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The year Mnangagwa tightened grip on power

by Staff reporter
31 Dec 2023 at 07:59hrs | Views
The air crackled with anticipation on November 22, 2017 as Zimbabwe witnessed a moment etched in history.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man once cast out, returned to his homeland not as a fugitive, but as its newly ordained leader who was going to be inaugurated two days later.

Mnangagwa's speech was seen as a declaration, a promise whispered in the wind.

"Today, we are witnessing the unfolding of a new unfolding democracy," he proclaimed back then.

For a moment, Zimbabweans believed that the "Crocodile," had shed its fearsome reptilian persona and donned the mantle of a shepherd, guiding his flock towards the promised land.

Mnangagwa spoke of forgiveness, of healing the wounds of division, of building a Zimbabwe where "no one is more important than the other."

For the nation, it was a vision bathed in sunlight, a stark contrast to the shadows of the past under the late Robert Mugabe who had just been forced into retirement by a shock military coup.

As the final echoes of Mnangagwa's less than 15-minute speech faded, a hush fell over the crowd. Then, it erupted into applause.

However, events of the last six years have shown that Mnangagwa's speech was a façade, like the proverbial leopard which does not change its spots.

Mnangagagwa has proved that he was determined to consolidate his grip on power through whatever means.

Empty rhetoric

Upon assuming power in 2017, Mnangagwa made promises of security, electoral and economic reforms, improved human rights, and re-engagement with the international community.

On security reforms, Mnangagwa was put on notice for failing to hold accountable members of the security forces through appointing commissioners of the Independent Complaints Commission (ICC) as mandated by the law.

Last year, Mnangagwa signed into law the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Act providing for the investigation and prosecution of members of security services for misconduct.

This followed complaints of human rights abuses and reports of alleged partisan conduct by members of the security forces in the discharge of their duties.

Mnangagwa has, however, been delaying to appoint commissioners of the ICC.

Events on the political scene in 2023 showed that the 80-yearold ruler is bent on consolidating power and has effectively cast away the pretence to be reformer. Electoral reforms

Stakeholders described the Electoral Act passed before the August election as just ‘applying lipstick on a frog' with no major bearing on the actual electoral issues that need redress.

Mnangagwa has also scored badly on human rights reforms.

According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum), the human rights situation in Zimbabwe remains deplorable.

Mnangagwa has been accused of using lawfare, violence, and intimidation to silence critics.

Human rights activists and the opposition have cited the case of opposition leader Job Sikhala as an example of the government's use of the law to suppress dissent.

The country also witnessed a wave of preand post-election violence and intimidation against opposition supporters as evidence of the government's intolerance of dissent.

Some opposition activists have been abducted by suspected state security agents and tortured.

A pastor and an activist with the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), Tapfumanei Masaya was found dead following his abduction ahead of the controversial December 9, 2023 by-elections. Tyson fiasco

On the eve of the August 23 elections, the courts disqualified former Zanu-PF commissar Saviour Kasukuwere from challenging Mnangagwa for the presidency on the grounds that he had not been in the country long enough to be a candidate.

Kasukuwere, who left the country during the 2017 coup, lives in exile in South Africa after attempts were made on his life during Mugabe's ouster.

Zanu-PF member Lovedale Mangwana asked the courts to remove the former Local Government minister from the ballot after arguing that he had not been in Zimbabwe for the required 18 months necessary to be eligible to stand for presidential elections.

Mangwana was largely seen as fronting Mnangagwa's interests as the Zanu-PF leader fought hard to ensure that his path to a second term in office was cleared.

Sham elections

In an unprecedented move, the Sadc Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) said the August 23 and 24 election fell short of regional and international standards.

The SEOM position spurred an uproar from Mnangagwa's government, which accused Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, who appointed the mission's head Nevers Mumba, of habouring a regime change agenda.

The Zimbabwe election saga was discussed by the Sadc troika on defence and politics led by Hichilema amid loud protests from Zimbabwe.

Observer missions from the European Union, United States' Carter Centre and the African Union also said the elections did not meet international standards.

Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa however, did not challenge the outcome of the polls in the courts and this paved the way for Mnangagwa to be sworn in for a new term.

Cabinet of cronies

Mnangagwa's determination to consolidate power was also evident in his choice of Cabinet ministers.

The new team was made up of loyalists from his faction and excluded loyalists of his deputy Constantino Chiwenga.

Mnangagwa appointed his 34 year-old son David Kudakwashe as Finance deputy minister and nephew Tongai Mnangagwa as Tourism deputy minister.

He also appointed a number of ministers and deputies from Masvingo Province where he is originally from.

Consolidation of power

Soon after taking the reins, Mnangagwa made a series of moves to consolidate his power.

After his inauguration in 2018, Mnangagwa let the cat out of the bag when he made it known that he wanted to stay beyond 2023.

The slogan 2023 ED Pfee was coined.

To make his ambition a reality, the president went all out to make a raft of changes.

This year the focus seemed to shift to a third term in office, which will require an amendment to the constitution and a referendum.

Judicial capture

Observers have accused Mnangagwa of capturing the judiciary, firing judges, amending the constitution and extending the contract of Chief Justice Luke Malaba. The trend continued in 2023.

Opposition activists say the continued bail denial to Job Sikhala and other government critics points to Mnangagwa's interference in court processes, an accusation which the ruling Zanu-PF has refuted.

However, a letter by an anonymous judge two years ago revealed how Mnangagwa had captured the judiciary just three years into his administration.

The letter, dated October 26, 2020 claimed the judiciary was under siege, and unable to independently execute their duties without interference from the executive and state agencies.

Malaba, whose tenure was controversially extended after reaching retirement age, is seen as a key figure in Mnangagwa's administration.

In 2020, the judge issued a practice directive addressed to the Supreme Court, High Court, Labour Court and Administrative Court that: "Before any judgment or an order of the High Court or Labour Court is issued or handed down, it should be seen and approved by the head of court division."

He was forced to make an embarrassing climb-down after other judges objected to it.

Mnangagwa has so far also fired many judges who were perceived to be hostile to the establishment on the frivolous charges of gross misconduct and incompetence.

The fired judges include Francis Bere, Erica Ndewere, Thompson James Mabhikwa and Edith Mushore that were forced out this year.

Mushore ruled that Malaba had ceased to be chief justice, upon reaching the age of mandatory retirement last year.

Realising that the court had scuppered the government's plan to extend Malaba's tenure, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi spewed vitriol and issued veiled threats against the judges involved.

Ziyambi accused the High Court judges of being captured by foreign interests and threatened them with unspecified action.

The MDC Alliance debacle

After narrowly beating Chamisa in the disputed 2018 elections, Mnangagwa was accused of using state machinery and other disgruntled opposition members to destroy the opposition party.

Analysts believe that Mnangagwa used Douglas Mwonzora to snatch the MDC Alliance party from Nelson Chamisa to strip the latter's political capital base as he moved to have a one party state.

After the courts ruled that Mwonzora was the legitimate leader of the MDC, he went on to recall all legislators who were loyal to Chamisa.

Chamisa went on to form CCC in February this year. It won the majority of by-elections held the following month.

The year 2023 also marked the disappearance of the MDC-T on the Zimbabwean political scene as the party failed to win a single seat in the August elections.

Closing democratic space

Mnangagwa has been accused of closing the democratic space through among others harsh legislation, which was intensified in 2023.

His signing into law of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Act also known as the "Patriotic Bill" in July has been seen as a grave attack on fundamental freedoms and rights.

The law authorises harsh penalties, including the death penalty, for anyone found guilty of "willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe".

Critics have said the law effectively gives authorities greater power to unduly restrict human rights and silence those perceived to be critical of the government, such as political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties and whistle-blowers.

Mnangagwa has also said he will not hesitate to sign the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill which critics say will severely restrict civic space and the right to freedom of association.

Mnangagwa, however, refused to sign the PVO Bill this year and returned it to Parliament.

Parallel structures

The 2018 election proved to Mnangagwa that he was unpopular in his Zanu-PF party.

The parliamentary candidates outperformed him in several constituencies during the 2018 elections.

Mnangagwa resorted to parallel structures to organise his 2023 election campaign because of his growing mistrust of Zanu-PF structures.

The parallel structures that campaigned for Mnangagwa outside Zanu-PF structures included Young Women4ED, Varakashi4ED and Mahwindi4ED among others.

Sources say Mnangagwa is likely to use the structures to launch his third term bid.

Enter Faz

Ahead of this year's disputed August elections, Mnangagwa sidelined the army, which had also played critical roles in previous polls, preferring to work with the Central Intelligence Organisation instead.

A CIO-run structure, Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (Faz) took over the running of elections, with the army playing a peripheral role.

The resource-oiled Faz deployed individuals in every rural ward in the country where it intimidated suspected opposition supporters.

The CCC says Faz sponsored and paid for nomination fees for double contesting under their banner.

However, Faz president Kudakwashe Munsaka denied any wrongdoing, saying violence and intimidation were not part of the group's approach.

"We are not apologetic that we support President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF," Munsaka said.

Third term vibes

Mnangagwa has been accused of strategically using a tortoise on a fence post to recall opposition legislators to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament and potentially extend his presidential term.

Self-imposed CCC interim secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu wrote to Parliament recalling more than a dozen opposition legislators.

National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda, who is also Zanu-PF politburo member in charge of legal affairs quickly endorsed the recalls.

Chamisa has described Tshabangu as an "imposter and fraudster" working in cahoots with the ruling party.

After decimating potential rivals in the ruling party and putting his close allies in strategic legal positions, Mnangagwa's biggest hurdle for a potential presidential term extension was in Parliament where the ruling party needed a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution.

Analysts believe the party might use a super majority in parliament to remove a two-term presidential limit and enable Mnangagwa to rule beyond 2028.

A new study by think-tank Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) said the recalls feed into the grand scheme of Mnangagwa's third term ambition.

"Whereas the recalls may be misconstrued to be a microcosm of internal opposition CCC squabbles, they feed into a broader dual securocratic state consolidation project," ZDI said.

"That of countering the internal and external legitimacy challenges exposed by the opposition on one hand, and on the other hand weakening the opposition's power in Parliament to pave way to President Mnangawa's third term power ambitions."

Zanu-PF information director Farai Marapira watered down the allegations that his principal was seeking a third term through amending the constitution.

"President Mnangagwa was recently given a fresh mandate to lead the people of Zimbabwe and is focusing on that," Marapira said.

"Anything more than that, it's a lie."

Tshabangu's spokesperson Khaliphani Phugeni dismissed the claims that his boss is being used by Faz and Zanu-PF to oil Mnangagwa's third term bid.

"Accusations have been with us for a very long time," Phugeni said.

"Every time when we differ politically we must create some fictitious motive and character as a way to discredit people's genuine grievances."

Observers say Mnangagwa's maneuvering is likely to reach a crescendo in 2024 at a time succession battles in his Zanu-PF are set to intensify.

Source - the standard