Category Archives: Zimbabwe

We Don’t Need Another Hero.

it’s been a phenomenal two weeks in the country of my birth, Zimbabwe. The events of the last fourteen days across the country have caught everyone unawares. From the initial demonstrations at Beitbridge border post on June 20th when SI 64 was first implemented to the burning of the customs warehouse and closure of the Zimbabwe and South Africa border for the first time in over a century, media and government were at a loss to explain what had changed in the mood of the country. Little did they know more was to come.

Hardly two days after relative order was restored at Beitbridge, Monday saw running battles between police and Kombi drivers across parts of Harare as the latter went on strike in protest against traffic police corruption. Police deployed their standard tactics only to be met by an emboldened resistance that saw reports of them being beaten back by enraged protestors. As the day went on pictures emerged of excessive police force along with increasingly violent resistance.

In response to the burning of the Beitbridge customs warehouse, Minister of State Security Kembo Mohadi, who is from Beitbridge, exclaimed:

“We are very much disturbed. Why should the South African businesspeople try to influence our policy formulation? They have their own laws and we don’t meddle. It is sad that they chose to mobilise our people against the Government. The burning of tyres during demonstrations is foreign to us and we suspect a third hand is involved in the chaos that rocked Beitbridge town on Friday,” 

Mohadi also blamed the police for being unprepared leading to the army having to be called in. The police, for their part, have been consistent in  cracking down viciously at any sign of protest but have at times appeared at a loss when confronted by protestors who are not scared of them anymore. Instead, they have now started to look for the ringleaders of these protests, another old policing tactic.

Now whilst the police and government try to get control of the situation the media have been excitedly keeping the world informed and as is their nature, trying to find that unique angle to differentiate their coverage from that of the competition. The irony is, many are as confused about this new wave of resistance as the state, and like the state, have resorted to classic theories to explain what is going on. In this effort, they have identified an ideal leader who fits the desired profile in a Harare pastor, Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire has risen to prominence over the last few months after a series of Facebook videos of him venting his frustration at the state of the country resonated with fellow Zimbabweans inspiring others to share their stories of frustration. His use of social media to galvanise people has been nothing short of phenomenal and he has attracted other equally talented and frustrated Zimbabweans to his cause under what has come to be known as the #ThisFlag citizens movement. Collectively they called for a stay-away on Wednesday 06 July which saw the country come to a virtual standstill and protestors in running battles with the police in Harare and Bulawayo. Following on this they have published a list of demands and are threatening a second stay-away next week.

#ThisFlag is now the ideal one-stop-shop for publishers looking for a ready-made media package for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and its all here on social media, or so some local and international media would have us believe. It is at this point that I become wary. The last week has seen all sorts of people claiming credit or being assigned blame for what has in reality been a collective effort who’s time has come. The MDC-T’s Obert Gutu was quick off the mark after Wednesday’s stay-away to claim that this was only possible because of them, an act that was roundly condemned across social, digital and print media.

Now that the dust has settled, the state and media alike, are looking for ringleaders of the protests, albeit for different reasons. The state so they can put an end to the protests, the media so they can find new heroes and villains to replace the tired characters of the seemingly eternal Zimbabwean political soap opera. Why shouldn’t they? This formula has worked marvellously for both of them in the past. Only problem is, this time around what’s happening in Zimbabwe does not fit this mould. This is popular resistance against a political system that has failed Zimbabweans for too long and now seeks to starve them. I don’t know where started but it certainly was not on social media and it certainly was not on July 01, Zimbabweans have been frustrated a damn long time and have been using various means to just get by in spite of a state that has continued to make life harder for them.

Recent moves by the state, notably the introduction of bond notes and S I 64 have been the most brazen of a number of unpopular moves going back as far as 2000 or even 1980, depending on who you speak to. All these own goals have seen Zimbabweans from all walks of life saying they have had enough, from advocates to vendors to taxi-drivers to pastors to journalists to students. Every Zimbabwean who is not benefiting directly from the patronage system that is our government today has had enough and are finding means of expression, no matter where they are. In Bulawayo youths who I saw growing up were arrested for demanding Mugabe must go on Wednesday, they are out on $40 bail each. A few weeks ago a woman wrote of how she lost her child to an inept health care system. Two people who have been creating platforms for Zimbabweans to communicate with and develop each other tweeted about how they were interviewed by the police about their activities in the same week. People are sharing their dissatisfaction with the state and they all need to be heard, to position some as heroes this early in the night is to set us all up for failure. We are all important and we all deserve support.

The world wants to tell us social media has become a new frontier in the battle for a normal life in Zimbabwe and in response the state has threatened to control social media, even allegedly disrupting the internet during Wednesday’s stay-away. Barring social media or the internet entirely will not put food in peoples’ bellies or bring back lost children. It won’t restore the tens of thousands of jobs lost annually, let alone the millions ZANU promised during the 2013 elections. Employees are only as loyal as their last paycheque and in Zimbabwe regular paycheques have become increasingly rare. As the state & media look for heroes and villains a country demands a return to normalcy so they don’t have to ever again read in a WhatsApp message about a relative dying in a hospital because there was no water.

We don’t need another hero in Zimbabwe, our history is riddled with them and since 1980 their legacies have been used to control and cajole us. We need all our stories to be told and a responsible government that values the life of every citizen.

Smoke & Mirrors, Lessons from the elective congress that wasn’t.

The much-hyped ZANU PF elective congress finally took place last week in Harare from Tuesday to Saturday and there was no shortage of fireworks throughout. With the frenetic talk of factions in recent months many expected a showdown like never before but in a move to preempt this the outgoing politburo recommended that rather than elections the First Secretary appoint the new politburo and this was approved by congress. This gave President Mugabe sole discretion to appoint his two vice presidents and second secretaries, the national chairperson, the heads of departments of the politburo, the committee members of the politburo and the deputies to the heads of department.

