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‘New Zimbabwe’ Remains Elusive Three Years Later

close up of mnangagwa with officials behind him

Three years ago, Zimbabweans wildly celebrated what they saw as a change for the better, but now they regret this change that has sadly turned out to be a change for the worse as the ‘New Zimbabwe’ they hoped for remains elusive.

When Zimbabwe’s army generals staged a ‘smart coup’ that toppled the now late Robert Mugabe in November 2017, the world – including Western powers – gave it’s tacit approval because everyone, including the local opposition, was convinced that this was good for the country.

Buoyed by this avalanche of local and global goodwill, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who replaced veteran ruler of 37 years Mugabe, told the world what it was itching to hear… that he was a world of difference from his predecessor.

“I am working toward building a new Zimbabwe: a country with a thriving and open economy, jobs for its youth, opportunities for investors, and democracy and equal rights for all,” Mnangagwa said in New York Times opinion piece addressed to the international community.

“I commit that in the new Zimbabwe, all citizens will have the right to free speech, free expression and free association.”

Huge Fund of Goodwill Squandered

An hour after Mnangagwa’s inauguration, Britain’s then African minister, Rory Stewart was sitting in his office ready with whatever assistance the former colonial master could offer to ease the transition from a dictatorship to the democracy that the new leader was promising. 

Rory Stewart Meets Mnangagwa. Credit: Zimbabwe Mail

“The events of the last few days have given people here real hope that Zimbabwe can be set on a different, more democratic and more prosperous path,” an upbeat Stewart said in a statement at the time. 

All that hope has since gone and only this month legislators in the British parliament were debating on how best to deal with an increasingly rogue regime in Harare. Even Britain’s other former Africa minister, Peter Hain, who described Mnangagwa as “Zimbabwe’s Gorbachev” after visiting the country in early 2018 and went on a campaign to urge international investors to flock to Zimbabwe, is now so disappointed that on July 30 he asked the British Parliament to update its sanctions on in Zimbabwe’s ruling elites.

What Went Wrong?

Barely six months into the so-called ‘new dispensation’, Zimbabweans started struggling to notice any difference between the new leader and the one who he had replaced. It was soon after the 2018 elections, which Mnangagwa controversially won, that Zimbabweans started seeing him as actually worse than Mugabe. When their public relations charm could not be backed with visible positive changes on the ground, the new regime quickly defaulted to the tried and tested authoritarianism that had sustained Mugabe.

For more than four decades, Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s right-hand man who enforced the late dictator’s vicious rule, including the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide in which more than 20,000 people were killed in the southwestern parts of the country.

Repression On The Rise

Despite Mnangagwa’s promises to democratize the southern African country, things have taken a turn for the worse. According to a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, since the coming of the ‘new dispensation’ to power in Zimbabwe, dozens of citizens have been killed by security forces while several civil society activists, political opposition leaders, and other critics of the government have been arbitrarily arrested, abducted, beaten, or tortured

“Little to no efforts were made to bring those responsible for the abuses to justice,” HRW noted.

Praise-Singers Turn Bitter Critics

The false promises have disappointed even the most faithful of Mnangagwa’s original supporters. 

At the time of writing this article, Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist and film-maker who was one of Mnangagwa’s foremost cheer-leaders in the aftermath of the 2017 coup is now languishing in prison, having been re-arrested for what is generally seen as his role in highlighting the blighting corruption and criminal mismanagement occurring in high places. 

“I am being persecuted for speaking against corruption,” said Chin’ono after his release from 45-day detention that ended in early September.

Chin’ono is not the only one who has been an unwilling guest of the State and the long list of those incarcerated for daring to disagree with Mnangagwa and his ruinous policies include several opposition legislators and activists, trade unionists, student leaders and even comedians

When Mnangagwa’s legitimacy was challenged in court shortly after his rise to power, he even got support from the opposition, who saw him as legitimate, only to regret that endorsement when the man who is nicknamed “Crocodile” because of his cunning ruthlessness started showing his true colours.

Churches Also Horrified

The Roman Catholic church, whose leader Father Fidelis Mukonori played a midwifery role in Mnangagwa’s coming into power, has in the last two years issued two pastoral letters through the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) expressing dismay at the political and socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe, especially that of doctors, health workers and teachers.

In the last two years, doctors and nurses have been on strike longer than they have been tending to patients and their tiny salaries have effectively reduced them to little more than beggars. Hospitals have turned into places of death because of a critical shortage of drugs, medical supplies and equipment when tens of millions are being looted through corruption by the political elites. 

Although schools were supposed to reopen on the 28th September, teachers have been on strike, demanding a restoration of their salaries that have been cut by more than 90% through a currency swap trick that saw US dollar salaries and bank balances replaced with a worthless surrogate currency called the Bond Note which has since been upgraded to be the country’s primary currency.

The last pastoral letter elicited angry reactions from three arms of government, with the government accusing ZCBC leader, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, of trying to instigate Rwandan-type genocide in Zimbabwe.

This was despite the fact that the church leaders were only repeating what most human rights organisations operating in Zimbabwe, including the state-funded Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, have been saying… that the State is now the main threat to the wellbeing of Zimbabweans.

Compromised Judiciary

After Mnangagwa had struggled to shirk off accusations of electoral fraud arising from the disputed 2018 elections, a questionable court ruling effectively transferred the leadership of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (Alliance) from Nelson Chamisa, who still insists he won the poll, to a faction headed by Thokozani Khupe, who is widely seen as a creation of the ruling ZANU-PF party. 

Virtually all of the opposition party’s legislators have been recalled and replaced with those handpicked by Khupe, who got a mere 45,000 votes in the last elections against Chamisa’s 2,1 million.

Twice this year, the country’s judges have written letters of protest against the country’s Chief Justice, Luke Malaba, whom they accuse of trying to take away their independence by telling them how to make rulings. The judges’ complaints have been brushed aside and individual judges targeted for ‘purging’. 

Sanctions Blamed For Rife Corruption

As the economic rot continues, the blame is directed by the government towards the targeted sanctions imposed on the ruling elites by the United States of America and some Western countries. However, analysts say it’s corruption and mismanagement, not sanctions, that is the biggest challenge facing Zimbabwe today.

With Zimbabweans now complaining bitterly that they were better off under Mugabe Dr Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean who teaches at the University of Kent in the UK said that this is understandable as citizens were naturally disheartened by the apparent failure of the Mnangagwa regime to manage the deteriorating economic situation. He said comparisons with the Mugabe regime, whose ignominious departure most people welcomed with jubilant celebrations in November 2017, were a serious indictment on the Mnangagwa regime.

“After Mugabe, the only way was up, or so it seemed,” Magaisa said. “But the decay is palpable while the regime looks and sounds more clueless with each passing day.”

‘New Zimbabwe’ A Mirage

Fadzai Mahere, the spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change (Alliance) party says Mnangagwa’s much-lauded promise of change and reform at the time of Mugabe’s ousting, has proven to be a mirage.

“Mnangagwa has failed at the most basic political reform. The mask has fallen away leaving in its stead a man more brutal and devoid of character than his predecessor. In the wake of his stewardship lies a country where individuals cannot afford a decent life and are punished for trying to register their growing discontent.

“In addition to thwarting the freedom to protest, the repression by Mnangagwa’s government has been characterised by the partisan use of security services, tampering with judicial independence, the surveillance and intimidation of activists, sham trials of human rights defenders, impunity for human-rights-violating security forces – and targeted beatings and abductions of human-rights activists and members of the opposition.”

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