Updated: Jul 19, 2018
Zimbabwe heads to the polls at the end of this month, and so much is at stake with this particular election. With the two main contenders, incumbent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa at logger heads, one can only pray and hope that the people’s will shall be respected. These polls are a watershed moment indeed. And hence they have been dogged with much controversy already, particularly, the main opposition’s disdain over the integrity of the Voters Roll which is under the care of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
As a young Zimbabwean, this election presents opportunities for a new lease of life for our country, in particular, my generation — which grew up under the crude and desperate times under the leadership of despot, founding father and African statesman, former President Robert Mugabe. We are the generation that were teenagers when hyperinflation hit world record highs back in 2008. Believe it or not, Zimbabwe's peak month of inflation is estimated at 79.6 billion percent in mid-November 2008. It was a mess bruh.
We grew up being sent to the shops to buy “bloomers” — which were these bloomer loafs — or six buns — at 6am, as kids, lest we couldn’t get any bread for the day. We had our childhood disturbed by all the long queues we had to join to line up for anything from mealie-meal, to cooking oil, to rice, to flour. We went to school with all sorts of crazy lunches! At one point, I remember a couple of months when most of my friends and I really didn’t have anything, and my homie Ngqabutho’s mom would bring us sadza in a basin over the fence at St. Columba’s High School in Makokoba. And we shared and devoured that thing like real bosses do.
We are the generation that had to be sent to banks to stand on queues while our parents were working, only to be given money that would lose half its value by the end of the day.
I could go on and on with this, but my point is simple — life under a Zanu PF government for all our lives has been nothing but terrible, at least for me and the people I know. Unless you were born with a silver spoon (mine is a wooden one, unfortunately) or a part of the elite political class, it really has been a terrible journey.
Was it just Robert Mugabe’s fault?
Let’s press rewind and do some history.
Zimbabwe’s dollar, at Independence in 1980, is said to have been stronger than the US dollar in value (this did not reflect reality as in terms of purchasing power — on the open and black markets it was less valuable, due primarily to the higher inflation in Zimbabwe). But the point is, it was a strong currency.
The country’s agricultural industry was booming with tobacco, maize and wheat production at some of the highest levels. We was balling man. See, at this point I reckon everybody was so excited about this new era — freedom from colonisation by the British settlers, and now we have black majority rule, and everybody is happy-clappy! But soon, reality began to strike.
In the 1980s we see the Gukurahundi atrocities striking in Matabeleland. North Korean trained 5th Brigade Army is reported to have been a part of the massacre of about 20,000 people in Matabeleland. This causes cracks in the newly founded nation. Suddenly, history tells of the fear and anxiety among the peoples of Matabeleland during this time who were subjected to gross dehumanisation, violence and murder.
Government, not just RGM, has never taken responsibility of all this.
Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa is said to have played a huge part in all of this. On March 5 1983, at a rally in Victoria Falls, he delivered a threat, using language that would be echoed 11 years later by the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide.
The Chronicle newspaper reported back then: “Likening the dissidents to cockroaches and bugs, the minister said the bandit menace had reached such epidemic proportion that the government had to bring ‘DDT’ [a pesticide] to get rid of the bandits.”
ED’s analogy would have been clearly understood by his audience. The cockroaches and bugs were supporters of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and, more generally, members of the Ndebele ethnic group. The “pesticide” would be deployed by the Fifth Brigade, the infamous North Korean-trained army unit that had already begun its crackdown in Matabeleland and the Midlands, home to most of Zimbabwe’s Ndebele population.
I reiterate. Government, not just RGM, has not taken responsibility of this.
Fast forward to a couple of years later. From about 1991-1996, the government introduces the an Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) that had serious negative effects on the Zimbabwean economy. ESAP was introduced to encourage growth and employment, reduce state interference in the economy, improve access to foreign exchange, and reduce the deficit.
However, ESAP is widely seen as an almost unmitigated failure. Economic growth was really poor, employment contracted in most of the country, many companies closed, and social services deteriorated significantly. But the policies can’t be held solely responsible. Circumstances were unfavourable when ESAP was introduced, history records. There were disastrous droughts in 1992 and 1995, and a global recession in 1991/1992 reduced raw material prices and the demands for exports. Also, South Africa cancelled its trade agreement with Zimbabwe which was a biggie. In essence, the biggest problem was the government’s inability to control the deficit!
