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Daily Maverick

Zimbabweans need to do some serious introspection and take control of their destiny. This will require courage and determination on the part of all Zimbabweans. For far too long, Zimbabweans have allowed ZANU-PF to manipulate the electoral process to their advantage by playing the tribal game to capitalise on their numbers and Zimbabweans have fallen for it again and again.

The euphoria that descended on Zimbabwe in April 1980 following the achievement of political independence has all, but vanished like snowflakes on a warm and sunny day-after. For those who have been following developments and events in Zimbabwe over the last 37 years, the problem is as clear as daylight – Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). After 37 years in power, Robert Mugabe finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe on 21 November 2017. He had been in power for the entire 37-year period; first as prime minister and then later as president of Zimbabwe.

In a 28 April 2016 article in the Financial Gazette by Cyril Zenda entitled “[email protected]: Jewel of Africa left to rot,” Doris Lessing is quoted as having described the by-gone era of Zimbabwe as:

 “Southern Rhodesia had fine and functioning railways, good roads; its towns were policed and clean. It could grow anything, tropical fruit like pineapples, mangoes, bananas, plantains, paw-paws, passion fruit, temperate fruits like apples, peaches, plums. The staple food, maize, grew like a weed and fed surrounding countries as well. Peanuts, sunflowers, cotton, the millets and small grains that used to be staple foods before maize, flourished. Minerals: gold, chromium, asbestos, platinum, and rich coalfields. The dammed Zambezi River created the Kariba Lake, which fed electricity north and south. A paradise, and not only for the whites. The blacks did well, too, at least physically… But paradise has to have a superstructure, an infrastructure, and by now it is going, going — almost gone.”

Since these words were used by Lessing to describe a by-gone Zimbabwe, more than four million Zimbabweans have fled from Zimbabwe to virtually every corner of the globe to seek better pastures for both political and economic reasons.

At one time, Zimbabwe was known as the bread basket of the southern African region. A series of events and mis-steps that can be summed up as total mismanagement by the government have turned the bread basket of the region into what many now call a basket case. Among many reasons for the decline in productivity one can cite:

  • Absence of the rule of law,
  • Corruption at all levels of government,
  • Severe drought over the last few years,
  • Seizure of white owned farms and their re-distribution to landless blacks with little or no farming skills,
  • Political repression of minority groups and other non-supporters of the ruling party,
  • Unprecedented levels of unemployment.

The list goes on and on. One humorous exchange between two old friends in the Zimbabwean situation illustrates what has become a very common problem for Zimbabweans. One man asked the other “How are the children? Where are they?” The other man responded by saying, “Eldest son is in Steward Bank. His wife is at Stanbic. Second son is at National Microfinance Bank and his wife is at CABS. Youngest son, not yet married is at Barclays bank.”  The first man sounded impressed and said, “So they are all settled in bank jobs?” “No” responded the other friend, “vari mu queue” (meaning “they are in the queue”.)  Queuing for money has become a daily chore for many people in Zimbabwe.  Today, many Zimbabweans spend hours and hours in queues at their banks and other monetary institutions trying to withdraw cash from their accounts for everyday use. Often this turns out to be a futile effort as they are frequently told that there is no money left in the bank when they finally reach the end of the line. So, they hedge their chances of getting something by deploying different family members to different banks. No one should have to spend more than about an hour in a bank queue to withdraw money from their accounts, even on busy days.

Monetary woes for Zimbabweans have been compounded by the introduction of the bond notes to augment the American dollar that is being used as common tender in the country. In their pitch to promote bond notes, the government said that bond notes were equivalent to the United States dollar. The major problem with bond notes is that they cannot be used outside of Zimbabwe. When Zimbabweans want to buy or import products from outside the country, they cannot use bond notes.  This affects a very large population of the people in Zimbabwe. Merchants and various store owners import much of their merchandise from outside the country. Street vendors do the same. They go to South Africa and Botswana to buy goods that are in short supply in Zimbabwe for re-sale at a nominal mark-up prize. Since bond notes cannot be used in South Africa or Botswana, this is now a major headache for informal traders.

How did all this come about? In a speech on leadership (YouTube, Uganda Today, 26 March 2017), Professor Patrick Lumumba, one of the most profound African intellectuals said, “Africa’s problem is essentially a failure of leadership.” He went on to say that even those African leaders who have had the benefit of formal education, don’t seem to have their mindsets changed by that education. Many go into politics to further their nests, rather than to serve their people and develop their countries. Nowhere is this clearly demonstrated than in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has 18 degrees seven academic and 11 honorary degrees). This is an impeccable educational achievement by any standard, even though three of his degrees have been revoked by the University of Edinburgh, University of Massachusetts, and Michigan State University. But where has this fine academic achievement put Zimbabwe under his leadership?

