EXACTLY a month after the fall of long-time ruler former president Robert Mugabe, signs are there that new Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa might struggle to undo his predecessor’s legacy.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Steeped in the often violent and chaotic land reform programme that was blamed for destroying a once thriving economy and the indigenisation law that was responsible for scaring away investors, Mugabe’s legacy is likely to hound Mnangagwa’s administration for some time to come.
While indications are that Mnangagwa has been making the “right noises” around indigenisation and land, political analysts warned against pre-mature celebration. They say the new Zanu PF leader could keep the framework of Mugabe’s vile rule that kept Zimbabweans under lock and key for nearly four decades.
MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora, who was charged three times for insulting Mugabe including at one time describing the former Zanu PF leader as a goblin, says there is nothing to celebrate.
“The insult law has always been unconstitutional so there is nothing to celebrate in the withdrawal of cases, the acquittals as well as the removal of accused persons from remand. It is not a sign of democracy,” said Mwonzora.
Dozens of Zimbabweans over the years have fallen foul of a law that criminalised negative comments aimed at Mugabe and in the past few weeks some of the outstanding cases have begun to fall by the wayside.
NewsDay reporter Kenneth Nyangani, charged for allegedly insulting Grace through a story that revealed she had donated used underwear in Mutare, is off the hook, while war veterans as well as Zanu PF youths accused of insulting Mugabe have been removed from remand.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mnangagwa might keep the law as a deterrent.
“There are many ways of implementing a law — it could be vigorous as Mugabe did, it could be partial, just keeping the law in a way that citizens will just remember it is there and would not want to fall foul of it.
“Mnangagwa might not really be untangling Mugabe’s legacy. There are things that he might keep but of course in terms of rhetoric, there is an opening up of sorts. He probably will throw away Mugabe’s sinister policies and strengthen as well as keep what he thinks will entrench his rule,” said Masunungure. “The return of [James] Makamba is a good sign and we might also see [telecommunications magnate and Econet proprietor] Strive Masiyiwa’s return after years in self-imposed exile.”
Mwonzora said Mnangagwa’s first month in office has been a mixed bag “but we are watching him beyond the rhetoric.”
“However, there are lots of negatives beyond the piecemeal threat to repeal the indigenisation law. The media remains closed and the opposition is locked out, there is still selective application of the law and [chief’s council president Fortune] Charumbira wants a law akin to Mugabe’s insult statute that will criminalise anti-establishment comments.”
On the economic front, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa in his budget statement indicated government would repeal the corrosive indigenisation policy that forced investors to cede 51% shareholding to locals. Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri has ordered illegal land occupiers off farms.
Mnangagwa, in his address to the just-ended extraordinary congress, declared the land reform programme “cannot be challenged or reversed”.
The indigenisation policy and the land reform programmes remain two of Mugabe’s signature programmes that look set to be undone by Mnangagwa’s administration just a month in. The two policies have been at the centre of Mugabe’s fallout with Western powers, with the belligerent former guerrilla leader having declared there was never going to be a reversal of the two.
Opposition MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said the jury was still out on Mnangagwa.
“It appears that President Mnangagwa is desperate to come out of Mugabe’s wicked shadow. He wants to be seen as his own man. That’s why he is styling himself as a hardworking reformist. The jury is still out. We will judge Mnangagwa more by his actions and not by his verbal pronouncements,” Gutu said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Zimbabweans should be wary of Mnangagwa, a devout student of Mugabe’s toxic politics.
“Mnangagwa is a very enigmatic and deceitful character who praises Mugabe as his father and mentor in goal, and then goes and reverses the land issue.
“The truth is Mnangagwa is a Zanu PF hard-core who learnt and forgot nothing from Mugabe. But he is an expedient businessman who will only reverse part of Mugabe’s legacy which threatens his business empire and interests of his business friends,” said Saungweme.
Saungweme said Mnangagwa’s relationship with the military, on whose coattails he rose to power could result in the entrenchment of a military dictatorship.
“He [Mnangagwa] will not reverse key hallmarks of Mugabe’s legacy that include pillaging of national resources, embeddedness of military in politics, human rights violations, among others. The seeming reversal of the land issue is just his strategy to endear himself with the West, but he will continue with his military dictatorship. I don’t see him going beyond that to reverse Mugabe’s checkered legacy,” the academic said.
South Africa-based local governance and development scholar Ricky Mukonza said Mnangagwa’s non-committal approach to the emotive issue of political reforms is a red flag on his month-old administration.
“I think Mnangagwa is trying to move away from the Mugabe approach, at least on the economic front. He seems to have a good understanding of why Zimbabwe has been regressing economically. This explains his pronouncements on indigenisation and illegal settlers.
“I, however, have qualms about his non-committal approach on political reforms. He does not seem to push these with the same zeal that one sees on economic matters. This concerns me because Zimbabwe’s problems are both political and economic,” said Mukonza. – The Standard