By David Monyae
Eighteen years ago, the so-called Mbeki-Mugabe Papers, purportedly penned by former president Thabo Mbeki, generated heated debates about the crisis in Zimbabwe. Some children born in that year, 2001, are now entering universities as first-year students.
How can one make sense of the history of colonialism and liberation to such a generation? Can this generation of students distinguish between the faces of colonists and liberators? Both colonists and liberators in the eyes of these students are underwriters of grinding poverty, corruption, misery, death and underdevelopment.
They have experienced neither colonialism nor liberation in their own lives. Theirs is a life of struggle to survive at the university. All they hear and see on the streets are protests for the end of the grinding poverty and state security brutality.
The 37-page Mbeki-Mugabe Papers, outright rejected by both Zanu-PF and the MDC, can be a useful starting point for the first-year student to understand the genesis of the Zimbabwean crisis.
It is high time the Zimbabwean leadership across the political divide and civil society asked the question: How did the liberation narrative of the 1980s go wrong? Bob Marley sang in Harare at Independence Day in 1980 that Africans liberated Zimbabwe.
The political and economic crisis requires Zimbabweans to have frank dialogue among themselves. Sadly, no amount of brutality by the state or noise on the streets by the opposition can resolve this crisis. As powerful and appealing as they are, the rhetoric of pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism, sanctions and boycotts will not bring stability and prosperity to Zimbabwe.
Pragmatism should inform Zimbabweans in their dialogue. This entails the refining and adjustment of the country’s constitution to be in line with democratic norms and values. Institutions of good governance must be restructured and more people-oriented than their current state-centric nature.
The Mbeki-Mugabe Papers simply stated that the Zanu PF government embarked on an unprecedented progressive programme to uplift the lives of the poor on borrowed money and on donor resources.
A decade into the Zanu-PF government’s progressive programmes, the Soviet empire collapsed. Confronted by the apartheid regime’s destabilisation policy in southern Africa and the failure to have an independent economic policy, Zanu-PF closed the democratic space and progressive language of liberation.
The former liberators became too corrupt and turned against their progressive forces within trade unions, urban elite and civil society. Resources meant for the people were deviated to satisfy the high living standards of liberators and the state machinery. In the past 18 years, the Zimbabwean story has moved from liberation to dictatorship and decay.
Although Zanu-PF, alongside the opposition, successfully dislodged the symbol of oppression and dictatorship, namely Mugabe, the political and economic crises continue unabated.
Zimbabwe faces a systemic problem that requires all hands on deck to resolve. Neither Zanu-PF nor the MDC can single-handedly resolve the current stalemate. As was the case in 2001, South Africa, Africa and the international community can only assist/alleviate the situation if Zimbabweans lead them.
It requires holistic and pragmatic solutions led by Zimbabweans to walk the path towards a truly democratic path anchored in workable economic policies for liberation. The fantasy that one leader or one political party can resolve the crisis is just that.
This was the message conveyed to the Zimbabwean leadership in 2001 through the Mbeki-Mugabe Papers. It’s also imperative to the 18-year-old first-year student that the Zimbabwean crisis started when the governing elite captured the state.
* David Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.