A nationalist movement alienated from the people

On July 12 2016 as Zimbabwe’s burgeoning organic protest movement was preparing for the second labour stay away dubbed Shutdown Zimbabwe, just across the border, African National Congress (ANC) general-secretary Gwede Mantashe made regrettable statements to the effect that the protest movement is an imperial creation.

Source: A nationalist movement alienated from the people – NewsDay Zimbabwe July 28, 2016

He told journalists in Johannesburg, following the party’s national working committee meeting the day before, that the committee had expressed concern “about the recent upsurge of destabilisation activities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique”.

Opinion Mziwandile Ndlovu

“These activities follow the assessment we had earlier made as liberation movements of the sponsored elements seeking to effect regime change in the region,” charged Mantashe. His unfortunate utterance quickly drew the ire of many dissenting voices in South Africa. Economic Freedom Fighters commander-in-chief Julius Malema was first out of the blocks siding with the people of Zimbabwe and urging them “not to be ruled by fear”. DA leader Stevens Mokgalapa had earlier called on government to speak out and act more decisively in response to growing unrest in Zimbabwe. Top entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo, in urging South Africans to pray for Zimbabwe, criticised government for not doing enough to assist the people of Zimbabwe.

More curiously, the ANC’s tripartite own alliance partner Cosatu broke ranks with Mantashe. Cosatu international relations secretary Bongani Masuku said his organisation urges the people of Zimbabwe to continue with the struggle and not to watch idly while the government tramples upon the rights of workers and ordinary citizens as: “Zimbabweans had tolerated their government’s violation of their rights for too long”. He added that such coordinated mass action was the only language that unresponsive regimes understood.

Mantashe, known for his arrogance and insolence, is fast becoming the poster boy of a highly intolerant and discredited ANC. The recent political strife witnessed in Tshwane as a result of candidate imposition was just a recent manifestation of a culture that has been growing for the last couple of years. Past occurrences like the Marikana massacres marked a significant turning point for the ANC in which the leadership has increasingly employed force to protect their interests at the expense of protesting workers. Now faced with an economy in recession, a scandal-prone president and a local government election in which it is likely to lose more ground to the opposition, the ANC is likely to use more force in containing dissenting voices.

What is particularly appalling about Mantashe’s statements is the belief, sincere or feigned, that ordinary people are unable to organise themselves, diagnose their problems and take action without being incited and are funded but shadowy third forces. The Zanu PF regime has been singing from this hymn sheet for close to two decades. This is the very same attitude exhibited by State security minister Kembo Mohadi when he insisted that: “Zimbabweans do not burn tyres” in response to protests that were raging in Harare, Bulawayo and Beitbridge. It would have been laughable some years ago to even imagine that the ANC and Zanu PF would find each other on this matter in such dramatic fashion.

Just like his Zanu PF counterpart, Mantashe speaks with a forked tongue when he talks about the “people”. He insists that the ANC view is that if the Zimbabwean economy is not assisted to revive and recover, it will be in trouble for a long time. He argues that it is the responsibility of the people of Zimbabwe themselves to fix their economy, just like improving the South African economy is the responsibility of South Africans themselves. He urges every citizen in Zimbabwe to appreciate the difficulties and contribute positively in the economy of Zimbabwe.

Surprisingly, though, those protesting against bad governance are not seen as these “people” and their contribution is not viewed positively.

Mantashe’s insinuation that South Africa will assist Zimbabwe to turn her economy around is just but political nice talk.

South Africa has a debilitating economic crisis of its own which is partly contributing to the ANC’s political conduct. South Africa is experiencing what Zimbabwe went through towards the turn of the century and seems to be responding just how ZANU PF responded.

South Africa thus has very little ability and will to assist Zimbabwe or any country for that matter. The truth is that South Africa has benefitted immensely from the collapse of industry in Zimbabwe as the country has become a virtual retail outlet of the continental giant. South African retail giants have recorded phenomenal profits stocking their neighbor’s economy and in the process partly fuelling a cash crisis by taking out the limited currency in circulation. Economic times could be much dire in South Africa if the Zimbabwean economy was functioning. Mantashe and the ANC know this and wish it could last longer. When President Mugabe and a Ministerial delegation descended on Pretoria last year to negotiate a more mutually beneficial economic partnership, Zuma whipped out the red carpet. High sounding memorandums of agreement and cooperation were signed but little has materialized.

While they are at it, South Africa continues tightening her immigration laws to keep out Zimbabwean immigrants who are simply following their jobs that have migrated south of the Limpopo. It gets worse as this year droves of foreign immigrants who were employed by the South African government, especially in the education sector, have been pushed out to make room for the locals, hardly surprising in an election year. All this is happening in sharp contrast to efforts to foster more regional cooperation by institutions like the African Union that has just launched the African passport. By day Pretoria sings the virtues of free movement of people in the region while at night they tighten their immigration policies. By day Harare sings the virtues of free movement of goods while at night they effect statutes to block imports by ordinary people while reserving the right for the ruling party aligned elite who continue to use the state to serve their sectional business interests.

The immediate future does not look good for both countries. Protests will intensify on both sides of the border as life becomes more difficult for ordinary people. Both governments will increasingly rely on force to restrain restive masses. An anticipated fresh wave of immigrants from Zimbabwe to South Africa will be dealt with brutally at two levels. The state will enact policies to block new entrants as it can barely carry the additional weight on the back of a strained economy while the at people to people level, a fresh wave of xenophobia against foreign nationals is likely as locals defend the little crumbs left in their land of gold. Are the two parties up to the task of delivering on the modern needs of the people?

Zanu PF has been a pariah for a long time and is used to its status. The ANC however, which is in transition mode, is barely recognizable as the formerly glorious movement of Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo. The nationalist movement has plunged the region into untold strife and uncertainty.

Mziwandile Ndlovu is a researcher and media practitioner working in Bulawayo. thwalimbiza@yahoo.com