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Big Saturday Read: Conversations with BSR Readers (Part 1)


This week, I decided that I would do a BSR with a difference. I made a call for questions from readers of the BSR and promised to respond. I had expected a few questions. I was wrong. The response has been overwhelming. As I reviewed the submissions, I realised that it was impossible to do justice to all the questions in one BSR. There are very powerful questions which reflect a desire by readers to understand the questions of governance in Zimbabwe.

I have decided that I will do a few more BSRs, so that I will cover more ground than can be offered by one. Since most questions reveal common themes, I decided to deal with them based on issues/themes. Your question might not appear in your words, but I have done my best to cover it under the relevant issue/theme. If it is not answered in this BSR, please do not despair, it will be addressed in the next one. I am very grateful for the responses.

I have been following the political processes in the opposition parties, but I am confused. May you please explain how we ended up with the recalls of MDC Alliance MPs and Councilors? What really happened and where are we?

The recall of MDC Alliance parliamentarians and councilors is being done by what I refer to as the judicially reconstructed MDC-T which claims that it has the right to do so following a judgment of the Supreme Court on 31 March 2020. But to make this simpler, I must explain how we ended up with the judicially reconstructed MDC-T.

You might remember that before the 2018 general elections, several opposition parties came together to form a coalition which they called the MDC Alliance under whose ticket they contested the elections. The MDC-T was one of the parties that formed the MDC Alliance. However, Morgan Tsvangirai, the man who was pulling the parties together under the coalition, died in February 2018. Unfortunately, there was no clear succession plan. The leadership wrangle that ensued within the MDC-T led to a split. The outcome was that the main wing was led by Nelson Chamisa while another formation was led by Thokozani Khupe. Both used the name MDC-T.

Apart from other things, the main difference between the two MDC-Ts was that the MDC-T led by Chamisa was part of the MDC Alliance while the MDC-T led by Khupe was not. Therefore, during the elections, the MDC Alliance and the MDC-T led by Khupe were rivals. The MDC Alliance won more than 100 seats in Parliament and 28 out of 32 urban councils across the country. It’s presidential candidate Chamisa won more than 2 million votes nationally. The MDC-T led by Khupe won just 2 seats. Khupe herself won just 45,000 votes across the nation. It was clear that the MDC Alliance was the main opposition party in Zimbabwe. After the elections, the MDC-T led by Khupe was co-opted by the Mnangagwa regime, as it became a member of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD), which the MDC Alliance steadfastly declined to join.

On 31 March 2020, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment, the interpretation of which fundamentally altered the course of opposition politics and upset the notion of democratic representation as revealed in the 2018 general elections. The Supreme Court judgment was in respect of the MDC-T led by Chamisa which was part of the MDC Alliance. It ruled that there had been illegalities over the succession of Tsvangirai and ordered a new process to elect the successor within a period of 3 months. Meanwhile, Khupe would be the Acting President of the MDC-T. I shall come back to this because there is a related question concerning the legality of recalls after the expiry of the 3 months that were given by the Supreme Court. For now, I will focus on how the Supreme Court judgment has been used as a basis for the recalls.

After the judgment, Khupe asserted her judicially conferred role as Acting President of the MDC-T. This made her a leader of 2 distinct political parties: the MDC-T which had 2 seats in Parliament and the MDC-T, which was part of the MDC-Alliance. To make a clear distinction, I will refer to the latter as the judicially reconstructed MDC-T. The label is appropriate because it owes its existence to an order of court. The term of office of the executive which was elected at the 2014 Congress had expired by November 2019. The mandate which had expired by effluxion of time only exists because of a judicial order.

Meanwhile, Chamisa continued to lead the MDC Alliance asserting rights to and power of MPs and Councilors who had been elected under the MDC Alliance ticket. A few members of the MDC Alliance immediately jumped ship and moved to the judicially reconstructed MDC-T led by Khupe. They included Douglas Mwonzora, Morgan Komichi and Elias Mudzuri who had previously held senior positions in the MDC-T led by Tsvangirai. They had all lost their roles under the MDC Alliance led by Chamisa, which had held a Congress in Gweru in May 2019.

On the other hand, the judicially reconstructed MDC-T asserted claims over MPs and Councilors who were elected under the MDC Alliance. It argued that these MPs and Councilors were its members and they had a right to recall them if they ceased to be members of the party. The MDC Alliance made a counter claim over the MPs and Councilors.

However, by accepting the notifications of recall and rejecting the MDC-Alliance counterclaim, the Speaker of Parliament and the President of the Senate effectively ruled in favour of the judicially reconstructed MDC-T. This opened the floodgates to more recalls by the judicially reconstructed MDC-T. The MDC Alliance and affected MPs took legal action to challenge the recalls. These matters are yet to be resolved.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped the judicially reconstructed MDC-T from continuing with recalls. It has also not stopped the electoral authorities from proceeding with the process of filling in party-list proportional representation seats left vacant by the recalls. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has also announced that by-elections to fill vacant constituency-based seats will be held by 5 December 2020.

Why is the MDC-T still recalling MPs and Councilors after 31 July 2020? Does Khupe still have a mandate as Acting President of the party? Are the on-going recalls and filling of seats even legal?

In my response to the first question, I referred to the MDC-T which is doing the recalls as the judicially reconstructed MDC-T. I describe it as such not out of contempt but as a matter of fact. The mandate that was given by the Supreme Court was for a specific and certain period. Thokozani Khupe was supposed to convene an Extraordinary Congress to elect a leader within a period of 3 months, failing which Morgan Komichi, the Acting Chairman would assume the power and responsibility to convene the Extraordinary Congress within a further month. This means the judicially reconstructed MDC-T had 4 months within which to perform its special mandate.

To be clear, since the constitutional term of office of the 2014 Executive had expired by November 2019, there was no other source of authority apart from what the court conferred. The leaders of the judicially reconstructed MDC-T were fully aware of this and of the limited nature of their mandate. Therefore, they made an application to the Supreme Court just before 31 July 2020 seeking an extension of their mandate. They knew that they needed the court to extend their mandate before the deadline, as without it they would have no mandate at all. If they did not need the court’s authority, they would never have made the application to the court.

However, when they approached the court, it did not consider that this matter was urgent. This is true because the judicially reconstructed MDC-T had brought the urgency upon itself. It had more than 3 months within which to ask for an extension. Pleading COVID19 as an excuse was not justifiable because the original judgment itself was granted during the COVID19 lockdown. Even if the Supreme Court may not have anticipated that the lockdown would carry on for longer than a month, by the end of April it was clear that conditions were not conducive for public gatherings. In short, they could have applied earlier for an extension.

The key issue, however, is that as things stand, the mandate is in doubt until the Court confirms and extends it. Although the courts have given favourable decisions to the judicially reconstructed MDC-T, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will grant the extension. That being the case and considering the tenuous nature of the mandate, one would expect the judicially reconstructed MDC-T to tread with more humility and caution. Indeed, one would expect key officials in the recalls process such as the Speaker of Parliament and President of the Senate; the Minister of Local Government; the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to be more cautious and critical before accepting recall notifications and declaring vacancies.

Overall, my view is that in the absence of a judicial extension to the judicially conferred mandate, which was for a specific duration, everything that has happened since 31 July is fraught with illegalities. This includes the process of filling the vacancies in the party-list proportional representation seats. The forms can only be signed by persons who have a legal mandate to do so and without the extension, the source of the mandate is vague and tenuous. The leaders of the judicially reconstructed MDC-T know this and the limitations of their authority, which is why they applied for an extension.

I am not sure why this weakness is not being raised more prominently by the MDC Alliance, particularly as the recalls are being done long after the expiry of the judicially conferred mandate on 31 July 2020. I have raised this issue a few times on social media and although it took long for him to respond, Senator Mwonzora confirmed that the mandate had not yet been extended. It is nearly two months now after the expiry of the 31 July mandate and what is happening is subject to challenge. Certainly, if I were one of the MPs or Councilors recalled after the 31 July deadline, I would be raising the question of the legality of the authority upon which Khupe and her colleagues are acting. I would be very surprised if they have not raised this issue already.

What are the prospects of success regarding the ANC’s efforts in Zimbabwe? Why has the ANC intervened at the party level instead of using formal diplomatic channels?

The recent efforts by the ANC go a long way to confirm the narrative of a crisis in Zimbabwe, something that the ZANU PF administration has been refusing to acknowledge and continues to resist. This is despite the existence of evidence to the contrary and South Africa, which has acted like a sponge in respect of the crisis in Zimbabwe is feeling the pressure. In the arena of international relations, nation-states are guided foremost by their interests. Therefore, the intervention we are seeing is because South Africa realises more than ever before that it is in its best interests to get the long-running crisis in Zimbabwe resolved.

However, the methods that South Africa has chosen are problematic. As the question rightly suggests, there are two levels of intervention, the formal diplomatic channels via the State and the informal route via the party. In the past, South Africa’s intervention has been at the formal diplomatic level, acting based on a mandate from the African Union and SADC. The current effort is mixed and vague. First, President Ramaphosa sent Special Envoys who came to Zimbabwe but were barred by the Mnangagwa administration from meeting other stakeholders. They left with only one side of the Zimbabwean story. Second, the ANC sent a delegation led by its Secretary General Ace Magashule. Again, expectations that this delegation would meet other stakeholders did not materialise. They also left with just one side of the Zimbabwean story.

Clearly, unlike before when South Africa used formal diplomatic channels to mediate in the Zimbabwean crisis, this time, it has preferred informal, party-to-party diplomacy. This is partly because it does not have the mandate of the continental and regional bodies. However, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been the Chairman of the AU for the past year. He has not made use of that role. Even the executive head of the AU, Moussa Faki was bolder in his response to the Zimbabwean crisis in recent weeks, which made him a target of attack on the regime.

To use the formal diplomatic channel, South Africa needs to get a mandate from AU or SADC, but these bodies must acknowledge that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. I don’t know if South Africa fears that it will not be able to get support in these bodies to declare that there is such a crisis which needs intervention. It would be embarrassing and maybe it’s avoiding that embarrassment.

However, trying to intervene at a peer-to-peer level plays to ZANU PF’s strengths. ZANU PF is very adept at playing the liberation narrative and the victim card. This is how it has hoodwinked peer-parties around the continent, making them believe that it is a victim of imperialist machinations rather than an aggressor against its own citizens. The result is that the plight of Zimbabwean citizens has played second fiddle to the plight of ZANU PF in the eyes of the African leadership community.

The ANC is making a gross mistake if it thinks it can assert some moral restraint upon ZANU PF on the grounds of liberation sisterhood. The ZANU PF that the ANC has in mind, a revolutionary party, is no more. It has morphed into a small clique of political elites who are pre-occupied with the accumulation of private wealth. Maybe this is also the ANC’s weakness, that it is also plagued by corruption at high levels. ZANU PF knows this weakness and it does not see the ANC as having any higher moral authority to call it to order.

The only form of intervention that may yield dividends is at the formal level. ZANU PF is toying around with the ANC, playing good cop/bad cop towards their South African counterparts. Through Chinamasa, ZANU PF was very aggressive towards the ANC after the Politburo meeting. Mnangagwa also spoke tough, essentially telling the ANC to stay in its lane. Soon after Mnangagwa came up with a brotherly tone towards President Ramaphosa, telling a captured party audience that the two men speak on the phone every night. It’s meant to suggest proximity with a man he was telling off just a day before.

The aggression is typical of ZANU PF’s approach when faced with criticism. ZANU PF is a bully as the ANC is discovering. The bullying is a defensive strategy designed to scare off the ANC. It’s telling the ANC that you cannot be our judge or referee in our case. Then it comes with a more patronising tone. This might leave the ANC confused; unsure of which ZANU PF they are dealing with. The real ZANU PF is the stubborn, crude and aggressive one. That is the one Zimbabweans are familiar with.

If South Africa wants progress in its efforts, it must play to its strengths and those strengths are not in the political sphere. In the political sphere, the ANC will be outwitted by ZANU PF which has lots of experience in playing the liberation card. South Africa’s strengths are in the economic sphere. That is where Pretoria has leverage over Harare. This is the situation today as it was towards the end of colonial rule in Rhodesia. The withdrawal of support by South Africa put the Smith regime under severe pressure, paving way for a settlement that led to independence in 1980s. The sooner South Africa learns to play to its strengths, the better. This liberation parties’ route will yield nothing because ZANU PF will always bully and blackmail the ANC.

Why do international aid agencies and other donors continue to support the Judicial Service Commission with funding when clearly the JSC is infiltrated and is being used as a tool of repression and oppression through lawfare?

This is an interesting question but while it specifies the Judicial Service Commission, I will expand the scope to include all institutions of the State. My reading of this question is that it expresses frustration at the way that institutions and agencies of the State have been abused in support of authoritarian rule. Most readers of the BSR are familiar with the term “Enablers”, which I have used in the past to describe persons or organisations that support authoritarianism and repression. The central thesis is that authoritarian rulers do not work alone; rather, there is a coterie of persons, agencies and organisations that enable them. These are what are referred to as enablers.

So, with that framework, the person who asked this question and others who have raised similar questions concerning the Parliament of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and others are essentially expressing frustration over their alleged role as enablers. Likewise, those who support them through funding and other measures are also seen as enablers.

To be fair, the line is very difficult to draw. Enablers can be active or passive. They are active when they perform actual activities that support the regime. Therefore, police and prosecutors who unjustly arrest and prosecute dissenting voices in support of repression may be regarded as enablers. But likewise, those who do nothing in the face of repression instead of using their agency to fight it may also be guilty of enabling the regime albeit passively. In that sense, many of us are enablers in one way or another. I have reconciled myself to the idea that enablement is a matter of degree. Some are bigger enablers than others.

The challenge for all of us is to do whatever is necessary to reduce the degree to which we enable repression. Therefore, a Roman Catholic Bishop who speaks truth to power and calls out repression by the regime is doing his bit to reduce enablement while another Bishop who receives proceeds of corruption and defends it and the source of corruption is certainly increasing enablement. My view is we can all try to use our spaces to reduce the degree to which we enable repression.

Now this takes us back to the institutions of the State. In this regard, there is a conflict. Certainly, it might appear that supporting the JSC, ZEC, Parliament and other institutions that are committing acts that support repression is a bad idea because it enables them to carry on with acts of repression and injustice. It does not seem right to support the work of a magistrate who abuses his authority by denying bail simply because he deliberately omits evidence led by a witness. However, I am a strong believer in the idea of strong institutions. Our weak democracy, or whatever is left of it, will only get weaker when institutions collapse. It is important to strengthen institutions.

Therefore, if Parliament were to ask for training of MPs on matters of human rights and how to ensure legislation complies with best standards and practices, I would welcome that opportunity. I would do so because it is important to strengthen the institution of Parliament. It does not matter that I disagree with many of the MPs and I abhor their ways. Likewise, if the military or police require human rights training. It is far more important in my opinion to maintain our institutions especially at a time when they are under severe threat. Part of the resistance against repression is to do whatever is necessary to strengthen institutions and ensure that good values and principles are encouraged. Those of a religious disposition might be familiar with the idea that it is better to go out and preach to the unconverted than to continuously preach to the converted.

Furthermore, you don’t want institutions to collapse altogether. What will do the morning after a change of government when basic institutions no longer exist? So, in my view, while I understand the frustration at funding institutions that are regarded as enabling repression, it is also important to consider the need to build strong institutions. Indeed, one way to resist authoritarian rule is to continuously strengthen institutions, giving them tools and confidence to do better.

Why is the MDC Alliance holding on to a name that is causing them so much trouble? Why don’t they rebrand? Will it make them weaker if they rebrand?

The issue of rebranding was one of the questions that was raised by most people in their submissions. Therefore, I hope this response will cover the multitude of questions on this issue.

I have previously addressed this matter in a BSR. Names are important. They are a marker of identity. They communicate a message to others. For organisations, names also carry the history of the group. The MDC is a well-known brand in our politics. It represents the opposition in Zimbabwe. People around Zimbabwe and internationally know that the MDC stands for opposition against ZANU PF rule. There is a lot of sentimental attachment to the name, especially amongst those who have been involved from the beginning. It is not surprising that for many in the opposition movement, the name is hard to let go.

However, names can also be toxic. It is possible for a much-loved brand to become so toxic that its positive attributes are outweighed by the negatives. I think experts in the area of branding refer to something called brand equity, and some might say that the name MDC still represents positive and strong brand equity, while others would argue that it has become negative. So, opinion on this is divided. Therefore, people have different views on whether to retain the name.

However, from my observations, most people have become tired of the controversy and conflicts over the name. They are asking the question: “What’s in a name? We will still vote for Chamisa and his team even if they chose another name and distanced themselves away from the circus around the MDC brand”. This what I am hearing. My view on this is already public. I have a lot of respect for the current name for all the reasons I mentioned but I also believe the people and the values and principles they espouse are more important than a name.

My only concern is that the party tends to leave things until it’s late in the day. As it is, the nomination court for the by-elections sits on 9 October. It’s just a few weeks away. But I raised this issue early July 2020 when I wrote a BSR on the subject. I was simply anticipating something that I knew would need attention. If it had been attended to then, by now the party would have a clear position that would have been communicated to the people. Now it’s going to be a rushed process of decision-making as the by-elections loom. It’s important to plan things well in advance, especially things that can be anticipated. These are the issues that party strategists consider in the “situation room”, mapping scenarios; essentially thinking for the party and giving warning signals to the leadership.

I think those who think the name draws the vote are underestimating the wisdom of the voters. If voters are informed, they will vote for the people they believe in by whatever name they call their organisation. Indeed, my view is that those who are holding on to the name will find that it means nothing unless it is associated with the people that the voters prefer. Thokozani Khupe used the name MDC in the 2018 elections and still earned a miserly 45,000 votes and just 2 seats. The meaning is simple: People were able to distinguish between the parties. They knew they wanted the Alliance led by Chamisa.

So, ordinarily I would still have kept the name MDC Alliance. The only problem is that Khupe and company are also laying claim to that name. I warned in the July BSR that this would probably happen and that if it did, the political referees would rule in favour of Khupe and her group not because they are right but because the system wants them to win and cause confusion.

ZEC might even register two candidates carrying the same name, MDC Alliance – one from each of the rivals. The Khupe group would then go to court claiming they are the rightful owners of the name. Knowing how the wind has been blowing in the judiciary, they will probably win that fight. That way, the Chamisa group candidates would be disqualified from the by-elections and it will nearly be a walkover for the Khupe candidates. It’s not worth the risk. In my view, it’s unwise to risk such a messy scenario. It’s better to have something that you can control, than something that places you at the mercy of your rivals.

Why is there an insistence on political talks between the MDC Alliance and ZANU PF? Does this not subvert the will of the voters who made their choices in the 2018 general elections? Doesn’t the idea of a Government of National Unity or a Transitional Authority change the constitution to cater for a few elites?

The issue of talks arises from the belief that Zimbabwe is amid a political crisis which arose from a coup and a controversial election whose outcome remains contested. This is what some have referred to as a crisis of political legitimacy. To be fair, this issue is not new, and I should briefly explain the history of the crisis of legitimacy.

Since the 2000 parliamentary elections, the issue of political legitimacy has been high on the agenda, even if that terminology may not have been as fashionable 20 years ago. What was being contested then, in the wake of controversial elections, was a crisis of legitimacy. The MDC was contesting ZANU PF’s political legitimacy as the governing party, arguing that elections were violent and rigged.

This crisis reached a zenith in 2008, following the extremely violent presidential run-off election which all right-minded people regarded as a sham. I have argued that it was a coup because the military effectively intervened to save a defeated Mugabe and by so doing prevented a peaceful transfer of power to Morgan Tsvangirai. There was no reason for the ruling establishment to withhold election results for 6 weeks if they allowed for a run-off as the electoral authorities eventually declared.

The interveners used those 6 weeks to doctor election results so that Mugabe and ZANU PF would be allowed a second bite of the cherry. They made sure he would win by launching an egregiously violent presidential run-off election campaign which left more than 200 MDC supporters dead and thousands more injured from torture and beatings while thousands more were displaced.

It was this crisis of political legitimacy that led to AU and SADC intervention, which gave a mandate to South Africa to act as mediator between the political rivals. An election had been held; Mugabe had been declared the winner, but everyone knew it was a fraud. At that time the main protagonists were Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. The talks resulted in a badly cobbled up pact known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA). If we go by the view that the election had been held, the GPA would be regarded as having subverted the “will of the people”. That argument cannot stand considering the circumstances. The GPA was a necessary political solution to a political problem, although I agree it was a poor solution because of its weak and partial terms.

It was based on the GPA that the Inclusive Government was formed in 2008 and ran the country for 4 years. Although the GPA was a weak agreement, many remember those 4 years as a period of relative political and economic stability. In my experience, this owed more to Tsvangirai’s and the MDC’s willingness to compromise in the face of an obstinate ZANU PF although some less informed rather unkindly suggest that the MDC leaders simply enjoyed the gravy train. A few might have gotten carried away, but the majority tried hard to make things work.

To prevent conflicts, by-elections were suspended under the GPA, which allowed each party to replace their elected representatives whenever vacancies arose. I see now that some suggest a period of no elections. I don’t know if they realise that we do have a precedent. It worked well because it reduced political tensions in communities. Perhaps with hindsight, the period of the GPA could have been longer. Some might say it would have been undemocratic but the end goal: to ensure sustained political reforms and economic growth would have been more important for me. We needed to create an environment in which contested outcomes of elections were minimised and in which people focused on economic production and less on politics. It might have opened more room for the political reforms that were required, while at the same time promoting economic stability and possibly growth.

However, ZANU PF was impatient to retain exclusive control of the State. An election was forced on the grounds of legality when political wisdom would have dictated otherwise. The result was that Zimbabwe went into yet another election without enough reforms. Contrary to some widely peddled myths, efforts to enact political reforms were in motion during the inclusive government. They were slow but there was no bigger step in the last 20 years than the new Constitution which was adopted in March 2013. Coming up with that Constitution was not a simple affair. It required a lot of hard work; a lot of give and take between the parties, lots of compromises.

The outcome was not perfect, but no constitution is ever perfect. I am yet to see a constitution that everyone agrees to be perfect. Even as we speak, there are arguments that the electoral system under the highly acclaimed South African Constitution should be changed from the current proportional representation system. Maybe they think the First Past the Post is a better system. Ironically, this is at a time when some in Zimbabwe are also arguing that our First Past the Post system should be changed so that we have more proportional representation! I have come to the view that the other system almost always seems to be better before you start using it. The neighbour’s lawn might seem more attractive, but the neighbour is probably admiring yours!

In my view, we ended up with a set of legal reforms that could have set Zimbabwe on the right path if they had been allowed time for implementation. The problem is we rushed into an election just months after the adoption of that Constitution, before the waters had even settled. As a result, when ZANU PF assumed exclusive power of the State, the reforms stalled. Alone in power and with no checks and balances, ZANU PF had no incentive to implement the political reforms required by the Constitution. That election was also affected by a crisis of legitimacy, which was compounded by the internecine struggles in ZANU PF as factions fought over Mugabe’s succession.

When the coup happened in November 2017, it put paid to any serious political reforms. I wrote at the time that the soldiers who had usurped power from Mugabe and installed Mnangagwa as President had not done so in order to give up power after a few months. Therefore, the election was sealed in November 2017, months before it was due to be held. There was no way that the election was ever going to be free and fair, let alone uncontroversial. To be sure, the coup could have been a critical juncture for Zimbabwe, had the authors been so minded to act in the public interest. But of course, coups are usually motivated by private interests and the failure to create a more inclusive arrangement was hardly surprising. It was their thing. Those who carried out the coup did so in order to promote their private interests and the election was simply going to be used to provide a veneer of legitimacy that was missing.

Therefore, when one says the “will of the people” in the 2018 elections, they are being too generous. It was the “will of the military and political elites” who had “elected” themselves into power in November 2017. This crisis of legitimacy, which intensified during the coup continued post the elections and has led Zimbabwe to this sorry state. Of course, many actors, including the opposition, the regional and international community were naïve in their acceptance of the coup when it happened. They did not appreciate the disaster that they were participating in and encouraging. Events over the past 3 years have demonstrated the folly of celebrating that act of political illegitimacy.

