THE historic week leading to November 17, 2017, will, for many Zimbabweans who took to the streets of the country’s major centres to celebrate the fall of the late former president Robert Mugabe, remain etched in their minds.
It was an epic week that saw an unprecedented event with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) upset the apple cart and challenged the powers that be.
Thrown to the wind was the notion that politics leads the gun as then ZDF commander retired General Constantino Chiwenga and his fellow commanders held a press conference and demanded an end to the purges in the ruling Zanu PF party, warning the military could intervene.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had earlier on skipped the border amid fears of arrest after being fired by Mugabe, issued a teaser indicating that he would come back to “lead his people”.
And as military tanks rolled into Harare, nervous Zimbabweans waited tensely for the next step which saw Mugabe eventually drop his stance to remain in power.
And that weekend, thousands of Zimbabweans poured onto the streets of Harare to celebrate the demise of the one leader they had known for close to 40 years.
This week marked exactly four years since soldiers took over the streets of Harare to force Mugabe off the throne, ushering in a Mnangangwa-led government.
Academic Nhamo Mhiripiri said Mnangagwa’s government took over a broken system.
“The problem with the new administration is that they took over from a situation where nearly everything had crumbled; from roads, sewer pipes to about all the infrastructure. Schools did not have enough books; hospitals did not have enough medicines,” Mhiripiri said.
“If we are to measure any achievement; to simply have any one of those sectors still functioning in any bearable sense, is an achievement in itself.
“The little improvement might not be remarkable in the eyes of others but for those involved in revamping all those sectors they see gigantic improvements.”
Mhiripiri believes the government has performed well in repairing Zimbabwe’s major trunk roads, especially the dangerous Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge highway.
“But people put the politics of the belly ahead of everything else asking to what extent they are able to have three meals a day.
“Most Zimbabweans are still failing to get those three meals, not to mention the services in the hospitals; salaries are still depressed and these are things that the government has acknowledged.”
Mhiripiri called for a cautious evaluation of what has been achieved by the current government as Zimbabwe marks four years after the transition.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said the situation in Zimbabwe was deeply reflective of a highly polarised political climate.
“Thus, one’s assessment depends almost entirely on where one sits in the partisan divide. What is indisputable, though, is that the second republic has seen Zimbabwean re-enacting Esap (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) under a different name, that is, embracing a neo-liberal agenda of economic reforms with an ugly human face,” Masunungure said.
“This has been coupled with the deployment of the tools of hard authoritarianism. This is a development that is often associated with the Beijing (and now the Kigali) paradigm.”
Masunungure further argued that on the domestic front, Zimbabwe was witnessing economic liberalisation accompanied by the closure of political space.
“On the international arena, the most visible policy thrust is the concerted effort to be accepted by the West under the re-engagement mantra. However, its fruits are still rather sparse outside the symbolic victories of attending seminal international conferences.
“The regime might, however, find the re-engagement journey a long one unless it marries or twins economic liberalisation to political liberalisation. I don’t see any other viable formula in this regard.”
Analyst Rashweat Mukundu argued that the government has a lot of rhetoric on reforms, but without much substance.
“Inasmuch as there has been emphasis on infrastructure; rebuilding both in terms of the road networks, power generation, access to water and agricultural reforms, if you then look at the manner in which these projects are handled, it’s even worse in terms of corruption and nepotism than we had under Robert Mugabe,” Mukundu said.
“If you look at human rights and democratic reforms, there could be some positives in terms of, say, media reforms that we have seen.
“On the other hand, if you look at those that have been licensed, especially in the commercial broadcasting sector, we see abuse by the state. This is a government seeking to govern by gesture and no genuine reforms.
“Remember, this is the first government to use the military in both 2018 and 2019 to put down public demonstrations. It has also used the military to enforce a public health matter, which is Covid-19, with reports of abuses across the country.
“State institutions are far less efficient and more dependent on political support than on professionalism or adherence to the constitutional provisions.”
He also expressed fear that the current administration could be more dangerous than the Mugabe government as it considers its political survival and interest ahead of everything else.
“They have tight control of all institutions, including the judiciary which is essentially a lapdog judiciary right now. Look at the manner that the police hound the opposition MDC Alliance at the same time allowing Zanu PF essentially to do as it pleases.”