Zim’s transition to democracy: 1978-2023



by Tapiwa Mashakada


WHEN people talk about a National Transitional Authority (NTA) it sounds like a new idea altogether.

Yet there is nothing new about it. In my view, it is all about nomenclature or semantics.

A transitional authority is a transitional government by any other name. The only difference is that the NTA is a team of technocrats.

The first transition in Zimbabwe took place in 1978 in what was called the Internal Settlement of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole, Chief Kayisa Ndiweni, Chief Jeremiah Chirau and Ian Smith.

This only lasted for six months and goes down in history as the shortest transition in Zimbabwe.

The country was named Zimbabwe-Rhodesia under Bishop Abel Tendekai Muzorewa. This was short-lived as the war escalated leading to the Lancaster House Agreement and a ceasefire in 1979.

The second transition took place between December 1979 to 18 April 1980 when democratic elections were held and Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF won 57 seats. Joshua Nkomo and Zapu won 20 seats. Muzorewa won 3 seats.

Whites got 20 reserved seats. The second transition was led by the British Governor Lord Christopher Soames.
Between 1980 and 2008 Zimbabwe had various constitutional governments of five-year terms. These were Zanu PF-run governments under the late former president Robert MugabeThe Government of National Unity (GNU) of (2009-2013) was in actual fact the third transitional arrangement in Zimbabwe after the 2008 elections created a hung Parliament and a constitutional crisis following the defeat of Mugabe by Dr Morgan Richard Morgan Tsvangirai.

The African Union and Sadc had to underwrite the Global Political Agreement that was signed by Zanu PF, MDC and MDC-T in 2008. This resulted in the formation of the government of national unity, which in my view, was a transitional authority or transitional government.

The GNU was collapsed through a Constitutional Court application that was filed by one Jealous Mawarire. The court ordered elections which were held in 2013.

The fourth transition took place from November 17, 2017 up to the snap elections of July 31, 2018.
This period saw the overthrow of Mugabe by the military. Mugabe was put under pressure to resign and President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over. This was the second shortest transition in Zimbabwe.

There is a raging debate whether due to electoral irregularities, the 2018 elections produced a legitimate president. But the fact of the matter is that a petition was taken to the Constitutional Court and Mnangagwa was declared the winner.

He was duly sworn in as the President of Zimbabwe, head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. His first term expires in 2023.

The question of his legitimacy is, therefore, now academic and moot. He is running the country and exercising all constitutional powers like any other head of State. He is recognised by Sadc, AU and UN. Fighting the legitimacy question even as we get into 2021 is fighting the last war which is an exercise in futility.

The NTA or any other transitional arrangement presupposes either a constitutional crisis where there is a power vacuum or a situation where the ruling party accepts to step down and surrender power to unelected technocrats.

This will not work. The best transitional mechanism in Zimbabwe is a coalition government which will work on political, economic, institutional, electoral reforms to rescue the economy and level the playing field to produce free and fair elections.

Zimbabweans must find each other and address all issues that make Zimbabwe not move forward. Otherwise 2023 will come and go without reforms and we cry foul again. Zimbabwe now needs strategic thinkers and mature leaders who do not stick to little principles.

In conclusion, Zimbabwe has been transitioning to democracy intermittently since 1978. The NTA is not a new thing. It is a matter of semantics and nomenclature. The transitional authority is a difficult proposition in the absence of a constitutional crisis. Rather a transitional government is possible since it can be a negotiated power sharing arrangement with a defined timeline and a defined governance agenda.

Mashakada is the founder and executive director of the Maji-Marefu Institute, an independent pan-African Think Tank on International Relations, Economic Affairs and Security Studies.

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