AWIND of change or shall I say a hurricane or typhoon is blowing across Zimbabwe whose epicentre are vendors, students, youths, the masses or lumpen proletariat. In the absence of a fractured opposition and a paralysed intelligentsia, they are now acting as the catalysts for change; the oppressed of the oppressed who have nothing to lose but their chains. Even some of the diehard and unflinching supporters of Zanu PF now admit that change is inevitable, and it is only a matter of time before it comes. This is so precisely because the pain of remaining the same now outweighs the pain of change.
The regular fall of the president in full view of the entire world is no longer a guarded secret; instead it is a portent that indicates the end of an old era is near. The sorcerers, witch doctors, magicians, spiritualists and pathologists alike may make their own predictions, but what is certain is that nature is going to take its own course, which blows out life like a candle at a predetermined time.
Even a meteor in the firmament will one day succumb to the force of gravity if it decomposes or loses its balance among other members of the solar system. This is the inescapable reality of life, and we must therefore work out how Zimbabwe is going to function in the aftermath of change. It is absolutely necessary to plan now because, if we don’t, Zimbabwe is likely to experience the same bad governance as the current one, and may even be plunged into a political cataclysm never before seen in our life time.
Myth of irreplaceability
The first thing-and I don’t want to beat about the bush by talking about constitutionalism or other “isms” that obfuscate the reality-is to start changing from the top. The myth that president Mugabe is indispensable needs to be unmasked. For a long time some people have come to believe, and of course through sustained propaganda, that Zimbabwe cannot do without its current president. As a result, Zimbabwe has become synonymous with Mugabe who, in turn, has metaphorically recreated Zimbabwe in his own image. This has had a devastating effect on the image of the country which is seen globally as a rogue country ruled by what Winston Churchill used to call a “baptised tyrant” ( Hitler).
The idea of an all-powerful president may have been intended for nation building; but as we all know, it is one of the major causes of Zimbabwe’s woes which has destroyed the core value of unity in diversity. The result is that an omnipotent president has eroded the trust of the people as he is generally seen as an abusive, oppressive and divisive head of state. Here, one needs to note that the deification of the president has not only diminished the reverence of the people, but has also provoked their indignation over what they see as a systematic plundering of state resources by the president’s family, his retinue of relatives and by members of his inner circle. And to show their anger, many people frequently insult the president and are prepared to go to jail rather than acquiesce.Advertisement
In the midst of all this, what is baffling is that in spite of his erudition, the president does not seem to have learned lessons from history that Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea under Sekou Toure, Egypt under Abdel Nasser, Malawi under Kamuzu Banda, Zaire under Joseph Mobutu, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and China under Mao Tse Tung decayed under their megalomaniac leadership.
The same history lessons also tell us that those countries in Africa and elsewhere that have done away with the hero worshipping of leaders have fared better in their social, economic and political development. Good examples are Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, and now China, Ghana, Senegal and Mozambique which have been able to change their leaders smoothly, resulting in the attainment of greater peace and harmony.
In the case of Zimbabwe, it is sickening to hear that Mugabe is the only person capable of running the country, even when he is in a wheel chair. It is well documented that Zimbabwe has a highly educated citizenry with abundant skills in the social, economic, political, legal, educational, medical, scientific, technical and administrative fields. Why should Zimbabwe fail to find a younger and more dynamic leader from its large intellectual reservoir?
The time has come for us to realise that it is better for the country to look forward to an attractive future than to cling on to the fading hope of the past. In fairness, and without running the risk of self-contradiction, the president may have done well in the initial stages but the weight of repression and ill-informed policies has scuppered all efforts towards prosperity. And the tragedy of it all is that for a long time our fickle and gullible world has been dazzled and bamboozled by Mugabe’s bombast, rhetoric and heroics without scrutinising the regressive nature of his theatrics.
And if we take a closer look at Mugabe’s ambition to be the “guardian” of African independence, we will see that it is just a façade: his pan-Africanist posturing is patently hollow, artificial and highly inflated because there is nothing to show for it. In his own country, he has destroyed the very essence of sovereignty by running down what used to be a flourishing country. As a result, many Zimbabweans now see him as a turncoat whose noisy behaviour has ruined their jewel.
The ripple effect of his insensitivity to the needs of the people is that the vast majority of Zimbabweans are dangerously disillusioned because they are hungry, have no jobs and are without social security. Can one then proudly stand on a hill top and shout “Zimbabwe is truly independent” when up to five million of our citizens have fled the country to seek economic opportunity, self-fulfilment, freedom and liberty in other countries? Is this not worse than slavery? And does this not call for a change in the leadership to end the greatest betrayal of our people so that we can restore our dignity?