Senator David Coltart in a speech given on the 31st of January 1992 at the Danish Volunteer Service Development Workers Meeting in Maphisa noted:
“For ESAP to work we require a radical loosening up of all kinds of controls within Zimbabwean society. We need to loosen up controls of foreign exchange, we need to loosen up on restrictive business practices which hinder investment and economic growth, and most of all we need an overall reduction in the amount of control that the Government exercises in all sectors of our society.
The 1991 Budget reinforces me in my view that Government is reluctant to give up a large degree of control over Zimbabwean society. At a time when Zimbabwe has, on the face of it, committed itself to multi-party democracy and at a time when the whole Southern African region is stabilising the following aspects of the Budget are disturbing:
(a) The CIO – In the vote for the office of the President and the Cabinet is a grant for “special services” in the sum of $70 million. The Budget estimate states that part of the expenditure on this item will not be subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The term “special services” is in fact the vote for the Central Intelligence Organisation. To give you some idea of how this has grown, the CIO was first given a vote in 1971/1972 by the Smith Government of $825,000.00. The CIO’s job is primarily to gain information on Government’s opponents. Whilst I concede that the CIO also gathers intelligence on enemies of the State (which I have no quarrel with), its most visible role in Zimbabwe is to report on political renegades. If Government is truly committed to an open society and multi-party democracy, freedom of association and expression, one questions why the CIO budget is so large and has been increased? [Emphasis added]
(b) Defence Spending – When Dr Chidzero delivered his Budget speech he stated that, and I quote, “the defence vote remains as the second largest on the current expenditure allocation at $1.45 million, a nominal increase of 10% over the 1990/1991 out turn. The increase on this vote has been due mainly to contractual obligations. The vote would have otherwise remained stagnant in nominal terms.” Regrettably, the statement does not show the whole picture. Firstly, of the Ministry of Public Construction and National Housing vote of $552 million, over a third was allocated to the Ministry of Defence in the sum of $177 million. During the current year the Ministry of Defence building budge has increased by just under 16%. Included in the building programmes are $6 million spent on Harare KGVI offices and $40 million being spent on Five Brigade Battlefields. To get this vote in perspective one needs to point out that the entire Budget for the Ministry of Health for the same period is $28.7 million and the social fund to cushion the impact of structural adjustment is at present only $20 million. The actual increase therefore of the overall defence budget is 11.1% and the total expenditure is $1.32 billion. Given the changing situation in Mozambique and South Africa, the question has to be asked why Government is still spending so much on defence, and most of it at home? I believe that it is because it needs to maintain control militarily if they cannot retain control through other means. [Emphasis added]
(c) The Ministry of Political Affairs – There was much trumpeting about the fact that the Ministry of Political Affairs vote was reduced by $14.7 million in the 1991 Budget. The fact remains, however, that the reduction was effected by reducing the costs of national service which was always a non-starter. The real facts are that the actual salaries for people in the Ministry of Political Affairs went up by 27% and the actual budget for those involved in the Ministry of Political Affairs (aside from National Service) increased from 29.4 million to 33.1 million, an increase of just under 13%. If Zimbabwe is committed to opening up the political system and multi-party democracy, why is some $33 million tax payers’ money going to one political party? [Emphasis added]
In the same speech, Coltart concludes by saying: “In other words, the programme must be an end in itself, namely the economic revitalisation of this country, not a means to an end, namely the political survival of ZANU-PF. Because ZANU-PF appears to view it as a means to an end I fear that they themselves are part of the problem, not part of answer to our present woes.”
Reading such, you get the sense that this all sound so similar. Does it not sound similar to want to “preserve Zanu-PF” without any real regard for the people of Zimbabwe? Zanu PF has always given the aura that it is only about Zanu PF. Maybe they are not — they just give off the vibe. Zanu PF is the very same way that it was then in 1992 when Coltart was writing this. This speech could be read today and still sound relevant. Read the full speech on his blog.
