THE 2019 edition of the Zanu PF annual conference virtually served as a vehicle for the party to further close the democratic space in the country through numerous resolutions aimed at entrenching the party and consolidating power.
In key resolutions during the party’s 18th conference held in Goromonzi last week, Zanu PF stated its intention to stay in power by any means necessary, even if it meant defying electoral outcomes.
It also declared that its leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was the chosen head of state against whose faltering leadership no dissent shall be tolerated.
Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was described as a malcontent by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga during the conference.
These barefaced, hardline declarations came despite the fact when he came to power on the back of a military coup in November 2017, Mnangagwa promised a clean break with his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe’s brutal rulebook and emphatically declared that he was going to be a listening president.
In its resolutions, the party kept emphasising that it was superior to the government.Reading out resolutions of the committee on the state of the party, political commissar Victor Matemadanda said Zanu PF would not be removed from power and will deploy any means necessary to close out other political parties.
“This is a revolutionary party that liberated this country, and the only one that can defend the revolution, therefore, we will fight to defend that course by any means necessary,” he said.
“Every election is a process to defend the revolution against Western imperial powers working in cahoots with local puppets. We will use any means necessary to defend the revolution.”
Zanu PF also passed a resolution directing the government to jail any person who goes outside the country and speaks ill of Zimbabwe or lobbies for sanctions to be jailed for life.
The party intends to do this through a law that will be crafted via parliament where it has a majority.“This would be a blatant denial of the fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms, particularly the freedom of speech,” constitutional law expert Greg Linington said.
In a way, the government is trying to stifle criticism of its misrule and human rights abuses, the very actions which led to the United States and other countries imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium.
During an interview on M-Net’s Carte Blanche Show in July 2018, Mnangagwa was asked what the most challenging thing about being a president was, and his response was that he was trying to reform from his hardline stance.
“The most challenging thing in my view is to make sure you are humble, there is nobody who you must ignore, you should be able to accept views from people to allow everybody to feel that they are accepted. That is very difficult because with my background I would not tolerate nonsense,” he said then.
“But I’m now learning to be humble and listen throughout, so I have decided to be a listening president, and through that approach, you find wisdom in corners where you don’t even expect it.”
At the Goromonzi conference last week, Mnangagwa described the January 2019 protests where 17 people were killed by state agents as “nonsensical”.
“The January nonsense and periodic mischievous activities by the opposition elements such as those we witnessed this year must be nipped in the bud,” he said. “Never again shall we allow the loss of precious lives of our countrymen to feed the agenda of a notorious few.”
The party also resolved that government must legislate against what they termed social media abuse.“In the same vein, we note with grave concern that the social media platforms are being used to spread lies, rumours and cheap propaganda. We have also witnessed an increase in the use of abusive language, hate speech and the growth of fake news.
“While Zanu PF remains totally committed to freedom of speech, the exercise of this freedom should be done responsibly. Otherwise government cannot and should not stand by and watch when the use of social media is blatantly breaking all rules of civilised behaviour,” the party’s central committee said in its report which was also adopted at the conference.
University of London professor of world politics Stephen Chan said it was not wise for Zimbabwe to cultivate an authoritarian image.“Such techniques have been tried in many countries and have always failed. However, there are countries identified as authoritarian and I am not sure it is wise to develop the image of Zimbabwe any further in this direction as all major donors are looking to precisely a lessening of authoritarianism before contemplating releasing the financial flows Zimbabwe so desperately needs. Having said that, party conference talk is always something carried away by its own rhetoric. We shall have to see what the government actually does,” Chan said.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure said it would be hard to remove the Mugabeism culture from Zanu PF.“These are resolutions which are not implementable under our circumstances and they are more of the ideals of the party. But if you look at it, the global community is moving away from where Zanu PF wants to go. This is in contradiction with the position that Mnangagwa declared of wanting to re-engage the international community,” Masunungure said.
“You do not re-engage by going against the laid down conditions of re-engagement.”“What Zanu PF wanted to display is that ‘we can hit hard on MDC and civil society’. I don’t think they will go for it. However, what we have seen is Mugabeism without Mugabe. It is a culture. It is an institution. It will take time to be expunged from the Zanu PF way of doing things. It paints a very dark future under Zanu PF.”
In essence, the conference served as proof that the 56-year-old party has no intention of reforming anytime soon and remains the same old ferocious political powerhouse despite change of personnel in its upper echelons.