The departure of Mugabe represents neither the end of an era nor the birth of a new one. The ruling party and military will emerge stronger, taking the credit for Mugabe’s exit. The opposition’s change mantra will fade away. ZANU-PF will bring about cosmetic changes to endear itself to the people and the world. But the elite, predatory politics of Zimbabwe will largely remain. The struggle continues.
The bitter menu that was never served
President Mugabe was used to preparing bitter menus for his opponents and serve them. In his political career, he had never tasted an opponent’s menu. In 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai cooked a democratic menu, which could have seen Mugabe out of power. However, Mugabe refused to eat it although he was constitutionally supposed to do so. Instead, he withheld results for more than four weeks, manipulated them, and cooked a terror menu which he served the opposition in the form of the curse of 27 June. Mugabe negotiated a unity government. During the GNU, he cooked a bitter menu for Tsvangirai and served it in 2013. Tsvangirai had no option but to eat the menu and live to fight another day. In December 2014, Mugabe cooked and served a bitter menu to Vice President Joyce Mujuru. Mujuru went away without a fight and formed a party.
In November 2017, Mugabe prepared a quick and unceremonious menu for the Crocodile, his deputy Emerson Mnangagwa. In the cases of Mujuru and the Crocodile, he was influenced by his wife, Grace, who exhibited no idea of how to use a borrowed garment. However, it was surprising that he gave the menu only to Mnangagwa and not to General Chiwenga. It was in the public domain that there was an alliance between Mnangagwa and General Chiwenga. After sacking Mnangagwa, Mugabe could have started to prepare a menu for General Chiwenga, but it was too late to serve it. There is nothing as painful as preparing a good menu for your opponent and never have the opportunity to serve it. A menu which is not served is no menu at all.
In a shocking twist of fate, General Chiwenga convened a press conference on 13 November 2017. The nation was shocked when he expressed displeasure over the purging of Lacoste faction of the ruling ZANU-PF and warned that the military would not hesitate to step in. There was no doubt that ZANU-PF regarded such sentiments not only as undermining Mugabe but as essentially treasonous. As usual, the nation expected Mugabe to respond to the salvo. However, there was no word from Mugabe. The only notable reaction was made by ZANU-PF National Youth League Secretary Kudzanai Chipanga, who read a statement which was not written by the youth. When Mugabe remained silent, many people thought that being the shrewd politician he is, he was cooking a menu for Chiwenga. They believed that Chiwenga was going to be fired, jailed, or at least reprimanded. But others began to get worried.
What followed was a tense atmosphere, characterised by the unprecedented deployment of the army. It was not long before the nation woke up to watch Major General Sibusiso Moyo on ZBC, stating that the army had taken over. What it means is that from the time that Chiwenga made his press statement to the time that the army took over, the nation never heard from Mugabe. He never had the opportunity to get out of the menu house. It is now clear that Mnangagwa tactically engineered his sacking in order to establish the grounds for him to finally crash Gushungo’s head. By the time Grace was booed, a bitter menu had already been prepared for Mugabe. True to the Crocodile’s strategy, Mugabe was enraged and he erred. Unknown to him was that he had been trapped to set the tables so that the menu could be served. History had lied to him that he was the only person with the prerogative to prepare and serve the bitter menu. He forgot that in most cases, it was not him who cooked the menu, but his chefs. The chefs had therefore learnt the art of cooking a bitter menu, but this time they had to serve it to their boss. He no longer had any ground under his feet, even though he is refusing to eat the resignation menu. The most important question is: how did a politician who has a track record of shrewdness such as Mugabe make such a grievous miscalculation? Anyway, we are all human beings and no matter how shrewd we may be, we are not immune from making miscalculations.
A necessary evil?
First, there is confusion as to whether the military take-over is a coup or not. I will not waste time: it is a coup. But the army made it as smart as possible in order to make it acceptable; not only to the people of Zimbabwe, but essentially to SADC, the African Union and the international community. It is this smartness which has complicated matters. The Constitutive Act of the African Union condemns unconstitutional changes of governments. But there is an ingredient of unfairness in this good norm, especially when it is applied to countries such as Zimbabwe. Mugabe has been an unconstitutional president since 2002. He used elections merely to sanitize his evil and illegitimate rule. He used all forms of violence to maintain power. It appears unfair to say that citizens should not unconstitutionally remove an unconstitutional president.
Second, opinion is divided as to whether the coup was a good step or not. On the one hand, there is a small constituency of people (including opposition supporters) who believe that whatever the circumstances, a coup remains a bad step for Zimbabwe because it violates the principles of democracy, consent and legitimacy. But the question is whether these principles existed in Zimbabwe in the first place. The other reason is that it could go out of hand and cause loss of lives. On the other hand, many Zimbabweans across the political divide believe that after many years of battling with a fierce dictator, a coup was an emancipatory step. This is especially considering that Grace Mugabe (the unfair factor) was arguing her way to State House. And who knows, probably after Grace, it was going to be her children and after them, the cats and dogs of the Mugabes. This was going to establish, consolidate and perpetuation a Mugabe dynasty in Zimbabwe.
There is no doubt that the majority of Zimbabweans needed a break from the Mugabes by whatever means. In other words, the end (the removal of Mugabe) justifies the means (a military coup). I argue that the coup was contextually and circumstantially necessary. However, in the final analysis, the acceptability of the coup does not lie in the removal of Mugabe, but in the progress which will be made after his removal. The coup has marked the end of Mugabe’s rule, but the main questions are whether it has closed an era and whether it will open a new era.
Two ngano ( folktales )
The first folktale is that the coup has marked the end of an era. Even some of Zimbabwe’s learned analysts believe in this folktale. But we need to understand what it means for an era to end. In South Africa, the transition to majority rule was widely regarded as the end of the apartheid era. This view overlooked that apartheid was not a group of people, but an entrenched institution. Today, apartheid is still entrenched in the South African society. It will take many decades, if not a century or more, to uproot apartheid; especially if the government fails to take radical steps. We should therefore be conscious that the removal of Mugabe in and of itself is not the end of an era. Mugabe is not a person but an institution. Mugabe the person might be gone but Mugabe the institution will take a long time to go; especially considering that ZANU-PF is still in power. Without radical changes to our institutions, values, and practices; Mugabe the institution will continue to rule over us, this time in other bodies. It takes great and selfless effort to remove Mugabe the institution. The removal of Mugabe the person is just the first step. It is only when we have removed Mugabe the institution that we can begin to talk about the end of an era. But for now, we celebrate his fall, not the end of an era.
The second folktale is that the coup has marked the dawn of a new era. We can prove that this is a folktale from the reasons which motivated the army to step in. First, the army claimed that it was targeting criminal elements in ZANU-PF. The principle of fighting corruption is noble. But the army’s hands are not clean when it comes to corruption. Many of the people who benefited from the diamonds in Marange are in the military. Those who benefited from Zimbabwe’s intervention in the DRC are also in the military. Besides, criminal elements are not a new phenomenon in ZANU-PF. We know of the Willowgate scandal of 1988. After the revelations, Maurice Nyagumbo committed suicide but Mugabe retained and promoted some of those who were involved. The truth is that the intervention has absolutely nothing to do with bringing criminals to justice or any other noble principle, but with factional politics in ZANU-PF. It is therefore difficult to believe that the take-over represents a new era in the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe.
Moreover, the army claimed that its intervention was intended to “defend the revolution” because “counter-revolutionaries” had infiltrated ZANU-PF and the party was purging people with liberation credentials. We are celebrating because the current defence of the revolution suits our interests. But we should not forget that since 2000, it is the same army which used violence and other mechanisms to “defended the revolution”, especially in 2008 when Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai. It is the same army which has a standing pledge that it will never accept a president without liberation war credentials. What it simply means is that the army defends the revolution from “enemies” which are within and without ZANU-PF. At the present moment, the enemy is G40 but the enemy has always been those who challenged the status quo. It therefore means that in future, the army will not hesitate to step in should the people vote for someone who does not belong to the revolution. The opposition may win future elections but the question is whether it will take power. There is no ground to believe that an era of democratic transfer of power has come.
Citing the judiciary, the army claimed that it wants state institutions to function without the fear of political interference. But the history of the army is a history of covert and overt interference. Political interference is better than military interference. It is therefore difficult to believe that the era of non-interference has come.
The army also claimed that it wants the people of Zimbabwe to enjoy their rights and freedoms. However, its history is a history of denying these freedoms in the name of defending the revolution. It is therefore difficult to believe that an era of rights and freedoms has come.
The army claimed that it wants to return Zimbabwe to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity. Some efforts will be made towards this, but for the purpose of making ZANU-PF acceptable. What is clear is that the army is not known for embodying and promoting the values which it used to justify the take-over. It is surprising that many people are already regarding it as “the people’s army”. The Egyptians we see today, we will see them over and over again, because they regard themselves as the “major stakeholder”. For critical observers, the take-over should cause deep worries instead of euphoria.
Why ZANU-PF will emerge stronger and the opposition weaker
ZANU-PF is going to participate in the next elections stronger than it would have been under Mugabe’s leadership. First, for too long, the opposition’s main message was that Mugabe must go. Yes, the opposition talked about the need to remove the entire system, but its focus on Mugabe communicated the message that Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s devil incarnate. When the opposition agreed that Mugabe must go and when it joined the anti-Mugabe marches and other efforts to remove Mugabe, it reinforced this message. The opposition became part of the factional battles in ZANU-PF, fighting on the side of Lacoste. Unknown to the opposition is that this act of benevolence will not be rewarded by a post-Mugabe ZANU-PF. I argue that the moment that ZANU-PF started to take steps to remove Mugabe, the opposition should have started to preach the gospel that it is not Mugabe who should go, but the system in its entirety. This is going to be the main message of the opposition going forward and it should have been the main message from the beginning. It does not make sense for the opposition to say Mugabe must go and after he is gone, it says ZANU-PF must go.
It appears as if the opposition is saying that there is a difference between Mugabe and ZANU-PF. The message that Mugabe must go enabled the opposition to mobilise mass support. But it will now work against it because scores of people are going to believe that the change which the opposition fought for has been completed, whether in whole or in part. They will expect change from a “new ZANU-PF”, especially considering the fatigue and frustration which has characterised the opposition’s support base. What people desire is change and it doesn’t matter who delivers it. The current developments will undermine the relevance of the unfinished coalition of opposition parties, because it was more about Mugabe than it was about ZANU-PF.
Second, it is not the opposition but ZANU-PF which played a decisive role in the removal of Mugabe. It is undeniable that all Zimbabweans, including those in the diaspora, contributed to the fall of Mugabe. The historic marches which took place in Zimbabwe and in the diaspora played a crucial role in removing legitimacy from under Mugabe’s feet. War cannot be won only through military superiority. It is essentially won in a sea of public support and morale. Even in football, fans play an important role. That people across the political divide contributed to Mugabe’s fall should make it difficult for the army or ZANU-PF to monopolize the “new patriotic history”. Monopolisation breeds the politics of entitlement. However, ZANU-PF will distort this history. It will claim that it removed Mugabe without any contribution from other parties. If ZANU-PF had the temerity to “hide” the role which was played by the masses and by Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU in the liberation struggle, it will surely “hide” the contribution which has been made by the opposition in the fall of Mugabe. Going forward, ZANU-PF’s legitimacy claim will be two-pronged: its participation in the liberation struggle and its removal of Zimbabwe’s devil incarnate. If it were a soccer match, it would be a 2-0 defeat for the opposition.
Third, ZANU-PF will readmit those cadres who had been banished by Mugabe. It will be a big tent once again. War veterans who had vowed not to support the party in future elections will certainly retake their position in the party. They may not beat opposition supporters as before, but they will have a strongly symbolic role in “defending the revolution”. People such as Joyce Mujuru can no longer be regarded as opposition cadres, if at all they were in the first place. Chances are high that Mujuru will go back to ZANU-PF. The strategic moment to do so would be immediately before elections. A Mujuru who goes back to ZANU-PF with the knowledge of the opposition trenches will be more useful to the party than before. Mugabe has done the job for ZANU-PF in terms of mobilising the youth constituency and efforts will continue in that direction.
Fourth, the Crocodile will rebrand itself. He will be a soft Crocodile who can allow people to touch him without doing them harm. There are entrenched perceptions that the Crocodile is the god of evil cards. These are based on his alleged role in Gukurahundi and the perpetration of politically motivated violence to block the democratic will, especially in 2008. It is in the best interests of the Crocodile to try and prove that these are myths and that it is Mugabe who is solely to blame. Mugabe will no longer have the ground to meaningfully defend himself from the claims which could be made by the Crocodile. The best way of making these claims would not be through words, but through a perceptible departure or at least a long detour from the ZANU-PF of Mugabe to the Crocodile dispensation. This means that going forward, ZANU-PF is unlikely to rely on physical violence, especially considering that the 2013 elections were peaceful.
