I recently attended a meeting on Zimbabwe at the University of Westminster organised by Dr Winston Mano. I was hoping to gain some insight into the politics of Zimbabwe post Mugabe. Entitled Towards 2018 Zimbabwe elections: Democratic Challenges and Opportunities it seemed like an opportunity to understand the post Mugabe era. The invitation stated a 17:30 start on the invitation but almost an hour later there were the same number of people in the audience as were on the panel. A few more joined later.
I was hoping that the speakers would give us a clear message that the Mugabe era was over and it was time to unite and create a real democracy. This is what everyone in the room also hoped for but the consensus of the speakers was that, once again, the government had betrayed its promise. It was the most depressing news I have heard from Africa for some time. Everyone agreed that, although Robert Mugabe had gone, his legacy of brutal suppression of the people would continue. Those who had served Mugabe so loyally were still in power and continuing to loot Zimbabwe’s wealth. There was some debate about whether this was a coup against Mugabe but not a coup to overthrow his system. It was a coup to put Emerson Munangawa in power. Once Mugabe’s right hand man he is now the front man for the generals. Both are still searching for legitimacy. The opposition seems to be able to operate but the soldiers are in control. “If an election was called tomorrow would the African Union monitor it but declare it an unfair election?” someone asked. This was greeted with laughter.
Ibbo Mandaza, the publisher and journalist, reminded us of the ongoing war between Grace Mugabe’s alliance and President Emerson Munangagwa’s supporters and said that the last thing Zimbabwe needed now was a divisive election. Instead he urged a national dialogue that would examine the past and lay the foundations for a new Zimbabwean nation state. He said: “A huge value is put on elections but they are a disaster. It’s a mess. You have a fiercely independent judiciary but we have no reason to expect a new type of election. There is no evidence that an election will change anything. The elections are not likely to be free and fair as the same dubious people will be running the elections as before.” He said the elections will be managed by the military and the man appointed to run them is a Zanu PF member. No one believes the vote will be secret now, he said, and added “there is no up-to-date accurate voters role and it is not available. In short the election will not be free and fair.” Others however suggested that President Emerson Munangagwa should be given a chance.
The next day, by coincidence, I had an email from Judith Todd in Bulawayo. She and her father, Sir Garfield Todd, fought against white rule in the 1960s and both were imprisoned by Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of white ruled Rhodesia. She writes:
Zimbabwe has never been less constrained than now at any other time during my long life in terms of ability to speak freely; congregate at will; joke and gossip and pursue different political and social agendas. But all this is, of course and alas, against the cataclysmic economic situation left to us by Robert Mugabe which still casts a dark shadow over everything: poverty, unemployment, endless queues for cash at the banks, rising prices of essentials.
No-one really knows what anyone else is thinking. Not yet. Huge, enthusiastic crowds have been swelling the Party rallies, especially those of Chamisa and to a lesser extent, I think, of Mnangagwa. What excitement and entertainment Mnangagwa’s “new dispensation” has brought to the country! No police roadblocks extorting on the roads. Very few gatherings banned or stopped by the security forces. But who can tell how each individual in all those crowds will vote, if actually registered in a constituency? I wouldn’t dare speculate.
Overall I am optimistic. The parallels between South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and our Mnangagwa are striking. Both are obviously working just as hard as they can, and being as positive, imaginative, civil and all-embracing as possible. But they are each riding such hungry tigers and are each lumbered with several such prominent and unhelpful associates (to put it mildly) whom they can’t yet get rid of. I should think that Mnangagwa is hoping that some of these will fall by the wayside through the elections on 30 July.
Every day I wake up in Bulawayo it is with the greatest relief and continuing thankfulness to know and remember that the Mugabes are no longer in charge. They have been shunted aside at great risk to those who took part in the excision. What a miracle that the transition was largely peaceful, and so enthusiastically and publicly supported. Of course their malign influence continues, as you will have noticed, and it must not be underestimated.
Already the process is shaking us all up at all levels – Presidential; Parliamentary, Council. I have never known Zimbabwe to be so effervescent except, maybe, in the first weeks of 1980, but then we didn’t have social media. I am finding that some (including me) are becoming very, very tired of partisan politics. You will have seen that there are a few candidates now daring to stand for Parliament as Independents. So, somehow, whoever wins, I believe our next Parliament will be an improvement on those of the past. I’m very glad to actually be living in Zimbabwe in these very interesting times!
So there you have two views of Zimbabwe seven months after the coup. The question in my mind is – will all those educated young Zimbabweans who left Zimbabwe in search of freedom, work and a life come ever back again? Those who I have spoken say no, they will not return but they will continue to send money home and visit when they can. You can’t blame them. The country’s per capita income is $69 less than it was in 1981. I hope they will change their minds when they remember the extraordinary beauty of their country, see the potential it holds, and return to rebuild Africa’s friendliest country.