The confirmation of Emmerson Mnangagwa by Zimbabwe’s highest court as president sealed the dispute on Zimbabwe’s future leader to carry the hopes of a nation yearning for a new trajectory. The disputed election resulted in the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa filing a constitutional court application challenging the credibility of the election results. The case was unanimously dismissed by the court with costs, raising questions on the independence of the judiciary. Perhaps, this case was the first real test of the Zimbabwean constitution which was ushered in 2013 by the inclusive government and the judgment thereof was a litmus test to ascertain if such organs of the state are free from manipulation. As many Zimbabweans were eagerly waiting for the outcome, the writing was already on the wall on the outcome of that case, with ZANU PF going ahead with preparations for the swearing-in of Mnangagwa and Chiwenga indicating that nothing was going to change despite any outcome at the constitutional court.
With a defective ‘new’ constitution, Zimbabwe finds itself in a quandary with some pieces of legislation not working in sync with the constitution. Suffice to say, the courts have never been that space to meet justice especially on such delicate political matters in Zimbabwe. Countless election court challenges since 2000 have not yielded favourable outcomes that are against the electoral commission nor the incumbent. As if not enough, the constitutional court passed a strange judgment that declared the coup legal. While many rejoiced and embraced the coup, they forgot that the problem with Zimbabwe was the system of governance used by Mugabe to be in power for 37 years. Therefore, the coup was just a sideshow used to create a veil of a ‘new dispensation’.
To the contrary the just ended elections have sufficiently proved otherwise. I will try to break it down to argue that Zimbabwe was never ready for an election before, firstly there was a need to ‘cure’ the coup and to undertake the necessary political reforms that inhibited the conduct of any credible electoral process. From the onset, it looked quite impossible for a country which had experienced a military coup to deliver a fair and credible election just after six months. It was just impossible. The games of play had not changed, the results we eventually got were expected. Secondly, it was impossible to have a credible election when the drivers of that coup were the ones now running the government, determining the terms of participation. Thirdly, it was way too early for the country to go into an election with the military heavily embedded in civilian politics, state institutions and supposedly independent institutions like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. The military involvement in civilian politics has had a bearing on the outcome of the elections. Therefore, with this ‘outcome’ it will prove difficult to dislodge the ‘military’ government with elections only.
Zimbabwe’s military –a new economic class
The military coup left a bad precedent on our politics and thus the elections became a poisoned chalice. Whilst I argued in November 2017 that the events of the 17th had nothing to do with ‘restoring’ Zimbabwe into a democracy my fears have been proven that it was nothing but a rearrangement of chairs in the ZANU PF top table, with a ‘military class project’ which has now taken over the party-state apparatus for its own distinct interests. From their involvement in the DRC war in 1997, the military elites have been pursuing self enriching interests. A report from the United Nations highlights how military elites enriched themselves from the vast mineral assets of the DRC, the exploitation of diamonds in Marange by military elites buttresses this point.
The military elites are now firmly in charge of ZANU PF and the state and this might signal the end of civilian politics in Zimbabwe. Thus, the three events that followed the coup, namely the march and the elections and the constitutional court ruling have legitimised a ‘democratic’ albeit a ‘military’ victory. The deployment of soldiers to quell protests in Harare is a clear sign that we are in a military state. After the shooting it was business as usual and the dust is almost settling. Thereafter, we are likely going to see more repression and the closing of democratic space under the ‘new dispensation.’
Mnangagwa, instituting a commission of inquiry to look into the 1 August shootings is just a public relations exercise for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement efforts with the West. The interview by British Prime Minister Theresa May is a confirmation of ED’s overtures to ‘please’ the west. With that ‘semblance’ of legitimacy from a flawed election and constitutional court ruling, the military elites are essentially in control of the state in pursuance of their own distinct business interests. Reading through the ZANU PF manifesto and Zimbabwe is open for business mantra is clear testimony that it is indeed full scale neo-liberal economics for the thriving of monopoly business ’at the expense of real socio-economic trajectory anchored around social democracy. What we are going to witness in the few coming years is primitive accumulation of capital, an increase in the national debt, asset stripping and privatization of key public institutions, and all this sums up Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe is open for Business mantra.
ZANU PF reforming from the coup
The military elites occupying strategic posts in government, namely Chiwenga, Vice President, and SB Moyo, Foreign Affairs, Perrence Shiri lands. et al their game plan now is to control (they are already) the economy at whatever expense for self-interests with little to do with the development of the country. With the West, cosying up to a stolen election and a cosmetic approach on how to deal with the 1 August killings signals more difficult times for the opposition and civil society. Now with the appointment of a ‘new’ cabinet many Zimbabweans, at least the active social media users have been suggesting that it’s a positive step for the country and that ED has struck the right chords. Others are hailing ED for what they are terming, the ‘neutralization’ of the military in civilian politics. They suggest that Chiwenga has been dealt a blow and that his power has now been diluted. But the real essence to it is that ZANU PF is reforming out of the coup to stay in power with a civilian face but a military hold on the real political state apparatus. The new cabinet is another public relations stunt by Mnangagwa as he battles to win the hearts of both the international community and the locals. Those gullible enough will believe that power has shifted, the real wielders of power are the soldiers.
The revolutionary task for the opposition going forward
The revolutionary task for the opposition is to go back to the basics, go back to the people, and give proper pro people alternatives, not their same neoliberal free market suggestions as outlined in their SMART document. The neo-liberal policy discourse, as proposed by both ZANU PF and MDC’s SMART curtails the vision for a caring society based on human solidarity and dignity. I am still not convinced if the rallies are a strategic avenue in building a critical mass. In that regard i posit that the opposition still has a chance, the control local authorities in many cities should be their trump card in proving to the masses that they are capable of governing.
But, the question is how do the forces of democratic change broadly respond to the complex way in which the military and ZANU PF are rebuilding some kind of legitimacy? The MDC of two decades ago was powerful because it was anchored in the concrete socio-economic struggles and democratic aspirations of the excluded and marginalised. The question that the MDC must now answer is how do they develop a political program that goes back to build long term sustainable political engagement which translates into votes for the party and the leader. Therefore, the party needs to lay out a very concrete political program. #Godisinit is neither a political idea nor a political program, it excites a very limited but dangerously noisy thin strata. In the past, the inability of the MDC councillors and branches to provide leadership to communities struggles has dealt a blow for the party in its quest to mobilise the grassroots. Focus should be on community/ issue – based mobilization to respond to the needs of those communities as this will enable the movement to survive under difficult conditions. And that means that the party’s representatives in local government must equally desist from pushing for privatisation of basic services in their towns as this will do more harm than good for the communities.
The party must address corruption amongst its ranks especially what we have witnessed in local authorities were the opposition was in control. In conclusion, the opportunity presented is that the party must maintain strong contact with and in the confidence of the masses and that the primary mission of the party is not to loot but to serve the masses.