But this is the context of the so-called talks. It is a suggestion to find a comprehensive solution to the crisis of legitimacy. One word of advice to the opposition and the ruling party is that they have common ground in that they were both participants in the coup which birthed this current crisis of legitimacy. If they can both be humble to accept that inconvenient reality, they might realise that they have a starting point to say: we messed up together, now let’s fix it. Unfortunately, politicians rarely accept wrongdoing. They think it’s a weakness, but in my view, it can be turned into a strength.

The issue of talks therefore, as I understand it, arises from the fact that there was never any legitimacy in the first place and the prospects of having it after the coup were nil. The prospects of undoing the past is very remote, yet the possibilities of fixing the future remain abundant. The question raises concerns over the role of elites. This is a legitimate concern, but it’s impossible to avoid them. They are the political animals at the forefront. My suggestion would be to minimise their self-serving behaviour by being more inclusive of other stakeholders.

Do you think elections can really provide a solution to Zimbabwe’s challenges? Are we not confirming the definition of madness by doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results?

Sometime in 2008, in the wake of the controversial 2008 elections I expressed many frustrations over the viability of elections as a mechanism of effecting political change. It was because I firmly believed that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC had won that election but transfer of power had been frustrated. I thought the only way that elections could be viable was if comprehensive reforms were enacted and implemented.

ZANU PF has naturally been reluctant to implement political reforms. Even those that have been enacted, and I have already said that the 2013 Constitution brought several reforms, have not been fully implemented. This lack of implementation resulted in another controversial election in 2013 which also produced a legitimacy crisis. The coup in November 2017 only made the situation worse. The soldiers who had previously lurked behind civilian authority entered the terrain. Zimbabwe is now a State of militarism, the antithesis of constitutionalism. Elections in an environment of militarism are mere rituals. Therefore, I share the frustrations that many people have concerning elections.

Nevertheless, the Constitution provides that authority to govern derives from the people. That provision has greater significance than most people realise. The reason we included it was to make it clear that the people are the owners of governmental authority; that there is a social contract between the governors and the governed. The governed hold political authority on behalf of the people. It means the people are entitled to withdraw that authority if they believe it is being abused. How do they withdraw it?

Therefore, the Constitution provides for political rights, which also include the right to demonstrate and to express themselves as long as they do so peacefully. It allows citizens to protest their government; to challenge its policies and its conduct of public affairs. These rights work best when used and exercised collectively. The people must be determined to defend their authority to govern.

There are many people, including political actors who continue to pin their hopes on intervention by external actors. Therefore, there has been some excitement over the recent moves by South Africa. Yet the truth, in my view, is that the desire for political reforms and change cannot be outsourced to outsiders. They can only step in to help people realise their rights when they have collectively expressed themselves. To do that people must accept that they have agency and their leaders must be willing to take responsibility to lead them.

Leadership is not a picnic, especially in authoritarian environments. Those who accept it do so because they believe themselves to have something extra that is not given to mere mortals and they are willing to pay the costs that come with it. Pressure for change and reforms can only come from the citizens together with their leaders. Across the world we have watched in awe as citizens of other countries took the plunge, realising that the responsibility to determine their future lies in their hands. I do not think we are there yet as a people. We are still waiting for someone to do it. And when a few try, we watch from the terraces. Those few end up being brutalised and incarcerated and we look to the same system to free them, at its own pace. We applaud those people as heroes and we wait again for one or two more to take the plunge so that we cheer them on again while they are in prison, making ourselves feel good by calling them our heroes.

I want to end with a powerful quotation which I was reminded of a few days ago on my Facebook page. I last used it in September 2008. Twelve years later it still rings true as it did then. It says,

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. Thus, it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only defend him half-heartedly, so that between them he runs great danger”.

The author of this is Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince. Instead of me trying to apply this to our situation, I leave it to you, the reader to exercise your agency and examine what it means. Suffice to say we must take responsibility more seriously because change does not come easily. You can see those who defend the system. They do so because they profit from it. But those who might profit from a new order are only lukewarm in their support of it. You cannot expect those profiting from the current order to effect change.

This is it for now. We shall cover more questions in the next BSR.


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