One of the few things that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has got right for Zanu-PF, is to normalise a sad state of social, economic and political affairs and receive widespread local and international support for doing so.
By Tafi Mhaka
Mnangagwa orchestrated former President Robert Mugabe’s removal from office in November 2017 and people roundly celebrated that, calling it a fresh start.
Mnangagwa then gave the impression he might appoint opposition leaders as cabinet ministers and form a unity government, a premeditated move that quickly disarmed a stumbling and bewildered MDC leadership.
But wily as ever, Mnangagwa chose to appoint mainly Zanu-PF and military comrades, leaving a flabbergasted MDC-A party fumbling to find an apt political response.
It never did, and Mnangagwa’s Machiavellian manoeuvres went on unabated.
He spoke vaguely about electoral reforms, but flatly refused to implement any before the August 2018 harmonised elections.
However, seven weeks after MDC-A leader Nelson Chamisa enthusiastically declared ‘no reforms, no elections’ at a rally at Garwe Stadium in Chivhu on June 5 2018, his party participated in a flawed election, and lost dismally.
Chamisa had morphed into the gift that kept giving.
Mnangagwa even unleashed soldiers on unarmed protestors in Harare, killing six, and Chamisa promptly heaped blame on his own supporters.
Once again, the MDC-A leader’s inability to read the palpable frustrations of his followers, avoid pointless grandstanding and stay true to his word, handed Mnangagwa potent political mileage.
Emboldened by the MDC-A’s steadfast inaction toward fighting dictatorial injustices, Mnangagwa has made further moves to stifle dissent and entrench his rule.
Life at present is really back to the disturbing reality of Mugabe’s time.
The EU/US sanctions remain in place.
The SADC and AU stand resolutely behind Harare.
Mthuli Ncube is promising an economic revival amid rising poverty.
Farm seizures are plenty.
Youths are migrating abroad.
Critical medical services are crumbling.
Zanu-PF’s declared war on corruption, MDC-A leaders are making the right noises in parliament and Chamisa’s refusing to recognise Mnangagwa’s presidency.
The ordinarily abnormally normal Zimbabwe everyone despises is back with a bang.
Yet Mnangagwa hadn’t bet on Job Sikhala becoming the MDC-A’s national vice-chairperson and finding a return to old political form.
Sikhala’s cut from a different cloth, and embodies the formidable spirit of 1999.
Although the MDC’s freshman class of 2000 lost the general election, it didn’t go down without a fight.
It defied common refrains and risked life and limb in urban centres and rural areas for political change.
Sikhala’s retained that founding tenacity Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda imbued the MDC with.
The Zengeza MP’s frustration, anger and rashness have ruffled Mnangagwa’s administration. In Sikhala, many Zanu-PF securocrats may see a dangerous adversary who is equal to the task of articulating our struggles.
Many may recognise the rough edges, offensive wit, periodic drama and steely determination typical of a selfless freedom fighter.
To speak eloquently of change, as Chamisa does so well, is one thing.
But to repeatedly agitate a repressive government and declare a willingness to die for change, as Sikhala does so impressively, is quite another.
Despite Chamisa stating 2020 is the ‘year of mass demonstrations’, Mnangagwa is unlikely to be overly concerned. The MDC-A president’s past proclamations have previously wilted into empty promise, as Zanu-PF has largely contained the MDC-A and scored several noteworthy electoral victories to boot.
Yet, by declaring that Mnangagwa ‘doesn’t own life’ or ‘own Zimbabwe’, Sikhala’s expressed a popular, deep-rooted, unspoken desire to circumvent academic arguments about challenging Zanu-PF’s dubious mandate.
By asserting that ‘no injustice or crime against humanity will go unpunished’, Sikhala’s fired shots at hitherto untouchable security chiefs and demonstrated the strong progressive leadership Zimbabwe really needs.
As president Sikhala would plausibly seek justice for the victims of Gukurahundi and the August 1 2018 and January 15 2019 demonstrations. In contrast, Chamisa in June 2018 vowed to give Mnangagwa a ‘lucrative pension’.
Why, after all the hardships, deaths and constitutional betrayals MDC members have endured since 1999, did he find it prudent to say that publicly?
Zanu-PF leaders and security chiefs responsible for the deaths of unarmed civilians deserve to be punished severely, not rewarded handsomely.
They don’t in fact deserve unjustified respect.
Chamisa could do well to learn from Sikhala’s leadership style, and learn to live and breathe the change people are expected to possibly march and die for.
To be sure, Sikhala is onto something: Mnangagwa deserves no special treatment, and must be confronted on many fronts before and after 2023.
Let’s back Sikhala to lead us to the promised land.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in us, is scheduled to be published in 2020. Follow him at @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka