July 31 2013 was a critical juncture in Zimbabwe’s political history.
It witnessed the epic battle between the 50-year old Zanu PF — under the foxy 89-year-old Robert Mugabe — and its 14-year-old nemesis, the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Mugabe and his party delivered a technical knockout that traumatised many a Zimbabwean and other watchers who had hoped (and prayed) for a closer electoral outcome.
This article wishes not to join the rather increasingly stale debate about the mechanics and tricks used by Zanu PF to mete out such a crushing and overwhelming defeat to the opposition.
The discourse on this seems to have so far generated more heat than light.
The brutal reality is that the party now enjoys a super-majority status with 197 seats in the 270-member House of Assembly and a majority in the Senate; a one-party hegemony has been reinstated.
Meanwhile, the humbled two MDC parties have been in sixes and sevens regarding what to do. But despite this, Mugabe vacillated for more than five weeks in choosing his 26-member cabinet. The rest of the line-up sworn on September 11 are: three ministers of state; 10 minsters of state for provincial affairs; and 24 deputy ministers with two of the latter in one ministry, that of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.
I see three layers in the ministerial appointments. The first layer comprises full cabinet ministers and here one is struck by the permanence of some faces — the old guard — others to the point of appearing like “life ministers” in their portfolios.
It is not clear whether it is the prince who wills this or the ministers demand to be retained.
The second tier consists of ministers of state — three in the offices of the President and Vice-President and 10 for the provinces. It is in the third tier, that of deputy ministers, that most new faces — the young Turks — are crowded, presumably as apprentices to be considered for promotion — like Walter Chidhakwa of Mines and Mining Development — in later cabinets.
In the appointments, the prince admits to using triple criteria: loyalty to the party — “How much of Zanu PF are you?”; education — “How educated you are”; and provincial arithmetic — “Are provinces represented as much as possible, at least three ministers in a province?”. On the latter criterion, the provinces in mind are those captured by Zanu PF, not the two rebellious metropolitan provinces of Harare and Bulawayo.
It is self-evident that the key consideration in the appointments was loyalty to the prince and the distribution of spoils to the boys, and, in few cases, to the girls. To this extent, the new cabinet is a coalition of the loyal.
Closely associated with this was “who did what” in the epic electoral battle, that is in the Bhora egedini game — who scored the most goals. Surely, the prince could not be expected to jettison those who had worked so hard to ensure his continued stay in State House, especially when they were already in the Government of National Unity (GNU) cabinet.
Also looming large, if not larger, in the scheme of things, was factional arithmetic. Despite strenuous denials, it is now commonly accepted as a given that in the gladiation for succession, two factions stand in opposition to each other: one reportedly led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the other by the new Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Most commentators declare that Mujuru “won” the game with most of the “hard power” ministries going her way, sometimes “capturing” them from her hawkish rival faction.
The question that ranks high in people’s minds is: What does the “new” cabinet portend for Zimbabwe and its citizens? The starting point is the winning party’s manifesto, a very expansive and ambitious wish-list. Zanu PF has a long, 108-page manifesto.
It covers a wide range of rather grandiose ambitions principally indigenisation and economic empowerment, land reform programme, job creation, promotion of social services, industrial development, and small and medium-scale enterprise.
That manifesto could not but trigger hyper-expectations on the part of the masses and this may well be Zanu PF’s Waterloo. But the manifesto is not the only albatross around the party’s neck. A brief detour is in order here.
A bigger and heavier albatross is the much-maligned and now defunct GNU. Though a quarrelsome marriage, the GNU — dubbed “a three-headed monster” by Mugabe and as dysfunctional by many, including MDC ministers — it scored some impressive victories on various fronts, not least on the economic front. Apart from the performance record, the GNU served a convenient scapegoating function.
The coalition government was not just a power-sharing pact; it was also a blame-sharing arrangement and Zanu PF proved adept at apportioning the lion’s share of the blame to the two MDCs (but particularly the MDC-T) while also claiming the lion’s share of the successes.
With the MDC-T now consigned to Harvest House and with only minority representation in parliament, the scapegoat is gone.
And yet the GNU’s performance remains a reference standard for many Zimbabweans who had tasted some sanity in many facets of their life. For instance, few sane Zimbabweans are likely to be nostalgic about the pre-GNU stratospheric inflation which, in despair, the then Central Statistical Office had stopped measuring in September 2008.
During the lifetime of the GNU, it had been tamed to below 5%. Even fewer rational Zimbabweans are likely to cherish the state of affairs in the social services sector prior to the coalition government when the sector exhibited clear and unmistakeable symptoms of state failure, for example, the preventable death of 4 000 people from cholera, a medieval disease.
Or the return of the Zimbabwe dollar which prior to the GNU was more likely to be found in the toilet than in people’s pockets. Or roads — both local and inter-city — that had become impassable death traps though effective speed limiters.
In short, the new Zanu PF government cannot afford to perform worse than the GNU it condemned so much as holding progress on many fronts. The “least worst” the party can do is to maintain the standard set by the “three-headed monster”.
There is no escape route for failure. If Zanu PF promised so much and delivers so little, then 2018 will deliver the people’s verdict.
This is a long-winded way of saying the litmus test of the new government will be its performance.
Path dependency theorists have already dismissed the likelihood of the Zanu PF government — labelled “recycled deadwood” — delivering what the people want and expect.
I prefer to suspend judgment on this. The lesson of July 31 is that an old dog can in fact learn new tricks. Where many in and outside Zimbabwe had expected Zanu PF party to unleash violence and intimidation arguing that these are congenital attributes of the party, its victory — albeit contestable — was not via the barrel of a gun, but through the barrel of a pen.
The import of this is that the party can change its bad ways if the prince wills it.
It remains to be seen whether the prince can ensure that his one-party government can shift from a poor delivery track to a satisfactory performance path.
The answer lies in the womb of the future, but surely, Zanu PF knows that the sword of March 2008 hangs chillingly over its head. It can descend on its head in 2018.
Lastly, I make the proposition that elected governments everywhere, every time, have a tendency to mellow in office. If they had a leftist agenda prior to gaining power, they will tend to move to the right towards the centre. Likewise, if they were rightist, they will tend to move to the left. I call this mellowing and as I see it, this tendency has solidified into an “iron law”.
At the very least, elected governments are mellower than their manifestos. Will the Zanu PF government defy this law? It is possible, but improbable.
Professor Masunungure is a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.