Any use of physical violence would validate perceptions that the Crocodile is the cruelest of all species. An atmosphere of violence is already embedded in the Zimbabwean society and ZANU-PF can take advantage of it without using physical violence. In future elections, ZANU-PF is likely to use intimidation, coercion and patronage. This will give the impression that it was Mugabe who was responsible for violence. ZANU-PF will also try to eclipse the Crocodile’s past with the claim that his removal of the devil incarnate is evidence that he is the liberator. Scores of frustrated opposition supporters are going to warm up to the Crocodile.
Fifth, the “new” ZANU-PF will try as much as possible to make itself acceptable, not only to the people of Zimbabwe, but to the international community. The “inconvenient” part of Mugabe’s legacy will be removed while the convenient part will be kept, preserved and deepened. ZANU-PF will put efforts to restore the economy and to ensure that the sanctions regime has been lifted. It would want to be seen as a ZANU-PF which does not tolerate corruption. Corruption will still take place, but this time not as openly and shamelessly as it happened under the “old” ZANU-PF. The party will make some superficial reforms, especially in the areas of land and indigenisation. The aim would be to restore investor confidence. It would not reverse the land reform program because this would conflict with the principle of defending the revolution. But it will try to deal with issues of multiple ownership and underutilization of farms. Some farms are going to find themselves back in the possession of those white farmers who are “willing and able” to utilise the land. The threshold under the indigenisation policy may be significantly lowered. The people are likely to be allowed to exercise some very basic freedoms.
What it means is that ZANU-PF will cut the ground from under the opposition’s feet by taking part of the opposition’s new Zimbabwe narrative. It will not go the full distance, but that short distance will make a difference in how the party will be perceived. The international community will rather work with a “reforming” ZANU-PF than a weak and confused opposition. ZANU-PF will get more resources while the opposition will forage in the dry lands. All these factors will change attitudes towards ZANU-PF, but will not change the electoral playing field in such a way as to allow the conduct of democratic elections. The pain is that going forward, very few will listen to the opposition when it cries “rigged”.
Sixth, given the role which the army played in the removal of Mugabe, it will be at the heart of ZANU-PF. It will be the kingmaker and kingpin of ZANU-PF. The army would not want to pay the price of removing Mugabe today and have Morgan Tsvangirai or any other opposition candidate as the president of Zimbabwe tomorrow. At the grassroots level, ZANU-PF will not hesitate to use its links with the army and other state institutions to intimidate voters. ZANU-PF has the army as surety if “elections go wrong”. To many, the army’s intervention has passed the message that the country can plunge into civil strife if people elect someone who is not supported by the army. This is especially among the rural voters.
Mugabe: Is he the proverbial owl which brought the animal kingdom together?
For many people, Mugabe’s refusal to resign has complicated the process but it has brought Zimbabweans together despite their political differences. For the first time, Zimbabweans from different political parties came together to speak one language: Mugabe must go! For the first time, Zimbabweans tasted the unfettered freedom of expression without the fear of being abducted by CIO agents or being tortured by the police. For the first time, Zimbabweans across the political divide signed a political contract which rebuked Mugabe’s presidency. Mugabe will go with a four-pronged legacy: the legacy of a liberation fighter; the legacy of anti-imperialism and populist struggles; the legacy of evil, corrupt, and arrogance governance; and the legacy of the proverbial owl which brought the bird kingdom together.
However, I argue that the belief that Mugabe brought the nation together is misleading. The people who are joining hands to remove Mugabe represent two revolutions which have been and will always be at war with each other. One is backed by force while the other is backed by the people’s will. But it is the one which is backed by force which will always have an upper hand. What is happening is like two armies which jointly fight a third army which is restraining them from fighting so that they can be able to fight each other. Once that army is defeated, the fight between the two armies will break out.
I conclude that Mugabe the person is gone but Mugabe the institution will continue to rule. The removal of Mugabe neither represent the end of an era nor the dawn of a new era. These two eras are just a folktale. Claim no easy victory, tell no folktale. We are worlds away from Uhuru.
* MOSES TOFA is a scholar and political analyst. He is completing a PhD in Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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