Zim @40: Violence dominates political arena

ZIMBABWE’S ruling Zanu PF’s social media platforms have of late been sharing two sets of imageries — depictions of violence perpetrated by the colonial regime and of heroic figures of the liberation struggle of the 1970s leading to Independence in 1980.

Rashweat Mukundu

The irony in the images is how Zimbabwe has largely remained a violent state since then, failing to break away from the past, chart a new course of development and grant more freedoms for her people.

The images being shared by the ruling party on its Twitter handle might as well be juxtaposed with images of gross human rights violations post-1980, more so in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces and the election-related violence and suppression of protests over the decades. The January 2019 protests and March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown violence being the latest of such incidences. As such Zimbabwe’s collective national memory is largely akin to that of Rhodesia, albeit with as many twists and turns, but largely dominated by violence. The nationalism ethos that led the war of liberation crumbled when it faced criticism and opposition, and instead it was replaced with politics of hate and entitlement.

Violence as tool power

The emotional and existential significance of memories of violence on the individual and our society for the past 40 years, largely explains our polarisation today and our stunted growth.

This we inherited from Rhodesia and our elite have worn this as a badge of honour. This scenario is because post-1980, the history of the liberation struggle was not nationally owned and was never transformed into a positive for national good, but was rather appropriated as an instrument of political dominance and with that the continuation of the violence to crush dissent.

There have been many debates on the conflation of the state and Zanu PF, aptly captured by the fact that upon staging a coup on his commander-in-chief, late former president Robert Mugabe, Constantino Chiwenga assumed a top post in Zanu PF and government as Vice-President.

Equally among the many complaints against Mugabe, the army is mentioned in internal political divisions in Zanu PF. In essence what has defined Zimbabwe since 1980 and what will define its future is this incestuous relationship between the instruments of violence, the security sector and the ruling elite. This relationship is strengthening and is now being seen as common sensical and normal by citizens, at the bottom of this relationship is the reason why Zimbabwe is stunted.

The political elite is engrossed in power games and not national development. Much time and resources are expended in nurturing this security sector and party relationship. The default position of the ruling elite when faced with challenges is to threaten violence. Since 1980, there has been intense debate on the question of political change and democratisation, which has highlighted the urgency of finding a way to manage legacies of political violence. I argue that if this question is not addressed Zimbabwe will not achieve much in socio-economic development, as she largely remains a military state with a civilian head.

Economy in ruins

Zimbabwe had one of the most diversified economies in Sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa at independence in 1980. It was self-reliant in many manufactured consumer and industrial goods. In giving a charge to then prime minister Robert Mugabe, Tanzania’s iconic leader Julius Mawalimu Nyerere is said to have asked Mugabe to look after Zimbabwe, as it was a jewel.

Economists put unemployment and underemployment at anything between 80-90%. Zimbabwe has one of the highest youth dependence figures, with as many young people, educated or not losing hope of ever finding a job, let alone a meaningful occupation to support themselves.

While Zimbabwe emphasised on education from 1980 and now has one of the most educated population in Africa, the ruling elite had no plan for its young people post the education. The industries inherited from Rhodesia have largely collapsed and Zimbabwe now imports almost all consumer goods from neighbouring South Africa and far off China.

Its once shiny banking halls are now flee-markets, and nothing captures this than the main post office in the capital Harare, once bustling with postal related business and services, but now demarcated into small informal shops selling tricklets from China. Zimbabwe cities are dilapidated; its people without water and other amenities. Half of Zimbabwe’s population, nearly eight million need food aid, its health budget, especially on HIV-Aids, is largely donor-funded, while its health facilities are death traps. The political elites shun local hospitals choosing instead to be treated in state-of-the-art hospitals in South Africa and the Far East.

At the centre of all this collapse is a preoccupation with political control and violence as an instrument of control by the political elite. Without an end to the politics of violence, Zimbabwe will continue to age, but in disgrace, pain and poverty.
Rashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwe journalist.