The Big Saturday Read: 2016 in a nutshell and prospects for 2017
It’s less than two weeks before the end of the year. It’s that time of the year to take stock of what has happened and to make some calculated predictions on what the next year has to offer. It’s been a busy year on the political front – scandals, succession battles, bond notes, rise of the citizens’ movement, reaction of a repressive state, and prevarication over opposition coalition. This article looks into major issues that have dominated political and economic spaces and considers the prospects in 2017. All this must of course be seen against the background of the elections due in 2018.
Scandals galore … but much ado about nothing
The year has been dominated by a series of scandals involving public funds. Back in February, President Mugabe publicly disclosed that the country had suffered prejudice to the tune of $15 billion in diamond revenues. The discovery of the Chiadzwa alluvial diamond fields nearly a decade ago brought much promise of economic revival. However, greediness and corruption among the political and military elites ensured the rest of the nation saw no benefits from the precious stones. The Chinese got their share and shipped the diamonds away. This year, the government nationalised the companies that were operating at Chiadzwa. Still the deals were murky and the corruption has continued unabated. It was in this context that Mugabe confessed to a shocked nation that $15 billion had been siphoned under his watch. No-one has been held responsible. Nothing has been recovered. It’s the biggest heist in Zimbabwe’s history.
There was a host of other scandals involving public institutions, from ZESA to ZIMDEF, with ministers and other public officials implicated. Samuel Undenge, Minister of Energy admitted that ZESA had erred in paying $5 million advance fee to Wicknell Chivhayo, under the auspice of a contract to construct a solar power plant in Gwanda. He also influenced the award of a public relations contract to Fruitful Investments, a company which is co-owned by Psychology Maziwisa, who is a ZANU PF MP. Later, ZESA awarded a contract to Sakunda Holdings, to build the Dema Diesel Power Plant. One of the partners in that deal is a relative of President Mugabe, through his son in law. Sakunda did not participate in the tender process but they still got the contract, ahead of the winner.
The latter part of the year was dominated by the ZIMDEF scandal, drawing in Higher Education Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo and his deputy, Dr Godfrey Gandawa. It prompted a bitter conflict between the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Moyo, the latter accusing ZACC of pursuing a factional agenda in the context of succession politics within ZANU PF. After a great deal of noise, the matter has predictably quietened down.
In another scandal, POTRAZ, the telecoms regulator was embroiled in a case in which it provided “loans” for the purchase of luxury vehicles for the parent Ministry’s head, Supa Mandiwanzira and his deputy, Win Mlambo. POTRAZ was also reported to have provided a loan for the purchase of Telecel shares by Zarnet, a government-controlled company. In both cases, the use of public funds presented clear conflicts of interest.
ZIMRA, the revenue authority was also involved in multiple scandals through its senior executives.
All these and more scandals were widely reported but the conspicuous feature is that absolutely nothing of significance has happened to the perpetrators. Save for a few suspensions, no serious legal action has been taken, either to recover the stolen funds or to punish the alleged offenders. The year is coming to an end, and these matters are likely to die a natural death. More will come up again in 2017 and they will go the same way. What is odd is that the citizens of Zimbabwe seem to have a great capacity to absorb all this as if it does not affect them. In most countries, a single scandal involving public funds would have caused huge demonstrations demanding stern action. Zimbabweans read, they are outraged but eventually, they take it in and move on as if nothing has happened. The authors of this corruption know this is how their people react and they will never stop stealing from them.
Succession – a see-saw affair …
The Zimbabwean political scene has been dominated by succession politics within ZANU PF, with factions competing to lead in a post-Mugabe era. The dominant feature is that the succession saga has taken a see-saw pattern between the two major factions: Lacoste and G40. Lacoste (the Crocodile faction) favours Vice President Mnangagwa and while there is no clarity on G40’s preferred candidate, it is clear that it strongly opposes Mnangagwa’s elevation. The battle between the two factions is classic Mugabe divide and rule politics. The early part of the year saw Mnangagwa coming under serious pressure. There was a moment when it appeared his future in ZANU PF was bleak. At the time, Grace Mugabe led the offensive, attacking Mnangagwa albeit indirectly at political rallies. She was particularly scathing at the Chiweshe rally, where she also pointed fingers at the military generals. Mnangagwa was also the subject of two humiliating tirades, first by Sarah Mahoka who referred to him as a lame duck and later, by Mandiitawepi Chimene.