Establishment of democratic institutions
But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that having a new leader is going to bring about the desired change because transformation takes time, requires dedication and sacrifice. Yes we need a new leadership, but most importantly we need to effect structural changes in the body politic of the country so that we can give birth to genuine democracy.
The leadership we need, unlike the current one which is too far removed from our people, is the one with a clear vision for the country, the one with an antennae to feel what ordinary people like, the one which bonds with the people, the one that feels the pulse, hears and plays the tunes of the people and the one that loves its people. It should be characterised by a deep sense of empathy, patriotism, destiny and the willpower to take our country to greater heights.
Unfortunately, the present leadership is merely obsessed with power and self-enrichment. It has little to offer to the people, except to dribble them and make empty promises that are never fulfilled. The failures are there for everyone to see: a crumbling economy, spiralling unemployment, bankruptcy, a critical shortage of electricity, a divided nation drained of hope and above all, an inept leadership that is seized with self-destruction. The question is: for how long shall Zimbabweans continue to carry the cross for their crucifixion?
In seeking change, we need to caution ourselves that it would not be enough to simply make cosmetic changes without overhauling the institutions that make democracy more meaningful. If we change the head only, it would be like removing one masquerade and replacing it with another, which will maintain the status quo. We need to pay heed to the old saying that when the stem of a tree decays, it spreads its rot to the roots and branches. And so we need to make radical changes in order to remove the decay that has for so long afflicted our country.
Some of the most important institutions that need to be democratised are the army and police force whose barbarism and savagery has traumatised many of our people (Ask Dumiso Dabengwa, Morgan Tsvangirai and many other Zimbabweans who have lived to tell the horrors of state sponsored brutality). Although this matter has been raised before, one needs to reiterate the fact that the appointment of generals, commissioners of police and other senior positions in the armed forces should not be done by the head of state but by an independent commission that interviews and recommends their appointment.
Similarly, the chief justice and judges of the high court should be appointed by an independent judicial commission that sits openly with an input from the public to interview potential candidates. This will ensure that we will have an impartial judicial system that protects the rights of ordinary citizens and not simply those of a powerful clique.
From our past experience, we have seen that top civil servants such as permanent secretaries are appointed based on their political affiliation. This has been a monumental disaster. The unbridled corruption in many organs of the state and the dysfunctional quasi-government organisations such as Air Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Railways, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, GMB, ZISCO, ZESA, ZUPCO, state universities and many other state controlled institutions is a direct result of appointing political stooges. Can you see why the wife of the president was awarded an “earned” PhD without going through the required rigours of research and publication?
To restore the dignity of our institutions, top government officers and all vice chancellors of state universities must be transparently appointed by adhering to the stipulated qualifications, rules and regulations. The public service commission must be transformed in order to restore its integrity. And universities and their councils must be led by visionary people who are prepared to make our institutions of higher learning the best in the region so that we can give innate hope and pride to our young people.
In hindsight, perhaps the much maligned Ian Douglas Smith, the last colonial prime minister of Rhodesia, was after all right when he emphasised “meritocracy” in appointing public servants. His only cardinal sin was that he was an unrepentant racial bigot who believed in white supremacy. But the same is true with the current regime that believes in the kleptomania of Zanu PF and its tribal bigotry. This must change in a post Zanu PF era if our country is to voyage with full sail into a stable future.
Protection of the people
Considering our past experiences about rampant inflation and corruption, the plundering of state assets and how some of those in power have committed heinous crimes with impunity, we need to establish what I would term the “Zimbabwe Public Protector” (ZPP). This will be more than an ombudsman who can deal with complaints by ordinary people against the government and other institutions that mistreat our people. The ZPP and the Auditor General must have wide sweeping powers to investigate high profile corruption, the disappearance of billions of dollars through the clandestine sale of our diamonds, emeralds, gold, platinum, coal, nickel and other minerals. The fundamental work of the ZPP should be to strengthen our democracy by providing checks and balances on the activities of the executive and the legislature, as well as monitoring the activities of all public institutions to ensure that they timeously deliver services to our people.
To further deepen our democracy, we need to have a constitutional court that will adjudicate on matters relating to the infringement of citizens’ inalienable rights. It must be a watchdog that jealously guards against the victimisation of our people by upholding their constitutional rights based on the principle of the right to be heard (audi alteram partem). Also, the constitutional court must unflinchingly uphold the principle of natural justice that says no person or institution may judge themselves on matters in which they are interested parties (nemo judex in parte sua). This will remove the autocracy inherent in the current regime who see themselves as above the law.
