HomeOpinionZimbabwe Crisis Requires Negotiated Settlement

Zimbabwe Crisis Requires Negotiated Settlement

ON receiving the news that President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia had lost to Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in the country’s presidential election in 1991, Zaire’s strongman Mobutu Sese Seko is reported to have remarked, “Lose an election? How? …That’s stupid!”


The significance of all this for the current Zimbabwean crisis should be obvious in that it raises the hot subject of transition in post-independence Africa. Significant also because, almost against the grain, it was Kaunda who demonstrated that it is possible for a founding father of the nation to concede defeat in an electoral process, after 27 years in office. Today, Kenneth Kaunda remains an elder statesman, not only in his country, but in Africa as a whole. By contrast, Mobutu Sese Seko had to flee the country he had ruled and abused for almost four decades, better forgotten as having been a disgrace to both his country and to our continent.

Is it too late for President Mugabe to follow President Kaunda’s example or do we have in the making in Zimbabwe a crisis in which the incumbent will have to leave, perhaps not as unceremoniously as Mobutu Sese Seko did but, all the same, kicking and screaming? This is the main question as we ponder on the way out of the current crisis, especially if, as appears to be the case, the electoral process — including the proposed run-off-might not succeed in effecting a peaceful transition.

Writing on the ANC’s website last week, South African cabinet minister, Pallo Jordan, laments the problem of transition in Zimbabwe, while calling on President Mugabe’s Zanu PF to “surrender power” to Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC): “All liberation movements, including both Zanu PF and Zapu, deliberately advocated the institution of democratic governance with the protections they afford the citizen. All liberation movements held that national self-determination would be realised, in the first instance, by the colonised people choosing their government in democratic elections.

The questions we should be asking are: What has gone so radically wrong that the movement and the leaders who brought democracy to Zimbabwe today appear to be its ferocious violators? What has gone so wrong that they appear to be most fearful of it?”

That Zanu PF has for the most lost its liberation credentials is no longer in dispute, as Pallo Jordan infers. But this does not answer the pertinent questions raised. The answers to these have to be found largely in the failure of bourgeois democracy to take hold in post-independent Africa. The reasons for this failure are two fold.

Firstly, the absence of a national bourgeoisie that would act as a socio-economic and political anchor, and around which the complex institutional framework that defines democratic discourse can take hold and develop an existence virtually autonomous of the party or leader in power in any given period. Otherwise, democracy so-called has been reduced to “merely the right” to participate in elections every few years; and even then, it does not necessarily follow that the victor accedes to power nor that the loser concedes defeat.

Secondly, the absence of the anchor class also means that state actors — especially the head of state, ministers, service chiefs and even senior bureaucrats are so dependent on the state itself for their very livelihood and, as is the case in Zimbabwe, for the primitive accumulation which is associated with land reform in particular and patronage in general.

The point is that few could survive after Mugabe or fend for themselves economically and financially once out of office. Clearly, it is more self-interest than commitment to an ideology that drives the party zealots some of whom thereby shamelessly declare that they are Zanu PF “through and through”!

So, the stakes are so high that to defer to the tenets of democracy would amount to virtual political and economic suicide on the part of these “hardliners” who are now in the driving seat in the current crisis.

Therefore the difference between most of post-colonial Africa and post-liberation Zimbabwe is that the latter has at its disposal an armoury of ideological claims and a resource for violence, both associated with the struggle for national independence but now so abused for the purposes of retaining power and privilege, almost at any cost!

It is understandable that Zanu PF has been shocked and shaken by the defeat at the polls. More than that, it marks the beginning of the end of Zanu PF: there is no political party in the post-independence era that has survived outside state power; and it is the fate of all political parties that have long lost their ideology and message, in favour of the Great Leader!

In turn, it is the combination of shock, and fear of the future, that explains the current wave of the most gruesome and horrific politically-motivated violence that has been perpetrated across many parts of the country during the post-election period.

Many of us have seen evidence of all this in the form of relatives or friends who have been killed and those who lie in hospitals and clinics, with frightening injuries and physical disfigurement that could only have been inflicted by the most cruel and sadistic elements in our society.

The violence is a response to Zanu PF’s defeat at the recent polls; in the calculations, by that cabal in Zanu PF, one or two of the service chiefs, and loud-haling and senior civil servants, that such violence would punish those who had voted against their party and warn the rest of the rural population against voting for the opposition come run-off.

So, it would appear, a decision was made, in the days following the election, to deploy a military-style operation across parts of the country, in a manner designed to re-enact that of the war of liberation, including the deployment of some such former commanders as did operate in the late 1970’s in those targeted areas, and bank-rolled by a lavish supply of bearer cheques to hordes of unemployed youths now converted into convenient militias.

And now with reports that members of the opposition MDC are retaliating and turning on their Zanu PF counterparts, it is not far-fetched to state that we have here a civil war-in-the-making, unless a political solution is found.

No doubt, this will come back to haunt us in the same way that similar atrocities of the post-independence period continue to pervade and needle our national conscience: Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina in particular, but also the land reform-related violence of 2000/2 and the brutal attack on leaders and members of the opposition MDC on March 11 2007.

It is long overdue that Zimbabwe begins to exorcise itself of a legacy of violence which has almost underpinned political life and the quest for power and its retention. This has to start now, in the identification of those directing and perpetrating this kind of violence.

In the meantime, it is doubtful that the scheduled run-off between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe can take place against such a background of politically-motivated violence across many parts of the country and a pervasive atmosphere of acrimony, suspicion and immense anxiety among Zimbabweans, both at home and in the diaspora. Therefore, in the limited time that is left between now and the scheduled run-off on June 27, does there exist the possibility that stakeholders could reach an agreement which would pave the way for a transitional government, based on an all-inclusive approach that engenders national confidence and reconciliation, thereby rendering the run-off redundant?

Surely, it is an ambitious venture, by any stretch of the imagination, to expect that the population, the majority of whom (55% at least, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s own figures) have already declared their opposition to President Mugabe on  March 29, should suddenly be swayed to vote for him on June 27.  In this regard, those who share such an impossible dream should also note that more than 50% of the rural population voted against Robert Mugabe; and that, assuming the urban voter turn-out alone increases from 35% on March 29 to 60% on  June 27, Morgan Tsvangirai will no doubt romp home to victory.  And that is excluding “Matabeleland” as a whole, and those parts of the rural areas in which voters will be able to turn out, come June 27.

But that is not the point.  For, even with a comfortable win, Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC might find themselves saddled with the same problem: a delay in the announcement of the result; possibly a rigged election in which Mugabe claims victory and the consequent status quo that has bedevilled the country for the last few years; or, more likely, Mugabe’s refusal to concede defeat and the persistence of the violent and indefinite stand-off that already faces us now.

There is a way forward, provided Morgan Tsvangirai can pluck up the courage and take the initiative towards a negotiated settlement of the current crisis.  He will find many who could assist in that journey, in Zimbabwe itself, in the sub-region and Africa as a whole, and in the international community.
This is the subject of the discussion being conducted within and between various regional and global organisations now seized with the Zimbabwe crisis.  The hope is that the proposed roundtable conference can be held soon.

By Ibbo Mandaza: Academic and key member of the Mavambo Project.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading