Last night was a new beginning for Zimbabwe.
The mistakes of the past, especially the last few years, were being washed away in an incredible party, an exceptionally good-natured celebration, and Zimbabwe was once again a far more united country and a society with exceptionally high morale. Incoming President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who once the paperwork is done, is likely to be sworn-in today or at the latest tomorrow as the second Executive President of Zimbabwe, faces high expectations but will have a short honeymoon while he starts the process of moving Zimbabwe forward. He, a victim of some of the mistakes, needs to build on the national spirit that has been exhibited in the last week.
For some things have now changed, forever. The overwhelming majority of the marchers on Saturday and those in the impromptu celebrations last night were the younger generations, young men and women in their twenties and thirties who had been born and had grown up in a free Zimbabwe. They will never again go back into a box of silence and all future Zimbabwean leaders are going to have to be accustomed to plain speaking, to listening and then explaining what they are doing and why.
And they need to recognise another huge sea-change. The symbols in the marches, the rallies and the street parties were not names of people or pictures on walls. There was just one symbol – the flag. And those marching and partying did not care what language or dialect the person next to them spoke; they did not care what district or province they came from; they did not care how they worshipped God or even if they did not worship any God; they did not care how their neighbour voted in the last election or how they might vote next year; they did not care about race or class. They were just happy to be together as Zimbabweans. And that is perhaps the greatest triumph of the past 37 years.
The second great change must be recognition of the danger of living in a fairy-tale land, in a hall of mirrors surrounded by sycophants, of a refusal to find out what people are really thinking and saying. It is difficult for any president in any country in this modern world of tight security to find out exactly what is going on, but not impossible. Rallies are no substitute for meeting real people with real concerns and real ideas.
The other problem, of no change at the top, has been ended by our new Constitution with its maximum two-term limit. The next 37 years will see a minimum of four Presidents, and that assumes that everyone will win two terms and want to serve both of them. There are likely to be more and Zimbabwe, too, will start accumulating former Presidents drawing reasonable pensions and turning up at national events. The next generation of Zimbabweans will become very used to regular changes of guard at State House.
The incoming President has three main jobs. As Head of State he will represent Zimbabwe, but with the whole perception change we have seen in a week, no longer personify Zimbabwe. As leader of the Government with a parliamentary majority he will have to work with others to select the best options and policies, sell these to the nation and then make them work, a very tough job. Among other things in these two roles he will need to at least be on speaking terms with opposition leaders. Disagreement is inbuilt in a democracy, and probably needed in a democracy. But it can be disagreement and a choice of policies, not “us” versus the “enemy”.
Finally, he is already head of the largest political party, one which has become seriously aware of its own mistakes. The Central Committee has seized back control; it wants to abolish the idea of one centre of authority and power; it wants to go back to being a big tent party accommodating a wide variety of views and open debate.
Cde Mnangagwa needs to encourage this if he wants his party to become relevant again. But this might be his easiest task; the spur of a forthcoming election encourages politicians to think how they can present their party as an organisation capable of selecting the first class to present to the electorate, rather than a small cabal fronted by someone largely despised by members and supporters.
We hope Cde Mnangagwa does well in his new job. And we hope that when he finishes his stint in State House the cheers will be for a job well done and commentators will all be hoping that his successor will be “just as good”. He has the best wishes of most Zimbabweans, at least today.