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How Did We Get Here? - Zimbabwe Today
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FILE PHOTO: President Robert Mugabe (R) greets Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as he arrives for Zimbabwe's Heroes Day commemorations in Harare, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

How Did We Get Here?

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In my first interview soon after the coup, I was asked what were the three most difficult tasks facing President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

My views are that the following are most prominent tasks:

  • Taming the political sharks and the hawks in Zanu PF, including those within the disciplined forces;
  • Re-imagining economic structural transformation anchored in inclusive business and inclusive growth models and not the Esap-lite implied in the Lima Plan process; and
  • National truth, justice and healing process.

The unfolding saga within Zanu PF is not anything new in the party’s history and it certainly does not merit the sort of attention that it is getting except for one reason, namely: that Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, Mnangagwa and company may have — by getting rid of the (former vice-president Joice) Mujurus and Mugabes — set in motion the most comprehensive cyclical reforms in a governing liberation party in the history of Africa (their own version of glasnost and perestroika).

Zanu PF may have stumbled into these change opportunities by happenstance, but what is certain is that Zimbabwe is now ripe for reform. Ironically, the man who created the monstrosity of an imperial presidency with a securocratic underbelly might unwittingly have become Zimbabwe’s most effective reformer.

Entrenched habits, rivalries and prejudices might abate for a short while but they will certainly rear their ugly head as politicians jostle for the political limelight ahead of the 2018 election. These folks are long-schooled in sycophancy and deception; they will support Mnangagwa to the extent that he offers them political sunlight. But the same folks will happily ditch him if he does not deliver. Did you observe the Olympic-style political summersaults from praise-singing for Mugabe to adulation for Mnangagwa? These folks are not just political sand — in my view they are quicksand!

But how did a once revered African revolutionary end up surrounded by sycophants, kleptocrats, power sharks and turncoats? How did we as a nation get here?

Mob radicals?

Throughout Zimbabwe’s post-independence history, the resort to mob rule has been closer than the affinity for the rule of law. Writing ahead of the June 2000 election, I referred to this phenomenon as “mobocracy”. What we have learnt from our recent history is that lumpen radicals have silent and yet very powerful support structures within critical state institutions such as the police, intelligence and the army. Because such support is not official, it takes time before discerning minds study its patterns and its potency.

This conflation of interests between para-state groups and state (military, administrative, political and economic elites) essentially pressed the start button of Zimbabwe’s long road to constitutional ruin or subversion of rule of law. It is this spectre of collective violence against the other and self, within and without political parties, that must concern Zimbabweans as we debate the Mugabe effect and seek to fashion a genuinely post-Mugabe era. Achille Mbembe has characterised this process as lumpen radicalisation. Such radicalisation is most potent when adopted as a project of State or a ruling party.

Over the years political parties have employed lumpen elements to silence internal dissent, reconfigure rules of leadership succession, and endorsement of both policies and personalities. Lumpen radicalisation comes hand-in-glove with personality cults, identity politics and violence (that is, verbal, psychological, economic and physical).

The intellectual class and indeed middle class are unable to deal with these consequences save to express disgust. Lumpen radicals and lumpen violence shapes the very contours of national politics and leadership. It significantly alters the criteria for eligibility for national leadership. It determines the course of succession politics.

Lumpenisation in the opposition has been characterised by assaults of leaders and rival politicians. This contradicts the neat image of an inclusive pro-democracy space in which all social groups and economic classes live in amity. It is a political culture that is anaemic to diversity, criticism and dissent. It pervades the broader Zimbabwean society.

For example, any dissent on social media is likely to be savaged mercilessly by paid hecklers or simply bitter souls that inhabit the virtual space. These bullies are the progeny of authoritarian politics perfected under the Mugabe regime. It is a cocktail that produces collective violence as a means to defend and express respective fears as well as aspirations. As pointed out last week, hurting leaders hurt their people.

Political activists-cum-criminals

Zimbabwean political parties are ideologically malnourished. The amorphous political space in Zimbabwe has, for close to four decades now, been dominated by political party activists-cum-criminals-cum-entrepreneurs.

From 1980 until his resignation in 2018, Mugabe systematically brought the securocrats into the economy and ruling party politics as a personal guarantee against future insurrection. Many amongst them inelegantly engaged in primitive accumulation. Have you ever wondered what it takes to be “the stockholders” of Zimbabwe (or is it Zimbabwe Inc. now)? The ideological and ethical distortions associated with a “stockholder” class are enormous.

The war veterans association was right in pointing out they have been used and abused to violently silence citizens (especially the opposition MDC). Youth, especially before Kudzanayi Chipanga’s “jersey of shame” had become willing handmaids for championing the rift between the first family and senior Zanu PF leaders. Land expropriated from a white minority class sometimes was handed over to a largely unproductive black political elite.

In all these aberrations the rhetoric has been either left-wing radical redistribution talk or black economic liberation and anti-imperialist. The correctness of the rhetoric has essentially meant that there is little interrogation of the contradictory praxis that has transformed a liberation movement from a vanguard party of workers and peasants to an obtusely elite project dominated by only seven families. Some of these families are accused of engaging in wealth accumulation from the State on an industrial scale.

Mugabe: Revisionism and legacy

Mugabe may have been a beneficiary of extensive revision of the history of the liberation struggle. No doubt he suffered immensely as did thousands of other war veterans. But his role in the liberation of Zimbabwe has been somewhat embellished to place him on par with the upper echelons of that struggle.

He is certainly not the sole beneficiary of historical embellishment. Joice Mujuru, Mnangagwa, Chiwenga, Phelekezela Mphoko and many others had their liberation credentials manicured to suit their current mythologised status. The mythologisation of various characters within the nationalist movements including Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara, Joshua Nkomo and etcetera has been part of the reinvention of Zimbabwean history, a reinvention in which all men are judged by what they say and not what they do, let alone achieve.

As noted by Luise White in her reflections on The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo: “The persistence of talk about Chitepo and of talk about and visions of Tongogara literally left a trace of the idea of Mugabe’s illegitimacy. This is not to say that Mugabe is accused of orchestrating the deaths of Chitepo and Tongogara, although such accusations were not uncommon.

Chitepo and Tongogara come back, as it were, to show that the president is unlawfully in his office.”

The liberator generation is always insinuating a potential repudiation of Mugabe’s iconic liberation credentials or their subordination and dwarfing by those of greater giants.

Unlike Chitepo, Tongogara, and Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe had the privilege, for 37 years, to implement the dream of black majority rule, gutsa ruzhinji (satisfying the masses). History will judge him more harshly than his peers within Zanu PF and perhaps even harsher than his successors within the Zimbabwean State.

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