The latter public attack prompted Mnangagwa to issue a strongly-worded statement in defence. The Commander of the Defence Forces and Mnangagwa’s ally, General Constantino Chiwenga also intervened – showing for the first time the alliance between Lacoste and some of the military generals. More importantly, the war veterans, traditional supporters of Mugabe showed their hand, openly backing Mnangagwa's bid for the Presidency. The revolt of the war veterans was clear. Their preference is Mnangagwa. They had already clashed with Mugabe, with police firing teargas and water canon during their demonstration. Mugabe tried to make peace but it was window-dressing. The veterans had already made up their minds. Mugabe sacked Chris Mutsvangwa from Cabinet. He was the Minister in charge of the war veterans' affairs and an MP for Norton. Although Mutsvangwa was subsequently sacked from ZANU PF, he retained his role as war veterans chairman. Even through a rival faction led by Mandiitawepi Chimene tried to wrestle power from him and his executive, they failed. This show of resistance by a key ally of Mnangagwa was probably the biggest show yet of his own strength. In the past, Mugabe's wishes would have been easily granted. But this is a battle that he has so far lost and it is a significant show of strength on the part of Mnangagwa and his allies that they have refused to give in, even after some of the war veterans' leaders were arrested and harassed. .
By the end of the year, Lacoste and Mnangagwa had therefore recovered lost ground and appeared to be in the ascendancy, with G40 seemingly reeling. The weapon of choice has been corruption scandals. While there is evidence of gross irregularities in the handling of ZIMDEF public funds, there is also little doubt that the behaviour of elements within ZACC was motivated by factional politics. Lacoste must have seen the ZIMDEF scandal as an opportune moment to take out Moyo, regarded as the brains behind G40. Kasukuwere, another G40 character, was also facing problems over allocation of urban land to a clergyman, Walter Magaya, which prompted a rebuke from Mugabe. The succession fight has also been evident in the race to choose successor to Chief Justice Chidyausiku as head of the judiciary. This is still to be settled but the dog-fight shows both factions will fight to the bitter end.
Overall, if the first half of the year belonged to G40, the second belonged to Lacoste. All this suits Mugabe very well. He has always thrived on dividing his rivals and getting them to fight each other. As long as those below him fight between themselves, his position is safe. He is the puppet-master, and the factions are his puppets. The moment one faction starts to believe it is winning, he gives hope to the other faction. In the end, they are all confused, winning one day and losing the next day. That is how he has managed to stay at the helm of ZANU PF and Zimbabwe for so long.
However, he’s not getting any younger and his subordinates are getting hungrier and more impatient. Their fights are getting more vicious. Mugabe will try to reconstruct a façade of unity in the party because in 2017, the next general election will be imminent. Mugabe wants to defy age and critics by contesting once more. He has no intention of retiring. The factions will battle it out but as 2018 draws near they will close ranks, postponing their fight to post-2018. Mugabe knows he cannot afford to fight the 2018 elections with a divided party.
The most important outcome of the just concluded ZANU PF conference is the endorsement of Mugabe as ZANU PF’s presidential candidate in 2018. He will be 94 and he is determined to remain in office until death. He has no interest in being succeeded during his lifetime. Everything else was deliberately left vague to ensure that the confusion over succession remains the order of the day. He will continue to present himself as the unifier, the indispensable father whom they can’t do without. He enjoys that role and his lieutenants will not challenge him.
