Zimbabwe: Political paralysis of coalition government stalls nation
Although the outcome of last weekend’s SADC summit in Angola gave a finger of hope to some, many in Zimbabwe find it difficult to be optimistic about the immediate and even the medium-term future. The SADC decision has removed ZANU PF’s option promoting of calling a snap election, which everyone feared would be very bloody and at best leave us in the same position we were in at the end of June 2008. SADC has apparently saved us from the potential repetition of 2008 in 2012, but the way forward remains unclear and fraught with the possibility of either continuation of the current paralysis or the spread of violence.
Paralysis is the word on everyone’s lips – political paralysis of the Government of National Unity has brought economic stagnation and a continuation of social desperation. The inexcusably expensive, interminable constitution-making process, on which many, surely mistakenly, placed their bets, has stalled. Industry remains in the doldrums; virtually every parastatal is dysfunctional; after some promise in 2010 and 2011, mining is again beginning to slump under the threat of indigenisation; agriculture has hardly begun to recover from land redistribution, and rights abuses abound as the law is selectively applied. Behind all the disaster looms the very heavy hand of ZANU PF – a party which was clearly rejected by the voters in 2008 but has clung to power -arrogantly, cruelly, contemptuously and violently – against the will of the majority of the people but with the assistance of our neighbours, who pushed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to share power with the losers.
Zimbabweans are tired, thoroughly and irredeemably tired of the miseries that now make up their daily lives. Yes, there is a minority of professionals and business owners who can make adjustments and be comfortable, and there are those who have decided to accommodate to ZANU PF and join the patronage train, but for the vast majority there is little room for manoeuvre – no escape from the daily hours without electricity, the constant search for drinkable water, for school fees, for rent money, for bus fares, for the few dollars to buy Europe’s cast off clothing, from the sight of crops wilting in the fields, from empty bellies and diseases that they cannot afford to treat, from the daily demand for bribes from officials of all kinds.
Zimbabweans are tired, sick and tired, of politicians whose bellies swell and whose vehicles grow ever bigger, who swagger in their suits , insulting and suing each other, bickering, playing to the gallery, puffed up so far with their own self-importance that they have become a joke. But a very black joke, because Zimbabwe cannot afford to be cheated by those we elect.
ZANU PF’s coalition partners did at one time inspire some hope, but now they are so weakened in office that people still refer to them as “the opposition”. While it would be unfair to paint all with the same brush, as there are those who are competent and making an effort in an impossible situation, there are too many displays of ZANU PF-style greediness and elitism in the MDC, particularly MDC – T, as they try to look after their own interests instead of those of the people. Often they seem more preoccupied with securing vehicles or allowances for themselves than anything else, and the constitution outreach process provided many of them with a rich cash cow. They are further discredited by the rivalries now shaking their own party and the personal irregularities of Morgan Tsvangirai in “replacing” his wife, as he put it, upsetting many women.
Politicians are put in power to provide solutions to problems, and MDC have notably failed to dislodge ZANU PF or grab the ball and run with it. They appear to lose every skirmish and show no imagination whatsoever in dodging blocks or stealing bases. While the majority of voters would doubtless still vote for them in an election, it would probably be more a vote against ZANU PF than a vote for MDC, who have not even communicated effectively their policy preferences.
Of course, the paralysis in government is primarily of ZANU PF’s making. In September 2008, when the GPA was signed, there was widespread scepticism that the two MDC’s could achieve anything in partnership with ZANU PF, but with pressure from South Africa and SADC to form a GNU, they had little choice. Predictably, ZANUF PF has used the breathing space offered to it to prevent as far as possible any forward movement on the economy which might be credited to the MDCs, while restocking its war chest through control of the diamond bonanza. ZANU PF uses its patronage system to ensure that no one who is not indebted to them for favours is able to accumulate any wealth at all. No one except their own adherents will get contracts, tenders or licences. This breeds the high levels of corruption which are being experienced, and also ensures that many of the services provided are of a low standard, because they are not provided by the best candidates. Those who are successful but are not prepared to sing ZANU PF’s song have frequently been hounded into exile from where they now operate. There are ready examples in the fields of media, banking and telecommunications.
The indigenisation agenda ZANU PF is pushing has now replaced the land issue as a programme to simultaneously win support from a new constituency and frustrate the opposition. It seems dishonestly designed to further enrich themselves, consolidate their patronage lines and prevent the MDC getting credit for increased investment, rather than honestly redistributing wealth to the people. If investment comes, the economy will improve, at least temporarily, and everyone will benefit, but then MDC will have been seen to succeed, and may also identify new domestic sources of wealth to tap for its own advancement; those are the results that ZANU PF wants to prevent. Indigenisation is also being used to entice the youth and has apparently made some inroads into MDC support in that regard. That is a legitimate policy, if reasonably implemented, to balance the interests of various parties, but in ZANU PF’s hands we cannot have any expectation that it will be legitimate in its nature or its impact.
