What are we to make of the new President? You should expect Mnangagwa to entice his own people and the world with a ‘reformist stance’. He will try to rebrand the party, presenting it as ZanuPF 2.0, ZanuPF-lite, non-ideological, technocratic, managerial, open for business, safe once more for foreign investors. He has already mentioned a partial return of land to some white commercial farmers, he has embraced the rhetoric of anti-corruption, offering a three-month amnesty window to return ill-gotten gains.
But these promises don’t stand up to scrutiny. What, for example, of his own corruption, and that of many of his new cabinet – 8 of the 22 are on US sanctions list – joined by bonds of massively corrupt selfenrichment, and repressive political violence? For them to put distance between who they now purport to be, and their nearly four-decade record in office, is preposterous.
And for Zimbabweans both within the country and in the diaspora, as well as the international community, to believe this, is to fall for a ZanuPF confidence trick, a survival bait-and-switch.
ZanuPF has long been a vampiric entity, sucking the blood from the nation. Mnangagawa is 75 years-old. He is most unlikely undergo a benign metamorphosis. He has been at the very center of ZanuPF’s repressive security web, until recently Mugabe’s trusted consiglieri. He headed the feared Central Intelligence Organization, the CIO, at the time of the Matableland massacre, during which upwards of 20,000 civilians were killed. And he rolled out the terrible reprisal campaign during the postelection violence of 2008, when thousands of opposition supporters were badly tortured and more than 200 killed. All of these and more besides, were carried out by this same political party, kleptocratic, violent, repressive.
What are the alternatives for Zimbabweans in the 2018 elections? You have before you today a senior member of the main opposition party, the MDC, so I will defer to him to summarize his own party’s current status. However, in general, Zimbabwe’s opposition is more divided than ever before. There are currently more than twenty separate parties, ten of them significant. And within the MDC, there are some tensions as its founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been seriously ill, and there is some pressure on him to stand down.
This opposition fragmentation is enormously beneficial to ZanuPF, allowing them a real possibility of winning at the polls even if opposition parties attract more votes between themselves. For the opposition it is, therefore, imperative to unify or at least broker alliances or electoral pacts. It’s also crucial that the elections are free and fair, and perceived as such by the electorate. ZanuPF has a long precedent of electoral foul play.
If this is to be avoided in 2018, external monitoring will be essential. It is quite inadequate for observers to parachute into Zimbabwe shortly before the poll (recent approval of the Kenya elections tell a cautionary tale in this regard.) There needs to be a persistent presence on the ground long, long before that, as registration procedures need to be scrutinized.
In conclusion, if we reward Mnangagwa’s ‘same as it ever was’ ZanuPF for its internal coup, for example, by prematurely dropping individual sanctions, we would help cement the culture of impunity that already infects Zimbabwe, where the perpetrators never face the consequences of their actions, and where real freedom and reform remain elusive.