ZANU PF’s main political rivals, the MDC-T, has not fared any better this year. The biggest issue has been the leader’s health worries. Tsvangirai disclosed that he was suffering from colon cancer and he has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This circumstance has been a serious distraction for a man who has given Mugabe the sternest test in his political career. It has also led to subordinates looking at a post-Tsvangirai era and therefore more jostling for power. Tsvangirai appointed two new Vice Presidents, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri. With those two, the MDC now has three VPs, along with Thokozani Khupe, his long-time deputy who was re-elected at the 2014 Congress. These appointments caused some controversy and could easily have ruptured the party once more. While the controversy appears to have been settled, there remain undercurrents and tensions within the party.
Overall, it has been a year of little opposition activity. Apart from a big march in Harare in April, and clashes with police under NERA, there has not been much physical presence from the MDC-T as a party. Its decision to boycott by-elections has meant its structures have been inactive as far as electoral activity is concerned. The big issue has been pushing for electoral reforms. Along with other parties, the MDC is part of NERA, a loose coalition of political parties designed to push for electoral reforms. It continued to boycott by-elections, which meant ZANU PF has had an easy ride in most by-elections except the Norton by-election in October. Ironically, the MDC-T publicly backed Temba Mliswa, who was contesting as an independent candidate. This is a confusing approach to elections given its overall decision to boycott but it probably shows there’s a division with the MDC itself, where some might not be convinced by the elections boycott. However, after winning the Norton by-election, Mliswa went on to malign Tsvangirai and the MDC, dismissing the claims that the party had helped him to win the election. Mliswa might have been arrogant after securing victory but this led critics to criticise the MDC for being naïve in backing Mliswa, who some argue, remains ZANU PF at heart. In 2008, the MDC had similarly allowed Professor Jonathan Moyo to run without contest by an MDC candidate, only for him to re-join ZANU PF soon afterwards. Repeating the same error twice is something a party must learn to avoid. Overall, it points to a need for the party to re-visit its decision to boycott elections. Not only has it meant its supporters have been inactive in by-elections, it has also meant while ZANU PF has been mobilising its supporters to register, the MDC supporters have not been heavily involved in these processes. This could prove costly, especially if ZEC does not go ahead with plans for biometric voter registration in 2017. After getting just $9 million in the budget out of the expected $50 million ZEC might decide to ditch biometric voter registration.
In 2017, the MDC-T will continue to deal with Tsvangirai’s condition and the ambitions of the subordinates. The hope is that he continues to recover well and that he will be fit enough to take on what will be a more gruelling schedule. What is not in doubt is that 2018 will be a crucial year for Tsvangirai as it is for Mugabe, as it could be his last throw of the dice. He has been a pillar for the party since inception and the party faithful adore him but It’s hard to see him continuing if he does not win the 2018 elections. Like Mugabe, he will need all his troops pulling together to support his cause. Divisions within the ranks were one of the great handicaps for the party in 2013. There are important lessons to be drawn from that election if similar errors are not to be repeated. The MDC-T remains the biggest opposition and threat to ZANU PF. No other party except ZANU PF and the MDC-T have structures as wide and well-established on a national scale. The battle is between those two, as has been the case since 2000. But the party must also realise that the demographics have changed significant in the last 16 years. There are new voters, young people who are no influenced by the memory of the hard phases of the struggle. It cannot take their support for granted. The recruitment drive has to be strengthened. There are new and young emerging young leaders outside the party whom the party must court to strengthen its base. Renewal is not simply a question of changing the leadership – it is also about recruiting new people, new talent and grooming it for leadership. All parties around the world do that, and even ZANU PF seems to do that better than opposition parties. The idea of using scars of the struggle as criteria for grooming leaders and entitlement will leave the party in a dark age.
The issue of the Grand Coalition once again dominated the opposition political arena. Most Zimbabweans who support or sympathise with the opposition continue to exhort opposition leaders to unite if they are to stand any chance of beating ZANU PF. The Gambian election this month in which a leader of an opposition coalition defeated the long-serving dictator, Yahya Jammeh has given greater impetus to this call.
