MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa this week challenged President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s hotly-disputed victory at the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), arguing that the entire election process should be declared invalid and set aside or he be declared winner. Chamisa lost to Mnangagwa with 44,3% to 50,8% in the July 30 presidential election marred by rigging claims.
Paul Themba Nyathi,Political analyst
At a glance, there are so many inexplicable anomalies that put to question the credibility of the elections. On my part, I do not expect elections in the context of our troubled nation to resolve our deep-seated problems.
Let me outline some of these problems:
Thirty-eight years after independence our citizens are experiencing numerous difficulties in leading decent thriving lives. Due to massive poverty, the poor and unemployed, in both urban and rural Zimbabwe, do not get up in the morning and sit down to a decent breakfast. The notion just does not exist.
The majority of our people have no toilet paper to effect their ablution needs. They do not have proper toilets or bath facilities. These are not a luxury but are about human dignity. They enhance hygiene that prevents deaths from cholera and typhoid.
Those in rural areas walk long distances to the nearest service centre. This also applies to school children who walk an average of five kilometres to the nearest school. Pregnant women and other ailing citizens walk long distances to the nearest badly equipped clinic for attention.
The majority of our people have no access to clean water. Most boreholes have broken down and are not repaired for a variety of reasons — the major one being the paucity of maintenance skills in those areas.
School girls 13 and upwards drop out of school at an alarming rate either through pregnancies or lack of school fees. There is an adage that says “you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. A girl that becomes a mother at 13 cannot be a strong mother who raises children that add to the country’s human resource base. The fathers of the children born by teenage girls are themselves teen school dropouts who have little to contribute to the raising of these children.
Millions and millions of our productive, skilled and qualified Zimbabwean citizens are in the diaspora sustaining and strengthening the economies and institutions in those countries whilst those of Zimbabwe falter and decay. I have at times been accused of pre-occupying myself with ‘’small things’’, maybe that is true but I often wonder what those big things are. For instance, if the discovery and investment in the Chiadzwa diamonds is a big thing, I wish someone had thought small and said “with revenues from these diamonds we are going to build X clinics, X schools, drill X boreholes, construct X kilometres of roads and train X engineers for the beneficiation of diamonds”. These are measureable targets, “small” as they might be.
Thousands of students graduate from all of our universities and other tertiary institutions every year. They would have attained all kinds of qualifications that then raise their expectations for a better life. How many of them, many years after graduation, remain unemployed? Other than talking glibly about creating jobs, do we have proper statistics about the extent of unemployment in our country? Universities expect these students to find places for attachment at some institutions or organisations so that they can get real experience at the work place. Students receive 30% of their overall marks from assessment whilst on attachment. If they do not find a place for attachment they are condemned to repeating the course.
It is costly and heartbreaking for the students and yet universities simply take it for granted that these poor students, in a country where the economy is in dire straits, and institutions are shutting down regularly, students must somehow find places. It is cruel and insensitive but it reflects our country and its leadership that is preoccupied with “big things”.
Mnangagwa has “won” the elections. There is a celebration, gloating and a systematic process to humiliate those who “lost” as if they are not Zimbabweans. Chamisa rejects the outcome, there is anger and vilification of those who “won” as if they are not Zimbabweans.
So what are these elections supposed to have achieved? These particular ones have caused severe divisions between urban and rural citizens. Urban dwellers do not understand how it is possible for people who have seen their nation’s circumstances deteriorate over the past 38 years to vote for Zanu PF.
I live in a rural area, some people tell me why they voted for Zanu PF and the reasons are saddening. Others say they do so because they believe in its policies and what it does for them. Others say they do so that they can be left alone. Others do so because they are poor and hungry and Zanu PF provides food from time to time. All these people are Zimbabweans and are entitled to their choices. Above all they are entitled to basic dignity. Apart from divisions that these elections have caused, they give us an opportunity to introspect and reflect as Zimbabweans.