According to the United Nations Development Programme’s   Human Development Report 2016, Zimbabwe had a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.154 regarded as low by any standard. The country ranked as number 154 out of 188 countries on the HDI scale. The HDI measures three basic dimensions of human development:

  • A long and healthy lifestyle (measured by life expectancy at birth),
  • Access to knowledge (measured by mean years of education among the adult population),
  • A decent standard of living (measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita).

The World Data Atlas (2016) shows Zimbabwe’s GNI per capita as $873 compared to $1233 in 1990.  The current GNI is approximately $2.39 per day. This is barely above the $1.90 per person per day threshold for extreme poverty that is used by the World Bank and other international organisations as a standard to reflect the minimum consumption and income level needed to meet a person’s basic needs (Trickle UP, The drop from 1990 to today’s figure is just one more downward spiral that is yet to see its bottom end. These are, but a few examples of the leadership that our learned president brought to Zimbabwe.

Another more morbid event that occurred between 1983 and 1987 was the attempted elimination of the Ndebele people under the so-called Gukurahundi exercise where an estimated 20,000 or more innocent people in Matebeleland and Midlands were massacred by Mugabe’s members of the 5th Brigade (a military crack squad trained by North Korea). This was done in the name of putting down a rebellion by disgruntled former Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) combatants, who are said to have waged armed banditry against civilians and government installations in Matabeleland.

The government’s response was to order a reign of terror on the whole of Matebeleland and Midlands where they went on a killing spree of all the suspected supporters of what they called dissidents. This exercise has since been declared a crime against humanity by some and genocide by others like Themba Mthethwa who analysed the prelude to Gukurahundi correctly when he said, “For genocide to take place one group must be in a position of power and influence; in control of state resources and apparatus and must hold powerful emotions of an absolute desire for political control and seeing the minority group as a threat to their influence and power. ZANU PF enjoyed that position of power, influence and resources and perceived ZAPU as a threat to their political dominance and control” (News 24 Why Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland and Midland is genocide. 14 Jan 2015 at 23:27hrs | 5561 Views)

A Zimbabwean author, journalist, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, and former human rights lawyer, Peter Godwin draws some comparisons between South Africa (Truth and Reconciliation Commission-TRC) and Zimbabwe on several issues that Zimbabwe has never put on the table for anyone to inspect, including the Gukurahundi by saying,

“The TRC was based on the idea of the Catholic confession, but whether you agree with it or not, there was an attempt to have a sustained national self-reflection… In Zimbabwe, we never did that. Each time we moved on, from the Rhodesian war, the terrible crimes committed by both sides against civilians, we didn’t even talk about it; the 1983-1984 Gukurahundi where 20,000 Matabele citizens were killed. No one has been arrested, we are not even allowed to report on it, nothing. Then there was Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 when they did the so-called slums clearance, but they just threw hundreds of thousands of people out of the cities and many of them died. They did it in the middle of winter with no accommodation. Nobody talked about it. And then the terrible violence and torture campaigns in 2008 – nobody arrested, nothing. So, what you get is a culture of impunity developing where it becomes part of the national culture that you can get away with political violence. Nothing ever happens to the perpetrators; so, you absorb, you internalise that kind of thing and it becomes part of a culture of political violence, which is what we have now. ZANU-PF’s default reaction to political opposition is a violent one. That’s what they do, that’s what they’ve always done.” (Daily Maverick, 23 November 2011; Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe, South Africa, crimes (against humanity) and a stuffed Mugabe).

Governance problems in Zimbabwe have not only been ignored by the government of Zimbabwe. They have been ignored by the regional body called SADC (Southern African Development Community) originally formed in 1980 as the Southern African Development Co-Ordination Conference (SADCC). People of the region had pinned their hopes on this regional body to oversee and correct any issues that arose among its member states when it was formed with fanfare and grandiose objectives, which included among other things to:

  • Achieve development and economic growth,
  • Promote and defend peace and security,
  • Strengthen and consolidate the long-standing historical, social and cultural affinities among the people of the region.

