A nation at war with itself

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Lovemore Chimaliro

By Lovemore Chimaliro

On 14 January 2019, Zimbabwe woke to waves of looting, anarchy, violence, barricades and killings, epicentred around Harare and Bulawayo, ostensibly couched as a “stayaway” in protest against a recent rise in the price of fuel announced publicly on 13 January 2019 by the Head of State and Government, His Excellency, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. As has become public knowledge, an assortment of vehicles and building were torched, various shops looted, life and limb lost.

Predictably, social media platforms were abuzz with soundbites and optics of the unfolding drama. Predictably too, interpretation of the events took on a political hue and tone, with opinion divided sharply between supporters of the ruling ZANU PF on the one side, and the opposition MDC Alliance on the other. Each side sought to blame the other for the violence. Predictably, long lines of officials and supporters of the rival political outfits have made public pronouncements on the matter, with predictable punches and counterpunches being thrown.

Various “experts and analysts”, the majority of them well-known, already compromised political operatives have ventured opinions and interpretations on the developments. This layman, therefore, will sway away from those predictable debates and perhaps seek to look at the impact of the unfortunate developments in the context of the national health of the Republic of Zimbabwe. For purposes of context, the following should be noted;

  • formally, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a three-day stayaway, commencing 14 January 2019;
  • the so-called “stayaway” degenerated into looting, vandalism and killings;
  • across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe, particularly in Harare and Bulawayo, corps of vigilantes exhibited militant readiness to confront and thwart firstly members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and secondly, the military;
  • on Day One of the “stayaway”, the main opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa encouraged its members and supporters to actively join and support the ZCTU inspired action;
  • in essence, the violence and looting appeared co-ordinated, particularly with the tactical barricading of arterial roads and attacks on ZRP infrastructure, as well as wanton looting.

In exchanges with friends, there is indeed consensus that Zimbabweans have genuine concerns over the state of the economy, particularly regarding the volatility of the bond notes, multi-tier pricing, shortage of United States of America currency, shortage of fuel, high costs of goods and services, lack of employment opportunities, closure of industries, plummeting standards of living, as well as declining service delivery from local authorities. The list goes on. The general belief, therefore, is that the announced and implemented increase in the price of fuel worsened the situation.

There is also consensus that, by any standard, this was not a stayaway. During a stayaway, logic would be to stay at home, yet what was witnessed was callous violence and looting, unwarranted attacks on innocent fellow civilians, as well as toyi-toying towards city centres. This, by any standard, was not a “peaceful demonstration”, as innocent citizens were stopped from conducting normal business and coerced to “stay away”.

From a layman’s view, this is a matter of serious national security concern. Are we as a country degenerating into a violent citizenry, where genuine societal concerns are settled through confrontation and coercion? Where anyone who is aggrieved has the temerity to commandeer everyone else and go scot-free? While it is not in dispute that our ZRP has a long way to go before it restores public confidence in its abilities to deliver service, are we now a country where state security machinery is now reactionary and cannot protect law-abiding citizens from the anger and violence from merchants of chaos?

If it is true, as reported by ZBC, that the state security apparatus has been aware since late 2018 that certain regime change proponents and economic saboteurs, inclusive of sections of the local civil society organisations were plotting this mayhem, why has there been no appropriate action to nab the said persons, given their threat to national security? If those who are tasked with making us feel secure do not have the full actionable facts, are they not complicit in compromising our safety, by dint of omission? As a layman, I find it very discomforting for anyone to tell me that “we knew what they were up to” well after the deed has been done. As a citizen I have the right to demand that perpetrators of the subversion be brought to book. Like indicated earlier on, this was neither a stayaway nor peaceful demonstration!! It was criminal, so get them, simple. Only then can we separate genuine Zimbabweans seeking improvement of their livelihoods from criminal elements seeking to pursue narrow political agenda.

The second point I wish to raise is that of accountability and culpability. At the onset I noted that the ZCTU proposed and led the “stayaway”, and correct me if I am wrong. I would like to assume that by giving appropriate notification of the proposed action, ZCTU also accepted accountability, responsibility and culpability, no matter how difficult that would be. At this point, I challenge ZCTU to come clean on its role in the fiasco. Did it begin and end with a mere press statement to announce dates of the so-called stayaway? Did ZCTU mobilise its members to withdraw labour and stay at home? Did ZCTU urge members to partake in the violence and looting (which I doubt)? Could ZCTU separate its members from criminal elements who subsequently hijacked the dates? At which point did ZCTU’s accountability, responsibility and culpability end? Was ZCTU merely a purveyor of an otherwise invidious political agenda to prop up MDC’s political ambitions and undermine ZANU PF’s ability to rule?

The above arises from the known umbilical and incestuous relationship between ZCTU and its child, the political outfit we know as MDC. ZCTU and MDC are on record as claiming that Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is upward of eighty percent. Given that statistic, how then is it feasible for it to mobilise people who are neither its affiliates or employed? Unless of course, there was a political agenda.

If indeed this was a purely political agenda, it is feasible to claim that it sought to serve the narrow interests of the MDC, which as a matter of record lost elections in 2018. While I accept that the MDC feels that they were robbed, the latest attempt to unseat an elected government is tantamount to playing Russian roulette with Zimbabwean lives. Any narrow attempt to sacrifice Zimbabwean lives on the altar of party politics is both myopic and suicidal. Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy, and like any young democracy, has challenges. The MDC contested the 2018 Harmonised Elections outcome and lost in the Constitutional Court. The ‘party of excellence” ought to have moved on, rather that remain mired in moody contemplation like a spurned spouse, forever vindictive and bent on “kudira jecha”.

I have had debate with friends, during which I have always argued that MDC is already in Government and ought to behave and excel as such. To start with, they are in Parliament, and indeed control numerous Local Authorities. To date, in both those arenas, the opposition has not delivered, perhaps overly drunk on an inexplicable appetite to enthrone Nelson Chamisa as State President, even though logic tells us that is pie in the sky.

Personally, I am most disappointed in the current Parliament, which we excitedly welcomed as “refreshing, young and vibrant”. Not anymore!! Except for a few persons, the majority of MPs appear more determined to secure lavish lifestyles than to deliver on their electoral promises of representative, developmental politics. To the extent that our MPs have chosen to run away from their elected mandate in the august house, to the streets!!! In this purview, the chaos of the last few days becomes understandable!! Zimbabwe does not have a fuel problem, it has a leadership problem. We elected leaders to come up with policies and programmes that overcome our challenges, not leaders who encourage us to fight, loot and plunder at the drop of a hat.

The unfortunate events of 01 August 2018, as well as the findings of the resultant Commission of Inquiry ought to have taught us something. Clearly, we have a coterie of bloodthirsty, ambitious politicians in our midst, who seek office not just by hook or crook, but also by subverting the will of the local people. They will trample on national interest in pursuit of office. They will urge us to beat each other to bloody pulp while they remain ensconced in the comfort of their homes. They will tell us to mob the streets while they vainly gaze at their navels far from the madding crowd!! Such politicians have no national vision or interest; they seek power for the sake of power!

Which begs the question, whither Zimbabwe?

Away from the political intrigue, what is becoming increasingly clear is that we have a long way before we become a nation! Yes we are a country, because that is just a geographical definition of the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo. Yes we are a State, because that is merely a description of our institutions, arms and structures of government. Our biggest challenge is to truly become a nation, because that would be a definition and description of who we are as a people, united in our diversity, hewn together by our commonality, driven in one direction by our ethos as Zimbabweans.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe attempts to show us who we aspire to be, yet we fall short of nationhood as we have allowed merchants of doom to define us more by what separates us than what unites us! Nationhood is not a tourist catchphrase; it is the reality of our being!! It has become easy to maim each other because we no longer see each other as brothers and sisters, one responsible for the other. The blame lies squarely on our leaders, politicians in particular, who seek to divide us and make us “their people”.

Equally importantly, we have institutions for debate, dialogue and ventilation of ideas. We need to go back to these institutions and use them appropriately. As alluded to above, one such institution is Parliament. Those who we elected should go back there and forge solutions to our national challenges. I challenge every self-respecting MP to go back to work and generate remedies to our social and economic concerns. If there is a march I will gladly partake in, it would be a march against passenger MPs who are in Parliament merely for the material benefits instead of doing the work we set for them.

Relatedly, it is clear that there is need for a national dialogue, not necessarily an inclusive. In my view, such dialogue should involve Government, Labour, Industry, Civil Society, Academics, Faith-based organisations and populace specific groupings. This, in theory, appears to be an easy task, but there are serious considerations to be made. For instance, there has been notable erosion of trust, sincerity and confidence between some of the stated players, hence there is need to rebuild such an atmosphere, otherwise the dialogue would die a quick death.

Secondly, in light of current political discourse, at some point the MDC will have to stop its continual potshots challenging the “legitimacy” of President Mnangagwa’s rule. That matter was resolved in the courts of law. Reasonably, it would be a major stumbling block for President Mnangagwa to dialogue with persons who do not recognize his office. MDC posturing, therefore, effectively holds Zimbabweans at ransom.

Thirdly, the parties to the envisioned dialogue should not just confine themselves to the political questions, but focus more importantly on economics which obviously, is the major concern today. Issues of concern include, volatility of the bond notes, multi-tier pricing, shortage of United States of America currency, shortage of fuel, high costs of goods and services, lack of employment opportunities, closure of industries, plummeting standards of living, as well as declining service delivery from local authorities.

My greatest wish is for Zimbabweans to remind themselves of who we truly are, loving and caring brothers and sisters.