The new President deserves a chance

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

The new President of the republic of Zimbabwe rode into office on the back of a military intervention that stopped a potential positioning of the country’s then First Lady, Grace Mugabe, taking over as the country’s leader in the event of her husband, President Robert Mugabe, stepping down. Emmerson Mnangagwa had been removed from his position as the nation’s Vice President as well as a similar post in the ruling party. His removal from office, masterminded by a faction in Zanu (PF) known as the G40, forced him to flee the country claiming his life was in danger. The rest, at this point, is now history.

The general public came out in full strength to support the move by the military that, ultimately, led to the resignation of President Robert Mugabe just before Parliament was about to impeach him. The new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was sworn into office a few days later after returning from South Africa, where he had sought safety. He also took over the leadership of Zanu (PF). The long suffering people of Zimbabwe, for the first time in the painful 37 year rule of Robert Mugabe, became hopeful. They saw a better life beckoning with the advent of the Emmerson Mnangagwa Presidency even though it potentially could last only 9 months to the next election in 2018.

This hope, however, appeared to have disappeared – at least if social media reactions are anything to go by – when the new President’s Cabinet team was announced. Many activists, commentators, and opposition figures came out guns blazing. They argued that there was nothing new in the President’s Cabinet. This article analyses this reaction and proposes that the new President deserves a chance to come up with a team that he can work with and with whom he can produce the results that he has promised the country.

It also looks at the key stakeholders in the President’s ascension to power and how he has had to accommodate some of these forces into his new team. Hardly 24 hours from the announcement of his cabinet, the President appears to have listened to some of the concerns raised by the public. He made some changes to his new team.

Zimbabwe’s 3rd President was accused by the former First Lady and her cabal, the G40, to have been the mastermind of a faction within Zanu (PF) known as Lacoste. The Lacoste faction was accused of harbouring ambitions of taking over Robert Mugabe’s Presidency. This resulted in a near rout of members of this faction in the past few months from Zanu (PF)’s structures as a way of weakening Mnangagwa culminating in his removal from the Vice Presidency of the nation and party. However, in all his troubles and those of Lacoste, Ngwena or Garwe (as he is popularly known) received unwavering support from a key segment of Zimbabwean society and Zanu (PF), the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. They demanded that Mugabe step down and hand over to Ngwena, and this came at a cost to a number of their leadership who faced arrests and expulsion from the party.

The most outspoken among the War Veterans leadership were Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa, and Victor Matemadanda. On the other hand, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces also took a clear stance against the activities of members of the G40 faction that were positioning the First Lady to a position of power. The ZDF accused this cabal of lacking liberation war credentials (showing even how some of its kingpins such as Professor Jonathan Moyo deserted the war). The military intervention, which saw the toppling of Robert Mugabe, has been referred to by the War Veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa as a ‘counter coup’ against the former First Lady’s ‘bedroom coup’.

The point here is that President Emmerson Mnangagwa owes his ascendancy to the highest office in the country mainly to three groups of stakeholders – the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, as well as members of the Lacoste faction in Zanu (PF).

After being sworn into office, the President placed the fight against corruption, the revival of the economy, the creation of jobs, and freedom among his top priorities. A few examples of some of the indicators of what he intends doing during his tenure have been the cutting of the upcoming Zanu (PF) Congress budget from $12 million to $1 million, paying a visit to one of the country’s hospitals unannounced to assess the conditions there, showing the world that Zimbabwe is open for business. He has also offered a three months amnesty to those who have corruptly externalised funds to return these funds, no questions asked after which criminal charges will be pursued.

President Mnangagwa has received congratulatory messages from a number of key countries on the international stage among which are China, the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany. This appears likely to open up financial support which is much needed in the country facing high levels of unemployment and serious poverty among ordinary people. Some of the key concerns in reactions to his cabinet line-up were that among those appointed are non-performers and corrupt politicians. It appears the public had expected the President to include certain names from technocrats or opposition politicians in the cabinet and were disappointed when this didn’t happen. The President, however, was not forming a government of national unity or a transitional government but rather was finishing the term of his predecessor. In making his cabinet choices he appears to have turned to those who were there for him in his hour of need; people he could trust.

The main opposition party had also made it clear that it was not interested in being part of a GNU. In this context, the President picked two cabinet ministers from the Defence Forces, a few technocrats and most from loyalists in the previous cabinet. This is understandable if events of the past few months are to be taken into account.
What is at stake right now is that the President must deliver on his promises. He needs the support of all Zimbabweans to undertake this enormous task. Whoever he has put in his cabinet has a duty to keep up with his pace.

Civil society and opposition parties have a responsibility to demand the implementation of laws that will ensure freedom of speech, a proper alignment of the electoral system with the constitution, good governance, transparency and checks on the new government. Zimbabweans have tasted freedom and it’s clear they do not want to go back to a life of repression. As responsibly as they displayed their support for the military intervention (an act applauded by the whole world), so can they also bury the hatchet and give the new President a chance to deliver on his promises.

Jameel Asani is a Zimbabwean Researcher and Political Activist. He is completing his MA in Religion Studies (Semitic Languages and Culture) and is also a Masters candidate in Philosophy (Management – Leadership in Emerging Countries) at the University of Johannesburg.