How coup silenced opposition, civil society 

Source: How coup silenced opposition, civil society – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 13, 2020

candour:Nqaba Matshazi

At face value, the worst thing that the 2017 coup did was to re-energise Zanu PF, but if you dig deeper you will realise that even something more sinister happened and that is the neutering of civil society and the opposition being rendered almost impotent.

Most of civil society and the opposition’s original sin is that they momentarily ignored the Constitution and rule of law, knelt at the altar of expediency and supported the 2017 coup and now they are finding it hard to return to their true calling, as they have all but been emasculated.

I find today’s civil society, in large parts, quite frustrating, as they look rudderless and reactionary, as they seem willing to let the ruling party set the agenda.

Yes, they may write position papers that reveal government’s excesses, they may expose corruption, but after that then what?

Right now, Zanu PF is on the verge of mutilating our Constitution and assaulting the values we agreed on as a nation less than seven years ago, but the response from the opposition and civil society organisations is mute at best and lacks the robustness of yesteryear.

I am reminded of the years 1999 and 2000, when the Zanu PF government decided on a new Constitution and this gave rise to the then nascent National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which fought against a government-led charter.

They were everywhere, they were visible and they campaigned vigorously to a point that the Constitutional Commission’s draft of 2000 was rejected.

The same vigour is lacking today and there seems to be no leadership on how Zanu PF’s diabolical plans are going to be challenged, except the odd academic paper that is shared by people who are in a filter bubble, with absolutely nothing cascading down to the ordinary person.

The defeatist approach would be to say that Zanu PF has a super majority and they can do as they please; but need I remind you that in 1999 there was literally no opposition, but Zanu PF succumbed to pressure from civil society and began the process of rewriting the Constitution, with input from the public rather than going solo as a party with zero opposition.

In 1998, the government increased value added tax (VAT) by two and a half percentage points, raising the ire of workers and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions took leadership, telling employees to strike every Wednesday afternoon until the authorities reversed their decision.

Right now, the economy is in a tailspin, but the courage, leadership and focus that was displayed in 1998 is missing as the government is allowed to do as it pleases, without much resistance from the opposition.

We are in the second year of Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s immoral 2% tax on mobile money transactions and we have accepted it as if that is normal.

I know there have been court applications, but these are likely never to succeed, as research by legal scholars, John Hatchard and Tunde Ogowewo has shown that in the aftermath of a coup, judges are likely to rule in favour of the new establishment.

I am not discounting the legal route, but I think lawsuits should be complemented by other measures.

What is even worse is that some sections of civil society have all, but abandoned their watchdog role and become lapdogs of the government, with allegations that some are funded by the very same government that they should be keeping an eye on.

A good example is the split of Matabeleland Coalition and the formation of Matabeleland Forum, with the former being accused of being too close to the establishment.

I am obviously not calling for an unnecessary adversarial relation between the government and civil society, but the latter should always keep those in power on their toes at all times to ensure good governance.

While civil society is frustrating, I find the opposition even more exasperating and Zanu PF has never had it so easy.

Opposition refers to MDC, not that motley group known as the Political Actors Dialogue, which is exhibiting the worst traits of being captured by the establishment.

The situation is ripe on the ground for the MDC to assert its authority and set the agenda, as millions of people who voted for it are frustrated by the economic collapse and Zanu PF’s misgovernance, but the opposition seems clueless on how to proceed.

Last year they rolled out the most ludicrous form of demonstrations in each city, which were predictably barred by the government and crushed by the police.

By the time the police blocked the Harare demonstration, it was quite clear that the Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare etc protests would be all stopped, but the MDC continued with this obviously futile strategy and within days they had run out of steam.

Surely, when they saw that this was bound to fail, they should have come up with Plan B — that is if they have it at all.

Party leader, Nelson Chamisa enjoys popular support, but people will soon become disenchanted with him because of what they see as a failure to take advantage of Zanu PF’s shortcomings.

Chamisa, quite an orator, has spoken of issuing a signal and rolling out demonstrations, but he really has been found wanting in this regard.

Just recently, there was palpable disquiet in the party when MDC dithered and failed to take a position on supporting Job Sikhala, its vice-chairman, who faces treason charges.

After his court appearance, Sikhala addressed what seemed like an impromptu rally and the numbers that attended showed that people are waiting for a brave leader who can at least stand for something.

I cannot even begin to speak on Chamisa’s decision to mimic President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s monthly clean-up campaigns, as I think this is a reactionary decision that was not well thought out.

Mnangagwa’s clean-up campaigns have not got the widespread support that the government thought they would, and among other things, this is because many Zimbabweans are silently protesting against his leadership and policies.

Then Chamisa wants to legitimise those clean-up campaigns, by bringing his supporters to do exactly what they are protesting against.

Maybe there is a method to this madness, but I really do not get it.

 Nqaba Matshazi is AMH’s head of digital. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: Twitter: @nqabamatshazi