Synopsis: Violet Gonda’s guest on the Hot Seat programme is eminent commentator Brian Kagoro, who says beyond being clear about why Mugabe must go, we need to be clear about what our future must look like. The country is reproducing the same politics that has manufactured gerontocracy and Kagoro explains why he believes Zimbabweans are again unwittingly being sent into a choreographed 2018 electoral dance. The constitutional lawyer has been invited to discussions on the setting up of a cooling off period through a National Transitional Authority. In an in-depth and candid interview, he talks about the weaknesses and strengths of this NTA initiative and dissects the current status of the political parties and emerging social movements in Zimbabwe.
Violet Gonda: Zimbabwe is on the brink of collapse. Running battles between anti Mugabe protesters and riot police are becoming regular and violent, including an unprecedented war of words between ZANU PF leaders and war veterans. My guest on the Hot Seat programme this week is human rights activist and constitutional lawyer Brian Kagoro who has always said ZANU PF’s biggest opposition is the economy. Now, given the fragile political landscape, how much time do we have as a country and what is the way forward?
Welcome on the programme Brian.
Brian: Thank you Violet.
Violet: I am sure you have seen that the mood in the country has totally changed over the last few weeks. Can you define where we are right now?
Brian: I don’t think that this is the boiling point yet, but it’s a moment of great uncertainty, and this uncertainty in this moment arises out of three quick things. Number one, people have been suffering for quite a long time now and the economy has been on life support for too long. Number two, the ruling party; which has kept a false unity based on its vilification of the opposition and also this bogeyman of sanctions by the West. Well, the chickens have finally come home to roost within the ruling party because the veneer of unity has been wiped away and the real power disputes are coming to the fore. And the third and last thing is actually I think what has happened is that there has been an activation of a sector that for a long time had sub-let its entitlement to voice and place to the political parties – which is the citizen. So, the emergence of #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka and other movements indicate that there has been a re-activation of citizens outside of political parties occupying space and contending for their rights.
Violet: So are you seeing any similarities between what’s happening now and the historical struggles, especially the ones that you were involved with in the past?
Brian: Yes, I think this is essentially what happened in the late 1990’s and the contexts and circumstances were similar. We saw in the 1990’s – because of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes and the internal repression – that several things happened to catalyse activism and discontent, namely: The cost of living had reached unsustainable levels and the State dealt with the discontent about poor service and rampant redundancies through force and violence. And the ruling party, which had factions emerging then, dealt with opposition through labelling. What happened then is that labour organised itself as did the students and the women’s movements. And the coalescing or coming together of these entities led to what became in the mid to late 90’s ,the constitutional moment or movement. And of course, predictably, the state responded first through violence and containment and then, second, when it realised that the tide couldn’t be contained ,the same State attempted to arrest the tide of change through different forms of accommodation, co-optation and diversion. What they tried to do was to hijack the process by engaging in their own constitutional reform process on their own terms. Of course, it led to the referendum and the rest is history. When the state lost the referendum, its resort to violence was unprecedented in the history of independent Zimbabwe post-1988. So we saw from the 4th March, the death of Tichaona Chiminya ,Talent Mabika and many others and later on. This orgy of violence went all the way up to 2000, when we had the elections, various deaths, executions, and, post that date, abductions and human rights violations.
So, what we are seeing in response to these new protests is the Zimbabwean State doing what it knows best. When it cannot reason with its citizens, when it cannot engage in transformative reform, it employs violence to manufacture coerced consent and silence.
Violet: But, are there any differences Brian?
Brian: There are differences and I think the differences are interesting. The differences are this, that the military and the war veterans and the ZANU PF youth historically always waded in on the side of Robert Gabriel Mugabe and there seemed to be an unbreakable bond of unity between and amongst the military bourgeoisie, the political bourgeoisie and the administrative bourgeoisie.
