A week before Christmas

‘Guardian coup’ ... Zimbabwe experienced a seismic shift with the removal of Robert Mugabe from power in November 2017.

IN the annals of history, Zimbabwe’s quest for freedom stands as a testament to resilience and determination.

Picture this: Zimbabwe, in the grip of political and social happiness, where the air is filled not only with the sounds of celebration, but also with the collective sighs of relief.

The advanced idiom “a week before Christmas” encapsulates the anticipation of better times, the belief that salvation is imminent and the joy of reaping the rewards of years of struggle and sacrifice.

One person projected that Zimbabweans will be happy after 2059, the date presumably when all liberation fighters would be in their twilight. As someone interested in custom interpretation of numbers, 2059 is a significant number between different aspects of Zimbabwe’s political life. The number “2” usually represents balance and harmony, “0” often represents untapped potential, while “5” often represents change and adventure, and “9” a full completion circle.

In numerological hermeneutics, 2059 is reduced to seven days or one week 2+5+9 to produce 16. 1+6 will lead to seven or one week. The number seven represents completeness, happiness and well-being. Well, I will not go further with this idiom.

Back to the wall

The euphoria of independence in 1980 was soon eclipsed by the shadow of electoral violence. The nation witnessed a series of elections marred by bloodshed and allegations of rigging.

The early post-independence period saw a disheartening cycle of violence, where the pursuit of political power came at a grave cost to human lives and the nation's integrity.

The initial years following independence promised a brighter future, with Zimbabwe holding its first elections in 1980. We were not born but it is said that these elections, although relatively peaceful at the outset, laid the foundation for the turbulent years to come.

During this period, allegations of electoral rigging and violence began to surface, eroding the faith of the populace in the democratic process. While the euphoria of independence lingered, it was tainted by reports of electoral manipulation, setting a troubling precedent.

Fast forward to the years following the Government of National Unity (GNU) from 2009 to 2013. This period marked another fleeting moment of optimism, as Zimbabweans hoped for political stability and economic recovery.

Despite international efforts to ensure transparent elections, allegations of irregularities persisted. The euphoria of the GNU era was once again tempered by doubts about the integrity of the electoral process in 2013.

The turning point came in November 2017, when Zimbabwe experienced a seismic shift with the removal of Robert Mugabe from power through what some termed a “guardian coup”.

This event was met with widespread jubilation, as Zimbabweans saw it as an opportunity for a fresh start. However, the scars of past electoral violence and rigging still ran deep. The nation held its breath as the 2018 elections approached, hoping that this time would be different, that the euphoria of change would translate into a genuine democratic transition.

Yet, the legacy of electoral turmoil continued to haunt the electoral landscape, underscoring the challenges of breaking free from the cycle of violence and alleged rigging that had plagued Zimbabwe’s elections for decades.

Catch-22: Proxy institutions

To consolidate their grip on power, those in control resorted to cunning tactics. Proxy institutions, including state-controlled media, allegations of Wagner influence, and security forces, became tools of manipulation, silencing dissenting voices and maintaining a stranglehold on the political landscape.

In this Catch-22 scenario, the façade of democracy masked a grim reality. State-controlled media, once seen as a platform for free expression and information dissemination, morphed into a propaganda machine. Journalists and media outlets faced the Catch-22 dilemma of reporting truthfully, while navigating the ever-watchful eye of censorship.

The regime cleverly manipulated these media outlets to create a narrative that favoured the ruling elite, perpetuating their grip on power. This manipulation extended to the portrayal of political opponents, casting them in a negative light and framing dissent as a threat to national stability.

Caught in this web of deceit, journalists were left with the impossible choice of either toeing the party line or risking their livelihoods and safety by challenging the status quo.

The security forces, entrusted with safeguarding the nation, found themselves ensnared in this Catch-22. While their duty was to protect citizens and uphold the rule of law, they often became instruments of repression.

The ruling elite strategically positioned loyalists within the security apparatus, creating a situation where dissent was met with brutal force. This Catch-22 scenario played out as security forces faced an internal conflict between their duty to the nation and their allegiance to a regime that manipulated them for political gain.

The consequences were dire, as the very institutions meant to ensure the nation’s security became instruments of its oppression. In this Catch-22 quagmire, the façade of democracy masked a grim reality.