Anyways, I digress.
Late '90s Hondo Yeminda
We see another interesting episode in the late 90s, early 00s, when white farmers have their land taken violently, and their holdings put in the hands of clearly untrained black “farmers”. From 1999 to 2009, the country experienced a sharp drop in food production and in all other sectors. The banking sector also collapsed, with farmers unable to obtain loans for capital development. Food output capacity fell 45%, manufacturing output 29% in 2005, 26% in 2006 and 28% in 2007, and unemployment rose to 80%. These stats are according to Marshall Auerbeck (2010).
I remember the fear and intimidation that followed those years. I was young. But you would not dare say anything about Zanu PF or especially President Mugabe. Massive human rights abuses continued with abductions, weird accidents and quasi-prosecution and persecution of those who didnt side with the status quo. This went on until the Government of National Unity was established after the contested 2008 polls. Man, those days were difficult. I remember feeling just defeated and wondering why I was even born in this seemingly "God forsaken" country.
But the GNU brought in some form of hope. Maybe a whole lot of hope, actually. The late great Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his team brought in a new lease of life at Munhumutapa Building that we had never seen.
During the time leading to those treacherous 2013 election, I recall there was street talk on how reformed Zanu PF would be, and how they were promising to do things better. Their famous election tag-line was "Taking Back the Economy: Indiginize, Empower, Develop and Create Employment". Their manifesto stated that:
“Zanu PF understands that for the people’s goals to be won and defended, everybody must be part of the great team that liberated Zimbabwe and brought freedom and democracy that everyone enjoys today; the team that enabled Zimbabwe to take back its land; the team that has protected and enshrined Zimbabwe’s gains of the liberation struggle and defended Zimbabwe’s traditional and religious values against such evils as homosexuality in the New Constitution; and the team that is the home of the youths who are taking the baton to defend Zimbabwe’s natural resources. That team is #TeamZanuPF2013.”
They made a lot of promises. About the economy. About jobs. About youth empowerment. About corruption. About science and technology.
But we all know that things went from bad to worse. One cannot argue with a straight face that Zimbabwe's economy was shaken once again when Mugabe and his gang cheated MDC in those elections back then. We all saw then, and what we see now that it seems like Zanu PF is only about Zanu PF. I use "seems" because I will not assume anyone's motives, but make conclusions based on their actions. Maybe somewhere in that new government in 2013 were people who actually cared for the people of Zimbabwe, but I doubt that highly.
A year or so later, when Joyce Mujuru was ousted as Vice President, together with her alleged Gamatox cabal, she then pointed fingers at her former comrades and called out their shenanigans because she was out of the system. And we see the same with Professor Moyo, or anyone else who was kicked out of Zanu PF. It always seems that they care about Zimbabweans when they come to our side of reality. Now again, I read Prof Moyo's tweets and I see he probably loves and cares for his kinfolk, and one can only sympathise with the attack on his family in that famous November movie-like-action in Harare. But we cannot simply ignore the fact that he danced to the tune of the very same music that he is speaking out against now.
My point is: I do not trust Zanu PF. And I do not think they have our interests at heart. I do not think they have ever had our interests at heart. This new government has people who say some really nice stuff, but the last time I was in Zimbabwe three months ago, I could see people in almost worse conditions that they were pre-November 2018.
I do not doubt that ED might have good intentions, or that he is probably reformed, but I think if they really cared about Zimbabwe more than Zanu PF they would have not only given some voter confidence for ordinary people on the ground in Zimbabwe, but they would have also perhaps included some of the members of the opposition in this current government in transition. Nothing would have sent a greater signal of what this really is about.
When they talk about "Operation Restore Legacy", is that a Zimbabwe thing or a Zanu PF thing? I argue that it concerns the latter. Patrick Chinamasa himself said that the marches that happened prior to the resignation of President Mugabe were about Zanu PF and not about anyone else or the interest of the country at large. The writing is on the wall. Listen to our Uncle, Chris Mutsvangwa - whom I highly respect as an instrumental part of the fall of the dictatorship of Uncle Bob - he believes the only reason Zanu PF can be trusted is because of their war credentials. He allegedly continues with this rhetoric on a handle with his name on Twitter.
