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One year after Mugabe’s historic ouster, Zim looks much the same

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Mugabe Resigns

Euphoric tears are what many Zimbabweans remember shedding a year ago, on Nov. 21, 2017. It was the most momentous day in the country’s post-independence history, the day Zimbabwe shed something else: Robert Mugabe, then 93, who was forced out of office by the military after 37 years as president.
People who had once cowered when they saw their own army instead walked alongside the tanks and took selfies. People who had once feared arrest for insulting the autocratic Mugabe openly bid him good riddance.

One year later, Zimbabwe’s optimism has dimmed. Depending on who you ask, things are as bad, or perhaps slightly less bad than before. The current government says reform takes time and asks Zimbabweans for patience.

For now, the dreams are stifled. An already ruined economy has been further ravaged by new inflation. Rapprochement with the West, which shunned Zimbabwe for decades and held back investment and job growth, has been hesitant at best.

And the results of the first post-Mugabe elections are still contested four months later by the main opposition party.

Temba Mlandeli, an engineer in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, exuded optimism in an interview with The Washington Post before the election. Now he’s struggling to stay positive.

“To be quite honest, it’s not exactly what I expected. As they say, sometimes you have to go through bad times to get to good times, go uphill before you descend,” he said. “I’m not sure where we’re going, really. Generally, life has gotten tougher.”

The events of the past 364 days read like a series of continuities from the Mugabe era, with the occasional departure from the norm.

Mugabe was deposed in what his successor calls a “military assisted transition.” It came as the culmination of a succession battle between Mugabe’s wife Grace and his former right-hand-man and spy chief, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.

Mugabe fired Mnangagwa, who fled the country. Sensing a power play by the deeply unpopular Grace Mugabe, the army emerged onto the streets. Under pressure, Mugabe resigned. Mnangagwa returned and was sworn in as president three days later.

The army’s top general became his deputy. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa promised to build a Zimbabwe that would not look like Mugabe’s.

It would have freedom of expression, a strong currency, billions of dollars in foreign investment, re-engagement with the West and elections in July complete with international observers.

Ironically for a member of Mugabe’s party, who served by his side for decades, Mnangagwa campaigned on a platform of change. The elections would cement his legitimacy, he said, but if he lost them, he would bow to the will of the Zimbabweans.

Between his inauguration and the election on July 30, Zimbabwe seemed, from the outside, to be in suspended animation. Minor blips made headlines — Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition party’s ailing doyen, succumbed to cancer, Mnangagwa survived an assassination attempt — though they never threatened to throw the vote off schedule.

But in the rural areas where Mugabe and Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party had established a deep system of patronage over nearly four decades, a scene similar to the past’s less-than-fair elections was playing out.

The lives of opposition candidates and their followers were threatened. ZANU-PF candidates openly paid people to attend their rallies with state-owned goods like fertilizer and corn flour. State-owned media gave exceedingly disproportionate time to ZANU-PF political ads.

On election day, the mood was still mostly buoyant — and voting went off without a hitch. But as the vote-counting process dragged on, the opposition became louder about electoral manipulation, unfairness, and even alleged rigging.

And then on Aug. 1, the mirage of a new Zimbabwe faded altogether. After an opposition protest in the centre of the capital, Harare, devolved into rioting, the army came out onto the streets for the first time since that fateful day last November. This time there were no smiles. They shot live rounds indiscriminately into the gathered crowds, ultimately killing six and wounding dozens.

It was a scene of carnage and heartbreak.“If we are just going to have citizens facing live ammunition in the streets of Harare, it makes us wonder where we are at,” said Jestina Mukoko, director of the nonprofit Zimbabwe Peace Project.

Mnangagwa would claim an almost-impossibly narrow victory two days later, which the opposition still rejects despite a top court’s seal of approval.

An inquiry into the killings was opened, but top army generals have used it to claim that it was not their men who did the shooting but an elaborate ruse by the opposition to tarnish their image.

Zimbabwe is now as politically divided as it has ever been. Opposition supporters see any praise of Mnangagwa as an attempt to whitewash his power-grab and subsequent abuses.

