Lessons from the coup

Source: Lessons from the coup – The Zimbabwe Independent January 11, 2019


Young women walk past an armoured personnel carrier that stations by an intersection as Zimbabwean soldiers regulate traffic in Harare on November 15, 2017. Zimbabwe’s military appeared to be in control of the country on November 15 as generals denied staging a coup but used state television to vow to target “criminals” close to President Mugabe. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA

Zimbabwean politics is characterised by the existence of schizophrenic public and private sector leadership. The structure of post-coup politics in Zimbabwe owes a great deal to this schizophrenia and the growth of a leadership devoid of ethics and shame. This affects how citizens perceive and receive institutions, policies and leadership.

Contemporary political problems as well as the historical context of politics determine to a large extent the aspects and issues of citizenship that are prioritised for emphasis in a given society. In some societies, there is a huge emphasis on rights of citizenship and very little debate about the attendant obligations. Equally so, there is a lot said about the qualities of leadership as opposed to the process and outcomes of leading. With regards to Zimbabwe, it seems ridiculous that anyone should suggest that after 38 years of dictatorship, the country still needs to be run by strongmen as opposed to more democratic and open leadership. This externally driven intellectual kwashiorkor will assume that what has worked for one African country is a panacea for Africans.

Nothing can be more racist, naïve and downright stupid than this good governance by ‘strongmen’ for Zimbabwe idea.

Our political elites are schizophrenic and seemingly disconnected from the realities of ordinary men and women in our nation. On the one hand, they belong to a civil society with a clear set of morals and democratic norms and they even rhetorically commit to live by these shared values. Yet they live their lives in total contradiction recklessly committed to personal greed, gain and self-interest by any means necessary. They tell lies with impunity and prevaricate as a matter of habit to suit their ever-shifting interests and moral orbit. They are by day democrats and great believers in meritocracy, and by night they are spiritualists, sexists, regionalists and tribalists. Surprisingly, when they do work for their churches, secret societies, or the tribe they are irrefutably ethical beings. However, when they serve within the public sector, civil society and /or private sector their sense of morality and ethics dies. This schizophrenia complicates any attempt to construct a politics based on ethical leadership in Zimbabwe. To the tribe, secret society or church, corrupt politicians are ‘good citizens’ that give generously and serve sacrificially for nothing in return. To the tribe, one retains their “goodness” if s/he uses part of what s/he loots from public coffers for social causes such as building a church, school, hospital and so on and so forth.

This idea of thieving philanthropists has blurred our national understanding of public ethics and service. We embrace corrupt rich ‘sugar daddies’ or ‘sugar mommies’ that give trinkets to the poor. The unwritten law and therefore consequence on this perception of social “goodness” is that we subconsciously legitimate those elites that fleece public coffers if they can demonstrate how they have strengthened the tribe, region or spiritual networks. The obverse side of this is that for the most part the gain is extracted — almost in a compensatory manner — from the public sector, private employment and quasi-public organisations. When one gives to the clan, church, mosque, region or tribe they gain back intangible, immaterial benefits in the form of identity, psychological or spiritual security.

In 2019, Zimbabwe badly needs to go beyond the perfection of this system of public corruption and abuse of office undertaken to support private ‘do-goodism’. It is a splendid waste of time and effort to order a monthly street cleaning exercise, painting of buildings and criminalisation of littering in a society in which the conscience of citizens is littered with criminal intent to rob the public coffers in order to nourish one’s standing in the clan, tribe, region or religion.

The coup and its promises

When the then Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Major-General Sibusiso B. Moyo, announced the coup against Robert Mugabe on national television in November 2017 he stated as follows:
“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a new dispensation that is created that allows for investment, development and prosperity. To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military take-over of government. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict. Let be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country.”

In general, the political elite, in and out of politics, encouraged the common man to defy the Mugabe government. Boycott, defiance and non-cooperation strategies were deemed necessary sabotage against the intransigent Mugabe regime. The irony of it all, however, is that the ordinary Zimbabweans took the principles involved in the so-called November 2017 people’s revolution quite seriously. There is clearly a transfer effect from Anti-Mugabe to Anti-Mnangagwa politics. To the conscious Zimbabwean peasantry and unemployed youths, the distinction between Mugabe and Mnangagwa is measured in jobs, social security and welfare terms.

General S.B. Moyo’s speech will go down in history either as a redemption song for a nation under the yoke of tyranny, greed and avarice or it will ultimately become a charge sheet against men accused of destroying an already ailing economy in order to secure their economic interests and paths to power. For one, the situation has not gone back to normalcy and we are far from any perceptions of prosperity. Livelihood costs have bolted out of control, as has the cost of basic commodities and imported goods.

The bond note is now as good as monopoly (the children’s game) money. Zimbabwean citizens have become very suspicious of the defence forces’ intentions and perceived trigger-happy character following the despicable murder of unarmed civilians on August 1 2018.

