AS pressure mounts for the regional grouping Sadc to end Zimbabwe’s long running crises, University of Zimbabwe’s politics expert, Eldred Masunungure, says South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and his envoys are likely to come out stuck unless they involve other liberation movements.
He speaks to Daily News on Sunday’s Consulting Editor, Constantine Chimakure, on this and other issues.
Below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: The Sadc Summit has come and gone and the Zimbabwe crisis was not part of the agenda, why is Sadc ignoring this?
A: I am not sure if ignoring the crisis is the right description. My sense is that Sadc is simply at a quandary as to what to do on a chronic crisis that has been on the … agenda for the past two decades, was partially resolved through the GPA (Global Political Agreement of 2008 which led to the formation of a government of national unity), but soon after relapsed, apparently with a vengeance.
In short, I think the regional body is at sixes and sevens on the Zimbabwe crisis. A more generous explanation is that the Sadc leaders made a pact not to wash Zimbabwe’s linen in public and instead preferred to discuss this behind closed doors after the summit.
In this case, the problem would be who would bell the cat, that is, who would be assigned to confront the traditionally stubborn Zimbabwe leadership.
Whoever was assigned the difficult task will need to tread carefully given the visceral response of the leadership so far to whoever tried to speak truth to the leadership.
Q: Are there any chances that the Zimbabwe question can be tackled by the African Union when the regional body seems to believe there is no crisis?
A: It is highly unlikely that the AU will want to be seen to be jumping the gun given the convention — written or unwritten — by taking over the Zimbabwe problem without an explicit recommendation from Sadc.
The ‘protocol’ is that regional bodies are the first to deal with regional problems, that is, regional solutions to regional problems. Only after they fail to do so do they refer the matter to the higher level, in this case the AU and if the AU fails to resolve it, then it’s escalated to the UN.
This is the same reasoning behind the AU protesting what had appeared to be the unilateral lateral adoption of the trilateral crisis over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
In a nutshell, the AU defers to the Sadc on southern African issues as much as the UN defers to the AU in dealing with African problems.
So, I don’t see the AU tackling the Zimbabwe crisis before Sadc declares an impasse.
Q: South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatched envoys to Harare after allegations of human rights violations grabbed the attention of the world. In your view was it necessary for South Africa to do so given that when they came to Harare a fortnight ago they only met President Mnangagwa to the chagrin of opposition parties, especially the MDC Alliance?
A: In my view, Ramaphosa’s action was unavoidable but appears to have been ill-prepared. Given the avalanche of loud and persistent criticisms against the President Mnangagwa and his government handling of the planned protests/demonstrations and from virtually all concerned quarters domestically, regionally and internationally, it was mandatory that Ramaphosa does ‘something’ or be seen, even symbolically, to be doing something.
Unfortunately, it appears as if the envoys had mandate that was as clear as mud hence the confusion over what they were really supposed to do.
The labelling of the team as ‘envoys’ also didn’t help matters because ordinarily, an envoy carries a message to be delivered to a recipient; such a person is not a negotiator or arbitrator. Therefore, as I see it, it was both necessary and compulsory for Ramaphosa to send the envoys but should have given them a less ambiguous mandate.
Q: What is your take on churches who are calling for local mediation?
A: The churches are a powerful political force beyond their religious weight. This is a fact historically in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, but often there is tension between the State and the church as we witnessed under Ian Smith and as we have continued to observe in post-independence Zimbabwe.
Churches, as bona-fide members of the Zimbabwe society, have a clear role to play, including mediating in the country’s protracted crisis.
Zanu PF and the government may deny as much and as often as they want about the existence of a crisis in Zimbabwe, but to deny its existence is not to solve it.
We should also remember that close to 80 percent of Zimbabweans call themselves Christians even if they may not be active church goers.
So, there is tremendous if not irresistible pressure from their millions of congregants for the church leaders to intercede in solving the country’s crisis. In that light, I don’t see the Catholic bishops as acting like lone wolves; they were expressing the cries of their people and they have a legitimate right to do so and the authorities should pay attention and respond positively rather than caustically as they did.
Q: Why should Zimbabwe continue to outsource solutions for its problems?
A: Outsourcing solutions is a departure from mantra established from the formative years of the liberation struggle. This mantra proudly proclaimed that ‘we are our own liberators’ which is often attributed to the founding President of Zanu, Ndabaningi Sithole.
It seems to have worked wonders as a rallying cry among the dispossessed and disadvantaged black population that was unified by their common oppression.
Today, that mantra has dissipated and its place is deep polarisation and suspicion such that few Zimbabweans can be regarded as honest brokers in the country’s imbroglio.
It is immensely difficult to seek and find internal mediators and internal solutions because of this deep and wide polarisation and a growing ‘us-they’ divide between the so-called ‘saints’ and the so-called ‘sinners’.
There is a very thin grey zone and very few that are deemed free of strong partisan affiliations. This is why the idea of a National Transitional Authority, theoretically attractive as it is, is having difficulty in flying and is likely to remain grounded.
This is also why the Catholic Bishops became a target of needless vilification. This is despite the fact that the Catholics played a major and successful role in mediating the protracted conflict in Mozambique in the early 1990s.
So, we continue to outsource solutions to our problems because we have blocked this possibility because of the deep distrust and suspicion amongst ourselves.
Q: In your view, what is the best way to handle the Zimbabwe crisis?
A: As I have tried to explain, the tragedy of Zimbabwe is the tyranny of a single truth which makes Zimbabwe unripe for internally sourced solutions at this juncture.
And there are too many spoilers on both sides of the divide with too many vested interests too juicy to surrender. In this context and at this historical juncture, and sadly so, it is well-nigh impossible to find an internal solution.
This puts the onus first on the region and secondly on the continent. It is also clear, on the basis of history, that the political leadership in this country is that it’s receptive when it is massaged behind closed doors.
This was the logic behind Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy; the lower the decibels and the less the public visibility, the greater the chances of success of a mediatory effort.
And, because the Zanu PF leadership believes that ‘good’ people were born only in the crucibles of the liberation war, it may be compulsory to sources such a mediator or mediators from the ranks of former liberation movements (FLMs)
Q: If this crisis is not resolved soon, what dangers does the country face?
A: If the crisis is not quickly and decisively resolved through some mediation, it will most likely resolve itself via self-implosion though I doubt that this will be at the level of the State and society.
In other words, I don’t envisage a civil war as some tend to fear. The implosion will be at the level of the regime and it appears the fermentation process in this regard is already underway courtesy of intra-regime contradictions. To most people, this fermentation is already visible with a naked eye.
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? If yes, why?
A: President Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Chamisa were moulded in different crucibles and, as a result, seem to have fundamentally different approaches to dealing with the same problem and may not even agree on what the problem is.
Notwithstanding this, and complicating matters, is that both seem to be intrinsically intransigent with a ‘ini handinzarwo’ attitude, egged on by their core and unyielding supporters who think that compromise is the very epitome of weakness.
Q: Is an inclusive government the panacea to our problems?
A: An inclusive government, as we witnessed in 2009-2013, is not a panacea on its own, but it is part of the panacea.
It is instructive that public opinion is firmly behind this temporary solution and most Zimbabweans look back at the GNU period with considerable nostalgia. It is regarded as one of the golden eras of post-independence Zimbabwe.
Q: Very soon Mnangagwa will clock two years in office, what’s your take on his performance so far?
A: The long and short of this is that ED’s performance is less than glittering outside the realm of rhetoric. He invariably utters sweet words, but the practice seems to elude him.
There is a clear and persistent implementation gap and as a result, he is losing much of the trust that many people had invested in him.
Q: Does he still have local and international goodwill given what has been happening in the country?
A: There was a lot of this good will — internally and globally — when he kick-started his term. Much of this has been squandered. Nonetheless, he still has his core supporters at both levels.
Q: How do you see the country’s international re-engagement initiative?
A: The short answer to this question is that international re-engagement, at this juncture, is now dead in the water partly because of the international goodwill that has largely melted away.
Q: Let’s turn to Chamisa. Is he correct to continue challenging the legitimacy of Mnangagwa now? How does it assist nation building?
A: The reality — perhaps a brutal one — is that this has largely been overtaken by events. Most people now have higher priority areas beyond the political issue of legitimacy arising from problematic elections.
In the hierarchy of values of most people, the legitimacy issue no longer looms large and I think there is an acceptance of this even in the MDC Alliance.
Q: How can Chamisa deal with problems engulfing his leadership and party given the fights with Thokozani Khupe and company?
A: My firm view on this is that Chamisa needs to simply and immediately abandon the idea of repossessing, snatching back the MDC.
This is a needless distraction. He needs to go back to the drawing board, re-strategise and form a new party. It is common knowledge and an indisputable fact that he is a brand in himself and should harness this to form a brand new party while there is still time.
He has lost many legal battles, but he has not lost his God-given charisma. I have little doubt that the new party will fly very high in little time.
Q: Is he fit for purpose as the leading opposition leader in the country given his critiques’ sentiments that he is too soft?
A: If Chamisa is not fit for purpose, then who is? My assessment is that he is ‘too soft’ because the situation does not allow any other approach without being liquidated.
Zimbabwe is not a land of normal politics and I think the critiques that you have mentioned are rather naïve and decontextualised.
Q: What should he do now to ensure he wins 2023 polls?
A: As I said earlier, the sooner he engineers the formation of a new party and soon, the better. In other words, he must first and foremost reconfigure his political forces into a formidable new party by dint of his huge charisma and brand.
He needs to rally his troops around the new outfit and make it a robust machine to fight the next election.
He should abandon the evidently futile fight with Madam Khupe or the attempt to reclaim the MDC. It’s a pointless and wasteful effort.
Q: What kind of reforms should Zimbabwe do to ensure democracy flourishes in the country and that elections will be free and fair in 2023?
A: It must be borne in mind that whatever reforms are required, they should not be regarded as the sine-qua-non for the opposition to win; democratic reforms are good in themselves for the sound governance of the country and to make Zimbabwe a truly democratic society as per our Constitution.
Beyond the issue of the niceties of reforms, at a practical level, it seems to me that the hard reality is that the opposition is unlikely to win only by virtue of its own internal strength in the absence of a weak or weakening Zanu PF.
In other words, for the opposition to win requires, not only a strong opposition, but also a weak ruling party, a re-enactment of the March 2008 ‘bhora musango’ scenario, that is, a strong opposition and a disintegrating ruling party.
I end this answer by asserting that Zanu PF is not just a party; it is a system that permeates virtually all crevices of State, economy and society.
Thus, the opposition can defeat Zanu PF the party, but it is doubtful if this will also mean defeat of the Zanu PF system.
That system is now so deeply entrenched that it will take a long time to uproot.