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Understanding the political quagmire

TAISA TSHUMA
WHEN the late former president Robert Mugabe was deposed in the November 2017 military coup code-named “Operation Restore Legacy”, many people supported the intervention.

They just wanted change.

Zimbabweans had endured repression in the same fashion as the Rhodesia era.

When the coup happened, there was hope that things were going to change for the better.

But four years later, hopes has died. There is no better change.

What went wrong?
All that the so-called ‘New Dispensation’ had to do was to firmly distinguish itself from the negative hallmarks associated with Mugabe. There was a promise to do so but nothing changed.

In Zimbabwean political culture, humility is viewed as a weakness. Admitting failure is career suicide.

Despite the overwhelming proof of government failures, hardliners lack the humility to admit their shortcomings.

There was an awareness of the need to do a “180” on the majority of policies as evidenced by subtle gestures, such as the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC).

This and other things like the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) have proved to be make-believe stunts. People appear to be trapped and bound to a corrupt system that has soiled everyone. Even those who have been rejected and disenfranchised will dare not divulge anything incriminating.

Sour grapes perhaps, but it is more likely that they are staying true to the old saying that those who live in glass houses must not throw stones. Everyone has dirt on someone. No one can demand accountability from another; so it is a stalemate. Corruption flourishes.

“Once you eat with us, you cannot eat without us”. This is an old tactic used to force comradely bonds among guerillas.

Post-coup hope has evaporated and campaigns like the drilling of boreholes in towns are not going to restore it. Yes, people need water, but they need much more.

The needful changes are beyond material and are more ideological and structural.

Some of the challenges facing Zimbabwe’s political space include:

  •     Government owned media remains a ruling party controlled;
  •     Corruption is rife and no meaningful convictions are happening;
  •     Social discontentment and polarisation are high. Hate speech, threats and intolerance;
  •     The judiciary, police and other state security agencies are partisan;
  •     Economic dysfunction; and
  •     Low salaries and unemployment.

These things have gone on for too long.

If the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration had done basic systematic reforms at its inception, hectic campaigns for a second term would not be necessary.

The Zimbabwean people are very patient and they appreciate progress.

The people are reasonable, always willing to give politicians the benefit of doubt.

The biggest limitations to the Mnangagwa administration delivering have actually been as a result of his own party’s internal shenanigans. There is resistance to change, raising suspicion that some within may not want this presidency to shine too bright.

That is the problem with the one centre of power concept. It becomes more about individuals. If everything good is credited to the president by his supporters, then everything bad will be credited to the same by critics.

The needful job is simple; halt economic dysfunction by implementing currency reforms, remove the money allocation system. The second thing is to demilitarise the state, and unblur the lines between state and party.

It would give the appearance of weakening the party at first but it reverses the negative reputation and injects hope. The ruling party is unfortunately now at the edge of a very slippery cliff. The crackdown on the opposition in the run up to the March 26, 2022 by-election was a sign of desperation.

There is fear that Zanu PF could unleash panic and radical ambition going into the 2023 harmonised elections. Whatever happens, politicians must know that they will be held accountable for any undesirable eventualities. Most of the support the ruling party has, is by compulsion. For many of the supporters, it is about survival, their livelihoods have been manipulatively directed to depend on loyalty to Zanu PF.

There is a notion that only the vagabond who are given opaque beer for political loyalty are being used, but even civil servants and management in any government affiliated entity tow the ruling party line to preserve their status and any little privileges.

Political office obligations and public service responsibilities are conflated or misunderstood. Taking public funds to provide a public good such as a clinic is not doing the electorate a favour.

Where vehicles pay licenses and road tolls, patching out potholes should not be a campaign issue. Taxes are paid every month, year after year. If users are paying, then roads must be maintained. Simple!

Who is collecting the revenue and where is it going? The popularity of the opposition politicians is more of a consequence of the ruling party’s failures.

Tremendous maneuvers were done to annihilate the opposition, though unsuccessful. There are visible scars and handicaps. They have taken massive blows. Grassroots structures are weak and alliances are tense.

The hope for the opposition is the fact that over 60% of the population is under 40 years old. The liberation struggle rhetoric does not resonate with the young generation compared to older people.

Regardless of who gets power in 2023, bold decisions will have to be made quickly on currency.

Someone needs to be brave, break the mould, make drastic departure from archaic strategies and embrace genuine non manipulative reforms even if it means sacrificing unrepentant hardliners.

Can the opposition win?
The truth is that the ruling party is doing a good job of promoting the alternative to itself. This raises the concern that the opposition have no concrete plan and ideology of their own.

They cannot assign enough polling agents to shepherd V11s, the one sure way to independently tally and verify election results.

They need to recruit people with integrity nationwide, avoid gravitating into the cracks of what is. Once in power it is very easy to just coast and repeat the same blunders.

The political zealotry exhibited by the masses in support of personalities and not principles is disappointing. There are less popular voices that speak better to a “Zimbabwe we want” than the leading contenders. This says Zimbabwe is still trapped in the unfortunate state of idol politics. This has proved from time to time to be folly.

Populism does not deliver anything good. Social media shows that whoever wins the election, close to 50% of the electorate will still remain jilted. This is never ideal, especially for a weak democracy, because acrimony and dissatisfaction will just reload.

Zimbabwe deserves better and it is only possible with sufficiently secure political leadership.

  • Tshuma is an entrepreneur and social commentator from Bulawayo. A former retail banking professional. Twitter @TaisaPT.

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