While the opposition leaders know the importance of unity, they have nevertheless prevaricated and disappointed. Petty squabbles, exchange of personal insults and bitterness from previous relationships have stood in the way. The scale of differences was evident this year in two different loose coalitions formed to drive the agenda for electoral reforms. One group coalesced under CODE, while another got together under NERA. It is ironic that both are seeking the same end, but the parties are so divided that they had to create two different loose coalitions. PDP has been fronting another proposition – the National Transitional Authority (NTA), which they believe can be a bridge between the chaotic present and a better future. It is not clear whether they have managed to get a buy-in from fellow opposition parties and how this proposition can be achieved.
There is also a view that some in the opposition are negotiating deals with factions in ZANU PF. This is not new. The political scene is complex, there are interrelationships between individuals and groups in the different parties as they all try to negotiate a transition from Mugabe’s lengthy rule. This dimension is not to be underestimated as different factions in the opposition and the ruling party might try to strike deals to better position themselves post-2018. The likelihood of another Inclusive Government or GNU of some sort after 2018 is not far-fetched.
As ever, the big challenge is who among the opposition leaders will lead the coalition. The two main characters are Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru, who finally formed ZimPeople First after she and her allies were expelled form ZANU PF in 2014. The one positive is that Tsvangirai and Mujuru seem to respect each other and have, so far, been civil to one another. They have hardly traded insults. The prospects of a Grand Coalition will depend on how those two get along and settle whatever differences they have. They are the two leaders who hold the key and 2017 will be a crucial year for the Grand Coalition. Much will depend on whether they are bale to prioritise the bigger picture, rather than be bogged down by petty differences. For both, their biggest challenge is to get their lieutenants to see the bigger picture too, to sacrifice their own personal ambitions in favour of the broader cause.
Zimbabwe’s economy has continued to decline. Companies continue to close. The economy has become more informal and consequently tax revenues have declined. The big promises of so-called mega-deals from China have remained big promises without any discernible fruit. When Nigerian billionaire Dangote came to Zimbabwe in 2015, he was treated like royalty. However, more than a year later, there has been very little movement by way of investment. Even the Chinese, traditional allies, have been hesitant. This owes much to the uncertain political environment, largely because of vagueness over succession.
Three things dominated economic discourse this year: international re-engagement, imports ban and bond notes. Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa spent much of the year leading a charm offensive as he tried hard to court the Western states and international financial institutions. More than once, the IMF and African Development Bank have appeared perilously close to taking the bait. The tentative deal in Lima in 2015 was the most promising but a year later, it appears to have gone cold. In July, he made a historic trip to London – the first after a decade and a half of cold relations between the two governments. Along with the central bank Governor, Dr John Mangudya, he tried to charm British investors. He returned home empty-handed. The annual IMF gatherings took him to Washington DC once again, with the same message. The IMF has appeared sympathetic and ready to indulge Chinamasa. But he has faced serious opposition, from within his own party, civil society and the opposition. His own party seems to have elements that are not keen on re-engagement with the West and they have derailed his efforts.
The most embarrassing incidents were the nasty clashes with his boss and his nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, the minister in charge of indigenisation and empowerment. Few policies have done more damage to the country’s reputation as an investment destination as has the infamous indigenisation law, chiefly due to inconsistency in application. While Chinamasa was trying to reassure foreign investors, especially in the banking field, Zhuwao was issuing ultimatums that foreign-owned banks would lose their licences if they failed to comply. Here was one government fighting itself, as two Minister publicly clashed. For the second year in a row, he has clashed with his boss, Mugabe over civil servants’ bonuses. Last year, he called a press conference to announce the cancellation of bonuses, citing a lack of funds. Within days, Mugabe had reversed the announcement, publicly rebuking him in the process. It took more than six months to pay the bonuses. Chinamasa knows paying bonuses when the coffers are empty makes no economic sense, but his boss, as ever the populist sees otherwise. So the row continues. It has become clear that the government can’t cope with the normal wage bill and at some point, there will be a complete breakdown unless there is some intervention.
