THERE was a time when President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government arrogantly dismissed the misgivings of human rights defenders as the useless ranting of Zimbabwe’s enemies, and got away with it.
Those days have long gone. In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that the world is unrelenting in its demand for the upholding of civil liberties, the rule of law and constitutionalism.
Last week, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay dropped a bombshell in the middle of Harare when she bluntly said human rights violations are worsening under the current government. She was stating the obvious, but in the milieu of prominent global human rights campaigners, there are fewer names bigger than Pillay’s. Her remarks carry weight. That is why the government’s excitable spin doctors did not attempt to counter her.
Speaking at the Law Society of Zimbabwe-organised Walter Kamba Rule of Law Award ceremony, Pillay bemoaned the fact that the country’s human rights record under Mnangagwa was deteriorating rather than improving after the long nightmare of the Mugabe years. There are many lessons for self-styled civil society activists in Bulawayo who have been overzealous in their efforts to appease the architects of genocide.
I would argue that the “Second Republic” lost its innocence on August 1, 2018. On that momentous day, the bogus mask of reformism fell and was shattered to smithereens, exposing the ugly monster that lay beneath.
Zanu PF’s hired guns and palace intellectuals have struggled to come to terms with the devastating ramifications of August 1. Many of them are still in denial; to them, the slaughter of unarmed civilians by soldiers, in broad daylight in the middle of Harare, just did not happen — or just could not happen. It remains unfathomable to them, so they cling to the stark denialism in a desperate quest to preserve a redeeming lie.
In all this, one cannot ignore Robert Mugabe’s towering shadow which, apparition-like, hovers above the affairs of state. Mugabe presided over the plunder and destruction of a nation and there is neither rhyme nor reason in glorifying him. But even with all his imperfections, he is beginning to look like a statesman of sorts, thanks to the endless bungling of the current Zanu PF leadership. And this is where it gets tragic for Mnangagwa. It has to be remembered that Mnangagwa is no luminary of the liberation struggle. He did not distinguish himself as a liberator and there is no record of him ever experiencing action on the warfront. He got a lucky break as Mugabe’s personal assistant and the rest is history.
After Independence, Mnangagwa’s record is tainted with violence and bloodshed. To be fair to the man, a lot of this has to do with the fact that he was among Mugabe’s foremost enforcers. When Mugabe was toppled by a military coup in November 2017, many saw this as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to turn a new leaf and for Mnangagwa to redeem himself. All the euphoric optimism has since dissipated.