Thus, ZANU PF’s attempts to retain control of the economy are partly aimed at amassing wealth for themselves, partly to enhance their patronage capacity and also to ensure that MDC fails in government. According to their understanding, political power emanates not from the willing consent of the people but from control of the nation’s resources and economic activity. They must control everything, because if they don’t, their rivals for power will build up their own patronage system to challenge them.
But most frightening and ominous for the future is the escalation of violence against all opposition elements who cannot be enticed. The behaviour of ZANU PF backed gangs in Mbare and more recently in Epworth, trying to physically exclude those who do not support them, is clear warning that ZANU PF has no intention of playing a fair game in any election which might come, whether this year or next. ZANU PF thus continues to destroy any lingering hope that MDC could use its position in government to rebuild the economy or prepare for a meaningful transition towards democracy. It deliberately subverts the constitution-making process, agreeing on sections one week only to renege on the agreement the following week. It continues to use violence, misuse its control of the police, the justice system and the defence forces to cow the nation and harass and remove from play opposition figures.
In this context, the SADC decision not to allow ZANU PF to proceed to elections, until reforms to the system and to the security sector are implemented, stops ZANU PF from going forward with their plans to return to full control through use of violence. But the possibility for a way out of the impasse through free and fair elections is remote, given ZANU’s repeated signals that they will not permit the necessary reforms to go ahead. We seem to be at a dead end, which is the reason why the outlook appears grim..
Could ZANU’s internal power struggle to succeed Robert Mugabe provide a basis for any optimism? Possibly, but not necessarily. Mugabe’s astonishing vitality for a man of his age can be attributed to his own perservance and single-minded determination to cling to power. In spite of his failing health he may manage to carry on for more than another year. But he cannot go on forever; the day of his final physical collapse and inability to continue in office is surely not far off. Would his removal from the equation change anything? Certainly the rivalry within the party is intensifying, and being re-enacted in every province during the elections for party structures; however, any wishful thinking that ZANU PF will be incapacitated by their rivalries must be carefully scrutinised. Those who see ZANU splitting and the more “moderate” wing of the party under Vice President Joyce Mujuru joining in a new coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai after a peaceful election could be seeing a feasible way out, but unfortunately at present they appear more like hopeful dreamers.
More likely is a role for the military in intervening to stop the rot in ZANU PF and bring order to the “party of liberation”. They do not need to stage a classic coup in order to access power. Having established discipline in the party and taken control of its politburo, they would then continue to resist any type of reform and simply stay in power, with violence if an election was insisted on by SADC. Several military leaders of the second rank have joined their leaders in openly voicing their determination not to allow anyone except ZANU PF to rule Zimbabwe, and we ignore their voices at our peril. They could exercise power through gaining control of ZANU PF at the top, and some are also poised to contest elections as candidates for parliament, thus securing a strong influence in the legislature. As many as 78 have indicated their wish to become members of parliament. How the military rank and file would react to such a situation is anyone’s guess, but although it is often assumed that the majority support MDC, there is no tradition of mutiny in Zimbabwe’s armed forces, and it would surely be an unlikely outcome.
Any assessment of what might happen either before or after Mugabe’s exit from politics should not rely on ZANU PF collapsing, and must include a realistic understanding of what the military might do. It is now emerging more and more clearly that in those crucial days after the March 2008 election, it was the military who prevented a smooth transfer of power to the MDC when it was evident that MDC had triumphed in parliament and Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe,.
Many observers suggest that an election would produce another stalemated result, leading to a second GNU. If the military allowed this, once again they would surely retain control of the entire security sector, leaving us no farther ahead. Is it not possible, however, that we could have an election in which the combined opposition swept a divided ZANU PF from power? Possible, certainly, but quite unlikely, given the determination of the military to ensure a ZANU PF victory. The violent attacks on MDC supporters in various parts of the country should warn anyone who thinks a peaceful election under ZANU PF’s stewardship is possible in the next months or even years.
So the scenario-drawing points more and more to a strong role for the military in any future dispensation, trumping any move toward genuine democracy or any meaningful economic growth which might bring relief to the millions of Zimbabweans struggling for survival. Like T.S. Eliot’s poor people of Canterbury, they feel powerless, watching and waiting , living and partly living, while the archbishop and the king play their deadly power game which will determine the fate of all.
