RECENTLY, I met one of the big shots in the government and he said to me: “You journalists are always negative about the government. Can’t you see the good things we are doing?”
I told him, point blank, that the performance of this government will be measured on the quality of life, not the populist articulation of issues.
As economic collapse intensifies, more than seven million Zimbabweans are at risk of starvation, inflation has gone haywire, public hospitals are now mortuaries, life has become unbearably tough and, with extreme poverty spiralling out of control, the quality of life has generally plunged to medieval levels.
The ruling Zanu PF blames this catastrophic state of affairs on “Western sanctions” rather than its own internal failings. But the Zimbabwean crisis is essentially the result of failed governance.
Of late, one of the recurring themes of any serious discussion on Zimbabwe is Zanu PF’s failure to embrace genuine, far-reaching reforms.
Whether it is trade lawyer Petina Gappah revealing in shocking detail her frustrations with a system that stubbornly refuses to change, or British ambassador Melanie Robinson emphasising the importance of true reform before Zimbabwe can even begin dreaming of re-admission into the Commonwealth — there is a common thread running through: a reform project that has gone off the rails.
I find it bemusing that, once in a while, a prominent personality narrates a story reminding us just how incapable of reform Zanu PF is. It seems to me those who are really expecting the party to reform are amateurs in the game of politics. After four decades in power, it would be wishful thinking to expect Zanu PF to reform itself out of power.
To understand how the “system” actually works, you must first come to terms with the realisation that the political elites and their securocratic handlers who run Zimbabwe are not driven by such lofty concerns as advancing the cause of democracy or serving the public interest. Their main preoccupations are power retention, power consolidation and regime security.
Regime survival is all about furthering the interests of the ruling elites. That explains why an elderly woman carrying a placard denouncing the authorities is seen and treated as a greater enemy of Zimbabwe than the corruption, incompetence and misrule which have destroyed the public health service and brought hunger to the doorsteps of half the entire population.
The Zimbabwean post-colonial project is now totally devoid of any meaningful ideological value beyond the chanting of hollow slogans. We have the worst-performing economy in the world outside a war zone — yet you hear politicians glibly campaigning for their preferred candidates in the 2023 national election, as if this pointless sloganeering can rescue the millions of children in this country who are staring death in the face as a direct consequence of failed leadership.
As a nation, we must re-imagine a better society for all, a place of hope, opportunity and prosperity. The nationalist ethos of the 1960s played its part in delivering liberation. Herbert Chitepo, Jason Moyo and Joshua Nkomo would have a tough time recognising today’s Zanu PF. The party has failed to evolve into a forward-thinking and people-centric entity that cherishes democracy, civil liberties and constitutional governance.
Respected intellectuals Masipula Sithole, Stefan Mair and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni have outlined four major influences that have shaped Zimbabwe’s political culture: the pre-colonial, the colonial, the armed liberation struggle, and Zanu PF rule. It is trite wisdom that we cannot change the past.
Brutal colonial oppression and a protracted armed struggle have had a profound impact on the nature, character and reflexes of post-colonial Zimbabwe. That cannot be denied.
But with Zanu PF clearly unwilling or unable to re-imagine a new governance ethos, what does the future hold? My take is that if a viable post-nationalist alternative is not found, a failed state will take root — with disastrous consequences for livelihoods and the republic’s very survival.