In the absence of external creditors willing to offer injection of capital, that intervention seems to be offered by the introduction of a facility to print money, hence the new pseudo-currency called bond notes. Despite efforts to cover it up as an “export incentive” it is evident that the bond note is one step on the path to re-introducing a local currency. The bond note prompted the most serious debate between government and citizens, including violent clashes in the streets. After months of prevarication, the bond notes were eventually introduced late November, authorities insisting the bond note is equal to the US dollar. Most economic analysts and observers do not believe this imagined rate can hold for very long. Without much choice, people have been using the bond notes, and authorities are keen to portray this as a sign of success, but doubts remain over the viability of this scheme in the long run. All said and done, most observers agree that bond note is not a solution to Zimbabwe’s economic problems. The cash shortages, which it is meant to solve, have not abated. Most people fear they are giving up real money – their US dollars – and getting bond notes which, by the authorities’ own admission have no acceptance or value beyond Zimbabwe’s borders. Zimbabwe’s economic challenges are deeper and more complex than mere cash shortages, which is merely a symptom. The country needs to produce and export to generate income. It is not doing well on that front and government has no clue how to attract the necessary investment. As long as the gap between imports and exports remains as wide as it is, or grows wider, the challenges will persist. Government’s ZimAsset economic policy, lapped up after the controversial victory in 2013, is dead in the water. Mugabe tried to breathe some life into it by launching what he called a Ten Point Plan in 2015, but that too has floundered.
Finally, on the economic front, the government decided to ban imports of a long list of goods. SI 64 of 2016 was ostensibly designed to help local producers. In recent weeks, government has been claiming success in the imports ban. But it has condemned many informal traders who relied on imports from neighbouring countries to worsening poverty and encouraged smuggling as traders try to evade the ban. In any event, the big supermarkets are still stocked up with South African goods. It does not seem like much has changed. The worst hit are the small, informal traders who must now use all means, including smuggling and bribery to get their goods into the country.
Apart from human rights’ abuses, the economy is probably Mugabe’s greatest failing. It is unlikely to improve during his remaining tenure as President. The uncertainty and controversy surrounding his succession is a big yoke that the country must carry as long as he rules. Investors, it seems, are holding back, seeing the vast potential but unsure about the fate of Zimbabwe. Droughts have been a problem over the years but while the government likes to lump all problems as an act of God, the human factor is far more culpable. Zimbabwe has always been prone to droughts, but previously, experienced farmers had developed contingency measures to counter the effects of droughts. The loss of this know-how and the severe under-utilisation of land has turned Zimbabwe into a basket case, perennially dependent on imports and humanitarian handouts when in the past it was the source of help to others. The irony is that the man who things he is indispensable has become the greatest impediment to Zimbabwe’s economic revival. One does not have to be a soothsayer to see that there is no real prospect of economic turnaround under Mugabe’s leadership.
2016 might well have earned the label as the Year of the Citizen, if the initial promise had been fulfilled. For the first time in years, ordinary citizens rose in a show of disapproval of government, outside the formal structures of political parties and traditional civil society organisations. The last time this had happened was in 1998, the precursor to the formation of the MDC in 1999. Then people had been mobilised to drive the first real wave of a citizens-led movement. Since 1999 however, much of the political and civil activity had taken place within the confines of the MDC and associated civil society groups. After 2013, a mixture of fatigue and frustration left the main parties and civil society organisations reeling. Citizens were despondent. They had tried their best but ZANU PF had had its way once again. 2014 and 2015 were quiet years and citizens tried to make the most of a bad situation.
Then one day in April, a young pastor, Evan Mawarire posted an emotional video in which he lamented the betrayal of independence. Holding the national flag, he poured his heart out and it somehow caught the attention of his fellow citizens. Soon, he was a household name and #ThisFlag movement was born. Soon other hashtag movements gained prominence - #Tajamuka, #ThisGown, Citizens United Zimbabwe, etc. Mawarire became an unlikely face and symbol of the citizens’ struggle. His popularity rose so swiftly that it must have surprised him. But it also attracted the attention of the state. Predictably, Mugabe picked ion him and called him all sorts of names as he does to anyone who threatens his power. Mawarire had awoken the urban youths but the rural areas were still to be explored. Still, it is testament to his influence that Mugabe felt threatened enough to get the young pastor arrested. Worse was to come, however, when Mawarire and his family were threatened. He fled the country, wisely putting his safety and that of his young family first. Nevertheless, with the emblematic figure of the citizens’ movement out of the scene, the citizens’ movement lost its impetus. But this is precisely what Mugabe would have wanted. Those quick to condemn Mawarire forget that this could have been achieved even if he had stayed – the still unknown fate of Itai Dzamara, another political activist who was abducted and disappeared in 2015 is a grim reminder of how he might still have been silenced by the system. But he lives and might yet get a chance to play a role in future.
