President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the 2018 election on the one hand, but lost it on the other. First, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and Mnangagwa celebrated their vindication by the court, the upshot was that Zec, Mnangagwa, and the court got tainted. While the MDC lost the court challenge, it exposed the degree to which the entire system is defective. Second, there is an entrenched perception that Mnangagwa is a ruthless man who played a role in the commission of grave human rights violations, including Gukurahundi. Mnangagwa has rejected these accusations, claiming that he is “as soft as wool”. However, the August 1 shootings in which seven people were killed and scores were injured, seem to validate long-held perceptions of the crocodile. Additionally, they seem to falsify the “new dispensation” narrative which Mnangagwa has been desperately peddling since his rise to power.
Moses Tofa, political analyst
Third, it is oxymoronic that Mnangagwa won with a very slim margin while Zanu-PF won more than two thirds majority in parliament. This shows that all is not well within Zanu-PF. There should be a crisis of confidence in his leadership. He is likely to commit considerable energy towards fighting internal factionalism. It is likely that some within Zanu-PF will disrupt his efforts. The crisis of confidence may be largely hidden from the public eye at the moment, but it will gradually play out in the open as Mnangagwa proceeds with his term of office. Any ambitions to go for the second term will attract a backlash within the party.
Fourth and most importantly, Mnangwagwa had hoped that the election would deal with the legitimacy crisis which has been troubling him since November 2017. Unfortunately, it did not. This disadvantages him on two fronts. Within Zanu-PF, those who assisted him to rise after his expulsion from the party and government will continue to claim that they fought for him to be where he is. This is especially significant, considering that apart from the coup, they also fought to ensure his slim margin of victory in the elections. A resounding victory in a largely credible election would have assisted Mnangagwa to liberate himself from the claimers and enforcers of entitlement. But the election left him entangled in the mesh of entitlement. This means that Mnangagwa does not have the power and latitude to make major decisions. He is not the Machiavellian Prince in Zanu-PF.
He is the crocodile, but the waters are those who fought for him. The power lies with the waters, and not the crocodile. The crocodile serves at the pleasure of the waters, and is told that you can only go this far. It is therefore futile to expect a radical change in the leadership of Zanu-PF, including the presidium and the cabinet. Externally, the opposition has remained disgruntled, making it difficult for it to accept his desire and call to move on. His tragedy is that the ability of a post-election country to move on depends on the question of legitimacy. This makes his task of restoring the economy very daunting.
Mnangagwa’s “missed legacy”
In my view, President Mnangwagwa missed what could have been a golden legacy when he took over power from Robert Mugabe in November 2017. For the first time, people across the political divide, both in Zimbabwe and the diaspora, united against Mugabe. Civilians were seen embracing the military, one of the institutions which they dreaded over the years. Mnangagwa could have capitalised on this atmosphere by entering into a government of national unity (GNU). By choosing to go for elections, Mnangagwa broke the atmosphere of nation-building and plunged the country back into polarisation. There was need for a GNU arrangement which could have postponed elections for about five years while uniting the nation and reforming institutions and the economy.
Such a GNU offered Zimbabwe a rare opportunity to bury a significant part of the past and move forward. The foundation and principles upon which a GNU is built are important. GNUs which are formed against a background of violence and stolen elections have inherent problems. These include a tendency by parties to feign unity while focussing on outmanoeuvring each other, including setting snares against each other. In addition to forming a GNU, Mnangwagwa should have stated that he would not contest for presidency at the end of the GNU. His role should have been to assist the country to turn a new chapter after years of despotic rule. This task required him to put the interests of Zimbabwe above and beyond those of individuals. This route could have made him a two-sided hero—a hero of the liberation struggle, and a “late hero” of the post-independence struggle for legitimacy, democracy, and transformation. Such a GNU could have legitimised him and liberated him from the claimers and enforcers of entitlement.
