Comment: Bloodshed Avoidable

IT has been a dramatic week: soldiers rampaging through the streets and the cholera epidemic spreading like a veld fire.

The disturbances triggered by soldiers in Harare on Monday reflect deep-seated problems, not just within the military, but across a swathe of our restless society and may be a harbinger of worse things to come.

At this rate there is no doubt that the groundswell of discontent and unrest could end up unleashing mayhem. It may sooner rather than later deteriorate into a bloody uprising against the government. History and precedents, particularly in Africa, are there for all to read.

But God forbid. Zimbabwe does not need to go through another violent and blood-spattered transition. Yet the Zanu PF corrupt and incompetent regime, which by all measures has failed, is hanging in there, while creating conditions of instability and conflict.

The government can easily avoid this by either performing its duties or simply resigning. We appreciate that every government in the world wants to remain in power, some at all costs. Governments do not relinquish their authority unless compelled to do so. Many of the actions of politicians and their cronies can be explained by the need to maintain and perpetuate their power.

Some governments employ repression, which may include arrests and detentions, torture and murder, to remain in power. Mugabe’s regime has used all of these at one time or another. It never relaxes its vigils against real or imagined opponents.

Even democracies, when threatened, engage in a search for subversive elements and “enemies of the people” — McCarthyist tactics.

When a regime draws its main support from a social group decreasing in numbers and strength, it becomes ineffective in handling domestic and external matters. When a society’s confidence in the government’s capacity to protect national interests evaporates, that government tends to lose legitimacy and authority.

Revolutions both in France during the 18th century and in Russia in the 20th century occurred when aristocracies there had lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

Confronted with widespread discontent and social unrest, those regimes eventually lost capacity to enforce their laws and maintain social order and inevitably revolutions swept them from power.

Authoritarian regimes around the world, including in Africa, have tried to use ideological indoctrination, bankrupt philosophies, stage-managed patriotic events and ceremonies, and civic education and propaganda to remain in power but they dismally failed to prevent change.

They also use armed forces and intelligence-gathering organisations for self-preservation; they maintain police and prison systems as a means of remaining in power, and they undertake the administration of supervisory and regulatory functions to serve their interests, but they still lose their power.

Repressive measures do not work, especially if the government cannot perform its basic functions.
Apart from pathetically failing to run the economy, Mugabe’s regime is now unable to provide basic services.

It cannot provide public services like education, health, transport, water and electricity. Schools, hospitals and clinics are now closed. Public transport has all but collapsed.

To make matters worse, it can’t provide water. Some areas around the country, including in Harare, have gone for weeks, months and even years without adequate water supply, hence the outbreak of diseases like cholera.  Government is also incapable of even combating simple-to-deal-with diseases like cholera.

More than 500 people have died due to the current epidemic and Mugabe’s regime is unmoved. Of course, this government is notorious for not valuing the lives of its citizens that much. Its pokerfaced defence of state-sponsored killings since the 1980s to June 27 is long enough a record to prove this. Its initial denial and deadpan response to the cholera deaths was not surprising.

The most serious indictment of this regime is however failure to perform its basic functions. Among the most basic services provided by government are the printing and coining of money, the provision of roads, sewers, water, education, and social and welfare services. With the growth of the welfare state, some governments provide services such as social security and health insurance.

But Mugabe’s government is unable to adequately provide any of these. It has therefore lost any semblance of legitimacy it might still have had. So why is Mugabe still hanging around when he has questionable legitimacy and has failed to provide sufficient social services to the population?

Is this not the reason why discontent and unrest now poses a threat, not just to Mugabe’s regime but to the whole country? Why should we risk a bloody transition when we have a peaceful option that is in the broader scheme of things in both Mugabe’s and the national interest?

Why can’t Mugabe understand and appreciate such simple realities? Why can’t he appreciate that his own personal and national security could be better protected by ensuring a smooth transition than risk a massive upheaval when it can be so easily avoided?