When it comes to power politics the economy remains Zanu PF’s biggest opposition followed closely by corruption. Public relations and branding clichés are most dangerous where they make use of, and abuse, undeniable historical, economic and political truths. That abuse is what is at issue in post-coup Zimbabwe. The re-branding exercise seeks to exaggerate the achievement of the post-coup regime.

The fact that Moyo even mentioned the idea of building ‘a new democratic dispensation’ arising out of a military takeover of the state (wholly, partially or even invisibly) is an oxymoron. In reality the coasters could not and did not completely escape the Mugabe mindset and Zanuism (ChiZanu mentality). Indeed their most profound difficulty was, and remains, the simultaneous adaptation to two mentally contra-posing orders of creating a new dispensation and that of ruling by the barrel of the gun. This has given rise to a schizophrenic political order framed concurrently in terms of constitutionalism and liberation legacy. Liberation legacy has been emblazoned with an instinctive resort to primordial ethnic or regional identities and spiritualism. These identities impose moral, spiritual and financial obligations and benefits that are intangible. In effect, the constitutionalism, democracy and rule of law rhetoric have become a mere convenience devoid of any moral or ethical suasion. As such, the state has become an even bigger site of accumulation for the post-coup dispensation, its anti-corruption rhetoric notwithstanding. Be that as it may, it was clear from the onset that those in charge of the ‘military action’ wanted three levels of legitimacy or credibility, namely:

International legitimacy, which would come from a concerted public relations campaign to paint themselves as different from Mugabe and their politics to be much more pragmatic and less ideological. This posture had bizarre and at times comical manifestations, including the claim by Mnangagwa that the Tories have always been friendlier to Zimbabwe; hosting a white tea-party at the Borrowdale race course ahead of the 2018 elections and a commitment to give land back to white farmers with absolutely no reference to black farm workers who lost life, limb and livelihoods during the fast-track land reform process.

This attempt at de-racialisation of economic and land policies was designed to lure the Americans to repeal the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) and thus clear the way for Zimbabwe to access Multilateral International development finance options without restrictions. Unfortunately the Americans have not come to the party despite many spirited invitations.

Legitimacy with the national business class by emphasising the importance of the economy and the centrality of the private sector to Zimbabwe’s turn-around strategy.

The idea is to conscript black and white-owned businesses using two devices, namely: potential opportunities for self-enrichment through leveraging international partnerships and capital and the removal of laws and policies that were deemed hostile to the interest of this class. Mugabe’s radical rhetoric enabled these classes to grab assets and access massive wealth. However, the existence of sanctions and other international isolation-related obstacles essentially means that their assets and opportunities remain grossly under capitalised, under-performing and thus mere white elephants. To leverage international capital and finance, this class realised that the Mugabe-type politics was bad for their short and long-term business interests. Mugabe had to go because he had become an economic liability.

Street credibility and legitimacy with the Zimbabwean electorate and citizenry. The coupsters sincerely hoped that they could rapidly create a ‘new dispensation’ by merely changing the narrative and language of engagement (that is, public relations and branding). They made serious efforts to co-opt vendors, workers, young people, chiefs, and health workers. The idea was to show a more caring government. Instead of a first lady who insensitively purchased a million dollar glory ring in the midst of a national economic turmoil, Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa was seen visiting prisoners and hospital wards, supposedly to show a more compassionate philanthropist ‘mother of the nation’. The only problem is that this was precisely the Mugabe-era error, that of government policies being left to first lady activism. Street credibility should have primarily meant to address cash shortages, food and fuel shortages as well as cost of living crisis.


The coupsters learnt nothing and forgot nothing from the Mugabe-era errors. Mugabe before them tried to appease international capital by leaving the land question in limbo whilst building a fairly congenial relationship with Whitehall (the British). Between 1988 and 1991, Mugabe undertook fairly successful investment tours to Europe, Canada and the United States. In fact, that some of the white farmers killed or dispossessed during the fast track land reform process were Mauritian, Swedish and Canadian who had responded to Mugabe’s call to invest in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe was late to address the land question. He thought he could use force to address the factory (workers rights and demands) and street (youth unemployment) questions.

These whittled away his power base and legitimacy like a political whirlwind. Zimbabwe’s new rulers have not paid sufficient attention to the factory question let alone the street question. They are on the rampage opening up every sector of the economy and have paid scant attention to the interests of domestic small to medium scale capital. Their neo-liberal policies are constructing a new trade union of discontent across classes. Very little has been done to meaningfully address grievances of the huge Zimbabwean diaspora. The policy veer to the right of centre is likely to end in tears.

Mugabe embraced neoliberal economic policy prescriptions from the International Monetary Fund/World Bank and the effects were dastardly, redundancies and ballooning joblessness. Thus the strength of a labour-led opposition in Zimbabwe was directly related to the adoption of anti-poor economic development policies. For most Zimbabweans the difference between November 2017 and January 2019 is that the trees have changed and the monkeys have remained the same.

Brian T Kagoro is a lawyer and political analyst. — Twitter: @TamukaKagoro77.