We used to have a joke during the brutal apartheid regime of PW Botha, Magnus Malan and Louis le Grange, about the government imagining a terrorist behind every tree and dustbin.
This meant, under the pretext of ensuring internal security, the government would want to label everyone who challenged its legitimacy a terrorist or a communist. Such accusations turned a wave of public sentiment against legitimate anti-apartheid activists as they would automatically be seen as the enemy of the state by those brainwashed by the regime.
This year, regrettably, the government of Zimbabwe is losing the currency it gained by removing former president Robert Mugabe from power. The celebrations that marked the watershed moment rode on the pledge by President Emmerson Mngangagwa in his inauguration speech on November 24, 2017.
He credited Zimbabwe for standing out as a “unique nation driven by impulses of mutual tolerance, peace and unity”, calling the country a “wonder to the world” which had “added to the science of conflict resolution and settlement”.
Soon after his well-received address, his army defied his promise that “peace and harmony should be characteristic of how we relate to one another before”. When some Zimbabweans took to the street against what they considered electoral fraud, the government responded with military action, killing at least six people. That was two years ago.
In January last year during a protest, security forces killed 12 people who were voicing their fury at economic hardship.
Today, Zimbabwe faces high inflation, a risk of food insecurity projected by the World Food Programme to affect more than 8 million people by year-end and Covid-19. After a promising start to the renewal of Zimbabwe, declaring it open for business, the government is struggling to keep the confidence of a significant proportion of its population. Street protests were planned for July 31 and Harare cracked, crossing the line yet again. What happened to the science of conflict resolution, President Mnangagwa?
Journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume were incarcerated, accused of inciting public violence. They were joined by opposition spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga.
Military action never resolved discontent of civil society, especially in a struggling economy.
Calling his compatriots “bad apples” or “a few rogue Zimbabweans” who must be “flushed out” borders on hate speech against the people President Mngangagwa swore to serve. He knows he should do better than accuse “foreign detractors” of plans to destabilise Zimbabwe. Even if there were such detractors, he must knuckle down and work with fellow Zimbabweans to find solutions.
What is happening proves the adage: to test someone’s character, do not subject them to hostility because anyone can handle adversity – give them power, the ultimate test. At this rate, the Mnangagwa administration is conspiring to fail this test and waste the golden opportunity to make the Second Republic an African turnaround success story.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs. This article was first published here by the IOL.