deal with such as the shortfall in agricultural production owing to the recent severe droughts, a decrepit healthcare system, and the lack of substantial opportunities for Zimbabwe’s teeming youth.
Zimbabwe is also famous for its high literacy rates (more than 90 per cent of its population are literate) and abundant natural resources such as diamonds, lithium and gold. Hence, resuscitating the economy will be the major undertaking for the incoming government. The banking system needs to be rebooted, faith needs to be restored in the national currency and the government’s finances require replenishment so the challenges of unemployment, crime and corruption will cease to define the lives of many Zimbabweans. The work ahead should be done in pursuit of the vision and principles of the age-old values of Ubuntu: selflessness, sacrifice and service in a manner that ensures that the interests of the people take precedence over our desire as individuals.
The events of the last few weeks have been nothing short of intriguing, perhaps comparable to the hit American series “House of Cards”. Many Zimbabweans would like to see a more forthright national leadership that not just serves itself, but is representative of the aspirations of its people. This is the time for the new government to think strategically at all levels and make politics real and convincing. It is not about the ‘endangered’ politicians or their supporters, but is about knowing how to manage the political space and national development. Zimbabwean citizens must not allow themselves to develop a short memory over the contributions of such politicians to the misfortunes of the country, or ignore the effect of ‘dropping’ those who are no longer suitable for national leadership. Such ‘going along to get along’ mantra is not a balanced approach, nor a sophisticated one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong, and the Zimbambwean people require collective strength to forge ahead.
Indeed, I do ask how long Zimbabweans will tolerate the rule of a clique of septuagenarian veterans of an armed struggle that took place before most of the population was born. Together we should continue to contribute to the important legacy of deepening democracy in our country, of creating a Zimbabwe for all and not for the few whose sense of entitlement threatens the very fabric our democracy. I write as a very young patriotic Zimbabwean and I am entitled to. This is because it is the people of my generation who will bear the brunt of the change from the trials of the past, and it is the destiny of this same generation to steer the sails of the Zimbabwean state into calmer channels⎈