PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa recently swore in a seven-member commission which will investigate the August 1 violence and egregious shooting of civilians. At least seven people were killed and scores injured.
Guest column: Moses Tofa
The commission has been criticised primarily on two points: the local members whose independence is seen as contentious, and the terms of reference which appear to skirt the primary purpose for which the commission was established.
Critics have argued that the commission should investigate the army in order to identify three primary factors: who deployed the soldiers, who gave the order to shoot to kill, and who were the soldiers who actually shot and killed the civilians?
I argue that while these three points of investigation are important, the most important point of investigation is to establish whether the army had any material interests and presence in the 2018 elections. This is particularly important because the elections and shootings came against a background of the November 2017 coup. After the coup, many Zimbabweans wondered whether, after taking the risk of deposing former President Robert Mugabe, the army would accept an electoral victory by an opposition presidential candidate. The aftermath of the coup was, therefore, characterised by the widespread view that going forward, the army will be the main player in Zimbabwean politics and elections. Many believe that the shooting to kill was clearly not a matter of maintaining law and public order; but of protecting vested political interests which were under threat. If justice is to be done, we need to go beyond identifying and prosecuting (which is very unlikely) the person(s) who deployed the army and the soldiers who shot and killed civilians. What needs to be dealt with is the army’s interests and presence in politics and elections. The commission offers the opportunity to validate or debunk the long-held perception that the army has had a strong presence and vested interests in Zimbabwean politics and elections.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is another most important point of investigation. It is surprising that critics have not mentioned the need for the commission to investigate Zec. The commission can investigate Zec because Article (g) of the terms of reference gives it the latitude “to investigate any other matters which the commission of inquiry may deem appropriate and relevant to the inquiry”. It is difficult to see how the commission can do a good job without investigating Zec. This is because the violence was instigated by what was seen as Zec’s lack of independence, professionalism, and transparency in its running of the 30 July harmonised election.
There was little to zero public trust and confidence in Zec, whose conduct was very arrogant, unaccountable, and despicable. It ridiculed genuine demands for electoral integrity. It made “clerical errors” which consistently increased Mnangagwa’s votes while diminishing those of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa. To add to the suspicion, the “errors” were only “corrected” when Chamisa filed a petition challenging the credibility of the results. In short, the arguments which were made by Chamisa’s lawyers tell us a lot about Zec’s institutional weaknesses. These were the weaknesses which instigated the protests and violence. The commission of inquiry should therefore help us to understand the institutional weaknesses of Zec, and why it is important to address them. Above all, the commission’s findings should inform us of the consequences of a flawed election.
That Zec and the army should be investigated does not mean that the commission should be reduced to a political exercise of name-calling. It should be an exercise which should help us to understand the causes of the problems which have afflicted our beautiful land for many decades, and what we need to do in order to deal with them. It should not be conceptualised as a victory or loss for either Zanu PF or the opposition, but the nation.
What is Zimbabwe’s problem?
Why is it that Zimbabwe has been out of its depth for many years? This is probably the single most important question which we need to get right as a nation. This is because the problem of Zimbabwe is our failure as a people, and as a nation, to understand our problem. It is difficult to find a Zimbabwean who says that he/she does not know what the country’s problem is.
We all claim to know the problem and what needs to be done, yet our perceptions and versions of the problem are actually worlds apart from the actual problem. At the bare minimum, there are two “perpetually fighting views” of the genesis and drivers of the Zimbabwean problem. These views are primarily informed by State politics. On the one hand, there are those who believe that Zimbabwe’s problem is rooted in the crisis of legitimacy.
They believe that this crisis is a direct result of repeatedly failed and flawed elections, and the capture of State institutions. From their point of view, the problem can only be cured through the conduct of an election which is free, fair, and a credible expression of the will of the people.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that the problem is essentially the “unpatriotic” opposition which is “a puppet of the West”. They argue that the opposition has called for the imposition of sanctions, that it is unwilling to cooperate for the sake of nation-building, and that it wants the people to suffer so that they can vote Zanu PF out of power. For them, the problem can be cured, in whole or in large part, the day that the opposition will cease to be “used by the West”, co-operate with Zanu PF, and commit to a “patriotic agenda”.
I will be blunt: none of these views is correct because they are built on a wrong diagnosis of the problem. These issues are simply a reflection of an “open” problem which, strangely, we are failing to uncover. I believe that a checklist of Zimbabwe’s problems can be reduced to one point: a wrong state of mind; a state of mind which is enmeshed in the web of Zanu PF-opposition belligerence and antagonism; a state of mind which refuses to understand that the interests of Zimbabwe should always be above and beyond those of political parties.
For example, when someone says or believes that Zanu PF will rule forever, or that the country cannot be ruled by someone who did not fight the war of liberation, that state of mind is a problem. When someone says or believes that the country should go through a devastating economic crisis (including the loss of lives), merely to prove the claim that Zanu PF is illegitimate and unable to turn around the economic fortunes of the country, that state of mind is a problem. I will cite South Africa’s opposition EFF leader Julius Malema. Explaining why the EFF fought so hard to remove Jacob Zuma, Malema said that the party wanted to avoid a situation where corruption could have eroded the nation such that by the time that it will “get into power”, there will be “no South Africa”. We must always protect and promote the interests of our nation, regardless of who is in power and how they got there.
The opposition should not demand reforms because they enable it to get into power, but because they are good for the country. It is possible to fight for a good cause, but with a self-seeking motive. What is important is not the cause, but the motive. Because if a good cause is fought with a self-seeking motive, once the cause has been achieved, the motive takes over. There are many in the opposition who are fighting a good cause, but the motive is self-seeking.
There are many in Zanu PF who resist positive transformation with the last drop of their blood, and the reasons are self-seeking. In the final analysis, we need to change our state of mind, we need to change the motives of our behaviour.
We will be able to deal with our problem, not necessarily on the day that the opposition will “convert to patriotism” or the day that we will hold a free and fair election, but the day that we will cease to view our national interests and challenges through the Zanu PF-opposition divide, the day that we are going to have principles which bind us together as a people called Zimbabweans, and a nation called Zimbabwe.