SOUTH AFRICAN President Cyril Ramaphosa has responded to loud calls for intervening in strife-torn neighbouring Zimbabwe by sending special envoys to Harare in another mediation effort since the one led by former President Thabo Mbeki which culminated in a government of national unity between Zanu PF and the MDCs in 2009.
It’s a get out of jail free card, but don’t bet on President Emmerson Mnangagwa making use of it, such is the man’s propensity for failing even the most basic tasks. To use a football analogy, this is a penalty for Mnangagwa, just don’t count on him scoring.
For a man who got into power through a coup that toppled long-time ruler, the late President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 and still escaped without censure from the international community — this is the perfect chance for Mnangagwa to be sincere and practical.
The international community perhaps got a clue from the majority of citizens who were generally supportive of his ascendancy to power after years of oppression and torture under Mugabe. Zimbabwean people had become tired of Mugabe rule. They were desperate for a new leader and understandably they rooted for Mnangagwa whom they hoped would be different from his predecessor. The international community too appeared to be supportive of the Zanu PF leader, especially with his “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.
But Mnangagwa has messed up his image barely two years into his rule. Perception is what politics and political communication is all about and Mnangagwa only has himself to blame for failing to manage his perception both in and outside Zimbabwe.
The hotly disputed 2018 elections against MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa continues to haunt him despite the Constitutional Court having declared him the duly-elected President of the Republic. While it is generally accepted that no elections can be said to be free and fair, they must at least satisfy the minimum internationally acclaimed standards of a free and fair election.
Zimbabwe’s elections since the emergence of the MDC have been blighted by allegations of rigging, including violence and intimidation by the ruling government through deployment of soldiers and other State apparatus of violence.
The events of August 1, 2018, where six civilians were shot to death by armed soldiers coupled with the death of 17 more civilians in the demonstrations in January last year, have all discredited Mnangagwa’s leadership.
Now the seconding of envoys — former South African Vice-President Baleka Mbete and ex-Security minister Sydney Mufamadi to investigate the problems confronting Zimbabweans after the arrest of journalists Hopewell Chin’ono and Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume and persecution of several other opposition party officials and activists is a window of opportunity for Mnangagwa to make a firm commitment to take a totally different path in his governance of the country.
He has to seize the opportunity to show the mediators in the crisis that he is willing to embrace democracy and reform. It doesn’t just have to be mere words of commitment, but an acknowledgement that the path he has been travelling was a suppression of fundamental rights and that he stands ready to change all that.
He has to put it in black and white. After all, he is the major beneficiary. He has everything to gain by simply acknowledging that he has dragged the country to deplorable levels worse than during Mugabe’s era.