Zim has always had a democracy deficit (II)

Continued from last week.

THE remaining members of the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa of the old guard), who included, Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru), Tonderai Nyika (Paradzai Zimondi), Muparuri and Webster Gwauya were on Robert Mugabe’s side.

Jonathan Chando

This revolt was followed a year later by the Gumbo/Hamadziripi Rebellion, where Muparuri and Webster Gwauya and Augustine Chihuri (Stephen Chocha), were also purged by Mugabe and some commanders who had taken sides with Mugabe. What many may not have realised is that the crushing of revolts or purging of these leaders and commanders was, in essence, the crushing of divergent opinion within the party and military. Every cadre who displayed a different way of thinking became an enemy or a reactionary, which was essentially not wholly true. This marked the undemocratic nature of Zanu PF, where only a few with influence called the shots.

This purge marked Mugabe’s grip on power, with the backing of military commanders. All decisions of the party became Mugabe’s sole responsibility and the commanders were the guarantors of the power regime. While the people were mobilised for the revolutionary cause on the war front, they did not have any contribution in the direction and decision-making in the party and in the war.

Backed by Zanla, Zanu won the elections resoundingly in 1980, riding on its influence in the country, through both persuasion and coercion, and formed a unity government with Zapu, another liberation outfit. The people of Zimbabwe believed at this point that they had entered a democratic dispensation. It appeared so on paper, and it seemed to be the same in practice. But did the people really have a say in how the country was to be governed?
The answer is negative.

People were tired of the war, and voting against Zanu PF would mean the return to war, according to Zanla. While most voted Zanu PF of their own will, some voted simply to avoid the experience of war again.

After Independence, decisions were made by the leadership with little consultation of the voting members. All they were given was the revolutionary rhetoric which was either forced upon them or persuaded to embrace as the right decisions. The military was always the guarantor of this power. War veterans became the custodians of Zanu PF governance and any divergent opinion was viewed as reactionary, or of colonial puppets.

The selection of candidates in primary elections of the party was not exactly according to the people’s choice, but according to who the leadership and the military viewed as toeing the line. Zanu PF became too complacent having cowed the citizens into believing that only they had the right to govern.
The opposition MDC was formed in 1999, following the decline in the economy due to Mugabe’s catastrophic adoption of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), the lump sum payouts to war veterans in 1997, which collapsed the value of the Zimbabwean dollar, and the military deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998.

This brought the realisation by both Mugabe and the Zanu PF leadership that they could lose the support of the people to the MDC, after losing in the 2000 constitutional referendum.

The military was then roped in, together with the war veterans, to campaign and force voters to vote Zanu PF in the 2002 general elections, as well as during the farm invasions which led to the fast-track land reform.

Since then, the hand of the military became more visible, with war veterans playing the front role in unleashing terror on citizens who supported the opposition or expressed divergent views. Any person inside or outside Zanu PF who expressed divergent views was punished, labelled a reactionary, puppet of the West and brutalised.

Zanu PF leaders who saw the undemocratic tendencies in their party and tried to highlight them were expelled, the likes of Edgar Tekere and Margaret Dongo being cases in point. Another war veteran who tried to keep Zanu PF in check was Lazarus Nzarayebani who was then MP for Mutare. His outspokenness courted the wrath of the government.

The year 2008 marked the real turning point where Zanu PF was turned into a monster after the MDC had won the elections and Mugabe had been defeated by Morgan Tsvangirai. In the words of Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe was ready to cede power to Tsvangirai, but Mnangagwa, with the backing of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantino Chiwenga, told Mugabe to stay put.

It took them a whole month to cook the election results, laying the pretext for a run-off. The military would unleash a reign of terror in the run-up to the re-run, abducting, raping, maiming and killing many opposition members. Tsvangirai withdrew from the race, fearing for the lives of his party supporters and for his own life at the hands of the military. He sought refuge in Botswana in fear of the military onslaught.

Statements have always been released by the military, to the effect that the military would neither salute nor respect any leader who did not have liberation war credentials. So this was the second coup, staged against Tsvangirai, the winning presidential candidate, which re-installed Mugabe, as a puppet of the military. (Clifton 2020).

In its whole existence, Zanu PF has never embraced the free selection of candidates when appointing leadership throughout its structures. Imposition of candidates or the buying of loyalty have been the norm.

Intimidation and the threat of expulsion have always cowed dissenters. The punishment meted out on those expelled has been harsh, and is meant to send a chilling warning to any would-be rebel.

This was evident when Joice Mujuru was expelled in 2014, where members were cowed into denigrating their vice-president at rallies at the instigation of Mugabe’s wife. Even those in Mujuru’s camp had to turn against her, for fear of retribution the same way Mujuru had faced. Simon Khaya Moyo, who was touted to be a Mujuru functionary, had to turn against her to save his skin and post within Zanu PF.

Once expelled from the party, any wealth or property acquired while in Zanu PF would be forfeited clinically, to ensure pain and suffering. Zimbabwe has witnessed ex-Zanu PF leaders being stripped of farms and property as well as incarcerated.