Mnangagwa’s supporters see the opposition as sore losers unwilling to submit to the democratic process they claim to represent. They point to the fact that the opposition can hold protests and rallies at all as a sign of progress.

Mukoko said that while freedom of expression and assembly were greater now than under Mugabe, it hasn’t translated into Zimbabweans feeling free.

“We’ve seen people brought before the courts under Mugabe-era insult laws — insulting the office or the person of the president. There have been many arrests for exercising rights that are constitutionally guaranteed,” she said. “We are in a very precarious situation as a country.”

After the court struck down a challenge of the elections results by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, he refused to back down, saying “President Mnangagwa is disputed as the leader. I have a legitimate claim that I am supposed to be leading the people of Zimbabwe.”

Meanwhile, Mnangagwa’s promised surge in investment has proved paltry, and the economy continued to be the source of misery.

The political instability stemming from the contested election and its aftermath have led many international investors to conclude that Zimbabwe is still too risky for investment.

A decade ago, during Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis, inflation spiralled out of control, leading the government to print hundred-trillion-dollar notes before eventually scrapping the Zimbabwean dollar altogether, opting instead for bond notes pegged to the U.S. dollar.

But that bond-currency has been undermined by the government’s continued printing of it to pay the salaries to its employees. In October, it took a nose dive and just like in 2008, untold numbers of people lost all their savings.

“Ordinary Zimbabweans are paying for the excesses of a venal predatory elite not being held to account,” said Piers Pigou of the International Crisis Group.

Mlandeli, the engineer, says he wishes the government would swallow its pride, scrap the bond notes and start trading in the U.S. dollar and South African Rand.

In another echo of 2008, 50 died this September in a cholera outbreak that struck Harare over the same week Mnangagwa gave his inaugural address to parliament. In 2008, more than 4,000 died. The inflation crisis has hit hospitals particularly hard, leaving them unable to afford imported medicines.

“Our patients are relapsing, deteriorating, operations being cancelled,” said the Zimbabwe Medical Association in a statement last week.

The main opposition party — the Movement for Democratic Change — has focused mainly on organizing protests and continuing its refusal to work with Mnangagwa out of fear that it would legitimize his election victory.

In practical terms, that means the opposition has little say in building the new Zimbabwe that its supporters yearn for.

“I don’t want to exaggerate and say there will be violence, but patience is wearing thin,” said Pigou.

For many in Zimbabwe, patience is all they have.

Washington Post

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BUSINESS

Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers

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Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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NEWS

Chinamasa calls U.S. ambassador ‘thug’ as anti-government protests loom

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Chinamasa

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government.

Without providing evidence, ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that U.S. ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, was involved in subversive activities to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chinamasa’s comments echo the Robert Mugabe era, where the ZANU-PF government regularly accused the United States and Britain of seeking to dislodge it from power.

“He (Nichols) continues to engage in acts of undermining this republic and if he does so, if he continues engaging in acts of mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders,” Chinamasa said.
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”

The U.S. embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to Chinamasa’s comments. Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African nation after activists called for demonstrations on July 31 against government corruption, which they blame for deepening the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Last month, the government summoned Nichols after a senior White House official said Zimbabwe was among “foreign adversaries” using the civil unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd to interfere in U.S. affairs.

The U.S., Britain, E.U. embassies and the United Nations have all criticised Zimbabwe for the arrest of journalists and political challengers.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the West were promising when Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, but have soured over the government’s human rights record.

Patrick Chinamasa urged party supporters to defend themselves from protesters and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed post-election demonstrations in August 2018 and the January 2019 protests over a steep fuel price hike.“No, this time no. Use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves,” Chinamasa said. Organisers say this week’s protests will be peaceful. Reuters

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HEALTH

Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Agriculture Minister Dies

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Perrence-Shiri-Dead

Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perence Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has died, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Perence Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement. He did not say how Shiri died.

But domestic media said Shiri, 65, succumbed to complications from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,817 and killed 40 in Zimbabwe.

A liberation war veteran,Perrence Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.

The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Perence Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.Reuters

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