President Mugabe was expected to announce these appointments on Saturday night but in another move to possibly keep the peace he said:

“I could not rush to choose people. I would want time to look at the new names, new people that have come into the central committee and see which hands we could put to the politburo,”

“…I haven’t seen what the provinces gave us. I don’t want to rush it, so be patient. By mid next week, by Wednesday or Thursday, we will make an announcement. We will let you know because we cannot go far. We will have to choose the two vice presidents and the chairman, and the secretary, one who is in charge of our secretariat, the job Mutasa was doing.”

In a week where everything seemed to be going right for the first couple as they secureed their leadership positions in ZANU PF and in effect Zimbabwe, this would have brought finality to internal strife that has gripped the party in recent months. There is much speculation as to why he did this ranging from his advanced age to him wanting to enjoy the extended grovelling by those seeking appointments. I have another theory.

The President now effectively has sole control of ZANU PF’s decision-making structures which means the party’s fortunes rise and fall with him now more directly than before. Once appointed every politburo member can now rightly claim they have been directly appointed by the President and that they speak on  his behalf. As they are no longer voted for who is to say that anyone else’s authority beside’s the President’s will be adhered to going forward? The politburo itself may now be of little meaning as a decision making body. President Mugabe may be wondering if, by appointing the wrong people to key positions how will he control them considering the alleged coup plot that has caused such ructions in the party? This may explain why throughout his speeches on Saturday President Mugabe continually emphasised service to the party and the nation saying at one point

“I want to say thank you. I know I am not greater than people. As a leader, I am your servant, . . We must treasure and take care of Zimbabwe.”.

Maybe realising the delicacy of the task President Mugabe said he needed more time to consider politburo and presidium candidates. Now I am not sure, but I assume the ZANU PF constitutional amendments do not allow for the central committee to review politburo appointments made by the President. ZANU PF has guidelines for who is eligible to contest which post based mostly on experience but this has been rubbished by the unopposed election and subsequent appointment of Grace Mugabe as Secretary For Women’s Affairs without her having held any prior position in the party. This is not to mention her vicious attacks on various senior members in previous months without being challenged whilst she was still an ordinary member. This apparent suspension of the rules can only make the pending appointments more difficult and less predictable. President Mugabe is famous for taking his time to make seemingly key appointments and I would not be surprised if come Friday there is still no decision on the politburo, presidium and the vice presidents, remember second Vice President John Nkomo died in January 2013 but his replacement is yet to be announced.

It is not unreasonable to think the events of the last week have left an old man drained and he needs time to come to terms with the fact that he has, amongst other problems,  a potential constitutional crisis on his hands with a Vice President he has publicly accused of treason but has taken no action against. These events have also brought about the realisation that he is surrounded by people who no longer take his word as gospel but now merely pay him lip service. Considering how he went on at length about the liberation struggle only to be passed a note from his wife saying he should wrap up, is President Mugabe now realising just how out of touch he is with the relative youths in ZANU PF leadership? The liberation struggle was such a simpler time, you were either with or against the movement, nowadays there are factions within factions and unparalleled intrigue.

It could be too that the purges of the last two months finally took their toll on him. Despite the lack of blood so far, these events remind me of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s where family members accused each other of treason and the allegations got more fantastic by the day. Jacob Mudenda took the allegations against Vice President Mujuru to new levels with this gem

“This plot involved some among us, under the leadership of then Vice-President Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru and her cabal of senior politburo members, who had been enticed by the Americans and some Europeans with promises that they would pour billions of dollars into Zimbabwe once they succeeded in allying with the opposition formations to oust Zanu PF and its iconic President and first secretary from power.”.

Not done yet Mudenda went on in classic purge mode to encourage the accused to repent and ask for forgiveness before evidence is produced against them. The accused are yet to respond.

With power games at such a high level it is not unusual for the protagonists to continue communicating via back channels whilst in public they excoriate each other. Consider that Vice President Joice Mujuru has only made one public statement and along with her co-accused did not attend congress. Whilst President Mugabe and others publicly heaped scorn on her throughout the congress it is significant that she is not currently in jail considering the seeming seriousness of the allegations against her and others. I would wager that the President is weighing his options as any punitive moves against VP Mujuru may weaken his position. President Mugabe is a master of isolating threats and the best way to do this right now would be to retain Joice Mujuru whilst whittling away her perceived support base effectively making her a lame duck VP.

Being the obedient party cadre that she is, VP Mujuru has kept a disciplined silence and not challenged the first family on their allegations against her. My guess is this is part of a plan for a post-Mugabe white knight campaign for the presidency. As others fall over themselves to make accusations, denials, threats, insults, retractions and counter-accusations, she is the only one who has not descended to this level, making her relatively clean. I imagine VP Mujuru sees the current situation as unsalvageable and could wait out the next few years till elections whilst those who have hounded her tear each other apart. It is much easier to fight a battle on one front against a tired enemy than the current situation where brazen attackers and accusers abound. Already the ranks are thinning out with some perceived candidates for the vice presidency retiring from the race.

President Mugabe may have won this round but the battle for the presidency is far from over and time is not on his side. Despite ZANU PF and the state media’s declarations as to his abilities and inferences to his immortality, the signs of age were there for all to see on Saturday with him making a number of notable gaffs. If the congress taught us one thing it is that the race to state house will be won by the one who bides their time, not by shock and awe tactics which fizzle out into hot air.

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.