It is ironic that Moyo was ordered to announce the firing of Joice Mujuru in 2014 (to whom he was aligned); to fire Mnangagwa in early November 2017; and to fire Mugabe three weeks later. No one would envy Moyo’s turncoat position right now as he is being used as a doormat by whoever seizes power on the day. Such is the undemocratic and autocratic nature of Zanu PF.

In early November 2017, many had been singing praises of Mugabe and his wife, donning regalia with their portraits, while castigating Mnangagwa. But three weeks later, they had swiftly changed sides and were now castigating Mugabe and praising Mnangagwa, whom they had been happy to see fired, but were now all wearing regalia bearing his portrait. They started castigating Grace Mugabe and the G40 cabal, without batting an eyelid. That is the bootlicking and hero worship rampant within both the party and government.

This has ultimately thrown any sense of democratic semblance into the dustbin, while the Zanu PF constitution and the national constitution have been trampled upon in the process. Meanwhile, the military has eventually asserted its previously hidden power over both the party and government, with military commanders now in cabinet, and the former commander of the defence forces who led the coup as vice-president.

It is ironic that the MDC, with its huge contingent of lawyers, mobilised and marched in support of the military power grab, which was evidently in violation of the constitution, and a coup d’état. Then, I even wrote an article in which I expressed my dismay when Nelson Chamisa, then a newly qualified lawyer, declared in an interview on CapiTalk, that it was not a coup d’état, but a miracle. I also highlighted how coups can easily set a precedent for the military, to stage a coup d’état whenever their interests are not achieved by their handpicked state leader.

As much, as the people of Zimbabwe have clamoured for representative democracy, it has never materialised, and remains elusive. The military has been ruling since the end of the liberation war and continues to do so. The notion that the pen rules the gun, as espoused by Mao Zedong, has never occurred in Zimbabwe’s history.

It is therefore not at all surprising that Zimbabwe has been under invisible military rule, which has now unmasked itself and deposed its own creation, Mugabe, through a coup d’état. The military imposed Mnangagwa after deposing Mugabe in the same way they did in 1975 when they installed Mugabe after deposing Ndabaningi Sithole.

The army commander’s warning two days before the 2017 coup d’état, referred to the Mgagao Declaration (first coup d’état), giving Mugabe an indication that the military had imposed him as leader after deposing Sithole, and would remove and replace him in the same way.

When the leader preferred by the military ceases to serve its interests, and refuses to toe the line, the military will get rid of that particular leader and impose another. There will be a semblance of normalcy disguised in elections which will never be free nor fair, to legitimise the regime and fool both citizens and the international community. It would not be a surprise if the military turned against the incumbent when he ceases to serve its interests.
After the November 2017 power grab, I wrote an article chronicling the constitutional violations by the military in effecting the power takeover, which I will repeat in the coming weeks.

Illiberal democracy in the opposition

It may also be noted that the operation of pseudo democracy does not only occur in Zanu PF. It is also prevalent in the opposition, where cults and factions have loyalty syndicates, thus causing divisions and splits within them, all for personal rather than national interests. Since its inception, the MDC has only had one elected leader in Tsvangirai.

The internecine splits and factions in the MDC since 2005 have largely been a result of democratic intransigence and constitutional violations by the leadership, which have caused multiple divisions.

The appointment by Tsvangirai of Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri as deputy presidents of the MDC, in violation of the party constitution, is glaring evidence of the absence of democracy in the opposition. The succeeding unconstitutional power grab by Chamisa after the death of Tsvangirai, akin to the 2017 Zanu PF power grab, also exacerbated the stifling of democracy and constitutionalism.

After grabbing power, Chamisa dismantled structures left by Tsvangirai, appointed his own praise singers into positions of power to protect himself. With the help of the “Vanguard” party youths, he has maintained a dictatorial reign over the party and anyone with divergent opinions will be attacked both verbally and physically by the Vanguard, while they are labelled Zanu PF or Central intelligence Organisation agents.

After the Supreme Court judgment declaring him illegitimate leader of the MDC, Chamisa continues to remain in denial, refusing to accept the judgment, and accusing Zanu PF of orchestrating his downfall. If Zanu PF has done anything to stoke the confusion and mayhem in the MDC, it only comes in to skin the carcass of an already dead animal, because the MDC has destroyed itself.

All other political parties in Zimbabwe are either one-man bands or small groups of people whose democratic processes can never really be acknowledged, because they lack national relevance.

In conclusion, Zimbabwe has still not attained representative democracy status and it will take greater efforts by dedicated citizens to overturn this patronage system which rears its head both in Zanu PF and in the opposition. What Zimbabwe currently experiences is illiberal democracy, where leaders only care for their personal or group interests. Thus Zimbabwe has always had a democracy deficit.

Chando is a lawyer, political analyst and commentator on international law and politics. — jonathanchando@gmail.com

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