The ugly scar of stark impunity

SYLVIA Matambo, Brian Zhuwawo, Challenge Tauro, Gavin Charles Dean, Ishmael Kumire, Jealous Chakandira.These six Zimbabweans were murdered in cold blood by soldiers and the police in Harare’s central business district on August 1, 2018. More than 30 people were seriously injured on that day. We are one week away from the second anniversary of this atrocity, yet there is still no justice for the victims and their families.

Editor’s Memo

brezh Malaba

The six innocent souls are gone, but they will never be forgotten. If we allow the merchants of death to get away with extra-judicial killings, we would have all become complicit. The blood of the innocents will exact divine retribution.

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s failure or refusal to bring the murderers to justice is a scar on the conscience of every citizen. People have been slaughtered with impunity since the early 1980s.

A commission of inquiry, chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, found that “the use of live ammunition directed at people especially when they were fleeing was clearly unjustified and disproportionate”. The commission’s findings were damning on the government. Deployment of lethal military force against unarmed civilians is an international crime.

Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, visited Harare and compiled a damning report to the UN Human Rights Council, laying the blame squarely at the government’s doorstep. He criticised the Mnangagwa administration’s “over-reliance on the military to quell dissent”. Shockingly, the rampaging soldiers and policemen who murdered unarmed civilians have still not been brought to justice — two years on.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the leadership culture in this country. How do you drag a journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, to court in handcuffs as if he is a criminal? There is no justification for this barbaric treatment. In contrast, Obadiah Moyo, who was fired as Health minister recently for “behaviour unbecoming of a government minister” in relation to the US$60 million Covid-19 medical procurement scandal, waltzed into the courtroom unmolested without handcuffs. He even had the luxury of carrying a boxful of bank notes totalling ZW$50 000 in a country where it is difficult to withdraw ZW$1 000 per month.

What message is the regime sending? That a journalist who speaks out against corruption is a common criminal while a minister implicated in opaque deals is a saint?

Mnangagwa has used the convenient cover of Covid-19 as a pretext for authoritarian consolidation. Repression has intensified, dissenting voices are silenced and constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties trampled upon by an increasingly jittery state which has lost all legitimacy. The pandemic is wreaking havoc all over the world, but for Zimbabwe there is an unsettling dimension: citizens are discovering the unpalatable side of self-interested ruling elites. In this country, Covid-19 has not unearthed new truths as such — it has merely accelerated the decay of political and economic governance, exposing the ugly underbelly of Zanu PF’s post-coup deception that almost fooled the world.

Long before the coronavirus devastated an entire planet, the government had squandered an outpouring of international goodwill, losing a glorious opportunity to chart a new path. Eldred Masunungure, the University of Zimbabwe don, has vividly dissected the matter: Mnangagwa’s rise to power on the back of military tanks created a political legitimacy imbroglio from the word go. In the post-coup euphoria, the overriding expectation of Zimbabweans and the wider world was that he would atone for his political illegitimacy through performance legitimacy. But he has fared dismally, by all objective measures.

Francis Fukuyama, the prescient political scientist whose postulations on socio-cultural evolution are mandatory reading, says the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus are those which are deficient in three vital qualities: leadership, social trust and state capacity.

The Zimbabwean tragedy is a logical outcome of leadership and governance failure. Having lived in the shadows for much of his life since the 1960s, Mnangagwa woefully lacks the leadership qualities that a democratic developmental state sorely demands.

I have repeatedly emphasised this point, but it is useful to reiterate it here. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every difficult situation begins to resemble a nail. The man’s worldview has been shaped by smoke and mirrors, subterfuge, deception, cloak and dagger, and the dark arts of political intrigue. His default settings are suspicion and secrecy rather than trust and openness. It is a stance that has kept Mnangagwa alive in the treacherous labyrinth of Zimbabwean politics, but his existential dilemma today is that he is terribly ill-equipped for 21st Century statecraft.

One thought on “The ugly scar of stark impunity”

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