In order to have credibility, the constitutional court must be presided over by a judge president who is above reproach. He or she must be an eminent judge, lawyer, barrister or advocate with a track record of being imbued with a sense of justice, fairness and impartiality. In a new dispensation, the head of state should never have the power to dismiss judges, the ZPP, the chief justice, the president of the constitutional court, permanent secretaries or directors of state institutions. The power to hire or fire them should rest in independent bodies that are not manipulated by the president or members of the ruling party.
Civil society organisations
The level of democracy in any country is judged by the vibrancy of civil society organisations that act as the eye and soul of the people. In a post-Zanu PF era, we need to open up the space so that civic organisations can operate freely without fear or favour. In particular, we need to allow private newspapers, radio and television stations to operate freely, including those that support different political parties, so that we can hear the multiple voices of our people.
I am aware that many of us who have never experienced genuine democracy may regard these suggestions as either utopian, foreign or unrealistic. We can be excused for thinking like that because, like people who live in a desert, we may see normal rain as a deluge. This has also happened in the past when some slaves resisted their own emancipation after the abolition of slavery in 1833. They still wanted to be owned by their white masters because their self-esteem had been irreparably damaged.
But we are encouraged by the fact that throughout the tempestuous history of mankind, great events have occurred when prospects of change loom in the horizon and when the powerful force of freedom and liberty coalesces to sweep away the old order. In this regard, Zimbabwe can no longer continue to dawdle and dodge, tinker or trifle natural justice. It can only do so at the risk of becoming a permanent junk state relegated to the bottom heap of human civilisation. Surely this is not what we want to happen to our country!
Bearing in mind the melodramatic history of our turbulent past, the pertinent question that needs to be asked is: do we need to strengthen civil society organisations? Are they really necessary? Again, the lived experiences of our people show that the absence of strong and audacious civil organisations has allowed the state to get away with the murder of our people.
Do you still remember the disappearance of Dr Edson Sithole in Harare in 1975 together with his secretary and the assassination of Herbert Chitepo during the same year in Lusaka? Have you forgotten the disappearance of Joseph Masangomai with his wife and children in Houghton Park and the gunning down of Mr Saunyama at his house in Mabelreign just before our independence? And have you buried the memory of Josiah Magama Tongogara, that gallant hero of our liberation struggle who died in a suspicious road accident in Mozambique just at the dawn of our independence? What about Dr Joseph Taderera’s car ‘accident’, Sydney Malunga’s and Border Gezi’s choreographed deaths? What do we say about the disappearance of Rashiwe Guzha involving the CIO?
Above all, what is our conscience about the genocidal murder of thousands of our compatriots in Matebeleland by the Fifth Brigade? What do you make of Learmore Jongwe’s supposed suicide in police cells? Do you see the torture and murder of many MDC supporters during the 2008 elections as normal political rivalry? And is our memory so short that we have forgotten about the disappearance of Itai Dzamara earlier this year? The death of all these people continues to haunt us as a nation, and we can only make them rest in peace by making sure that we do not allow the culture of impunity to continue in a future Zimbabwe.
An issue that has poisoned our society which needs to be put to an end is the use of hate language to refer to a group of people or individuals whose political persuasion, colour or origin is different. Before our independence, much of the hate language was between black and white people, reflecting the power relations between the colonised and the coloniser. Quite often white people derogatorily referred to black people as “kaffirs”, an offensive term indicating that blacks were an inferior race. On the other hand, black people referred to all whites as “Boers”, which suggested they were violent, savage, cruel and heartless.
In the USA, especially during the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties, there was a similar racial polarisation whereby whites scornfully referred to black people as “niggers” while blacks disdainfully brushed off all Caucasians as “white pigs” or members of the Ku Klux Klan. These terms, besides harming social cohesion, have the effect of maintaining mistrust and racial prejudice. And does this surprise anyone that there are still racially motivated murders in the USA?
The racial and tribal bigotry emanating from colonialism has, unfortunately, been internalised by some people. In South Africa, black people who were abused for many generations by their white oppressors refer to black people from other countries as aliens or makwerekwere. From a psychological perspective, their hatred of blackness in the black people from other countries is an expression of their self-repudiation engendered by apartheid and an attempt to transfer their colonial dehumanisation to those they see as “different”.
In Zimbabwe some people, especially the older generation belonging to the ruling party, still suffer from the storm and stresses of their traumatic past. In order to mitigate their psychological disjuncture, they use derogatory language to refer to their political opponents. During our liberation struggle, and it was dogmatically acceptable then, that those who didn’t support the armed struggle were disparagingly referred to as “sell outs” or “puppets” (zvimbwasungata). The supporters of Bishop Abel Muzorewa were specifically called madzakutsaku (mindless people) or fools (maduche) because they negotiated with whites to have a diluted form of independence.
