The year 2020 is going to be filled with plenty of political intrigue and high drama, amid rising political tensions triggered by the deteriorating socio-economic crisis.
There appears to be no end in sight to the major problems that stalked Zimbabweans in 2019 which include rolling blackouts, hyper-inflation, water woes, health crisis and hunger among others.
In light of these problems, 2020 promises to be yet another challenging year for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration as it strives to steady the ship and it will all go down to how he handles the political tensions, workers’ discontent and the declining economic situation.
Frustrated citizens may soon start to demand answers and previously, such demands have been responded to by a vicious clampdown in which the police and the military have been used to ruthlessly crush dissent.
In the meantime, the country’s political landscape remains highly polarised, with Zimbabwe’s two biggest political parties, Zanu PF and MDC locked in an impasse over a possible dialogue to resolve the political crisis. The MDC Alliance is disputing the presidential election results won by Mnangagwa.
Many analysts have highlighted the importance of broad national political dialogue as part of a solution to the multi-faceted crisis bedeviling the country. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki is keen on mediating in the dialogue. At the close of last year, Mbeki visited Zimbabwe with the aim of laying the groundwork for negotiations between the warring parties. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa has remained defiant, questioning the legitimacy of Mnangagwa whom he accused of stealing the vote.
Riding on the “wave” of an imploding economy, Chamisa has insisted that only political dialogue will extricate Zimbabwe from its unrelenting economic maelstrom, characterised by a vicious currency volatility crisis, widespread company closures and spiraling prices of basic commodities.
Although Mnangagwa has suggested that his door is open to dialogue, he insists he has the citizens’ mandate to rule and will therefore only negotiate with Chamisa if he first recognises his presidency and joins the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) platform he established early last year. The platform involves fringe parties like the Thokozani Khuphe-led MDC-T and Lovemore Madhuku’s NCA, which performed poorly at the polls.
Chamisa has vowed not to join Polad, which he has dismissed as a charade. Instead, his party came up with its negotiating framework in its policy document: Economic Recovery, Legitimacy, Openness and Democracy (Reload) revolving around concerns regarding Mnangagwa’s legitimacy. The document was launched in Harare on July 11 last year. Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme, however, argues that things will start moving now with Mbeki on the scene.
“The coming on the scene of Mbeki, who brokered the 2009 Global Political Agreement which brought together the MDC and Zanu PF into a unity government, is a definite game changer in the process in the sense that Mbeki is coming in as a Sadc emissary and therefore the two leaders can hardly afford to continue being headstrong while ignoring the regional bloc.
“The MDC, for instance, sent people to the organisation asking for it to interfere in the Zimbabwean crisis and it cannot afford to be seen to ignore the same,” he said.
With Mbeki now set to return to the country to push for further talks, it is yet to be seen which direction the course of events will take.
However, the topic of national political dialogue promises high-octane drama and suspense—enough to keep the nation thoroughly entertained.
As the tussle between Mnangagwa and vice-president Constantino Chiwenga for the control of the heart and soul of Zanu PF and government continues to play out, the rift between the November 2017 coup protagonists is set to widen.
For now, the friction is playing out subtly by way of measured political and security manoeuvres. Chiwenga served as commander of the military when the late former president Robert Mugabe was ousted by a coup.
Mnangagwa has incrementally taken bold moves to clip the wings of his ambitious deputy. Mnangagwa has been extensively restructuring the army ever since assuming power, in a clear indication that the security apparatus remains deeply steeped in the country’s body politic.
Key army chiefs widely perceived to be backing Chiwenga such as former commander of the Presidential Guard Ansalem Sanyatwe, major-generals Douglas Nyikayaramba, Martin Chedondo and former air vice-marshal Shebba Shumbayaonda have all been moved to head foreign missions.
Within Zanu PF, Mnangagwa has already been endorsed to run for the presidency in 2023 by the party at its annual conference held last year.
In 2020, the tension between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa is expected to continue simmering without necessarily escalating to unprecedented levels — barring unforeseeable factors.
However, the tussle for power has the potential to destabilise the country and affect government programmes.Factionalism was a major cause of government’s lack of cohesion during the final days of the Mugabe era as the Mnangagwa faction battled the G40 faction.
With the next presidential and parliamentary elections still three years away, in theory Mnangagwa has a window of opportunity to address Zimbabwe’s deepening economic and political crisis.
However, in reality, there is little evidence that his administration has what it takes to do so. Resultantly, the economic deterioration is set to continue and, as such, domestic political tensions which punctuated 2019 could continue into 2020 given how citizens would press for better standards of living, in which case the government is seen instinctively damping down on political opponents and critics.
political scientist Ibbo Mandaza said: “Mnangagwa’s reaction to protests has unsurprisingly been to clamp down on protesters and this will undoubtedly continue. It appears as if that is the only tact in order to continue his dominance of Zimbabwean politics. He is expected to maintain his tight grip on national institutions and the media. He will also continue to use foreign policy to fuel nationalist sentiment, and portray himself as a strong leader defending the country against domestic and foreign threats, something which was well pronounced at the Zanu PF conference in December.”