Proxy institutions, controlled by those in power, perpetuated a cycle of political manoeuvring that stifled opposition and subverted the democratic aspirations of the people.

Caught between the desire for genuine democratic governance and the suffocating grip of proxy institutions, Zimbabweans found themselves in a relentless struggle for political change, where the odds were stacked against them.

At your wit’s end

As electoral disputes raged on, Zimbabwe plunged into an economic abyss. Hyperinflation ran rampant, rendering the currency worthless, while food shortages became the grim daily reality. Citizens were pushed to their wit’s end as the economy teetered on the brink of collapse, with devastating consequences for the social fabric.

Food shortages compounded the misery of an already beleaguered population. Empty supermarket shelves and long queues became emblematic of everyday life.

Families faced the agonising dilemma of choosing between necessities or going to bed hungry. The spectre of hunger loomed large, further eroding the social fabric as desperation set in.

People were not only contending with empty pockets, but also empty stomachs, as the economic meltdown inflicted profound suffering on a nation that had once been considered the breadbasket of Africa.

The economic freefall took a heavy toll on their well-being, sowing despair, and disillusionment. The promise of independence had given way to a bleak reality, where economic stability and social prosperity remained elusive dreams.

The nation stood at the precipice, grappling not only with the economic abyss but also with the social cost of a crisis that had upended lives and shattered hopes.

Clutching at straws

Desperation to cling to political legitimacy pushed the ruling party to make audacious moves that sent shock waves through the nation.

As opposition voices grew louder and international pressure mounted, attempts to amend the constitution emerged as a desperate bid to secure a tenuous hold on power. The ruling party, unwilling to cede its grip, spared no effort to suppress opposition political and social movements and stifle dissenting voices. In this high-stakes struggle, the very foundations of democracy in Zimbabwe were under threat.

Zimbabweans, confronted with a political landscape fraught with challenges, found themselves clutching at straws in their pursuit of political reform.

In the realm of political philosophy, Zimbabwe’s tumultuous journey from independence to its contemporary struggles bears resemblance to the concept of a social contract.

The initial euphoria of independence, akin to Rousseau’s “born free, but everywhere in chains”, held the promise of collective happiness and shared prosperity.

However, as electoral violence, economic collapse, and political oppression took centre stage, this social contract began to crumble. Political philosophers such as Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes contemplated the nature of governance and its implications for human happiness.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the erosion of democratic principles and the subversion of citizens' will laid bare the fragility of the social contract. The state's failure to protect citizens' rights and provide for their well-being shattered the expectations of a just and harmonious society.

The phenomenon of Zimbabweans seeking refuge abroad, primarily to the south, can be likened to the pursuit of a “better life” as articulated in John Locke’s philosophy. Locke posited that individuals have a natural right to “life, liberty, and property”.

When these rights are infringed upon or denied, as witnessed in Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis, people are driven to seek environments where these rights are more secure. This mass exodus reflects not only the absence of political happiness but also the erosion of the social fabric that sustains a healthy society.

Moreover, the Zimbabwean experience underscores Hobbes’ notion of the “state of nature” characterised by chaos and insecurity. The breakdown of law and order, exemplified by electoral violence and economic turmoil, plunged the nation into a figurative state of nature where life was “nasty, brutish and short”.

This departure from the ideals of a functioning state left citizens yearning for a return to a state of normalcy and the pursuit of happiness.

Conclusion: Lightbulb moments

Recent times have witnessed a resurgence in calls for democracy and accountability, propelled by the oversight of regional bodies like Sadc and increased international scrutiny. Many prophets became court prophets.

As Zimbabweans collectively gaze toward the future, they do so with the lessons of their turbulent past etched into their collective memory, serving as a constant reminder that the pursuit of freedom is an ongoing struggle — one that they navigate with unwavering determination.

The lightbulb moments of resilience and hope continue to flicker, casting rays of optimism on Zimbabwe’s path ahead. Well, lest I forget that girls are always on their phone when all men send them the same need nonsense, don’t forget that 294 divided by seven is 42.

The maths of 2059 does not balance. From August 23 to October 5, 2023 when political developments that involved Sadc in Zimbabwe, it was exactly after 42 days. Perhaps it is a prophetic week before Christmas! I am not judging this deep dialectical prophecy. 

  • Hofisi is a lawyer, conversationalist and transdisciplinary researcher. He has interests in governance and international law. — [email protected].

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