Rashweat Mukundu Correspondent
Zimbabweans, as acknowledged by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnagangwa, are politically polarised. This to the extent that in some circles we cannot agree on the simplest of things or issues. This polarisation has meant that most dialogues are an affirmation of what one already believes in and are conducted within a circle of friends or associates. We are happy when our extreme views are affirmed with the attendant risk of becoming even more entrenched in our positions.
Those holding extreme positions, be it in ZANU-PF or the opposition, often defend them to the hilt; there is no room for concession, no room to listen to the other side. As such we often lose an opportunity to benefit from what others have to say.
Our challenges have often be exacerbated by a failure to simply diagnose our issues and solutions and judging by how we debate, everyone is an expert on anything, but doers are in deficit. The question is will this change with the new political dispensation? I argue that at a level of perception, Zimbabwe has already changed hence the seeming good will by the international community that saw senior Government officials from Britain visiting and exchanging notes with the new President, civil society and opposition leaders. SADC leaders who visited also stamped that Zimbabwe has moved on.
Perceptions have also changed in that there was national consensus on the need for former President Robert Mugabe to retire for various reasons. This national consensus was buttressed by the first-time attendance at the inauguration of a President by Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC-T. I mention Tsvangirai alone as he is the leader of a party that has battled ZANU-PF for the past 18 years and hence represents what would be most extreme opposite to ZANU-PF.
State of Paralysis
The endorsement of President Mnagangwa, whether politically calculated or a misfiring by the opposition, is still perception changing. The world has noticed and more importantly citizens of Zimbabwe have seen, in a long time, leaders embrace. November 2017 has earned its place in history the same way as Independence day in 1980 and 1987 when PF ZAPU and ZANU-PF united.
There will be as much debate on what the President said in his inauguration speech, and so much that each one of us would have wanted addressed. But the fundamental issue is that a framework was laid on what we need to focus on, inclusive of free and fair elections, a focus on the economy, public service delivery, accountability and transparency in the governance structures and servant leadership.
The issues raised by President Mnagangwa are diametrically opposite to our position just a few weeks ago when the whole country was seized with ruling party factional fights. Zimbabwe was in a state of paralysis, with leaders caught up in mortal combat on issues to do with power.
Citizens lost agency to influence anything and many ministers equally felt powerless under the political storm of attacks, expulsions and threats. Far more than a ZANU-PF issue, factionalism and succession politics was now a national pastime.
Every sector, media, civil society, business and opposition political parties were now either Lacoste or G40. Our media, be it public or private, was divided right in the middle in support of one ZANU-PF faction or the other. Even opposition leaders were in support of this ZANU-PF faction or the other. So the commonsensical national approach of a majority of us was informed by succession politics in ZANU-PF.
In the intervention of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, citizens have realised what power can do, and in that have also realised their power to be part of the change process. Going forward, citizens are likely to demand to be part of the change process and not watchers. Together with the new leadership, citizens are equally dreaming and having visions of the future. In terms of an opportunity to build a future for the current leadership, there is no better opportunity than this one.
We therefore enter a new political phase with little if any counter hegemonic forces in Zimbabwe, but a national consensus built on the need to revive the economy and issues raised by the President.
This era is significant in that leaders have an opportunity to create a new national legacy which can set the country on a developmental trajectory akin to what we have seen in China after the departure of Chairman Mao. Yet in all this, Zimbabweans are not Chinese nor Rwandese as has been touted. Rather Zimbabweans are now more politically conscious, yet less ideological. There is still a need to consolidate issues that are fundamental to Zimbabwe, even as we may disagree on other issues. The President laid that out, one being land, sovereignty, need for peace, servant leadership, accountability and trans- parency.
Citizens will be prepared to support a Government that delivers and this could be time to come out of the trenches and be more practical on issues of national development. Change will not be revolutionary, but incremental. Zimbabwe indeed will not have a revolution, but a continuation of history, albeit on a more positive note, as was laid out by the President. There is need to bolster the national confidence that it’s not only about investment, but defining a development agenda for Zimbabwe in which Zimbabweans have ownership of that agenda.
Internationalism has collapsed under the weight of right-wing politics in the USA and Europe. Joining the Commonwealth and engaging the international community must be done purely on the basis of pursuing a national interest agenda. Those who have travelled in Africa will attest that World Bank and IMF national economic figures are just that, numbers. The reality of the lives of most Africans in Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique, touted as being on the right developmental path, remains pathetic.
A continuation of and not an end of history in Zimbabwe reminds us that we have fundamental issues of equality to reflect on. Neo-liberal policies may create a veneer of success yet the bottom will remain hollow. The new political leadership is a representation of both the two phases of Zimbabwe’s past and its future and in crafting the future, the fundamental question of who we are must not be forgotten.
That does not stop us from dreaming or envisioning the future, it simply tells us that we have a past to respect and learn from and build on. Indeed, as many errors need to be corrected, history has to continue informing as it guides. There is equally a need to reach into the past, and correct mistakes of the past so that the collective national memory can become even more positive.
The hope is that the new leadership has enough shock absorbers to listen and be empathetic where needed. That is how great leaders earn a place in history. There is no expectation that politicians will continue embracing as we saw at the inauguration, but that they remain civil. Indeed, there should be no expectation that we will become a one-party state because things have fundamentally changed in our politics. We are in an era in which politicians must raise their game in reaching out to citizens and make citizens part of the development agenda. At least we can dream again.
- Rashweat Mukundu is a media and development consultant.