A new year has dawned and I think all Zimbabweans suffered over this past festive season from a hangover caused by the unscheduled departure of Robert Mugabe from the presidency.
Eddie Cross,economic analyst
Who will forget the amazing and unplanned outpouring of public feeling after the military-led “coup”? What a street party after his resignation was received by Parliament! Some Mugabe loyalists are saying that the rural people are mourning his passing — not a bit of it, the celebrations engulfed even the most remote corners of Zimbabwe.
Now what? The harsh reality that all of us must face is that over his tenure in office, Mugabe built a dynasty that controlled virtually every aspect of life in this country. In business, you could not operate anything larger than a tuckshop without his say so. all contracts were controlled. His word was final on all matters and everyone who worked with him or for him, feared his retribution and vindictive character.
When he came out of prison in 1974 after 10 years in detention, I had lunch with him at the Monomotapa Hotel in the central business district of Harare. He then struck me as a radical who was totally committed to the armed conflict as a means of achieving Independence and control over the state.
His views of the way forward resembled, in an uncanny way, what we later saw in Cambodia, where the Khmer revolution in 1975 caused the death of perhaps three million people, including many intellectuals and specialists and the depopulation of the cities which were “centres of regressive political thought and capitalism”.
Ten days after that meeting he was crossing the border in Nyanga and joining the Zanla forces in Mozambique.
His path to power in newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980 was a turbulent and sometimes violent one. I have no doubt that anyone who stood in his way was skating on thin ice and that the death of his main competitor for control of the post-war machine created in exile to fight the war of Independence — Josiah Tongogara, was not killed in a car accident, he was murdered. The same fate awaited his main military commander, Solomon Mujuru, many years later after he challenged Mugabe.
But the overall outcome of his years in near-total control of the state in Zimbabwe was the creation of a regime which resembled in many ways the one in Europe that he admired most — that of East Germany when it was part of the Soviet Empire.
He sought and secured total control — all arms of the state, what was taught to children in school, even who could be treated in a state-funded hospital.
Mugabe secured control over all major business activity and was feted and treated as a near-god by many close to the seat of power. The image of people crawling along the floor to greet him or serve him tea, will not be forgotten as they characterised what he prized most, total subservience to power.
In the beginning he was an austere figure, working out in the gym everyday, not drinking or smoking and living a frugal life except for the symbols of power and privilege.
However, by 1985, the cloak began to slip. The genocidal campaign which lasted four years was underway against his sole rival for power — Joshua Nkomo. He had started using the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe as “his” bank and corrupt forces began to surround him and exploit the centres of power he had created and controlled. Any attempts at maintaining any form of multi-party democracy were crushed.
When finally he was challenged for power by the MDC in 2000 and Morgan Tsvangirai emerged as a real competitor for the presidency, he was forced to fight back and to begin the process of boosting his political regime with military power and influence.
As the capacity of the monolith of the party, Zanu PF waned, it was replaced by the increasing sophistication and reach of the armed forces. By 2013, it was the Army that effectively controlled the state and ran what was left of Zanu PF.
After 2008, Zimbabwe was governed by a military junta led by the Joint Operations Command, a structure created by former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith to fight the war of liberation and maintained afterwards as Mugabe’s principal centre of power and control.
During the Government of National Unity, the MDC was not allowed anywhere near these centres of power. The computer servers that controlled the elections were maintained at army headquarters.
I was not surprised at all when the recent “coup” took place, at the high level of professionalism, sophistication, power and capacity of the armed forces. They moved against Mugabe at 10am and by 3am on the following day, he was under house arrest and his power stripped away by what must almost be a textbook exercise. But it was not democracy and while it was orchestrated by civilian authority in the form of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, it was not constitutional or lawful. It was the deliberate use of the very machine that he had created over the past 37 years to keep him in power against democratic forces, led by Tsvangirai, that turned against his and removed him from power.
So where does that leave us? This is the dilemma we all face in Zimbabwe.
The harsh reality is that the degree to which the army has control and influence in the state has gone up significantly. This is clearly shown by the selection and appointment of the new Cabinet and of the former head of the armed forces as a Vice-President and responsible for the Defence Ministry. It is clear that the new regime in power here is busy cleaning house — but many doors remain closed and protected. The anti-corruption sweep is obviously selective. But let us not sweep aside the fact that Mugabe has gone. In 1976, when Kissinger effectively ended the reign of Smith over the Rhodesian regime, he knew what he was doing and regretted it as a person.
However, he knew it was necessary to break his hold on power so that progress could be made to resolve a futile armed conflict.
It is the same now — it is what we do with the new opportunities that the change represents that will determine its ultimate outcome. In 1976 it was eventually three years of conflict and then Lancaster House and the British engineered transfer of power to Mugabe, whom they saw as being the only man who could end the war, control all the factions and created a coherent government. They were right and wrong, and the long-term outcome of those decisions is the mess we are now in.
The new team in power are clearly trying to change things for the better. They have no choice as elections loom and must be fought in just seven months’ time. They know that they have a real challenge ahead of them; they are committed to a free and fair election. They know they have not made any friends in what they have done over the past four years. They also know that they must, to a very great extent, carry the baggage left over from the Mugabe era.
To do so they simply must deal with corruption, maintain law and order, stop the remnants of G40 and former vice-president Joice Mujuru causing more problems and destabilising the country. They know they must deal with the cash shortages and the rising prices.
They know they must convince the population that they have changed and it is not just the tired old policies of the Mugabe dynasty. They must be able to offer hope and they have to achieve all of this in seven months.
For all of us, we must accept that this agenda is also in our interests — even if we are in the opposition. These are national and not parochial problems that must be tackled if any of us are going to have any sort of future.
The MDC and, especially Tsvangirai have brought democracy back to Zimbabwe and restored our rights as a people. But right now, with his illness, other than offering opposition and curbing the excesses of any future government, we are probably stuck with Mnangagwa and that is our dilemma. We have no choice but to make it work.
Cross is an economist and MP for Bulawayo South