Let’s reject politics of guns, tanks and grenades

Five seconds is a long time in politics. The explosion which rocked President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s campaign rally in Bulawayo last Saturday has poisoned the political environment, heightening uncertainty in a country wracked by decades of fear and making it difficult for the public to understand what the hell is going on.

Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

The big question on everyone’s lips is: who orchestrated the grenade attack? In a country with a well-documented history of political violence, there is no shortage of suspects — real or imagined. As the authorities deployed a massive security dragnet in the quest to bring the culprits to book this week, speculation hit fever pitch.

I am no ballistics expert, but there are several self-evident facts we cannot ignore at this stage.

For instance, we can confidently discount suspicion that the opposition may have had a hand in the attack. Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition has no capacity to resort to arms of war. There have been outlandish suggestions that perhaps Matabeleland’s pro-Mthwakazi activists could have done it. Again, this allegation falls flat. Robert Mugabe, whose killing military machine murdered tens of thousands of defenceless civilians in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s, freely visited these provinces when in power and he was never attacked at all. Mnangagwa, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation this week, pointed an accusatory finger at the G40 faction. In the absence of compelling evidence, it is difficult to believe him. Interestingly, his spokesperson, George Charamba, has attributed the grenade attack to internally unresolved leadership contestation. This dovetails with the prevailing suspicion, in the court of public opinion, that this was an internal job.

In his BBC interview, Mnangagwa cited the removal of police roadblocks — which had become notoriously corrupt and extortionate — as a sign that his government has restored democracy. But it was a stark reminder of the mistrust and resentment which pervade the security agencies.

Let’s put matters into proper perspective. Two political scientists — Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell — in an article in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis, examine the relationship between coups and democracy.

For a ruling clique that has risen to power via a coup, the only sustainable way of commanding public acceptance and international legitimacy is by promising the restoration of democracy. The international community has generally given Mnangagwa a warm embrace, thanks in part to the British government which has emerged as the leading cheerleader.

In the aftermath of a coup, people tend to frame their opinion on the basis of the pre-coup level of democracy. In other words, if the conventional thinking is that Mugabe’s rule was despotic, then there is a higher likelihood that people will conveniently abandon the usual kneejerk arguments about the importance of opposing coups as a matter of principle.

What Zimbabwe needs today is a total rejection of the politics of guns, tanks and grenades. A heavy boot stamping on a human face is not a new dispensation and vision of the future we can look forward to.