Thirty-eight years down the line, elections have not ameliorated our socio-economic and political conditions. Whilst elections are a necessary condition in democratising countries and societies, they are also fraught with all manner of imperfections. The major one being the link between political office and access to resources. This link fuels corruption and leads to contaminated institutions. To reduce corruption, we need individuals with impeccable personalities to participate in our politics. I am not worried that I might be ridiculed for dreaming Utopian dreams. Evil should not triumph on the basis that people should be “realistic”.
We need new politics, new political thinking and new political actors in Zimbabwe. This country has to turn its back on the past and forge a new path. We need to get rid of all personalities and actors that have dominated our political scene in the past 38 years. I propose that we draw a list of the top most 100 men and women in Zanu PF, do the same with the opposition and pension them off from politics.
It will be cheaper for the country to give these people a once-off lump sum in exchange for an undertaking not to participate in public political life other than employment as private citizens. There are constitutional implications for this exclusion, but given the need to give our country a chance to breathe, an appropriate legal instrument would have to be crafted.
Zimbabweans from all walks of life would then constitute a people’s convention to reconfigure the country’s political direction. It does not help to hope to operate systems that do not work on the basis that we should not “re-invent the wheel”.
The challenge to Zanu PF’s “victory” by the MDC Alliance cannot be about all the technical issues the opposition raises — the issue is whether every five years the country should be subjected to yet another experience of pain and uncertainty. Is it of benefit to the country to have its citizens who run its institutions like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, subjected to massive reputational damage each time there is an election? Do they suffer this damage because they, as individuals, are of questionable integrity or are they a microcosm of broken systems that, in turn, injure people’s reputations?
In my view, this country will not make significant progress unless it redesigns and reconfigures the manner ordinary citizens relate to those in power. Under the current arrangement how does one tell a military man like retired army general Constantino Chiwenga, who is the current vice-president, that when he addresses us as citizens we are not soldiers in a parade? His tone, his demeanour indicate a person who believes that democracy can be disciplined the same way as soldiers on parade. That is his training, that is his skill, that is his profession, but this being my country too, I do not have to be a soldier to enjoy my citizen rights.
Democracy has elements of indiscipline. It is a system of constant negotiations amongst and between citizens to achieve unity and tolerance. We co-exist in diversity and that should be our strength. We should not believe in shooting people to discipline society, but must believe in society emerging stronger, freer and more creative out of choice that emanates from the contestation of ideas. There is chaos in democracy but the level of that chaos should be within the confines of our constitutional dispensation.
As we contemplate the way forward after these disastrous elections, at the centre of every discourse must be the desire to build a Zimbabwean nation. That nation cannot be built on the foundations of distorted self-serving historical narratives whose sole purpose is to justify theft of state-resources and a sense of entitlement to absolute power based again on distorting the ethos of the liberation struggle.
Thirty-eighty years after independence, our nation state should be judged on the basis of to what extent it has enhanced or bettered the lives of the people. How many hospitals and clinics of what quality have been built over the past 38 years? How many factories have been commissioned, schools, roads, water points, houses, jobs and everything else that enhances the quality of life of ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe? Our progress as a country cannot and should not be measured by the number of people who are buried at Heroes Acre, important as that might be.
In our quest to create the Zimbabwe we want, we should draw valuable lessons from the past 38 years of sadness in many respects. Hopefully, one of the major lessons we learnt is that we should never allow our political leaders to wield unbridled power, if we do that, they kill us instead of protecting us. They steal our resources and, in order to protect that ill-gotten wealth, they undermine all the institutions meant to protect our freedoms.
I agree with Mnangagwa that elections are over and that we must now pay attention to the development of our people. I have reservation though — whether he and Chamisa would be the right people to move this country forward. They are both currently products of highly divisive and polarising politics. Perhaps they can redeem themselves, in my assessment by forging a collective administration that brings together Zimbabwe’s vast skills that are located in all these divided entities called civics, churches, political parties and other formations that are all “essentially” Zimbabwean.
As patriotic Zimbabweans, once they have brought their feuding supporters together, they should join the list of 200 political figures who would have been pensioned off from political activity. This, to me, is the sort of sacrifice that would place them in Zimbabwe’s hall of fame. Where I stand, the result of the electoral challenge is irrelevant to the extent that whatever outcome ensues, it will not create a united nation.
Nyathi is a social activist.