The 2018 elections in Zimbabwe bear strong similarities to those of 1980: the promise of a new beginning after almost two decades of political strife, economic crisis and social decay; the numerical dominance of youthful voters, a large proportion of whom are voting for the first time; and the level of international engagement and scrutiny the likes of which have not been experienced since 1980, represented as it is by almost 50 observer missions, the plethora of media houses, journalists, spooks and fortune hunters.
Significantly, it is an election that is taking place against the backdrop of a coup (on November 15, 2017) which, in reality and import, represented an advanced stage in the disintegration of a securocratic state that has hitherto characterised the Zimbabwean polity for almost two decades, a period during which opposition forces, so loud and inexorable on the back of the growing political (and economic) misfortunes of a former liberation movement that had lost its mass base ever since the 1990s, were stymied, brutalised and bottled up like champagne ready to burst and froth.
And so it is that we have this Monday, 30th July, 2018, the old and young, almost literally face-to-face in a duel between, on the one hand, the representative of an all but spent force that is the Zanu PF party/state conflation and, on the other, a mere 40-year-old who has nevertheless captured the imagination of the thousands that have thronged his campaign rallies across the country.
Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine how a presidential candidate like Emmerson Mnangagwa could hope to win the poll: close to 80 in terms of age; a central and almost indispensable factor in the Mugabe regime; one who since 1999, when he lost to John Nkomo in the contest for national chairman in the Zanu PF congress that year, has struggled ever since to garner the post of vice-president in Zanu PF, losing to Joice Mujuru in 2004 and more recently in 2014, with that constant and consistent statistic wherein, except for his home province the Midlands, the other nine provinces rejected him; and, in the final event, only through a military coup seven months ago, he has emerged the most unlikely — and yet no surprise given the history of the securocrat state.
Therefore, in my considered view, it is less about the prospects of Chamisa winning the presidential poll on Monday, even if by default, than any hope that Mnangagwa could be a viable contender in a free, fair and credible election.
Therefore, the prospects of a Government of National Unity (GNU) are real, not in the expectation that a clean and fair contest will be too close to call, but because of the likelihood of a disputed poll (given that the conditions for a free, fair and credible election will not have been fulfilled in the next three days), and the hope of a peaceful and smooth transition out of the horrible past that has been the securocrat state in Zimbabwe.
But this has to be a different GNU from the previous one of 2009-2013, in the following respects:
This is almost inevitable given the likely outcome that Chamisa will be ahead of Mnangagwa in the poll, however close to call/or manipulated in the final analysis.
Besides, how can a battered and divided Zanu PF (split as it is between Lacoste, G40/NPF and Mujuru’s party) be expected to take the lead in such a GNU? Also, it is the presidential poll, much more than the overall result in the parliamentary elections, that will rule the day, not least when all indications are that the latter will be a mixed bag in which no single party might command a majority.
Accordingly, the new government should not only be led by the MDC Alliance but also reflect, in character and direction, the new dispensation in Zimbabwe. The government must include, necessarily, a lean cabinet but infused with the requisite technocratic skills, especially in the economic-related ministries and departments.
We need restoration of constitutionalism, the rule of law, an accountable executive, vibrant legislature and a fiercely independent judiciary.
So, in this regard, we expect, in the shortest period possible, the full implementation of the 2013 constitution and such amendments and improvements as will enhance the democratic process and limit the powers and purview of the executive.
There also has to be a restoration of national institutions as non-partisan, independent and efficient.
This includes, necessarily, a return to the barracks on the part of the military and related security services, the restoration of a professional army, police force and intelligence services. The letter and spirit of the constitution should be the constant and consistent guide in this regard.
Public sector reform and restructuring is also critical. This is urgent given the obvious shortcomings of a public service plagued by dead wood, ineffiency and wastefulness.
In this regard, there will be need to be established a Reform Fund, to ensure a thoroughgoing and comprehensive public sector restructuring, including the rationalisation and/or privatisation of the loss-making public enterprises.
A commission of inquiry into corruption is needed, especially but not exclusively in the extractive industry sector, for example the US$15 billion diamond saga!
The establishment of a Peace and Reconciliation Commission to deliberate upon and resolve issues attendant, not only to the pre- and post-independence atrocities the main of which were the massacres at Mgagao (1976), Chimoio, Nyadzonia, Victory Camp (and other Zapu centres in Zambia), Entumbane, Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina and such political violence that accompanied the elections since 2000, and especially during the 2008 run-off; but also the internecine and intraparty scourges the main of which were the Chitepo assassination and related killings in Zanu in 1975.
There has to be an economic and social recovery programme on the back of debt relief and an accompanying economic reform programme that targets poverty, revives the productive sectors and thereby creates employment opportunities, attracts foreign investment whilst promoting indigenous entrepreneurship, and attracting home a diaspora which accounts for almost 70% of Zimbabwe’s professionals and skilled persons.
The mobilisation of international support to ensure both a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe and a speedy economic and social recovery programme (eg through a Reconstruction Fund to support the return of a viable Zimbabwean currency and thereby put an end to the cash crisis, restore the social sectors of education, health and service delivery across the country) would be vital.
Whatever the outcome, the 30 July election represents the hope and expectation of a fresh start for Zimbabwe. It marks the end of Zanu PF which, as already been asserted, entered its final demise with the coup in November 2017, itself the climax of years of internecine and intra-party/state conflict; and heralds at least a generational change in Zimbabwe’s politics and, hopefully, the beginnings of a new dispensation.
Mandaza is an academic, publisher and director of a local think-tank, the Sapes Trust.