Last month marked President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration as the second directly-elected leader of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Mnangagwa came riding on the wave of hope that no one who could go lower than the bar set by his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe.
Alas, it took a mere 24 months to break that belief.
Mnangagwa, who initially assumed the reins of power after the November 2017 coup, came riding on the winds of hope – hope that Zimbabwe, at long last after 37-years of Mugabe’s incendiary leadership was ready to open a new chapter. Many celebrated Mugabe’s demise, threw caution to the wind and staked their flags on the so-called new dispensation.
It is no top secret that Zimbabwe’s economy had been spluttering since 2000, but many hoped the so-called new dispensation was not only new beyond its political and economic rhetoric. However, with each passing month citizens are coming to the realization that Mnangagwa administration is sterile in relation to economic recovery but is busy feathering personal nests with state resources.
When November 2017 came, Zimbabweans, particularly civil society and political activists had long known Mugabe was not going to open the democratic space except for the cosmetic rituals of a multi-party elections. There remain strong feelings that Mugabe stole the 2000 and 2008 elections to remain in power.
It is a fact that state security agents post 2000 had become more partisan and some if not most openly spoke of their support for Zanu PF. They had become partisan. They had become a political party militia. And most Zimbabweans were yearning for expansion of the democratic space, if not a democratic transition.
During the coup, the military in a brief moment became a people’s army, melting and sharing national bonds with other citizens. It looked spontaneous then, but with a benefit of hindsight it was clear it was a well-choreographed act. Mnangagwa at long last got his hands on the coveted presidency.
The political honeymoon did not last long.
Mnangagwa had a crack media relations team for a man who struggles to put his ideas into words and worse when he cracks a joke, they are always the morbid type that make one cringe. However, his team managed to paint the rosy image of a man reformed – repented of his autocratic, callous and despotic image that followed him since the liberation war days in Mozambique.
The new president appeared on France24, BloombergTV, CNN and had acres of space in New York Times, Washington Post and the British Telegraph. The man had arrived but during one of the interviews, he showed he had not changed when he avoided a public apology about Gukurahundi when cornered.
The July 2018 elections, while relatively peaceful compared to all other polls after 2000, the speculation was thick that the military did not do a coup to hand over power to the opposition, an opposition accused of being a trojan horse for imperialists – United States and Britain primarily.
Mnangagwa did not hesitate on August 1, 2018 to deploy soldiers into the streets to quell demonstrations without declaring a state of emergency. The soldiers meant business and within a two-hour operation had cowed Zimbabweans by sheer use of brute force – six citizens lay cold-dead in Harare streets and dozens had gunfire injuries. The new dispensation had announced itself – the façade had fallen off.
The pattern was to repeat itself again in January 2019 when citizens demonstrated against a 150% fuel price increase. Some 17 citizens were left dead, over 200 with gunfire wounds, thousands with whelps from police and military beatings, women sexually assaulted and nearly 2000 brought to court on charges of inciting violence or participating in an illegal demonstration.
The Motlanthe Commission was clear in its report that the military used disproportionate force in the 2018 shootings to quell the demonstrations and victims should receive compensation from the state. It is noteworthy that to date, two years on, no family has received compensation and just like the Gukurahundi issue, let to die a natural death from the citizens’ collective memory.
On the economic front, Mnangagwa has not shown any change from the speculation that surrounds his image and the company that he keeps. He is friends with seedy characters like Nic van Hoogstraten, Billy Rautenbach and the recently deceased John Bredenkamp. To this crew, there is also the new lot that includes Kuda Tagwireyi, Wicknell Chivhayo and Delish Nguwaya.
To all intends and purposes, Zimbabwe has hurtled back in time in the past two years of Mnangagwa administration. The worsening human rights record, shrinking democratic space and state capture by colourful characters that made their names from government tenders or dealing with State entities – Mnangagwa is making Mugabe look like a saint each passing day.
The late former army commander Solomon Mujuru was probably right in his assessment that Zimbabwe did not need another hard man after Mugabe.