Zimbabwe Has Always Had a Democracy Deficit (I)

Democracy is an embodiment of governance in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic free elections.

It is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs, and its outcomes.

Democracy must have three pillars of governance: parliament, the executive and the judiciary, which all must be separate and independent of each other, exercising impartiality when dealing with each other.

It may also be described as a form of governance in which the general public, not just the political personalities, deeply get engaged in the process of public decision-making, through representatives in parliament.

The word democracy is often used in place of freedom, but these two words are not synonyms. Although democracy consists of ideas and theories regarding freedom, it also consists of rights, obligations, rules, procedures and policies that have been carved through history.

Chincotta (2006) defines democracy as an institutionalised form of freedom.

There are five major types of democracy: representative democracy, liberal democracy, direct democracy, illiberal democracy and deliberative democracy.

For the purpose of this article, I will give the definitions of only two of these types of democracy which represent what Zimbabwe’s democracy (i) should be and what it (ii) has been and still is, since Independence. These are (i) representative democracy and (ii) illiberal democracy.

Representative democracy

This is the form of democracy in which people elect representatives who govern them. Many nations in today’s developed world (which may also be deemed as liberal democracies) are perceived to be representative democracies (or are they?), albeit with limited adherence to its norms and values.

In such nations, a flag represents a nation and elected politicians represent the country on national and international fora. The elected representatives allow the general public to have considerable influence or control over them.

According to Joseph Schumpeter (1942), representative democracy gives the general public the right to accept or refuse the person who should govern them.

Representative democracy, in essence, is the type of democracy the people of Zimbabwe have always believed they had since the fall of colonial domination in 1980. Sadly, it is far from that, as this article will explain.

Illiberal democracy

This is the type of governance where the leaders or rulers pay no (or very little) attention to the rights of the individual citizens.

In this type, the process of democracy is limited to the elections. And in most cases the elections are heavily disrupted by the influence of the politicians and they may turn the election process in favour of their party. Within the party itself, members are not given free will to nominate or elect the candidate of their choice.

The individual who wields power at the moment imposes undue influence to whip members into conformity to the choice of candidates desired by him or her. Members rally in timid support of the candidates desired by those in power. Bootlicking and hero worship are rampant in such a setup, and the will of ordinary stakeholders is stifled and crushed.

This is reminiscent of the events that have been more visible within Zanu PF since “independence”. Although on paper it has always been portrayed as a democracy, people have had no say on the selection of their representatives, nor their ideas and needs.

The creation of a one centre of power in Zanu PF by Robert Mugabe exacerbated the already flawed process of democratic realisation.

Illiberal democracy is the actual type of democracy the people of Zimbabwe have experienced since attaining what they called Independence in 1980, and it goes further within Zanu PF to the time of the liberation struggle.

Power of the military

The starting point will be articulating that Zanu PF has never experienced smooth leadership change in its entire history. The only elected leader of Zanu PF (then Zanu) was Ndabaningi Sithole at its inaugural congress in Gwelo in August 1964, having been formed after a split from Zapu, on August 8, 1963. Mugabe became secretary-general (elected in absentia).

The party was subsequently banned by Ian Smith’s government and Sithole, alongside Mugabe, Edgar Tekere, Morris Nyagumbo, Leopald Takawira and others, were incarcerated.

Zanu had formed a military wing (Zanu being the political wing), called the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla). While in prison, the leaders authorised Herbert Chitepo to continue as leader of the struggle from Zambia.

A rebellion occurred while Chitepo was in charge in Zambia when a group of commanders, led by Thomas Nhari (whose real name was Raphael Chinyanganya and Dakari Badza, revolted against the High Command which included Josiah Tongogara.

The group’s grievances included the lavish lifestyles of the senior leaders (members of the High Command), while middle and junior commanders, together with cadres, suffered from a lack of food and clothing in camps and arms at the front. There was also a complaint about Tongogara having taken Nhari’s wife and sending him (Nhari) on a risky mission to the battle front. Although this narrative has been refuted by some commanders who were part of the group at the time, abuse of female combatants, which was among the grievances on the list, is known to have been rampant throughout the struggle.

The rebellion was subsequently crushed, with the rebels being brought before a disciplinary hearing, and some of them being demoted. Tongogara was not happy that Chitepo had decided to punish them by demoting them instead of executing them. It is said Tongogara then secretly went to Chifombo Camp, where the rebels had been, and organised their execution without Chitepo’s knowledge and approval. Animosity is said to have developed between Tongogara and Chitepo following this rebellion. Chitepo was subsequently car-bombed soon after at his home in Lusaka.

Sithole was released from prison in 1974 and attempted to assume the leadership, but there was a revolt by Zanla combatants, against him at Mgagao Camp in Tanzania in 1975, because he had been a proponent of detente, which meant to stop the war. The combatants made a declaration deposing Sithole, and conferred the leadership of the party on Mugabe. This was, in essence, the first coup by the military in Zanu, which literally imposed Mugabe as leader.