Its mission statement included principles like:

  • Sovereign equality of all member states,
  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Its protocol against corruption included the following:

The solicitation or acceptance, directly or indirectly by a public official, of any article of monetary value, or other benefit…in exchange for any act or omission in the performance of his or her public functions

Time and again SADC has failed to meet most of the above commitments. Mugabe and his party rigged elections for the last 37 years and SADC said nothing. Members of the opposition parties and activist groups like “Ibhetshu likaZulu,” “Women of Zimbabwe Arise” to name a few were denied permits to hold rallies or to commemorate their causes; have been harassed, jailed and some have even been killed, and SADC has said and done nothing.  Until recently, members of the police force routinely set up road blocks on the highways to harass and shake down motorists all the time in direct contravention of SADC’s protocols against corruption and SADC has said and done nothing. Occasionally member states like Botswana have voiced outrage at some of the things that have happened in Zimbabwe, but generally they don’t get much support from other countries.  Apart from serving as a social club for our elected leaders, one wonders whether SADC has any useful purpose based on its record since 1980.

Where do we go from here? The month of November 2017 saw some dramatic developments in Zimbabwe including the departure of Robert Mugabe from the presidency, which has since been replaced by Ermerson Mnangagwa, courtesy of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. To cut a long story short, factionalism in ZANU-PF which had been brewing under the surface for some time between the so-called G40 group led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and the so-called Lacoste faction led by the then vice president Ermerson Mnangagwa came to a head on 6 November 2017 when Ermerson Mnangagwa was fired by Robert Mugabe as Vice President of Zimbabwe. Following that, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces staged a coup of some sort, even though they never called it a coup, which forced Robert Mugabe to resign. Because the army was pro-Lacoste in the factional ZANU-PF war, Ermerson Mnangagwa was reinstated in the party and elevated to the presidency of Zimbabwe on 24 November 2017.

Perhaps two of the biggest challenges that Zimbabwe faces right now are in the areas of politics and economics. Ermerson Mnangagwa has confirmed that the harmonised general elections that were scheduled for next year (2018) will go ahead as planned.  Zimbabweans (theoretically) have an opportunity of straightening out their political scenery by electing competent, honest and dedicated leaders that can pull them out of the mess that ZANU-PF created over the last 37 years. We have all become accustomed to problematic elections. We hope this coming election will be different. It can be difficult to break out of our old limitations and achieve something new and different; but Zimbabweans need to do this. Credible elections will only occur if the playing field is levelled to allow the country to choose its next leaders in a free and fair contest. It remains to be seen whether the (new) ruling party will rise up to this challenge. It also remains to be seen whether the opposition parties will put down their differences and combine their forces under a coalition of democrats that should field one credible candidate that all the opposition people can support to defeat ZANU-PF.

On the economic front, Zimbabweans need to take the “radical simplicity” approach that is the art and discipline of reducing a problem to its essence. Zimbabwe’s economic landscape is littered with ruins of once great organisations and companies: The National Railways of Zimbabwe, Bata Shoe company, United Refineries of Bulawayo, Ziscosteel, BAT, Tanganda Tea company, Cold Storage Commission and many others, to name a few. These were thriving and vibrant companies that employed thousands of people and provided much needed services and products for Zimbabwean consumption and export to other countries. The essence of the matter is that these services and products are still needed today. All that is necessary to revive these organisations is competent and committed leadership to leverage the abundant natural and human resources that Zimbabwe has. With that, Zimbabwe could become the bread basket of southern Africa again.

In conclusion, Zimbabweans need to do some serious introspection and take control of their destiny. This will require courage and determination on the part of all Zimbabweans. For far too long, Zimbabweans have allowed ZANU-PF to manipulate the electoral process to their advantage by playing the tribal game to capitalise on their numbers and Zimbabweans have fallen for it again and again. It is time for everyone to take bold moves by insisting on a legitimate balloting system and holding everyone to clean election practices, starting with the ruling party.

On 9 December 2016 (News24), Ghana’s then president, John Mahama showed the world that it is possible to hold credible elections in Africa and to have democratic governance. As he said in his gracious concession speech on that day, “each victory belongs to the people.” In 2018, all candidates for Zimbabwe’s elections, including the president must pledge, before the elections are held, to concede defeat and hand over power to the winner unconditionally if they lose. The African Union, the United Nations and SADC must insist on sending in honest election observers who will call the elections as they are won or lost without fear or favour. It is time to turn the page on Zimbabwe’s sordid past and give the people of Zimbabwe a voice in their future.

* Oscar D. Simela writes from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada