An opportunity for Zanu-PF to self correct has been missed

No one will blame us for thinking we Zimbabweans are jinxed, and that whoever did the jinxing is long dead and cannot be reasoned with for leniency.

We poured into the streets until the early hours of Wednesday November 22, celebrating the unceremonious ousting of long-serving dictator president Robert Mugabe. It mattered little to us how he had been removed and who had taken the burden of doing so. We had had enough: enough of joblessness, hunger and long queues for almost everything people in better-managed countries are lucky enough to consider basic.

We had had enough of the trials and tribulations that were uniquely Zimbabwean. At the height of hyperinflation, our grandparents, with their little schooling, found themselves buying very little with a quintillion dollar note. Then, nothing was certain in Zimbabwe, price-wise. A taxi journey from the township to the city centre had no fixed fare. At any point in the journey, the taxi driver would just stop and tell all passengers — with a straight face — that the fare had gone up and that they must cough up the balance.

We had had enough of a brutal regime that ate its own and treated its citizenry with impunity and callousness. It got so bad that some who grew up in colonial Rhodesia were beginning to look back at the colonial days with some nostalgia. At least we had food, clothes and jobs, they would argue.

Such was the impunity, we woke up one morning to be told that $16bn realised from the country’s Marange diamond fields had just vanished. Yes, $16bn. No one has been arrested for that daring theft.

We were fed up of a vicious regime that sent its soldiers, police and intelligence officers to beat up voters before, during and even after the elections. These troops were accountable to no one. They raped and seized a sizable number of people who disappeared without trace.

Elections were stolen in broad daylight and opposition leaders were bitten and left for dead. My countrymen in Matabeleland can bear testimony to that.

We also grew tired of a leadership that grabbed all white-owned farms and distributed them among themselves at the expense of the landless majority. Most of them are lying fallow now after being turned into holiday homes and “getaway places” by new owners, who grabbed them but did not have the slightest inkling of how to run a farm.

For the past 37 years, Zimbabwe has basically belonged to Mugabe and his clique of securocrats and war veterans.

We were also tired of a first lady who called people names at rallies and all but undressed opponents who dared to differ, and a first family that personalised the national airline, dumping its paying passengers each time they wanted to go on an overseas junket.

Who could blame us for the wild celebrations when the tyrant fell? This is what forced all of us into the streets. Black, White, Shona, Ndebele all became one. Our common enemy had fallen; it was the dawn of a new era. Or so we thought.

The inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the interim president of Zimbabwe on November 24 brought with it hope and an opportunity for the country to self correct; to start a healing process and to lay a solid foundation for reconstruction and growth.

But the euphoria that brought us together a few days ago abruptly fizzled on Thursday night when Mnangagwa announced his cabinet. Most of us woke up deflated on Friday. We were played. Like in George Orwell’s book, we watched in horror as Jones and his men came back to recapture the animal farm.

Credit to him, Mnangagwa reduced the cabinet from Mugabe’s 33 ministries to 22. Mimosa Platinum mine executive chairperson and Hwange Colliery chairperson Winston Chitando was appointed to the key mining ministry — a move that will certainly endear him to the industry. But the positives seemed to have ended there. Eight of the 22 ministers were inherited from the Mugabe regime.

He retained Patrick Chinamasa in the key finance ministry; Lazurus Dokora, who presided over the collapse of the country’s schooling system was left untouched at education; Mike Bimha retained the industry and commerce portfolio, Supa Mandiwanzira was left untouched at ICT as was Joram Gumbo at transport. Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, one of only three women in the cabinet, was left to run the environment ministry.

Obert Mpofu, a wealthy businessperson who owns a significant part of Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo and who was minister of mines when the $16bn disappeared, was rewarded with the powerful home affairs and culture post. It is not clear how home affairs and culture relate, though. Dr David Parirenyatwa, son of liberation hero Dr Simon Parirenyatwa, retained the health portfolio.

Of particular interest was the rewarding of army generals in the cabinet. Retired Air Marshall Perence Shiri, who was the head of the army’s fifth brigade during the Matabeleland massacre, was given the lands and agriculture portfolio, while Maj-Gen Sibusiso Moyo, who announced the “coup” on national television, was appointed to the key foreign affairs ministry.

Mnangagwa’s political ally Kembo Mohadi got the key defence and war veterans ministry, while the head of the war veterans association, Chris Mutsvangwa, got the information, media and broadcasting services post. Mutsvangwa was one in a chain of the group CEOs that presided over the death of the national broadcaster ZBC — the only TV channel in the country.

Former Zimbabwean ambassador to SA Simon Khaya Moyo was made the minister of energy.

Mnangagwa left the two deputy president positions vacant for now. The joke in Zimbabwe is that he is toying with appointing Mugabe as one of his deputies, but it would not be a surprise if the commander of the army was retired and made deputy president.

There are ministries that could have easily been scrapped as well, such as the minister of state for government scholarships.

It is still not clear why the country retains the ministers of state for provinces, who often always end up concentrating on party work in the provinces. The 10 of them are arguably an unnecessary drain on the fiscus.

On Friday, the deputy prime minister in the former government of national unity, Prof Arthur Mutambara, called this an “election cabinet”.

“Mugabeism is still in place. We got rid of the person but did not get rid of the system that sustained him for 37 years,” he told a workshop on rebuilding Zimbabwe.

He said Mugabe’s removal was supposed to be the first stage in a process that was supposed to culminate in the removal of Zanu-PF.

“We need electoral reforms, media reforms and policy shifts. The 51% indigenisation policy is not viable. As of now the army is running the country. Zimbabwe needs major surgery.”

Mutambara is not alone in his worry. Well-known Zimbabwean economist and political commentator John Robertson said: “We are worried. The inclusion of military personnel is also disappointing because those people have failed to run parastatals.”

Opposition parties that had put their heads on the block, risking political irrelevance when Mugabe refused to go, were not approached for cabinet posts — a move that would have given the government more credibility.

Equally worrying was the pursuit of those in the other faction using the country’s legal system. True, they could have been engaging in criminal activities. But it is doubtful most of them would have passed the innocent muster if it was to be applied fairly on all.

The general consensus in Zimbabwe is that an opportunity for the ruling party to self correct has been missed.

Maybe we celebrated too quickly unaware that the leopard hardly changes its spots. That new dawn might only remain a mirage.

• Makunike is a news editor at Business Day