AS the year 2020 draws to a close – an annus horribilis for the world, more so for a crisis-ridden country like Zimbabwe – it is important to look at the silver lining. It’s not all doom and gloom.
For Zimbabwe, there is still a sign of hope even if the country is now in state of collapse and despair; in some respects far worse than it was when the late former president Robert Mugabe left through a military coup in November 2017.
The ray of hope is that Zimbabweans, neighbours and the international community have not given up on the country. There are countries where citizens and outsiders have all but given up on them. Usually those are failed states like Somalia.
Zimbabwe is a troubled state. It has been convulsed by a protracted political and economic maelstrom for more than two decades. Citizens have fought bitterly amid fierce repression, violence and brutality to rescue the country from the clutches of a violent authoritarian regime.
The region and international community have tried to help. However, change has not been secured. There have been some democratic gains, no doubt, but no sea change or a new dispensation. Mugabe’s removal, predictably as some of us warned repeatedly at the time, only led to giving Zanu PF a new lease, hence authoritarian consolidation.
While Zanu PF has been the major stumbling block to transition and change, the opposition has also been culpable. It missed several glorious opportunities to secure change as it did in 2000 during the constitution-making process. And also in 2017 at the height of coup.
Lack of strategic thinking at critical junctures defined and changed the course of history. For if the opposition had supported the rejected government-sponsored constitutional draft in 2000 which would have forced Mugabe to go in 2010, the course of history would have been different.
Just like if the opposition did not support the 2017 coup. Those were defining moments, and the opposition was on the wrong side of history.
Yet the opposition played a historic role in challenging Mugabe’s rule amid terror and killings. Opposition leaders were brave and still remain so despite their current lethargy.
Zanu PF has fully capitalised on the coronavirus to unleash new forces of repression under the cover of Covid-19. This has been the strategy of many repressive regimes around the world.
In the midst of all this chaos and despair, Zimbabweans and outsiders are still pushing for change. Everybody, except those profiting from mismanagement and corruption, knows Zimbabwe can do better than this and its people deserve better.
South Africa also knows that.
Pretoria’s recent move away from its traditional “quiet diplomacy”, together with the ANC’s endorsement of the pivot, demonstrates that South Africa is convinced Zimbabwe can do better and that things have got to change.
In the aftermath of the 31 July public protests – through a massive boycott – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sent a delegation to engage his Zimbabwean counterpart President Emmerson Mnangagwa on a new wave of repression and human rights abuses.
The delegation led by former president Thabo Mbeki’s point man in Zimbabwe Sydney Mufamadi signalled a new approach by Pretoria in which direct engagement had become unavoidable.
The meeting between Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa’s envoys was uneasy. It showed that it was no longer business as usual. Predictably, the meeting was characterised by hostile rhetoric and recriminations on both sides. Zanu PF was more strident as usual. The ANC was typically reticent.
After that an ANC delegation flew in to meet Zanu PF. The meeting was even more acrimonious. While the mood and tone of the meetings made progress difficult, a point had been made: Pretoria no longer supported Harare’s repressive rule.
Where South Africa usually offered diplomatic solidarity and mild criticism, it was now prepared to up the ante and confront the Zimbabwean leadership.
South Africa and the ANC should thus maintain pressure on Mnangagwa’s regime on reform and to enter into a broad-based dialogue with opposition, civil society and churches for a new Zimbabwe. That can be a silver lining.