LAST week marked the first anniversary of the death of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, independent Zimbabwe’s first president. Arguably one of the world’s most shrewd and controversial politicians, the “larger than life” Mugabe died on September 6 2019, a bitter man who had been reduced to a pale shadow of his indomitable former self.
There was no public pomp and fanfare to commemorate Zimbabwe’s former strongman, confirmation his successor wants him forgotten forever; but what stuck out like a sore thumb is the evidence of Mugabe’s refusal to fade away. His legacy, good, bad and ugly, continues to characterise and, in fact, dominate the face of the “new dispensation”.
The economy remains in the sewer, human rights gasp for life in intensive care, rule of law and basic freedoms scream under the boot of tyranny, while corruption and national plunder continue to headline social discourse. There has been no change to the decay; if anything the nation has sunk deeper into despair.
Mugabe, who died on September 6 last year, was sworn into office in 1980 and ruled for 37 years before he was forced out of power in a military coup in November 2017. The wild celebrations countrywide that greeted his forced resignation spoke of a citizenry that had become disillusioned by his iron fist rule characterised by an imploding economy, dwindling investment, low capacity utilisation, company closures and massive retrenchments.
Mnangagwa’s promise of a new dispensation in which he assured the nation strong democracy, a healthy and vibrant economy while declaring restored relations with western capitals as well as end the country’s isolation, created excitement among Zimbabweans who began to see a new dawn.
However, two years into Mnangagwa’s term of office, the euphoria and hope have died; replaced by deeper misery and abject poverty of the masses. But amid this disillusionment and pain, a few politically connected individuals have been seen swimming in obscene wealth, often bragging with impunity. Names that appeared on the list of plunderers of national resources have included close relatives and friends of those that rule. Hopes that Zimbabwe had seen the back of Mugabe and his forgettable rule had transformed into a fairy tale as Mnangagwa pushed doggedly in pursuit of the Mugabe ruinous path.
Mugabe’s government was accused of human rights abuses which include the Gukurahundi massacres that claimed an estimated 20 000 lives in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the mid-1980s as well as political violence in the 2000, 2002 and 2008 elections. Such was the level of violence in the Presidential re-run of 2008, which pitted Mugabe against the late founding leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai that the runoff results were rejected forcing regional intervention that resulted in the Government of National Unity. Similarly under Mnangagwa, the government has been accused of human rights violations. These range from the killing of civilians by soldiers in August 2018 and in January 2019 during civil protests to abduction of political opponents, civic society activists and even comedians.
Like Mugabe, Mnangagwa has been accused of arresting critics, with the most recent being the 43 day incarceration of opposition leader Jacob and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono among others.
The allegations of human rights abuses have put Mnangagwa, as happened with Mugabe, at loggerheads with western capitals. During Mugabe’s leadership, western capitals imposed sanctions on the country due to human rights abuses with the United States enacting the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001 that restricts financial transactions between the southern African country and financial institutions associated with the United States. Mugabe was also suspended by the Commonwealth which resulted in him pulling the country out of the crucial economic and political body. In one of those crazy feats of political recklessness Mugabe also threatened to expel ambassadors including then United States ambassador James McGee.
Mnangagwa’s relationship with western capitals has been equally fractious since coming into power. To mark Mnangagwa’s second year in office the Heads of Missions of Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, United Kingdom and United States recently issued a statement, not to congratulate Mnangagwa on reaching his second year in office, but to express disquiet over the political, economic, health and social crisis in the country.
The arrests in connection with the planned July 31 protests have further soured the country’s international relations with Zanu PF acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa going as far as calling Ambassador of the United States to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols a thug. Mnangagwa’s government has strenuously rejected the description of the situation in the country as a crisis.
The similarities between the leadership of Mugabe and Mnangagwa show that the system of governance has not changed since 1980, according to political analyst Tawanda Zinyama.
“What Zimbabwe did was to change the personnel but not the system. It is not about the head of state. It is about the system,” Zinyama said. “This is why the demands from the West which include the European Union remain the same. This is why it is difficult to attract foreign direct investment and why the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are still not willing to give Zimbabwe loans. Corruption is still very high. There has been no significant departure from the old dispensation to the new dispensation.”
Under Mugabe’s leadership, the economy deteriorated and was characterised by a crippling liquidity crunch, cash and foreign currency shortages, flight of investment, company closures widespread job losses and poverty among other ills. Under Mugabe, hyperinflation soared to the extent of which the country’s Zimbabwean dollar was demonetised.
The economy has not fared any better under Mnangagwa. His decision to reintroduce the Zimbabwean dollar as the sole legal tender in June last year through Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019 without the requisite fundamentals backfired spectacularly.
The local unit has weakened considerably stoking inflation, which has since surpassed the 800% mark decimating incomes and pensions. This has resulted in dwindling of disposable incomes as earnings have not matched the prices of goods.
Workers have become restive as evidenced by the strike by health workers which began more than two months ago demanding to be paid in foreign currency, a demand the cash-strapped government cannot meet.
Changing the system of governance within Zanu PF will not be a stroll in the park according to political analyst Prolific Mataruse.
“Trying to change the way of doing things is not going to be easy,” Mataruse said. “There is need for continuous engagement. I do not think there will be any quick solutions.”