Even if Mugabe has gone, Zimbabweans won’t be dancing in the streets

Even if Mugabe has gone, Zimbabweans won’t be dancing in the streets

Source: Even if Mugabe has gone, Zimbabweans won’t be dancing in the streets | Wilf Mbanga | Opinion | The Guardian

What we want is to decide our own future, and who will lead us. But Emmerson Mnangagwa is every bit as iron-fisted as the man he’d like to replace

Emmerson Mnangagwa and Robert Mugabe.
 Emmerson Mnangagwa and Robert Mugabe. ‘If Mnangagwa does indeed take over as president now, it will be as an appointee of the military.’ Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP 

Should Zimbabweans be rejoicing today? Robert Mugabe, 93, has ruled them with an iron fist since 1980. He is the only president an entire generation aged under 40 have ever known. Admittedly, the fist was not so iron in the early years – but to millions of Zimbabweans it has become increasingly oppressive since the mid-1990s.

Thousands of people from the Ndebele ethnic group were slaughtered in the Gukurahundi purge of the early 1980s, and in the intervening decades many thousands more have paid with their lives. Women and children dying in childbirth at a faster rate than anywhere else in Africa; opposition activists beaten and tortured to death; journalists kidnapped and never seen again: it is a long and bloody list.

So surely Zimbabweans should be rejoicing at the news that Mugabe is now under house arrest, reported to have done a deal with the military in which he will resign in exchange for safe passage out of the country for himself, his wife, Grace, and his family.

But there is no dancing in the streets. The millions of Zimbabweans in self-imposed exile (estimated at 25% of the population) are glued to their screens, swinging between hope and despair at every tweet, every morsel of news, every rumour. Those back home, who have borne the brunt of Mugabe’s jackboot for the past decades, are huddled in their houses, hoping their phone batteries won’t die before the erratic power supply is restored. A desperate few ventured out to stand yet again in the endless bank queues, to draw their daily allowance, worth under 20 US dollars.

So why no dancing? The man believed to be their next president – the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa – is every bit as iron-fisted as the man he is replacing. He has been Mugabe’s right-hand man since the beginning. He was minister in charge of the intelligence services at the time of the Gukurahundi massacres. He honed Zimbabwe’s ever-watchful Central Intelligence Organisation into an elite dirty tricks team feared throughout the land. Over the years, like his master Mugabe, he has been accused of masterminding election violence, kidnappings, extortion, plundering national resources, and other crimes.

He has never enjoyed popular support. He lost his seat twice in general elections before finally being elected only when he changed his constituency to his home area. Even then, there were many accusations of violence and intimidation. For 10 years he sat in parliament as a Mugabe appointee – not by popular choice. And if he does indeed take over as president now, it will be as an appointee of the military.

What Zimbabweans want, what would really make us dance in the streets as we did in 1980, is the chance to decide our own future – and who will lead us into that future.

Zimbabweans have endured a kakistocracy (run by the worst, least qualified or most unscrupulous citizens) for three decades. And with the army and Mnangagwa in the driving seat, there is little hope that this will change any time soon.

However, there is still a chance that we can salvage a dance from all this. If Mnangagwa would heed the many voices in and outside Zimbabwe calling for a national transitional government – involving all parties, and all good men and women across the political, economic, racial and other spectrums – that would give hope for the future. A future beyond the confines of Zanu-PF and its violence – of which Mugabe often boasted, and Mnangagwa was the executioner.

 Wilf Mbanga is editor of the Zimbabwean