Ominous signs as Zim heads for 2023 polls

Blessing Goronga

A FEW weeks ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa made quite a chilling statement, describing the MDC-Alliance as a terrorist organisation.

It might seem like political banter, but the sad reality is that such a statement could be a precursor to a clampdown on MDC-Alliance and other opposition activists in Zimbabwe.

Let me put it this way: picture what a terrorist looks like, their political activism is not deemed legitimate, they are deemed to be fair game and states often go out of their way to punish them to discourage others from pursuing terrorism.

Now, imagine that MDC-Alliance have been labelled terrorists by the highest office in the land, which means the state literally is not going to treat them as a legitimate political outfit, but rather a terrorist outfit that needs to be crushed.

In a nutshell, MDC-Alliance has been delegitimised and this opens the door for a vicious campaign against them.

It is easy to accuse me of fear mongering, but history is a good teacher of how political opposition have often had to face the might of the state after being dehumanised and delegitimised.

The most obvious example is that of Rwanda, where one group of people called another “cockroaches”, which precipitated a genocide, which the world is still embarrassed by.

In Zimbabwe, in the 1980s, Zapu was referred to as cockroaches and that the government would use DDT — a deadly pesticide to exterminate them — to this day, this issue still haunts the country.

Zapu was also accused of harbouring dissidents and again this led to the most gratuitous political violence that this country has ever seen.

There may have been dissidents — some planted by South Africa — but the Zanu PF government’s response was disproportionate and not targeted as dissidents but rather the civilian population.

In that regard, I am extremely worried about what the future holds for this country, particularly the 2023 elections, whose importance seems to be elevated with each passing day.

Mnangagwa’s statements portend for a violent run up to the election and a poll whose legitimacy, which if deemed unfair and not free, will be questioned.

So, Mnangagwa labelling MDC-Alliance as a terrorist organisation is not just words and it is not just political banter, because this has the potential to sound like a dog whistle to the violent elements in his party, who may see it as a cue to descend on the MDC-Alliance.

Just a few short weeks ago, we saw one Zanu PF youth, with no provocation declaring that they would assault MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.

Imagine now, the MDC-Alliance has been labelled a terrorist organisation, that youth probably has more motivation and incentive to carry out his threats to assault Chamisa and his supporters.

It is disheartening that in public, Zanu PF talks about the politics of rational disputation, but when they are on their own, the tone changes and political opponents are labelled as terrorist organisations.

This comes at a time when Zanu PF and the government are doubling down on statements that will really bring the legitimacy of the next elections into question.

Patrick Chinamasa, the acting Zanu PF commissar, recently declared that the army and Zanu PF are inseparable.

That the two are tied at the hip has not been in doubt for a long time, particularly with the events that led to the 2017 coup.

But again, this sends a message that if Zanu PF loses the next election, they may refuse to leave power as what happened in 2008 or they may seek assistance from the military.

What this means is that elections are nothing more than a pageant or a meaningless ritual whose results are predetermined.

The military should be apolitical and not be linked with any party, but when Chinamasa flaunts such disregard of the constitution in front of Zimbabweans, then I fear for the future of this country.

As if that is not enough, Zanu PF seems to be ploughing ahead with the Patriot Bill, or whatever it will be called.

The bill is probably one of the biggest assaults on freedom of expression and of association in the country and could have the effect of making Zimbabwe a de facto one party state, with a few smaller parties that do not pose a threat to the government being allowed to operate.

For example, the principles of the bill state that prosecutors may institute criminal prosecution against anyone who, in its discretion, is undermining the country or using false statements to paint a certain bad picture of Zimbabwe to foreign governments.

This is an ominous provision and has far reaching consequences such that personal and political vendettas may be settled under the pretext of protecting the nation’s interests.

MDC-Alliance have already been described as a terrorist organisation, there is, therefore, nothing that stops the government from prosecuting them under this law or under another that they will think about along the way.

As has been said already, a number of television and radio stations were licensed in the past eight or so months.

Most of these are linked to the government and by extension, Zanu PF.

This means the opposition literally has no chance to be heard as Zanu PF controls the licensing process. This is the scenario that I present, therefore, ahead of the elections in two years’ time.

The genuine opposition shall continue being delegitimised, opening it for attacks, abuse and eventually being crushed.

Where the opposition are able to get their voices out and be heard by the international community, they will be persecuted and prosecuted for allegedly using false statements to paint a bad picture of Zimbabwe to foreign governments.

This could come with lengthy jail terms.

Finally, if they muster enough courage to demonstrate against the government, the security services would be deployed and August 2018 and January 2019 are illustrative of how this could turn out.

With these scenarios, where the democratic space is shrinking, we can expect that more MDC-Alliance members and opposition activists will find themselves behind bars, with even more being forced to flee the country into exile.

I am not stretching it here, but worse is yet to come for Zimbabwe if Zanu PF continues on this path.

  • Goronga is a Zimbabwean human rights activist. Email: gorongab@yahoo.co.uk