What I see and have seen over the past 8 months or so is a message that has appealed to the educated, lower middle class and the middle-class of our country. The message of "Zimbabwe is Open for Business" is not a message for my grandmother kwaMutare. Her needs are bread and butter issues. The message appeals primarily to foreign investors, which on its own is not bad, but some commitment and show of economic reform ought to show in ways that are communicable to the ordinary ox-cart farmer in rural Zimbabwe. This is the only way this current government can prove that indeed, this is a new dispensation and a new era - where people's most basic needs are met. The message should appeal to those businesses at home first before we take it to the world. Charity begins at home.
Imagine if Zanu PF had sorted the fiscus mess and cut all those bank queues and vehemently dealt with issues that affect ordinary Zimbabwean from day to day, a majority of whom are either self-employed, or vanongokiyakiya pano nepapo. This is the majority of people and the constituency with which we reasonably measure the incumbent's perfomance.
The people in government today danced together with the government before Mugabe resigned. Same fanana. And they do not have the luxury of just being believable on the rhetoric they spew out. Incumbents don't make promises when campaigning, they look backwards and point people to their successes. Incumbents don't have that luxury, really.
Another school of thought that prevails is that there hasn't been enough time for this new government to fix things. Well, they cannot afford that luxury of lenience because they are part of the writers of the mess that we are drowning in. How about we look at "quick wins" which could have been achieved? What have they done about corruption? What has happened to the criminals around Mugabe? What is really new about the new?
Zimbabweans Have a Curious Case of Stockholm's Syndrome
MedicineNet.com defines Stockholm syndrome: An extraordinary phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. Named for an episode that occurred in Stockholm in August, 1973 when an armed Swedish robber took some bank workers captive, held them for six days and stole their hearts.
I first read of this idea as applied to Zimbabweans from Alex Magaisa, that really cool lawyer dude we all follow on Twitter. He's a beast. Here is my take on it:
We have had the same people in government for 38 years, and they have abused us and dehumanized us for so long. And suddenly, the very same people claim to have changed, but they want to maintain their grip on power and we actually sympathize with them.
And wanna know why we sympathise? Because somethings have "changed". Brothers and sisters, fellow citizens, we are not asking for a favour when we ask for freedom of speech and expression, association, free press etc. Its not a favour that the government has suddenly given to us. These are rights enshrined in our Constitution, and government had stolen those from us. All the changes that are claimed are good. I am thankful for all of them, yet in the same breath I do not want them to be the reason why we emphatize and sympathise with anyone. It is our right, and this is not politics.
Its like an abused woman constantly going back to her abuser because he took her to the hospital after beating her up. He is not a reformed man! She should stay as far away from an abuser as she possibly can. A bullied boy constantly going back to his bully friends because yesterday they were nice to him. No, they are bullies. They need to be reprimanded and he needs new friends, maybe.
Look at what ZEC is doing? New dispensation much?
Look at what ZBC is doing? New dispensation much?
Look at what Herald is doing? New dispensation much?
I don't think so. But also, maybe I don't know.
Maybe we should try new politicians to lie to us, and new names to be known for corruption, dont you think? Maybe we should try new methods and rely on new mentalities? The old is boring. Very boring. I cannot imagine a future with the old. It has never worked anywhere in Africa or the world where one party leads a country for a whole 40-something years! Issa witchcraft.
I am no political analyst
But I am a Zimbabwean citizen. And love and respect all my brothers and sisters across the political divide. At the end of the day, I do hope the people's will prevails. If 50% plus 1 people vote for the incumbent, I would be disappointed, but shortly will be glad that our country can move forward peacefully and develop all its potential.
I am no political analyst, but I am a lover of all things Zimbabwe. Both the mess and the bliss has made us a stronger people, and may we vote for our preffered candidates peacefully.
I am no political analyst, but an ordinary citizen. And ordinary citizens only ask for ordinary things. And nothing fancy.
Oh by the way, my vote is no secret because you probably know who I am not going to vote for.
Munodiwa mose hama dzangu.