Robert Sigauke, Political Analyst, Cape Town
There is no other period in the history of independent Zimbabwe that has saw significant shifts in the political discourse of the country than the last two decades. The contestation of divides was mainly born out of economic dissatisfaction, particularly at the turn of the new millenium. Freedom and other political rights given, economic debate found space and this saw the degeneration of political rights guarantees as the establishment of the day struggled to contain dissent.
Studying the histories of countries whose freedom came through the barrel of the gun or liberation struggle in general, what happened and is still happening in Zimbabwe is normal. Up north, Kenneth Kaunda presided over 27 years of a de facto one party state system characterised by economic decline. Zambians grew weary and through the first multi-party elections in 1991 their voice demanding change was heard through the election of Chiluba, the former trade union leader. Chiluba rode on economic transformation and whether he walked the talk is on record for everyone. The man had his own issues. Today, Zambia remains volatile because of tribal bias imported into politics but regardless, power changes hands commendably and oftenly predictable.
South africa is indeed slowly waking up to this fact. The folks here had it bad and rougher than other countries and this has had the effect of ballot optioning following colour, tribe even. Put simply, there are many in South Africa dissatisfied with the system but they will vote for it because they do not trust the DA, the main opposition with its popularity base in predominantly white communities and portions of the black middle class. The ANC brought down the apartheid system, nobody wants to go back there. In its young democracy, the focus quickly shifted to economic sustenance going forward which, is the contestation pivot with the opposition. Although the ruling party in South Africa has done a lot to uplift the standards of living for previously disadvantaged communities, the opposition agenda is slowly penetrating the spaces cracked by issues of government corruption and poor service delivery. I recently moved to Cape Town myself, it is not paradise but Western Cape grips one with a feeling that it is another country on its own. It is quite evident that Western Cape is run by an opposition party that is hungry to prove itself. The capturing of metros by opposition coalitions, added to painful punches of ballot plummeting in the 2014 municipal elections, the ANC indeed has something to worry about.
Unless liberation movements depart from entitlement laurels and get to the work of the day, the script above will still unfold.
If this came as a surprise to Mugabe’s Zanu PF of the 90s, then the lesson indeed came very late. The ZCTU basic commodities stay-aways of 1997 were the first significant shots that shook the system from deep slumber. I would like to believe that even the then Secretary General of the ZCTU, the late Morgan Tsvangirai and his administration, were assured by the response of the stay-aways that indeed the ground was ripe, the people were waiting for a hero!
Mugabe’s administration must have forgotten that as calendars outdate, the people cannot live in the past anymore. Who in our generation can ever forget that it is Zanu PF that led the struggle for independence in the country? I ask this question rhetorically since at every gathering to bury a national hero, at every rally, at every gathering to celebrate independence, heroes and unity, Mugabe always reminded the country that it is him and his comrades that Zimbabweans must thank for their freedom. It is this mantra, together with perceived western links, that made it difficult for the opposition to penetrate the rural areas. With liberation movements still in charge in most of Africa, the opposition found it even more difficult to sell their story at SADC, Troika and AU.
What was different then that has changed now you may ask? Well, it is simple actually. The template. The political divides of the late 1990s were deliberately sold by the system in two distincts, sellouts and guarantors of independence. The Zanu PF propaganda machine went into overdrive labelling the rise of a strong opposition as a dangerous project well financed from western capitals. The wide media exposes of Tsvangirai sitting, dining and receiving large sums of money from dispossessed white farmers couldn’t have came at an opportune time for the propaganda machine of the establishment. The political and personal indiscretions of the opposition leaders costed them and in some cases went down without prisoners, but casualties.
To understand political times better one must understand the prevailing template, and that templates change all the time depending on what trajectory needs to be achieved. Speaking at Sapes Trust mid last year, Jonathan Moyo correctly gave the media a template that captured the developments in Zanu PF at that time and as things unfolded barely months later, his predictions were vindicated. He talked about a successionist (lacoste) – loyalist (G40) view which, came out correct keeping in mind the November 2017 events. The sellout-guarantor template of the early 2000s no longer works and that is specifically why Zanu PF does not place money on it anymore. Without liberation credentials the main opposition is actually home-grown, and pursues a balanced Zimbabwean re- engagement with the international community. The opposition agenda took long to be understood that it is not dangerous to national security as long as each arm of government remains in their seat. The army also knowing their place. It is by no justification for the army to meddle in the political terrain just because the military functionaries came from the war under Zanu or PF. The rules and laws are clear, it is absolutely permissible to trade and resign the military garb if one feels he serves better in civil contest. Nations serve and survive better under such arrangements. This gospel reacted badly to the opposition.
So, what is the prevailing template in Zimbabwe?
The question is on everyone’s lips mainly because Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF seems to be burning candles reversing the country’s economic fortunes for the better which, was the main reason why opposition parties that matter drew reason from to sit, drink bottles of mineral water and draft manifestos. Mnangagwa seems clear and resolute about where he is going, striking the right codes at every turn. Remember this started with Chinamasa’s Lima engagement which had all the colours of reversing Mugabe’s isolation trajectory. Secondly, the distasteful behaviours of opposition leaders in their unconstitutional quest for power has left many in the country wondering what the difference is between an open tyrant and a pretentious despot. This all but discounts twenty years of opposition priesthood in national aspirations of adhering to principles of constitutional democracy, non-violent resolution of issues and clean governance. Thirdly, maybe Mnangagwa is not the right person to preach democracy, western engagement and media freedom. Maybe the main opposition has collectively lost the plot and no longer serve in the interests of democracy, clean governance and constitutional sacrosancty.
Touch nobody sold a dummy, the country is being taken for a stroll in a green flowery park. Alo and beneath, a pit filled with hay and straw.