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End of year message: 2017 was a watershed year in Zimbabwe's political life - Dabengwa

by Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa, ZAPU President
31 Dec 2017 at 10:54hrs | Views
The year 2017 will stand out as one that ended with unprecedented political developments and potential for great social and economic turnaround. There was no guarantee that the end of the era of Robert Mugabe's 37-year iron grip on power would come so fast and without great loss of life and property, given the regime's propensity for ruthless use of force and extra judicial repression. The people of Zimbabwe therefore rightly rejoiced at the realization of the slogan "Mugabe must go": a slogan that reduced a complex system of repression, centralization and manipulation of power around one man.

A Mugabe dynasty was abhorred by many Zimbabweans
In hindsight, the tipping point for the accelerated overthrow of Robert Mugabe and his eventual replacement as President by Emmerson Mnangagwa was reached when it became clear that Mugabe was going along with moves to elevate his wife, Grace Mugabe, to leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF Women' League. This positioned her for the slot of Vice-President of party and state at the expense of Emmerson Mnangagwa in the expected special party congress.  The possibility of a Mugabe dynasty was abhorred by all in the opposition and also sharpened divisions between the main factions in the ruling party. For ZAPU and indeed for the ZPRA Veterans Association, this shaped our opposition to the status-quo.

War veterans' associations united against anti-people tendencies

One of the remarkable developments of 2017 was the growth of cooperation between war veterans' associations historically divided by alignment to ZAPU and to ZANU. They opposed political excesses and related economic corruption and unequivocally put these down to departure from the values of the liberation struggle (for independence and freedom). For the first time since the late 1970s those who were involved in the armed struggle found common cause that went beyond their differences as they had done during the Patriotic Front. The arrogance of the Mugabe regime convinced war veterans that if they stood divided in the face of impunity there was no chance of change. Furthermore this renewed collaboration would facilitate the involvement of all stakeholders in the transition to a democratic and accountable order.  

The veterans' associations held a series of meetings and consultations that would culminate in a massive rally on 18 November 2017 to be followed a march into State House to physically eject Mugabe.

Mugabe regime goaded the army to intervene in crisis

The threat to army leaders as factional fights in the ruling party intensified made intervention inevitable, resulting in the military "Operation Restore Legacy" shortly before the massive demonstration planned for 18 November by the war veterans. This popular entry by the army into the crisis created space for ZANU-PF elements to hijack the demonstration and pose as previously "silent" opponents of Mugabe. The ensuing veneer of legitimacy and legality provided by a compliant parliament was then used to bypass the more radical cleansing of the state and to pave way for uncontested perpetuation of ZANU in power, albeit with a military core.

Presidential powers survive change of guard and signal limited change
The massive powers enjoyed by Robert Mugabe have been inherited intact by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who happens to have been an architect of some of them and has been a loyal apprentice. There are many who were surprised at the choice (retention?) of cabinet ministers from elements who had poor reputations even by the standards of the Mugabe regime, suspected of shady deals. However, this failure to escape the Mugabe past was in some ways inevitable once the emerging change was presented as a ZANU affair backed by the military and other parts of the security sector. Lack of an inclusive agenda meant falling back on the inherited arsenal of presidential powers and demonstration of continuity even in making of appointments. Significantly, the trend of politicizing the military was taken to new heights, with serving officers moving into key political offices without a cooling period. The security sector must not be used as a party political tool and its effectiveness ultimately depends on professionalism and defense of the public interest.

Reforms provide a chance to outgrow the backward Mugabe regime
President Mugabe will be remembered for resisting or stalling on reforms that were due according to the Constitution adopted in 2013. Notable lack of progress is evident in the establishment and operation of independent Commissions. The government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa can redeem itself by ensuring that the Human Rights and the Peace and Reconciliation Commissions are taken more seriously. Violence supported or perpetrated by state institutions, such as the Gukurahundi massacre of over 20,000 unarmed civilians in the 1980s in Matebeleland and the Midlands, must get some closure through appropriate engagement of affected families and areas by government.

The enjoyment and protection of civil liberties is at the heart of our liberation struggle, including freedom of assembly which is still infringed by application of outmoded practices inherited from the colonial rule books.

The approaching elections due in 2018 must be preceded by the strengthening of the capacity and independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Without free and fair elections there will be no meaningful or lasting peace.

Devolution a litmus test
There have been no signals from the newly-installed regime of President Mnangagwa that fundamental change in the structure of government along the lines of the 2013 Constitution will get priority. Devolution of power to the provinces needs to move from general platitudes to become a key feature of how all parts of the country will set local priorities and share in their resource base. There are many examples of marginalization and asset-stripping that became possible only because of central control, patronage and abuse of unchecked authority.  This is why our party retains the implementation of devolution provisions in the constitution as a top demand and platform for change.

Economic environment/discipline and investment

The new regime has committed itself to restoring discipline in the economy, not least by making the right noises against corruption and economic crimes. We hope this will continue in the next six months or so left before scheduled 2018 elections. This would lay the ground for reconstruction premised on internal confidence and a favorable environment for attracting foreign direct investment. Even a resource-rich country like Zimbabwe cannot afford leakages of billions of dollars from the economy without efforts to plug the gravy train.

Incentives for return of Diaspora
The new President has made welcome calls on Zimbabweans abroad to come and develop the country. The economic and political conditions that have driven predominantly young people to neighboring countries and even further afield have to be addressed because the emigrants have drive and rich expertise that can benefit the country and themselves. Under the Mugabe regime there were insufficient efforts to prepare for effective participation of those in the Diaspora in the elections. We hope that those who can do so will make arrangements to register and take part in the forthcoming elections.

Separation of party and state on service delivery
Reports are still reaching us of ruling party structures being used to control seed and fertilizer distribution instead of state institutions. These carry-overs from the Mugabe regime constitute the worst examples of abuse of state power for party political purposes.  We shall be vigilant to expose and agitate against such practices, and hope that the current regime will also discourage these practices from the past.  

Daring to hope for the liberation dream

ZAPU is the oldest surviving political brand in Zimbabwe, having gone from mass mobilization and peaceful campaigns in the 1960s before spearheading the transition to armed struggle for freedom and independence. I mention this in order to remind our people that the fundamentals that drove different generations to sacrifice life and limb have in many cases eluded us. Our right to peace and security has been tampered with for over thirty years, and even when we had a chance to acquire and benefit from our land this has been distorted and abused by the ruling clique. Our manifesto and key policy documents will outline the way in which we propose restoration of sanity on the land, and put the interests and needs of the people at the center of government in general.

I think that it is not too much to hope that fundamental change is possible and a dividend for the long struggle for democracy and accountability that resulted in the removal of Robert Mugabe in 2017. On that note I wish all Zimbabweans a Happy New Year and new start in 2018.

Source - Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa, ZAPU President