What we are seeing now are severe cracks within the upper echelons of the administration and civil service, those who have not been paid now for a long time, we are seeing open dissent from the loyalists. Within the upper echelons of the coercive arms of the State, the Police, the Intelligence and the Army, we are seeing open dissent or the emergence of parallel structures of power diametrically opposed to the one centre of power and his kitchen cabinet. And within sections of the war veterans we are seeing that it’s no longer dissent but revolt, its outright revolt which even questions some of the collective lies that have been told repeatedly over the years about the history of the liberation struggle. The country is no longer at ease and the centre is too old and divided to hold. And this component is so different from the situation in the 1990s and 2000s that it risks undermining the pro-democracy component /movement. Dissent from within the establishment against the High Priest of its politics is likely to get gullible admirers within the broader society that has become a prisoner of false hope. The danger is that the pro-democracy forces, who for long have had the removal of Robert Mugabe as one of their key objectives, might mistake the discontented ZANU PF elements as their genuine allies and therefore cede the space and hand-over the business of doing transformation to these forces. I personally don’t see these establishment rejects representing any meaningful transformation and I don’t think they themselves are transforming.
Violet: This coalescing of opposition forces. Do you think there is a struggle for transformation there or it is a scramble for power? You have seen all these opposition political parties joining together and you also mentioned the Tajamuka and This Flag movements. Are they real alternatives?
Brian: No, if you were in ZANU PF you would be very happy with what #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka are doing. And what they are doing, although important for citizen agency, direct agency, is good for ZANU PF because what it does, it takes away real support and citizen confidence from the organised political parties that contest for the conquest of political power. And, we have less than 19 months to the next election in 2018 and so in essence, the more you have Tajamuka and This Flag, because these are not going to contest for political power, and the more citizens are aligned to these, I think that if you were the ruling party or the incumbent, you would be happy to have the opposition not commandeering or commanding the collective support and trust of the masses. The fact that the opposition has been reluctant to associate with and reach out to or endorse these movements suggests that there are fault lines . These movements may actually shelter persons who have ambitions for power and thus will oppose the current opposition leadership. So that’s fine, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that in and of itself. But, when you bring together opposition political parties you have to be careful that you are not simply bringing together opposition political parties but you are bringing together a collective or collection of strengths, not weaknesses. At the moment, the articulation of what the developmental, or rather, what the economic alternative is, seems to me to be grossly dilated, if not diluted. I have keenly tried to read the substantive relevance or similarities of each opposition economic blue print and how it compares to the other and the obtaining situation on the ground. There is no consensus on economic matters; there is no consensus on the electoral either amongst the motley of opposition political parties. We have to make sure that the minimum programme of action does not represent a false alliance and false hope.
Violet: So you have mentioned the issue of war veterans, that they might not really be on the people’s side and that even if we have any change within ZANU PF, it’s not going to be transformative. Did I get you right? That it will be change without transformation?
Brian: You know what, war veterans may very well be on some people’s side. What I am arguing is that they are not necessarily on the side of human rights, not necessarily on the side of the sort of democracy that people of my generation and people in the late 1990’s into the 2000’s were fighting for. So, in essence, aligning with them means you have to negotiate away your struggle for accountability and end of impunity, because some of them were engaged in brutalising our people and violating human rights. Some people who have formed part of the grand coalition of opposition parties were responsible for the abduction and assassinations of some of my comrades. I am not so bling that I can not see the attempt to have me and my comrades suddenly develop political amnesia just because some of our comrades think that it is necessary for the purposes of negotiating their way into likelihood of power. These are fundamentals and they just can’t be negotiated away like that with absolutely no guarantees.
So the question we have to answer is do we ignore this very recent history of unpleasantness and move forward? How do we tell the children of Chiminya and may other citizens who were murdered in cold blood? How do we justify doing this? Do we use the exigencies of attaining political power? Do we use a broader normative framework? My sense is – I am very uncomfortable because there is not a discussion in the formation of this coalition as to what will happen to the historical accountability and this history is not a long history, it is a very recent history.
Violet: So what do you think the opposition should do in this case?
Brian: I’m not sure why they thought they needed to bring the expelled ZANU components –as important as they are as citizens. I think the opposition has always lacked self-confidence and self-belief. In 2008 when I interviewed with you I was clear that the opposition party was going to do much better in the rural areas and win the election. Most of the leadership of the opposition did not remotely believe in this possibility. The main opposition party was almost bankrupt and it had a skeletal election command centre. It seemed that in 2008 we had a ruling party that was not prepared to lose and an opposition that wasn’t prepared to win. We again find ourselves in this instance in 2016 with much larger opposition which is using a traditional lens to view where citizen confidence is. Who they should be wooing now are those citizens in Tajamuka, in This Flag movement by offering clear alternatives. So that they are able to say: ‘as those progressive components in the opposition movement we are able to marshal sufficient support. We have assured our people that we have a people’s manifesto that they can endorse and in which they will see themselves, their futures and solutions to their present challenges. We-as the opposition- are offering them a truly alternative leadership, not just recycling the old core.’ The dearth of youth and scarcity of younger-tech savvy- political leaders is a by-product of a coalition of retirees. We are reproducing the same politics that has manufactured gerontocracy.
Violet: Are you surprised that even though the ZANU PF house is on fire – there is all this in-fighting we are hearing about – that ZANU PF still seems to be winning elections and even getting more members, as we saw in the last by-election where ZANU PF won with more than 12000 votes? Wouldn’t you think that with the current mood and the way people are so ‘anti the ruling party’; that not a lot of people will actually go out and vote for ZANU PF?
Brian: I think that over the years I have avoided engaging in false analysis. There are some people who support ZANU PF and there are relatively many. Whether they do it willingly or under coercion, is a discussion for another day, but there are many. The 2000, 2005 ,2008 and 2013 elections prove this point. The reason for that support needs to be understood as it may be based on a lack of understanding of the political platforms and programmes of the opposition beyond the removal of Mugabe as President. Or it may pertain to wartime sentimentalities and the fact that Zimbabweans are politically polygamous by instinct.
I have suggested over the years that when you study the urban voter turn-out and in particular for the main opposition political party for the years 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2013 , you observe a progressive decline in that vote in terms of absolute numbers. When you look at the votes that David Coltart, Welshman Ncube, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, our brother in Mabvuku and so on and so forth, got in the first elections in 2000, and progressively what they got in the following elections, that vote, the winning margin, has declined by a threshold of between 10 to 19%, if not higher in some instances. Whereas, on the other hand , what has happened is ZANU has created this impression of growing support for Mugabe and their MPs . Whether their figures are manufactured or they are real, it is a fact that Martin Dinha, was elected just two or three weeks ago with close to 12 600 votes and this is an increase from the threshold of votes in the same constituency before for ZANU PF.
So, in a sense, ZANU PF is a creature of power. It is focused on telling a credible story about how it is likely to win 2018. The more the opposition focus on all other side-shows, ZANU PF is focusing on power. So in every constituency that the opposition has boycotted, even the urban ones, the ZANU PF winning margin has not been the 3000 or 2000 that they got historically when those were contested constituencies, it has been a much higher threshold. And, I have kept on asking my friends in the alternative political movements, are we not being sent into a choreographed electoral dance, in the 2018 elections? Firstly, we have seen court judgements that essentially make you think that the courts are very impartial because ZANU PF stalwarts are being convicted in the courts – some who are serving legislators. In a sense, for anyone to then wake up and say that the Zimbabwean courts are partial, it would be difficult to make that case, and equally so, for you to wake up and say ZANU PF does not have support when they have recorded in primaries, significant voter turn-outs in their favour, would be equally problematic, especially to an external audience. And, this is all choreographed for an external audience. I get the impression that the opposition believes that Zanu PF has so failed and the economy is in such a parlous state that no sane Zimbabwe will vote for Zanu PF . That might be a great wish , but it doesn’t necessarily translate into a realistic strategic outcome without any real political work on the ground. The folk that attend rallies are already converted and their loyalties are clear. The silent majority that pitches up on voting day or decides not to pitch up needs to be fully understood and courted vigorously. This requires much more nuanced communication and engagement and not merely slogans and historical clichés about a failed regime.
My sense is that we still do need the visionaries within the opposition who concentrate on big rallies and mass mobilisation but you also need the nuts and bolts people who focus on strategy and on the minutiae detail of how to turn a supporter into a voter and a voter into an avid mobilizer of dozens of other voters.
At the moment I’m not seeing this division of labour. I only observe the palpable arrogance within certain corridors within the opposition each time someone questions their strategy, they dismiss the questioning as either academic or they say you are a diaspora hamburger-eater who does not know the practicalities of the local struggle. Labelling doesn’t answer repeated failure , reflection does. Any refusal to be reflective is political suicide or self-sabotage.
Violet: But you know Brian, speaking about visionaries, William Muchayi, a political analyst, actually wrote something quite interesting a couple of years ago. He said that Zimbabwe is not short of political parties but has a severe drought of visionaries, like you have just pointed out, who can steer the boat in the right direction. But some go further and say people like you could have done much more but seem to have abandoned ship. How do you respond to this?
Brian: I live 50 percent in Zimbabwe. I keep hearing this nonsense of abandoning the ship. I live the other 50 percent in South Africa and this is purely because I run a private business and have to travel across the continent regularly and it is cheaper to do it out of either Nairobi, Johannesburg or Addis Ababa. I don’t work for anyone anymore, I work for myself. And for the 50 percent of the time when I am in my own country of birth , I do a lot, privately. I may not be in the press as much but do quite a lot to contribute to the democratisation of the country. I don’t think we have the luxury of saying let’s replace the cast of top opposition leaders that we have. We have 18 months and in 18 months we are not going to be able to do that and still hope to perform well at the election. It takes a whole lot to get ordinary masses to embrace a new face and be faithful to new leadership. The change management in this short-run to the next election would be messy. But we are able to put together winning teams to support what already exists. These are winning teams that focus on the technical aspects and clear political programmes… the think-tanks etcetera. My sense is that we have concentrated too much on shaming and naming the regime for all its ills and forgotten that the morning after the regime has left – there is a country to govern and an economy to run or reconstruct. And unless we are clear about what that process of turning around the system is, we are going to have a lot of empty rhetoric and vision without transformation. And concentrate only the conquest of power and forget that the citizens’ discontent is not just about an individual and an institution but about failed policies and the crises of livelihoods that they experience. No sooner that the opposition would have come into government and that same frustration and anger will turn onto them and they better have clear solutions and not just hot air and insults for questioners. It is not enough to say we have our own blue print . This is the moment to ask citizens in a very sober and inclusive way what they want and for their ideas across a range of issues. This is how 1999 was started with the Godfrey Kanyenze, Rene and Kondo Raw Data Report. Raw Data Report was an objective assessment and consultation with citizens about what they wanted.
Violet: We will talk about the economy later but there is this talk about creating a Transitional Authority and you have been associated with it. Press reports list a group of ‘concerned citizens’ who are said to be organising this. Names include Ibbo Mandaza, Trevor Ncube, Judith Todd. Can you tell us what you know about this?
Brian: Ok. I have not had the privilege of participating in the NTA discussions as yet. I was invited to the inception meeting, but was unable to attend. I have seen the documentation and raised a few questions privately to the group. The TNA mustn’t cause palpitations at all, it is not a new idea. You will recall that the crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition during mine and Brian Raftopoulos’s time had proposed a Transitional Authority at the time – when we thought the country was in crisis – that was around 2004/2005. The CPI, which did the Great Zimbabwe Scenarios, also proposed a Transitional Authority ahead of the GNU deal in 2008. So the idea itself is as old as the governance crisis in Zimbabwe. My understanding is very simple. You do not have consensus across the political divide. The primary focus for political actors is on the transfer of political power through an electoral process. At the rate at which we are going that is likely to be a fairly bloody and violent affair. In the meanwhile, the prolonged political bloodletting is not going to be kind on the economy . The economy is bleeding – if we, 19 months ahead of an election(in 2018) we have police officers not paid, soldiers not paid, CIOs not paid, civil servants not paid, ordinary vendors and cross border traders not able to do their trade – we have created a severe humanitarian crisis that will make the election year a highly emotive and polemic affair. So , as moderately reasonable people , we need to explore all possible options that will ensure that Zimbabwe remains stable and steers itself without external interference to stability and prosperity.
So the notion is. You do need a cooling off period and that cooling off period might be necessitated by several factors: An early step-down by Mugabe or an escalation of the sort of economic crisis and the political tensions within the country. And this requires that an expert group of people who are representative, technically competent help to stabilise things and steer the economy in the right direction. Whether this idea can and will fly in this context is immaterial, the nation needs to seriously discuss this and several other possibilities so that we are not hoodwinked into believing that everything stands or falls on the 2018 election.
Violet: But who picks the players? Is this by self selection?
Brian: There are several ways. The various ways in which the NTA is done is by expertise or by designation by parties. Parties do nominate folk for various commissions. Look, nothing is a likelihood in our country. I know a lot of people are critical of this idea as they are critical of many other ideas. Electoral reforms depend on Mugabe making the necessary concessions but the constitutional provisions requiring reforms must be adhered to. The NTA requires the subtle concessions across the political divide that this would be necessary. In any event ,the issue is that the country requires much more than one solution. The tragedy of our previous engagement is we have gone to the table with only one solution and when that solution fails we don’t have a Plan B or Plan C. I read the documents and they don’t seem cast in stone. The group insists that it is merely facilitating and not leading of predetermining a process that will be shaped by robust national debate. The idea is not yet fully cooked and citizens must help add the necessary ingredients to ripen it. Those who dismiss the idea as pie in the sky must cast their imagination far and wide and see whether an election is possible in 2018 without the requisite reforms. If not , what will they do , should the reforms not come on time? What is plan B and C ?
Violet: But how would you entice the opposition political parties who seem to have rejected this and how can this be successful without ZANU PF who have also said no to this because of the GNU experience?
Brian: I am actually very surprised by that question Violet. You know when constitutional reform call(NCA), which we initiated with Tawanda Mutasah, Deprose Muchena, Everjoice Win, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Perpetua Bwanya ,Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti and a few others – we were nobodies. And when we first put this idea on the table we were dismissed as idealistic, if not idiotic. In fact, that very year Emmerson Mnangagwa gave a speech at the Law School saying that they did not – as government – see the need for constitutional reform. In fact ,even some of our mentors told us that there was no way the idea of constitutional reform would see the light of day. This was our conversation in 1997. Barely two years later in 1999 ZANU PF was now discussing it at their Mutare Conference (or Congress) – and yet they had rejected the idea out-rightly. In 1998 we were not only discussing constitutional reform but we were moving towards a constitutional commission and the counter NCA position. The currency of ideas is not ended or founded on the acquiescence of political parties or political actors of the day. They are important, but not as important as they would like to believe. Transformative ideas are dependent on what citizens think is right for them. We have had an anomaly in Zimbabwe where we have mortgaged the future of the country to political parties and political actors who now assume the place of God in our lives and purport to think and speak on our behalf. This is an abomination. The future of the country remains in the hands of citizens and if there is a disagreement between the political parties and the citizens, the citizen always wins. Legitimacy of a political party is not in the fact that it exists, the legitimacy of a political party is in its ability to epitomise what we as citizens demand, desire and want. And at the moment, Zimbabwean citizens want a solution to their daily misery. Not to elect another dictator and not to have anybody who feels that they are entitled to leadership because they have suffered dictate what is and should be right for our nation. Kwete,No! This is a make or break time for our nation and I think we need much more than just one idea on the table to discuss and we are not seeking for permission from anyone to discuss the myriad of alternatives at our disposal. As citizens we are entitled to determine the course of our own destiny, with or without organised political parties. They need voters and we need our voices and the spaces to take our rightful place as the legitimate employers of governments.
Violet: So who will provide the resources for this NTA?
Brian: Well let’s cross that bridge when we get there. I haven’t even been to a single meeting as yet. I am yet to be fully briefed about the initiative end of September. As I have said, it is an idea that was discussed in my absence. The documents have been shared with me. Despite my earlier criticisms, I will be happy to participate in the future discussions . All I am refusing is to accept that one idea-electoral reform- is more practical than the other. It all depends on whether you are trying to get a position in government and power or a long-lasting solution to our national condition. If you had asked most people, whether Morgan Tsvangirai should even be considered to lead our country in 99, they would have said that it was totally impractical. They would have told you – he doesn’t have the this and that qualification, he doesn’t have the national stature, no liberation credentials, no experience of State-Craft, and other such nonsense. Now that question is no longer on the table anymore. Everything that my generation has done in the pro-democracy movement in our country has been based on this idealism that says citizens are free and entitled to choose their leadership as well as ideas about development and the institutions that will shape that development. That discretion on the part of the citizens should not be constrained except by their own imagination and wishes. Let no one in the ruling party or opposition be foolish enough to believe that they have a monopoly or private keys to national legitimacy. Every citizen has a right to propose even the most foolish of ideas and to defend and propagate them , as long as they are not contrary to spirit of the constitution. The NTA isn’t at all , neither are the emerging national social movements.
Violet: Basically you are saying any pressure is good pressure … that pressure should not only come from political parties but also from the citizens and perhaps via this NTA initiative.
Brian: Yes. Look at this ridiculous thing happening in the USA. Donald Trump thought he had very clear ideas about immigration and now he has had to deal with citizens that are conscious and that have demands. Let the opposition political parties know that citizens are not guinea pigs. We don’t just chew what political parties tell us, especially if you are asking for votes in 2018. The thinking and self-acting citizen is the most dangerous weapon that has emerged in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa and Africa over the last decade. Social media has made these types of citizens to connect and learn from each other and dialogue daily to refine their ideas and broaden their platforms of engagement. We have since long passed 1999 and 2007 and this new day requires all of us to adjust to the new realities and the emerging new forms and types of leadership.
Violet: Critics of the NTA say there would have to be serious violence or civil unrest for such a platform to be created and for the international community to intervene or to support this call. Do you agree with this analysis that the time is not ripe enough for an NTA?
Brian: That is lazy analysis. It’s the laziest analysis I have ever heard. Every political power and actor within our country knows their weaknesses – whether they admit them in the media or they don’t. Everyone knows what ZANU PF is incapable of doing or marshalling now. The bravado and recalcitrance notwithstanding. Everybody knows what the opposition is incapable of doing now. The idea of an NTA has not been fully fleshed out. So when you start criticising and tearing into threads an idea that is still in evolution it just shows a debilitating and pathological immaturity on your part. Don’t get historical and hysterical when an idea you have not thought about is placed on the table, engage it. People have simply said – perhaps we need a Transitional Authority because if you do not have electoral reforms within the next six months its pointless doing electoral reforms with less than 8 months to go to an election and no money in the State coffers to give effect to such reforms. Because the institutions wont have taken root and the processes and mechanisms of the new electoral architecture will not be in place– if you look at how long it takes to set up a commission, to get the personnel, to get the internal procedure etc. etc. So you ask yourself, if the route of electoral reforms is this late in the day and we have an impending election, which the opposition is threatening to boycott in the absence of reforms, what do we do? Capitulate to an uncontested Robert Mugabe election in 2018? So a few people are asking the question – should we rather have another alternative on the table? That alternative may morph into different things as did the first NTA proposal which morphed into the GNU. Now although it was facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, it was not Mbeki’s decision or idea. It was the decision of the critical political actors at the time. And so it is useful for people not to um, adopt a politically monogamous approach to ideas. That only one idea is right – there are many potential solutions to the crisis we face in our country. Unfortunately, if we do not think about the various possibilities we will be caught napping again, especially the academics in civil society. When a few of us were saying a negotiation was impending in 2008, you remember we were a few of us who were saying that negotiations were going to lead into a GNU.A lot of the people in the civil society and our super analysts did not see through the woods that these were political actors who were mainly concerned about retaining political power and they will negotiate based on what they see as the best possible option to get the most out of power or simply stay in power. People were in mourning when the opposition entered the marriage of inconvenience with Zanu PF and they were totally unprepared for that sort of political solution. It was a disaster in may respects , except its stabilisation of the economy, but all the same , it shows you that political actors will and can change their positions 360-degrees , if it suits their power objective.