Meanwhile, the struggle to survive continues. Queues at the borders once again lengthen, some seeking to escape the certain drudgery of survival in Zimbabwe to a less onerous drudgery in another country, while others sweat for the tiny profits to be made in cross-border trading. They must keep their families, in whatever way possible, no matter the humiliations from South Africans who despise them while taking the little money they have in bribes. Schools are mainly open, for a fee, but with large numbers dysfunctional, which contributes to the falling literacy rates. Those who complete with a certificate struggle to find a place for tertiary education and those who complete tertiary education cannot find employment. With the shambling medical services, which even in their inefficiency are unaffordable for many, Zimbabweans continue to die from treatable conditions because medications and equipment are not available. Radiotherapy, which used to be accessed in central government hospitals, is usually not available, due to mechanical break-downs and lack of inputs; the same applies to chemotherapy. Cancer patients have few options other than surgery. Those requiring anti-viral medication for HIV have begun to find that the drugs are often not available, or the right ones have run out. Privately these are generally unaffordable; hence the hope for HIV+ patients that has prevailed for the past few years is evaporating.
Zimbabweans have developed a reputation for “making a plan” through which means they adapt to every new reality and somehow keep going, even if it is at an ever lower level of comfort and enjoyment of life. The problem is that those plans are almost always individual, or at most family based. And more often than not one person’s survival tactics depend on squeezing the next person. Poorly paid police officers survive by tyrannising motorists, vendors, taxi drivers and anyone who they can get into their power for a moment long enough to elicit a bribe. The taxi drivers who get fleeced by the police turn around and fleece the travelling public. School teachers compensate for their low salaries by squeezing parents who earn less than they do to cough up money for school levies used to supplement their pay, and children whose parents do not pay are hounded relentlessly and frequently chased from classes. Some teachers are known to leave their classrooms in the hands of senior pupils while they go to teach at private colleges. Physical abuse in classrooms is rife, as the relationship of trust and care breaks down. Anyone in a position to prey off someone else does so – whether it be a customs official, a driving examiner, a worker in the passport office, or an employee in a shop. Thus Zimbabweans attempt to survive on an individual level while the country sinks further into ruin. Until as a society we somehow regain a sense of community, where concern for others prevails and an understanding of the need to work together rather than separately dominates, we can hardly expect to progress, whether in the political, the economic or the social sphere.
So what does the future hold? Is there any hope, then, for Zimbabweans to escape from this economic slough and social dysfunction? A few tentative investments can help to bring some economic movement, a few more jobs, and the circulation of more money. One of these is the Essar investment in rehabilitating ZISCO – if only the Minister of Mines could stop playing politics with it. Another is the dualisation of the main road from Plumtree to Mutare, which represents an enormous investment. Several other investments are on hold pending resolution of the indigenisation logjam. The diamond mines proceed to extract our natural resources, but clearly most of the profit is going into private hands of those linked to ZANU PF and is not benefitting the nation at large. Agriculture, which must continue to be at the heart of the economy, has achieved some renewal in tobacco production, but will not forge ahead until the issue of land tenure on all the redistributed land is solved. Preparatory research work has been done for land auditing and decision-making, but no decisions can be taken with a government with two heads going in opposite directions. Manufacturing, too, depends on raw materials from agriculture and mining, and on resolution of indigenisation. While a relaxation of harassment of informal sector traders would help, a renewed economy can hardly be based on resurgent informal activity, which provides some income but no security.
The key to all is of course is resolution of the political impasse. Many do believe that MDC can still win a “free and fair” election, in spite of their lack-lustre performance. But ZANU PF’s intransigence and the back-up role of the military make such an election unlikely. SADC has prevented ZANU PF from going ahead with their own strategy of the snap election, which would certainly have been very bloody. But they have no power to force ZANU PF to implement the reforms demanded by the GPA, which they say must occur in order to allow a peaceful vote. Hence the deadlock. It is difficult to see how it can be resolved any time soon by a change towards a genuine democracy through a peaceful election. We are more likely to continue with a contested political space characterised by partial compromises and outbreaks of localised violence, in which the military and ZANU PF remain key players for some time to come.
And where does that leave the majority of Zimbabweans? Waiting again, it seems, for a long slow process of evolution to bring us to a point where the economy might just grow enough to begin to benefit those not in the patronage chain. It is an unpleasant prospect, but one which more and more seems like a probability. There are not likely to be any quick fixes. Individuals will have to rely on their own ingenuity and hard work to scrabble a life by producing small amounts of wealth, and the sooner they get on with that instead of trying to squeeze each other, the sooner Zimbabwe can begin to grow again from the bottom.