On November 6, 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired from the position of Vice-President of Zimbabwe by then president Robert Mugabe.
But while Mugabe’s sudden and theatrical dismissal in November might have been the much-needed proverbial jolt in the arm – a God-given nationwide blessing, if you will, which a troubled and comatose democracy desperately required, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), the main opposition party, failed to capitalise on the sharp and bitter divisions that had rocked the ruling party throughout 2017 and culminated in a military-led takeover.
MDC-T opted for an expedient short-term benefit – the removal of the then 93-year-old Mugabe – and didn’t appreciate that, without its critical political leverage, an ever-sceptical international community wouldn’t have supported Mnangagwa’s dubious inauguration on November 24, 2017.
Yet, with all the obfuscating sweet talk about a fresh start and an inclusive transitional government swirling in the misty November air, MDC-T failed to hold Mnangagwa accountable for the despicable legacy of corruption, intolerance and state-sanctioned violence which had coloured an almost 20-year long period of plain brutality, international isolation, social deprivation and extreme poverty.
Enticed by the strong allure of potential plush ministerial posts in a coalition government after the November putsch, MDC-T lent Mnangagwa a strong, accommodating and decisive hand and helped craft a semblance of democratic transition to a post-Mugabe era.
Millions of harassed, unemployed and largely defeated people
Where the MDC-T should have called for the establishment of an independent transitional authority, an impartial caretaker government that would be tasked with implementing substantial electoral and media reforms before any elections were to be held, MDC-T chose to help Mnangagwa become president of the country and await the announcement of a coalition government. But he had other plans and the latter never occurred.
Mnangagwa had enjoyed a long and thoroughly undistinguished career as a national politician. Among the many awful “highlights” in Mnangagwa’s ghastly post-independence CV is the 1982-1987 ethnic-laced Gukurahundi war that was waged on Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and the basic constitutional, human and economic liberties of hapless villagers in Midlands and Matabeleland. Among the many examples of Mnangagwa’s opposition to progress is his determined and successful effort to block Dr Simba Makoni from challenging Mugabe in 2008.
As Zanu-PF Secretary of Administration, Mnangagwa plotted Mugabe’s unopposed presidential candidacy and engineered Makoni’s dismissal from Zanu-PF. That illiberal move allowed Mugabe to enjoy a further nine highly controversial, wasteful and unproductive years in office. Still, when the nation stood on the crux of a fresh dawn, fully supported by millions of harassed, unemployed and largely defeated people who desperately wanted to see a truly new Zimbabwe materialise, MDC-T stood behind an awkward inauguration and promptly trampled on all the noble values of democratic change envisioned at the founding of the party in 1999.
Now, a poll conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute between April 28 and May 13, claims Mnangagwa will win the presidential election, but fail to secure more than 50% of the votes needed to avoid an electoral runoff. That could be partly because the forthcoming election is likely to be held under the discriminatory media and electoral conditions that the MDC Alliance members have long opposed and the chances of substantial administrative changes ever being applied within the spirit of electoral law and constitutional intent by the ostensibly independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and government agencies remain wafer thin.
Mnangagwa is well aware of the fact that a violence-free election will help him secure the support of the AU and SADC in the event of a post-electoral crisis. If SADC and the AU endorsed last November’s military coup, why would the two conservative bodies oppose an election, which, by African democratic standards, looks fairly commendable on paper?
Juxtaposed with the shifty Joseph Kabila who has been violently suppressing demonstrations and vehemently refusing to hold elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mnangagwa would look like an African angel. And, unfortunately, Zimbabwe has fallen off the global ‘problematic’ political radar. So victory for Mnangagwa on July 30 would suit most African states (including South Africa) and global powers just fine.
Chances are that if the MDC Alliance were to lose the presidential election and a contentious political dispute developed once again, the world will not intervene à la Mugabe versus Morgan Tsvangirai circa 2008. In Thabo Mbeki phraseology, everybody who matters would insist there is “no crisis” in Zimbabwe.
But, since the MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa has said that “it’s either a free and fair election or no election”, he must follow through on his bold declaration and not offer to contest the harmonised elections until all the requisite reforms he has demanded have been instituted. Only an all or nothing approach will force Mnangagwa and his armed associates to introduce changes.
Everyone must demand reforms
While the world could somehow accept a flawed election, an election beset by an electoral boycott by the MDC Alliance would be a different matter altogether. A well-planned electoral boycott would possibly invite the kind of close and critical international scrutiny that Mnangagwa and his deputy, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, want to avoid at all costs.
But everyone, this includes Chamisa and all political leaders, human rights organisations and the voting public from across the whole electoral spectrum, must insist on a fair and transparent election and discard the notion that an election held under old and thoroughly discredited rules in a somewhat ‘freer’ environment on July 30 remains the best option forward.
Everyone must demand reforms, demonstrate their displeasure on the streets through sustained marches and boycott any attempt to hold a flawed election until Mnangagwa accepts the electoral game has changed. A free and fair election is fundamental to an economic revival that will benefit all Zimbabweans no matter what their political affiliation is.
Without holding a free and fair election, Zimbabwe could be forever stuck with the kind of internal political paralysis that has crippled efforts to resuscitate the economy in the recent past. Going forward, Chamisa must let Mnangagwa know that Zimbabwe is now firmly wedged in the “no reforms, no elections” zone.
By Tafi Mhaka