`IT’S a tedious cliché, but best captures what is happening in Zimbabwe now: the more things change, the more they remain the same. I couldn’t immediately find any better expression which describes the current situation in an equally precise and clear way.
Editor’s Memo, Dumisani Muleya
But the point is that things have remained the same in many ways as they were under former president Robert Mugabe, a leader who had not only failed, but dramatically so. No one could have easily written the script of his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rule; not even those with Hollywood-inspired imaginations.
Most people used to say, to fail like Mugabe, let alone to be worse, one has to try very hard to be a failure.
Yet many people had warned, even as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans poured onto the streets of Harare and Bulawayo, as well as other places, on November 18, 2017 to rescue a faltering military coup, that even if Mugabe’s removal was a good thing, the country had synchronously embarked on a perilous path.
I was one of them.
On that historic day, I was standing right in front of Mugabe’s then office, which on its own was symbolically groundbreaking; not far from a personnel armoured carrier parked close by with crowds jubilantly swarming it and soldiers standing on top of it, as I did an interview with eNCA, the 24-hour South African television news channel.
I was happy Mugabe was gone, but deeply and anxiously sceptical.
The zeitgeist — the defining spirit or mood of that period — was that Mugabe must go. Most people agreed.
We, at this newspaper and our group, had spent two decades arguing that case, at a huge personal and collective cost: threats, intimidation and arrests. But we never wavered because we knew we were right, as millions of Zimbabweans also were.
The irony of it was the coup-plotters and former hordes of Mugabe supporters had spent decades fighting us in his corner, claiming, in fact gullibly or deliberately lying, that he was doing a good job even when all and sundry could see he had not only failed, but theatrically so.
During the eNCA interview, I refused to follow the populist line that the removal of Mugabe was panacea to Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis. I emphasised that even if it was a good thing, the trouble was that his regime had remained intact and entrenched in power.
The form and character of the regime might change, but not its substance or content, I indicated before challenging the presenter to interview me again 12 months down the line to test the realism and credibility of my observations.
Which they did and I inevitably reminded them of that interview about the coup and its implications for Zimbabwe.
In other words, metaphorically I posited a scenario like a chaotic brawl aboard a ramshackle ship on high seas sailing to nowhere or unknown destination, in which the captain is removed as vessel leader and is thrown into the waters, while one of his protégés takes over.
The ship, however, remains intact and continues sailing; still going nowhere.
For the interview and my insistence on that line, which I still insist on, I lost many friends. Even some professional leading lights, who used to be role models in society for independent and critical thinking — enlightening views, jumped onto the gravy train and subsequently removed their thinking caps as required to join the feeding trough.
Now we have come full circle in a short space of time: repression is back with brute force; dissenters are being hounded, arrested, abducted, crushed and even killed. The economy is on a tailspin. Poverty and suffering are ubiquitous. Incompetence and mismanagement are the order of the day. Snake-oil policies and bad governance are wreaking havoc. And corruption is rampant.
In short, as the piecemeal reform agenda and local dialogue charade as well as international re-engagement talks unfold, Mugabeism still defines Mnangagwa’s new old dispensation.