Bursting the bubble: Time to temper Mnangagwa expectations

Just under a year ago, I began writing this column, where my goal was to bring about dispassionate debate about the political and social developments in the country.

By Nqaba Matshazi

At the end of November, when the military tanks rolled in, I abruptly stopped writing because of the fear that gripped me.

While tens of thousands of people thronged the streets calling for and celebrating the fall of former President Robert Mugabe, I decided I will not be part of the celebrations and feared there was need for caution and a healthy dose of scepticism.

This is not because I did not want Mugabe to go, but because a precedent had been set that tanks may be rolled out on to the streets for political reasons in the future.
Importantly too, the new sheriff in town was hardly new, even if we are to use the term generously, as he was part of the furniture for almost four decades and he was a protégé of the former leader.

My second cause for concern was that the beneficiaries of the so-called military intervention were the same people that benefitted from Zanu PF misrule and largesse for the past donkey years and I was and I am still not convinced that anything has changed or will change.

The other reason I was not too enthralled is that some of the members of the new government had never been known for being persuasive and instead had in the past resorted to force or violence or use of the laws to suppress what I believe are basic rights.

It is for this reason, I think, that issues like media and electoral reforms and the repeal of draconian laws are being put on the back burner, even if these have been at the forefront of the democratic struggle, because the new administration, just like the old, does not believe in them.

Supporters of the new government have cautioned that we wait with demands for reforms and concentrate on improving our economy, a somewhat disingenuous argument, as it assumes the economy cannot be improved at the same time as basic rights.

The triumphalism that I have witnessed in the past three months or so reminds me of the overarching theme in 1980, where Mugabe was revered and allowed to get away with excesses, because of the independence euphoria.

Mugabe went on to consolidate power and the western world looked away at his excesses because their business interests were never troubled, while the former President preached reconciliation.

In his book, Story of My Life, the late Vice-President, Joshua Nkomo, lamented that he approached the then governor of Rhodesia, Lord Christopher Soames and complained about electoral violence, which the latter acknowledged was an issue, but looked aside because it served British interests not to intervene in the Zimbabwe polling process.

Fast forward 38 years later and the players are largely the same and the tune has not changed.

In a recent interview with The Economist, President Emmerson Mnangagwa describes the 2008 elections as “very fair”, but everyone knows they were anything but.
So while there seems to be change, the thinking has remained largely the same and this is a worry for me.

We cannot paper over past horrors and human rights abuses by confining them to the dustbin of letting bygones be bygones, or as Mnangagwa once again told The Economist: “Let’s not live in the past.”

Ignoring past injustices will one day return to haunt the country, as this causes fear, unnecessary divisions and anger.

Britain is again leading the chorus for Zimbabwe being open for business, but they are shockingly silent about the need for reforms, which they had been campaigning for for years, another throwback to the 1980s.

In the euphoria that has engulfed the country, critical questions are not being asked in the fear that it would seem unpatriotic or duplicitously seen as calling for Mugabe’s return to power.

We should be able to hold this government to account without the return of Mugabe being used as a sword of Damocles above our heads, as this is the only way the nation can progress.

Mugabe is now being used as some bogey man of sorts; that the new government should be followed blindly or the country risks the return of the former President, just as Rhodesia, Ian Smith and the spectre of colonialism were used to cow those who questioned Zanu PF’s misrule.

If everyone is a cheerleader or critics are silenced, then we risk a metaphorical Mugabe return, where for decades we will be oppressed and be fearful of speaking out because the consequences are too dire to imagine.

In 1980, Mugabe was given a blank cheque to run the country because it was seen as the most prudent thing to do, as Zimbabwe was seen as a country that would rise from the ashes of colonialism and be an example for the rest of the continent.

Today, words like a “rising phoenix” are being bandied about, while the themes of 1980 such as reconciliation and forgetting the past are being raised again.

It seems we are not learning from the past, as this is a time for us to pause, take stock, correct the wrongs of the past and then move on.

Moving on without addressing the excesses of Mugabe’s government, which include many of the so-called new faces, is a recipe for disaster, as there is a risk of repeating the mistakes of old.

Mnangagwa has espoused a fight against corruption, which many critics think is only targeting his political rivals, while his perceived supporters have largely been untouched.

The sceptic in me quickly remembers similar prosecutions under Mugabe, where only opposition supporters or those who fell out with him in government and Zanu PF were immediately put before the courts, while his supporters remained unmolested.

The pattern, the players and the outcomes are largely the same and I am yet to see the promise of the so-called new dispensation. I worry that, like in 1980, where we were overwhelmed by the euphoria of independence, the ecstasy of Mugabe’s fall could be equally all-consuming and there is a risk that we might find ourselves facing similar problems in the not so distant future.

So please excuse my lack of enthusiasm and the overriding worry and feeling of déjà vu, it is like we have been here before and we learnt nothing from our previous experiences.

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