Mugabe, after being released from prison in November 1974, crossed the border into Mozambique with Tekere in March 1975, to take up leadership of the party.

Mozambican president Samora Machel was sceptical of Mugabe and held him at a house in Quelimane with travel restrictions. Machel was unsure whether to recognise him as Zanu’s legitimate leader.

A year later, Machel would, after a lot of persuasion from Zanla commanders, including Tongogara and Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru), accept Mugabe as leader of Zanu.

In August 1977, Mugabe was officially declared Zanu president at a meeting of the party’s central committee at Chimoio, then dubbed a congress. This meeting was largely influenced by the military as it was held in a military environment, with a few civilian leaders, as some members of the then Dare ReChimurenga were not present.

After fully taking over the Zanu/Zanla leadership, and ironically inviting or recruiting Emmerson Mnangagwa (who had been his errand boy in prison) later in 1977, Mugabe began to consolidate his grip on power, as he was suspicious of many of the military commanders. Many within and without Zanu/Zanla, may not have taken notice of the relationship between Mugabe and Mnangagwa from prison, which has a bearing on the direction the revolution took in the aftermath of their assumption of power over Zanu/Zanla, and the subsequent crushing of rebellions, cascading to the relationship forged at Independence with the then Rhodesian intelligence, some of whom remained in office at Independence. But it is a story for another day.

Mugabe was to merge the post of president with that of secretary-general, a post which had been held by Tekere. Having been instrumental in deposing Sithole while in jail, Mugabe knew that the post of secretary-general, which he had previously held, wielded enough power to depose a president, hence his abolishing it.

Commanders who led the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa), which incorporated Zanla and Zpra, some of whom, had been part of the Mgagao Declaration, which deposed Sithole and ushered in Mugabe, realised Mugabe’s insatiable hunger for power and his resistance to the military alliance. The group, which called itself Vashandi, had risen to power in Zanla during the imprisonment of the traditional leaders of Zanu by the Zambian government after the death of Chitepo.

This group consisted of the senior and middle level commanders, mainly the intellectual group, led by the likes of Dzinashe Machingura (Wilfred Mhanda), Parker Chipoyera and others. The group, which had culminated into Zipa, considered itself both an army and a political movement. This group, consisting of young educated guerillas, had assumed control of the army training and refugee camps in Tanzania and Mozambique in 1975. They revolted against the leadership of Mugabe and the old guard, which included Tongogara, in late 1976, early 1977.

Some of their concerns resonated with those raised during the earlier Nhari Rebellion, which included the old guard’s insatiable appetite for a lavish lifestyle, tribal/ethnic rivalries which resulted in killings, and the inherent abuse of women combatants, who were being used as sex slaves. Many of the old guard commanders sired children with different women combatants. Rape, forced marriages and forced sexual favours were rampant under their command.

In her book Re-living the Second Chimurenga, Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe, Fay Chung writes that the Vashandi group attracted large numbers of women guerrillas, because the women, just like the young intellectual group, regarded leaders such as Tongogara with “revulsion” for their alleged abuse of women, for which Tongogara had been accused by Nhari for taking his wife. Ironically, the abuse of female combatants is even highlighted by Augustine Chihuri, (his non de guerre was Stephen Chocha), in his recent High Court challenge against the state regarding the confiscation of his properties.

The Vashandi group espoused Marxist-Leninist ideology and considered the old leadership as a failure, accusing it of fanning tribal alignments. This tribal rivalry is evident in the killings and purported accidents that have occurred over the years, during and after the liberation struggle.

They established a Marxist school of orientation at Chimoio named Wampuwa College, later renamed Chitepo College, where cadres went through ideological and mass mobilisation orientation. As part of their orientation, cadres were taught discipline, respect for the ordinary masses and the military code of conduct dubbed “Nzira dze Masoja”, which was Zanla’s proverbial “10 Commandments”. This code of conduct invoked discipline within the entire guerrilla outfit.

After the failure of the Geneva Conference, the Vashandi group arranged to meet Tongogara and his High Command in a bid to have dialogue about the future of the party and army. It is said the Vashandi were not prepared to dialogue with Mugabe’s political leadership, but were ready to meet Tongogara whom they viewed as progressive because of his military record. The meeting between them and Tongogara was arranged to take place in Beira, Mozambique.

Tongogara, on the other hand, was not prepared to dialogue with the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists. He regarded any allegiance to Marxism-Leninism as a form of rebellion against himself and against Zanu and Zanla. Tongogara surrounded the venue with troops personally loyal to him beforehand, and when the Vashandi arrived, they were promptly arrested, bringing an end to the rebellion.

It is believed Tongogara would have had the Vashandi executed, had there not been swift intervention by some in the leadership who had them handed over to the Mozambican government instead.

l To be continued next week.

Chando is a lawyer, political analyst and commentator on international law and politics.

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