Violet: You have always said ZANU PF’s biggest opposition is the economy. Do you still believe that, given the growing civil unrest?
Brian: Yes. Civil unrest is a very interesting thing. I have been engaged in it myself. It dissipates with time – even when sustained like the University of Zimbabwe unrest which lasted for four years. At some stage as it becomes a little bit more violent what you are likely to have is the Church type folks, who are pacifist by nature, are going to disassociate themselves with the violent incarnation of civil unrest. Whether those violent incarnations are by the organisers of the civil unrest or by agent provocateurs, it really doesn’t matter, right? The majority of our people are moderates and they have been so formatted by literacy and Anglo-Saxon sophistry that they balk at any disruptive social mobilisation approaches. Yet the young radicals after reading revolutionary books dream of a mass uprising by the masses. Though severely oppressed, the sensibilities or consciousness of a literate and largely Christian urbane activist class in Zimbabwe is likely to prefer the less violent alternatives to mass action. Spontaneous uprising without prior and rigorous political education is a rarity, even in economically dire situations.
So, in a sense, what literally happens is that this moment must be celebrated and enjoyed as citizens. Remember that they have always stood up to oppression. They stood up against colonialism, they stood up against the corruption in ZANU PF in the late ‘80s, they stood up against ESAP in the ‘90s, they stood up against what was a growing dictatorship in the late ‘90s into the constitutional moment and they are standing up against economic emasculation now. The crowds are smaller, but much louder and the internet helps a great deal. The leadership is much simpler and less ideological and has yet – except for a few – started the process of organic engagement with the masses. The bane of the new movement is the celebrity that comes with new forms of media. It may create a form without adequate substance to back it up. Every shade and shadow of opinion –both progressive and ultra conservative- will predictably take shelter under some of these new movements. Their ability to define an ideological lens beyond a descriptive appreciation of the plight of the suffering masses and engage the structural determinants of that suffering will be key. The new movements would also have to be alive to the messy geo-political realities.
So my sense is that these new movements are not the real opposition. The people who are demonstrating because they don’t like some regulation, will-if those regulations are removed- they go back to their daily trade, right? The people who are demonstrating because they have not been paid, will- if they receive their salaries -withdraw from what we are seeing as the critical mass? What is going to remain is a fringe radical core that is conscious about the broader structural issues. Unless these movements begin to mobilise a broader consciousness beyond slogans and a sense of either martyrdom, heroism or victimhood.
So, what then is that one thing that is going to mobilise all constituencies; whether or not each has received a little dose of what they wanted; I think it is the economy. It will mobilise an alliance across classes , ethnicities, genders, generations and races.
