In order to legitimise anti-democratic politics, violence and human rights abuses to the world, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) has gone back to its exhausted ideological settings. This follows a widespread call by active citizens for a demonstration on 31 July 2020 against menacing corruption, deepening poverty and ZANU PF’s autocratic rule among other genuine demands. The calculated response was predicated on the rhetoric around fighting global capitalism, neo-imperialism, Covid 19 and defending the gains of the liberation struggle. However, the 31st of July 2020 has shown that the ZANU PF rhetoric is still meant to mask a violent and bigoted mode of governance. It seems it was meant to mimic the late Robert Mugabe without his sophistication.
Instead of addressing the citizens’ legitimate cries the regime apparatchiks framed the problem as that of fighting global capitalism as a way to appeal to Africa, the global south and progressives in the world. Douglas Mahiya (War veterans’ secretary in the ZANU PF politburo) alleged that the problem is that of global capitalism at a ZANU PF presser on 27 July 2020. He said, ‘we know the original enemy and when we are talking about the original enemy we are talking about global capitalists…’ He then promised ‘to turn the young people into an army’ against these imagined forces. This was meant to sway the anti-capitalist movements but he ignored the fact that it is ZANU PF that has been on an aggressive mission to invite the global capitalists from November 2017 with its slogan of ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’.
Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe President and ZANU PF leader) sought to justify the uncivilized response as a defense of the liberation struggle. As Raftopolous has argued, ZANU PF strives to position itself as a sole arbiter of national interest and patriotism. In that vein, Mnangagwa, Patrick Chinamasa (ZANU PF Acting Secretary for Information and Publicity) and other ZANU PF senior officials have cast the opposition and active citizens as ‘terrorists’, ‘hoodlums’, ‘malcontents’, ‘hooligans’ et cetera. Mnangagwa and Chinamasa denigrated the active citizens as a front of the West and the demonstrations as a creation of the foreigners. At the heart of this is a justification to deny the active citizens their right to citizenship, protection under the Constitution which includes fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.
This was not mere talk as on 31 July 2020 many active citizens were arrested such as Fadzayi Mahere (Movement for Democratic Change Alliance [MDC Alliance]’s Spokesperson) and Tsitsi Dangarebwa (Internationally Renowned Novelist). Cecilia Chimbiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice Chairperson), Joana Mamombe (MDC Alliance Member of Parliament) and Netsai Marova (MDC Youth Assembly National Deputy Organiser) were victims too. The last three were tortured, sexually abused and face trial for allegedly participating in a demonstration in May 2020. Nevertheless, they were detained on 31 July 2020 at a roadblock. Advocate Thabani Mpofu ‘witnessed a soldier physically assault and molest Cecilia Chimbiri…’ on 31 July 2020 near ZANU PF’s headquarters. The police refused to take an official complaint. Mamombe and Marova were later released without charge but Chimbiri was charged with insulting a ‘green bomber’. The assault on Chimbiri confirms the continued use of sexual violence as a weapon of politics by the ruling regime. Obey Shava, a top human rights lawyer, was also briefly detained for defending the three ladies. Many more active citizens were arrested. Meanwhile, state agents hunted some active citizens and they are now living in the bush such as the outspoken Job Sikhala (MDC Alliance MP and Zengeza West MP), Ostallos Siziba (MDC Alliance Secretary General), Denford Ngadziore (MDC Alliance Harare Province Organizing Secretary) Makomborero Haruzivishe (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly) and Mduduzi Mathuthu (Prominent Journalist). Others like Hopewell Chin’ono (Prominent Journalist) and Jacob Ngarivhume (Transform Zimbabwe President) were locked and denied bail well ahead of 31 July on frivolous charges. Mazwi Ndlovu (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly National Executive Member) died after being beaten by ZANU PF thugs. It is not by coincidence that most victims were MDC Alliance, journalists and active citizens. The idea is to annihilate any opposing voices. To ZANU PF, violence is justified and hence Mahiya’s unashamed appeal to war. Further legitimating the autocratic assault by Mnangagwa is the use of Covid 19 to suffocate democracy in what now seems to be the norm of authoritarian leaders globally.
Chinamasa also framed his response as a struggle against neo-imperialism but the idea is to demonise and delegitimise the opposition and active citizens. Nelson Chamisa (MDC Alliance President), Tendai Biti (MDC Alliance Vice President) and Sikhala were attacked in the same breath with Brian Nichols the American ambassador to Zimbabwe. Nichols was accused of funding a regime change agenda. On 27 July 2020, Chinamasa did not hesitate to call the US Ambassador a ‘gangster ‘and a ‘thug’. He told Nichols to know that ‘Zimbabwe is a sovereign republic and a full State under the Montevideo Convention’.The idea was to appeal to a very particular regional and international audience and legitimate social movements that face similar struggles against neo-imperialism. That is the purported logic in the madness.
The opposition, citizens and organised civil society need to forcefully expose this duplicitous view of ZANU PF. The battle needs to be won on the streets and ideologically. They must develop and sustain a modern neo-imperialist critique that embraces democratic politics as they engage the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) and progressive global forces. The last week of July 2020 has shown that there could be some space outside the controlled ‘judiciary courts to contest ZANU PF’s authoritarian politics. There is potential for active citizens to move out of that technical politics or what Neocosmos called ‘de-politicised politics’. 31 July has gone beyond ZANU PF’s comfort zone and forced the leopard to show its true spots as it unleashed a military armed to the teeth against its citizens and shut down all businesses in the country. The irony of it is that Zimbabwe on 31 July 2020 resembled a successful stay away with a huge cost on the state.
The last week of July 2020 has further shown that Mnangagwa was all but deceptive in an unsustainable manner when he came into power through a military coup in November 2017. He had promised a shift from what he viewed as hard nationalism to economic nationalism. He emphasised he was re-framing the national question to one predicated on re-engaging the West, promotion of foreign based investments and all the liberal niceties. Whatever remains of that deceit will continue to fall after the 31 July 2020’s tired response. The structural problems facing Zimbabwe will not go away on ideological rhetoric. I am inclined to conclude by quoting Frantz Fanon who said, ‘a bourgeoisie that provides nationalism alone as food for the masses fails in its mission and gets caught up in a whole series of mishaps’.
By Dr. Phillan Zamchiya, Pres1zamchiya@gmail,com, 31 July 2020