Meanwhile, other leaders emerged during the citizens’ movement protests. Names like Stern Zvorwadza, Promise Mkwananzi, Fadzayi Mahere, Linda Masarira, Patson Dzamara, Nyasha Musandu, Dudu Nyirongo and many more might not have been well known before 2016, but they have become quite prominent in the citizens’ movement. There are many more in the Diaspora using social media space, collaborating with those on the ground. Names like Promise Sande, Doug Coltart, Chipo Dendere, Ali Naka, Matigary, Freeman Chari and many more have become familiar voices on social media spaces. Young people have taken leadership, becoming critical voices and actors in the broader national struggle. This link between the citizens’ movement in Zimbabwe and the diaspora will be critical during 2017, as Zimbabwe prepares for elections in 2018.
Perhaps the most iconic moments of the citizens' movement came not with the Mawarire videos or the demonstrations but three scenes, two of which involved elderly women. The first was Mbuya vaHector, an elderly woman who made a call on a live programme in which Mawarire was one of the main guests. She spoke calmly but with authority, demonstrating the anguish faced by ordinary people due to man-made economic hardships. She trended on social media and for good reason. The second was an image of another elderly woman who was on the receiving end of a brutal assault by a horde of anti-riot police details, just outside Harare's magistrates' court. Both symbolised the deep and unforgiving character of a brutal regime - one that has completely lost its moral compass. The final moment was the mass gathering of people at Harare's magistrates court when Mawarire was arrested. Such a scene had never been seen before. People from different walks of life gathered to offer their support. Scores of lawyers volunteered to represent Mawarire. No political leader had ever received so much support in one moment. It was emotional and heart-warming, but it also showed the following and power that the young pastor had generated in a short time. It showed what people could do when faced with sheer injustice. In the end, the magistrate had no option but to release Mawarire.
However, more critical is the relationship between the citizens’ movement and the traditional opposition. The latter has tended to view the burgeoning citizens’ movement with some suspicion, even though #Tajamuka is said to be linked to the MDC-T. The traditional opposition and civil society groups should not regard each other rivals, but as complementary forces for the broader cause. The citizens’ movement itself needs to guard against infiltration, the bane of Zimbabwe’s opposition. The system is very adept at penetrating oppositional forces, using bribes and generally causing confusion in the ranks. These tactics will escalate in 2016. While ZANU PF predictably reacted with force, using the repressive machinery of the state, arresting activists, using decrees to ban demonstrations, criminalising use of the national flag, etc, there will be more of this in 2017 as election season reaches the penultimate stages. Will the citizens’ movement carry the momentum built in 2016 through to 2017? Much remains to be seen but there’s great promise. Their ability to move beyond the urban and social media spaces and penetrate the rural areas will be sorely tested in 2017.
It has been a tumultuous year. The economic decline has persisted. Politically, both the ruling party and the opposition have struggled to keep their act together. Still, the critical question will centre on elections in 2018 and in this regard, 2017 will be a crucial year. Those who organise themselves better and mobilise will have the edge. ZANU PF is likely to close ranks as elections loom. They ability to retain power and associated gifts are far greater incentives for them than the issues that divide them. ZANU PF has no appetite to reform electoral laws or the political environment. The opposition, civil society and the citizens’ movement have to find ways of collaborating and for this, they have to look at the bigger picture, not the petty things that divide them. The economy alone will not cause ZANU PF to collapse and lose power. There has to be positive action on the part of the oppositional forces.