Let me tell you why I think it is the economy. There is simply no significant prospect for anyone who is running a business, medium scale, small scale or big, in our country doing any better without real change in the way we do things. The costs of production are too high, the ability to compete with the regional players let alone international players is miniscule. The punitive nature of our taxation system is such that to survive as a business person is beyond the threshold, even of genius in our country, and that’s why may either shut down or relocate. Except – of course – a lot of the criminals that are spooning off State tenders . Then you have the ordinary person who doesn’t run a business. The ordinary person who says look, all I want to do is to live each day, have enough energy to work and to earn a living for my family. What we’ve made is we’ve made it impossible for that ordinary person. Then of course we have those who don’t work, don’t have jobs, who went to school, who are looking for prospects to be employed. We’ve made it impossible for them even to self-employ, let alone get anything to live off. So what we have done, what the economy has done is it cascades; it generates and cascades anger across the different social classes in our society. And it sustains the feeling of alienation and marginality because each time these young people see a Minister driving a Mercedes Benz, making false promises about this and that, they see their poverty as the antithesis of this, if you like, obscene accumulation and conspicuous consumption amongst the political elite.
Violet: So, Brian, if the economy is ZANU PF’s biggest opposition, how much time do we have as a country?
Brian: If we do not get any relief we do not have 180 days (6 months). If nothing gives, because, if we don’t get any international bailout package, we don’t get a huge investor that comes. Because at the moment we are basically getting money creating new debts and we are creating that debt for future generations of unborn children. Deprose Muchena, a couple of years ago, estimated that every unborn Zimbabwean already owes in the region of, I think he said, ZW$400 000 – you know, by way of interest and capital. Now, when you add our domestic and external debt stock together, every single one of us is a huge debtor. But, we are not indebted on the basis of money that was borrowed to build value or infrastructure in our country. Our debt is for money that is financing consumption and the purchase of teargas and the military machinery. We are financing political elites and their co-conspirators in business who want to live like Pop stars way beyond their means.
Violet: On that issue, and just briefly, others would then say because of the financial problems, ZANU PF does not have the resources to mount a sustained law and order initiative to block the social unrest. So what is the end game for ZANU PF?
Brian: You know what, what keeps it capable to mount law and order is not tear gas availability. It is the fear amongst those who would ordinarily be the allies of the citizens, arising out of the lack of clarity. What is our position on them? We are clear on our position on the Mujuru’s and so on and so forth, but I don’t hear what the position is on the police and other actors, except rhetorical one liners. So what’s going to happen, a collective fear is what keeps them together. And don’t forget that a significant portion of our law enforcement are former Border Gezi, Green Bomber entities. And they are motivated not by the same motivation that the ordinary law enforcement officers would be, so they are party apparatchiks who are engaged in some pseudo law enforcement.
I think the end game is one that has to be precipitated by a reference to the economy. My sense is ZANU PF can limp on towards the next election. As it limps on towards the election, it has time to smear the opposition, right? Cause all sorts of divisions, and that’s not difficult looking at how poorly structured the coalition is.
Violet: And finally Brian, what advice can you give to the citizens of Zimbabwe?
Brian: I think for once, beyond being clear about why Mugabe must go, we need to be clear about what our future must look like. It has been an on-going conversation , but one that needs some greater detail and certainty now. I don’t think we’ll have the luxury the day after we put in another leader to start talking about our common future. We have already seen semblances of dictatorial tendencies within these leaders’ own political parties.
So my sense is, my advice is that let’s have a Citizen’s Manifesto. We don’t need political parties to facilitate a Citizens Manifesto. I’ve been saying for the last three years, I’ve been saying to everybody I meet, have them from the district to the constituency to the provincial level so that each district, and constituency and province has a Citizens Manifesto. In this constituency, in this province, in this district, this is what we, the citizens want. And any political party that comes must negotiate with the citizens around their manifesto.
That is the Citizens Manifesto. So that if a political party’s manifesto is not aligned with the Citizens Manifesto it is rejected out of hand. I think that the time when we waited for political parties to bring us solutions like our old parents would bring us sweets from Arenel, is over!
Citizens must realise that the destiny of our nation can no longer be mortgaged or sub-let – not to outsiders and not to political actors who are interested only in power.
Violet: Thank you Brian Kagoro, thank you for speaking to us on the programme Hot Seat.
Brian: Thank you so much Violet, you are welcome.
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