The use of foul language has continued even after independence. Those in Matebeleland and the midlands who thought they had not been given a fair deal in a new Zimbabwe were regarded as “dissidents” or “rebels” (vapanduki), terms which ordinarily refer to citizens who criticise or oppose the government. The new regime used these terms with greater toxicity to whip up the emotions of gullible people against a segment of our people, the Ndebele, whom they portrayed as “enemies” of the state. Joshua Nkomo was specifically targeted for ridicule, calling him a “possessed bull” (buru rengozi) and all sorts of other names.
In contrast, the president tacitly agreed to be eulogised as karigamombe (literally meaning the one who has felled down Nkomo). If I may ask, did it please his ego to humiliate Nkomo, a man of great stature who had unwaveringly fought for our independence much longer than Mugabe? Is it honourable to refer to people with different views as dissidents, rebels or sell outs? Is this not the genesis of genocide in Matebeleland?
Moreover, does it show statesmanship for the president to stereotype an entire ethnic group, the Kalanga, as a bunch of thieves who are uneducated? The late Martin Luther King Jnr advises us that “the surest way of incurring the hatred of other people is by pulling them very low”, a view which is also shared by Booker T. Washington who said: “we permit other people to hate us by narrowing and degrading their soul”.
The use of hate language by the ruling party has not abated at all. For a long time Morgan Tsvangirai has been a target of sustained ridicule, calling him chematama, (Someone with fat cheeks) a tea boy and a sell-out. Is he a sell-out when so many of our people support him? What has he sold out and to whom? Is this why he was beaten up some years ago and his wife killed in a freak car accident?
What about Didymus Mutasa who, for a long time, used to be the closest ally of the president? Has he suddenly become so poisonous to his former Zanu PF comrades that he can be rubbished as gamatox? Did Amos Midzi who served ZANU PF so diligently for many years in exile and at home deserve to be called a “coward” because he took his own life, or did he? I remember during the Second World War Japanese soldiers preferred to take their own lives than surrender to the Americans. Were they cowards?
What about the vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, who is now being called mboko, a Shona word for an imbecile or idiot? Does he deserve to be so much debased and maligned by his own Zanu PF members? Is it fair for Emerson Mnangagwa to be called a crocodile (ngwena) which is notorious of being sly, secretive, deceitful and vicious? Should we trust a person being called a crocodile, if indeed he is, to rule the country?
In the light of the potential for conflict in the use of hate language, (Let’s not forget how hate language fanned genocide in Rwanda) should we not make an anti-hate language law in a post Zanu PF era so that we can protect our people from being abused? Surely a country that does not respect its own people does not deserve to be respected by others. As a nation, we need to stand on a high moral ground so that we can bequeath to our children cultured values that promote human dignity. Here we need to dig deeper into the soul of our African philosophy which says: “we gain nothing from hate except to inflict deeper wounds to ourselves” and that “the price of hating other human beings is loving ourselves less”.
The need for a paradigm shift in a post-Zanu PF era is vindicated by the blind economic policies of the current government. For instance, while it is laudable to invest in the Hwange thermal power station and in telecommunications, is it prudent to build a new house of parliament at this stage when the country has no money? Is thermal power our long term solution to the shortage of electricity? Is it wise to bring in a Chinese company to set up a cigarette factory when the world is advocating anti-smoking laws? Shouldn’t we focus on resuscitating our agricultural and manufacturing industries which employ thousands of our people instead of depleting our mineral resources through dubious trade deals?
And come to think of it, is China, our supposed traditional ally, not spitting into our face by giving us a paltry US$1.4 billion while giving South Africa, our neighbour, US$6.5 billion? Why should we solely depend on China when we can make many other friends in the global community? The big question is: what is China getting from us in return for what it is giving us? Is Xi Jinping really an innocent Asian tiger who wants no pound of flesh from the nearest part of our heart? Is he not acting like a spider that uses its cobweb not only as a sleeping spring but also as a trap for food?
In wrapping up, we should be encouraged by the fact that our people’s voice for change is now echoing louder and louder. It is raising our hope that sooner or later we shall remove our shackles and walk to the Promised Land. Believe you me, there are many Zimbabweans with an indomitable spirit which makes us unique optimists who are able to enrich the present, enhance the future and challenge the improbable. And like a butterfly, I know that you and I have the strength and hope to believe that in time we will emerge from our cocoon and fly high up in the sky to attain the impossible.
Prof Ambrose B. Chimbganda can be reached at: email@example.com