AS THE government is thrust back into the spotlight, following recent allegations of torture and savage beatings of its opponents, Professor of World Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Stephen Chan, has warned that the world cannot keeping waiting for Zimbabwe and it’s time it corrects its ills and wrongs, without expecting outside help.
He speaks to Daily News on Sunday’s Consulting Editor, Constantine Chimakure, and below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed former Vice President Baleka Mbete and ex-minister Sydney Mufamandi to mediate the Zimbabwe crisis. What is your take on the move?
A: These are two respected figures. Sydney Mufamadi was of course one of the lead negotiators in the (former SA President Thabo) Mbeki team in the 2008 electoral crisis, and he played a key role in the moves towards the government of national unity. He was also chair of the Lake Kariba houseboat negotiations between Zanu PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC at an earlier stage.
At this stage, we don’t know what template the two will adopt. Any first visit will be exploratory, but two things: Ramaphosa said some strong words, as did other ANC senior figures.
However, a repeat of the Mbeki formula cannot work without full equality in any sharing of power. That means, this time, a sharing of the security portfolios. At this stage, that would seem highly unlikely. But the question is precisely the securitisation of Zimbabwean politics and, in the harshness of crushing of dissent, essentially a securitisation of what had been constitutional freedoms.
Q: What role should South Africa play to assist the resolution of our crises?
A: South Africa is having desperate problems of its own right now. So is China, by the way. No one is going to come to rescue Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans feel entitled. But, right now, it’s down to Zimbabwe itself — by itself.
Q: Is an inclusive government the panacea to our problems?
A: Mbeki wants to try this again. But it can’t be by the same means as last time. Then it was not just that there was a coalition — this restored some international confidence — but there was also the use of US dollars. Zimbabwe would have to look seriously at that again, but this time it will be harder. No one wants to make dollars available. In short, inclusive government only works if there is an economic foundation.
Q: What is your assessment of the foiled July 31 protests?
A: The protests were suppressed at great financial cost to the government. It was a successful show of force, but an expensive one. Zimbabwe has 700 percent inflation, so the cost of aviation fuel for the helicopters would have increased even while they were in the air. But the same massive show of force revealed that the government was fearful of a mass expression of dissatisfaction.
Q: In your view were the protests successful as claimed by the organisers that they managed to expose the government’s heavy-handedness?
A: The episode demonstrated that the government’s principal objective is control. Many people looked to the government for solutions to the economic and health problems. Treating all citizens as if their dissatisfaction meant support for the opposition is a misjudgment. People want economic recovery and a health plan. Only if the government consistently fails to deliver these things will support for the opposition increase meaningfully. But which opposition? The parties are divided. They too fail to inspire great confidence.
Q: What impact did the nationwide shutdown on Friday have on the economy?
A: The economy cannot be damaged much further by single day shutdowns. The economic situation is now structural, meaning decades of lack of investment in long term production — all short term gains, very often by corruption and theft — and endless borrowing means that Zimbabwe will now face the sort of harrowing financial meltdown of 2007.
This will be the second time it has happened under Zanu PF’s watch, so the party needs to examine itself rather than just crack down on the opposition.
Q: Was it strategic for the organisers of the protests to call for them when the spread of coronavirus is now at its peak in the country?
A: I think the opposition called for protests, knowing that the government would suppress any actual protests. It was a risk and dare strategy. Right now, however, nothing meaningful is being done to suppress the coronavirus. The decline of the health sector meant it was ill-prepared for any epidemic or pandemic. Dealing with the coronavirus must start with a properly equipped health care sector. This has not been a government priority. Instead, it has seen doctors and nurses as enemies.
Q: Are protests the correct strategy to confront and deal with corruption and the tanking economy?
A: Corruption alone is not the cause of the economic meltdown. It is part of the cause. But the principal causes are, as I said, no long-term productivity — which ceased happening after 2000, so it hasn’t occurred for 20 years — and reliance on borrowing from external sources. Agencies and governments are now very reluctant to lend any more. But corruption is indeed part of the lack of economic discipline and foresight over the last two decades.
Q: In your view, what should the opposition and civil society do to confront the government on these matters?
A: I’d like the opposition to actually propose a detailed economic plan. They don’t have one either. This is a true tragedy. Slogans won’t cure the economy.
Q: The situation in the country is worsening. The economy is tanking, the politics getting dirty, with allegations of the state abducting and torturing opponents. How can these issues be resolved and have normalcy in the country with the nation focusing on social development?
A: If the government is not in a position to show economic generosity, it should attempt some political generosity — take the political moral high ground. (Mnangagwa must) allow open minded debate. Mnangagwa should even challenge Chamisa to a televised debate as happens in the UK and USA. But it seems it cannot imagine doing that.
Q: What is the stumbling block to President Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa meeting to dialogue the country out of the current political and economic crises? Should the securocrats be part of the dialogue?
A: You can’t keep the securocrats out of the picture and, in any case, many of them have become ministers, including one who recently died.
The Catholic Church, among others, has been trying to facilitate face-to-face dialogue between Mnangagwa and Chamisa for some time now, but in fact both men are making this impossible.
Q: What is your take on Mnangagwa’s Tuesday address to the nation where he threatened to flush out alleged bad apples bent on destabilising the country and labelling opposition as “terrorist groups”?
A: The speech had the opposite effect to what Mnangagwa might have intended, for it confirmed in people’s minds that he has no Plan B but to continue suppression and repression.
It also gave ammunition to the new but already fast growing ‘Zimbabwean Lives Matter’ movement, which has begun to attract black celebrities in Europe and the USA. The black youth vote is increasingly critical in the North Atlantic, not just in terms of affecting politics but in affecting corporations who will now feel even more disinclined to invest in Zimbabwe. The speech has to feature as a poorly thought-out own-goal.
Q: Mnangagwa has clocked two years in office, what’s your take on his performance so far?
A: It has been, I regret, a very lack-lustre performance. I have to say that in governments around the world — even behind the scenes in Republican Washington DC — there was some open-mindedness towards him.
I myself advised, in his office, the UK Minister for Africa to show open-mindedness. But Mnangagwa’s performance has been all rhetoric and no substance. I know that even the Chinese are privately shaking their heads.
Q: Does he still have local and international goodwill given what has been happening in the country?
A: People are basically just giving up on Zimbabwe. Good will or bad will has nothing to do with it any more. We all have our own problems.
Q: How do you see the country’s international re-engagement initiative?
A: You have to present plans to the international community, and they have to be plans that have first been presented to the Zimbabwean people.
Q: Let’s turn to Chamisa. Is he correct to continue challenging the legitimacy of Mnangagwa now? How does it assist nation building?
A: Chamisa needs to produce his party’s version of a detailed plan. He too engages in rhetoric. He too needs to show substance.
Q: How can Chamisa deal with problems engulfing his leadership and party given the fights with Thokozani Khupe and company?
A: Well, this is the question that makes me wonder why Zanu PF seems so frightened of the MDC. Leave them alone. The MDC is busily tearing itself apart, doing the government’s work for it. The days of a towering figure like (founding MDC president, the later Morgan) Tsvangirai are very long gone.
Q: Is he fit for purpose as the leading opposition leader in the country given his critics’ sentiments that he is too soft?
A: He’s not too soft. He was ruthless towards Khupe when he became MDC leader. He too needs a forceful, but articulate plan. An economically articulate and literate plan. It has to show how (Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli) Ncube’s text book methodology doesn’t work in a non-text book situation. That’s the forcefulness he now needs.
Q: What should he do now to ensure he wins the 2023 polls?
A: Put forward planned policies.
Q: What kind of reforms should Zimbabwe implement to ensure democracy flourishes in the country and that elections will be free and fair in 2023?
A: There is need for an open political climate. This will be a leopard changing its spots. So, unlikely. If observers are again invited, they will come with computer programmes next time. There is software now that can analyse all voting patterns. But I saw many of the observer reports at first draft stage last time. They were prepared to offer some benefit of the doubt.
Then the shootings outside the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission occurred, and then the riot police tried to move into the Bronte Hotel where Chamisa was giving a press conference — both in front of the world’s television cameras and very many highly senior observers, former presidents themselves. No party discipline. They gave in to the control virus immediately.
I saw all the observer reports rewritten overnight to be much more critical. If the government is going to pretend, it has to pretend much more convincingly.
(There should be an) appointment of an electoral commission drawn from all the senior electoral commissioners in the surrounding Sadc countries.