There were mainly two barriers to the formation of such a GNU. First, the crocodile was probably willing, but the waters were not because it was against their interests. Second, Zanu-PF does not want a GNU in which the opposition appears to have paid its own way. Instead, it wants to be seen stretching a “magnanimous hand to give the opposition what it does not deserve”. Under this strategy, the party prefers to “trounce” the opposition first, and then stretch the hand.
Where the opposition faltered
In politics, it is always strategic to be a “detective of the right moment” as Robert Greene warns us under law 35 of The 48 Laws of Power. In respect of the 2018 election, the opposition stumbled at least two times. First, it faltered when it joined Zanu-PF in the November 2017 demonstrations without setting conditions for its participation. The architects of the coup wanted to avoid attracting the attention and possible intervention of SADC, the AU, and the international community. The best way to achieve this was by making sure that Mugabe resigns as soon as possible. However, this was difficult to achieve without the cooperation of the opposition, especially in the impeachment process. Without such cooperation, Mugabe could have probably dug in, causing the situation to deteriorate and complicate.
The opposition should have set minimum conditions for cooperation, including laying a clear roadmap to the post-Mugabe era. Instead, it was caught up in the euphoria. It forgot that Mugabe the person may go, but Mugabe the system will remain intact. It acted under the thought that a Zanu-PF without Mugabe at the helm would be easier to fight. However, it was clear that after the military intervention, Zanu-PF was going to assume a more military nature. It is therefore not surprising that the Egyptians which the opposition assisted yesterday, have turned against it today.
Second, the opposition faltered when it participated in the 2018 election. This election was important for Mnangagwa than it was for the opposition. Mnangagwa was desperate to cleanse himself of a coup-backed legitimacy. The only way to do this was through an election.
A boycott by the MDC Alliance could have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Mnangagwa to redeem himself from the coup-linked crisis of legitimacy. Yes, some small opposition parties could have participated, but this could have been inconsequential. It is better for a crisis of legitimacy to be linked to a contested election than a coup. Now that the legitimacy crisis rests not on the coup, but on a stolen election, Mnangagwa can feel comfortable because this kind of crisis is common on the continent.
Where do we go from here?
On the one hand, Zanu-PF wants the country to close the chapter of elections and “move on”. On the other, the opposition is aggrieved and believes that working with Zanu-PF is as good as certifying the electoral theft. The opposition has resolved to consult its support base on the way forward. In my view, the way forward is not an easy one. I am therefore confident that Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF do not understand what they mean when they say let us move forward. In the same vain, I don’t trust that the opposition knows what it takes to move the country forward. This is Zimbabwe’s dilemma of dilemmas. Moving the country forward requires a major shifting of positions, principles, practices, perspectives, and approaches by Zanu-PF, the opposition, and all citizens.
Most importantly, there are cardinal principles which not only Zanu-PF and the opposition should agree on, but should bind us together as a nation regardless of the political tent to which we belong. These principles define the person called a Zimbabwean and the psyche of the nation called Zimbabwe. These include the land question; appreciating the liberation struggle, drawing inspiration from it, and promoting its values and principles; and the unbeatable will to see Zimbabwe progressing, regardless of who is in power. This means that at the bare minimum, the opposition and Zanu-PF should unite in calling for the removal of sanctions, in creating a common position on the land question, in implementing credible healing and reconciliation processes, in transforming the economy, in fighting corruption, and in building independent, credible, and efficient institutions.
Zanu-PF should not believe that to reform institutions would be to serve the interests of the opposition. The opposition should not believe that to call for sanctions would be to work against Zanu-PF. When Zimbabwe has defective and captured institutions, and when it is under sanctions; what suffers are not political parties, but present and succeeding generations. Political parties, by their very nature, always come and go, but the interests of Zimbabwe are permanent. As long as we have not reached such a point where both Zanu-PF and the opposition understand that there are cardinal national interests which should be pursued outside the zone of political expediency, then forget about moving Zimbabwe forward. Some people think that a GNU is the way forward. But a unity government which is not built on the appreciation and observance of the aforesaid principles by political parties and all citizens will be an exercise in futility.
Tofa is a political analyst. He holds a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is currently a post-doctoral research fellow with the African Leadership Centre. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.