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Long Read: Exploring the idea of reinventing the intractable Zimbabwe into the future

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By Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni

NATION-BUILDING is as important as economic recovery for Zimbabwe, which now needs to reinvent itself and craft a new value system and national identity to take the country into the future.

Zimbabwe needs to revisit its state formation processes; state-building, nation-building and institution-building to rebuild a firm foundation for a new progressive nation.

Nations remain intact and progress when citizens share a common value system, vision and opportunities.

Yet what is currently happening in Zimbabwe is generally inimical to nation-building, development and progress.

Political polarisation has eaten into the very soul of the nation-in-the-making. Partisan identities and identify politics have solidified over common belonging.

Ethnicity continues to be used instrumentally for political power purposes. Elections in many respects remain a national census, as Frantz Fanon would put it.

Complaints of marginalisation have intensified. Intolerance of different political opinion is growing and thinking differently criminalised.

National interests are subordinated to partisan imperatives. The country itself is reduced to a “thing” (chinhu chedu) owned by a clique of politicians and their cronies.

National leadership is monopolised by a political clique. Citizens have been reduced to fear-gripped subjects. Governance has been reduced to feudal rulership (kutonga), rule by law, which endangers rule of law.

Looting of national resources by those in power has become normalised with unprecedented deepening material inequalities between those in power and those outside power.

Parasitic bourgeois-bureaucratic accumulation through the state is rampart. Those who speak out about this appalling state of affairs are subjected to endless arrests. The judiciary seems to be captured. And the media too is captured.

We are in a mess. Let us take a step back and reflect seriously.

Where do we come from and who do we want to be? We come from various ethnic groups, hence we have 16 official languages, including sign language.

We share a common experience of being colonised by the British. As a nation, we are born of anti-colonial struggle. The very idea of Zimbabwe is a nationalist invention of the 1960s.

At stake is the very constitution of the nation itself and the terms of belonging to it. At the centre is the very nationalist conception of liberation and freedom.

Nobody knew during the liberation struggle that those who fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe would emerge as first-class citizens and reduce all of other compatriots into second-class citizens.

Nobody knew that the ‘‘by-right-of-conquest’’ mentality of colonial rulership would mutate and interpellate the liberation movements and reproduce itself in terms ‘‘by-right-of-dying-for-you’’ used by former liberators to claim to be the alpha and omega leadership of the country.

What is emerging is that the present governance challenges cannot be understood outside the broader question of the original imagination and invention of Zimbabwe.

The democracy and human rights issues cannot be dealt with outside the broader history of the making of Zimbabwe, from being a colony to a sovereign post-colonial state.

We have to trace the sources of repression and violence to an actual existing history and politics of the making of Zimbabwe.

These are issues which occupied my mind when I wrote the book Do “Zimbabweans” Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009).

It is a question about the extent of the success or failure of Zimbabwean nationalism as a terrain on and within which the very imagination of the independent nation emerged.

It is a historical and political question calling us to go back to the drawing board so as to retrace where we lost our way.

Forty years after attainment of political independence is long enough a time to do historical and political audit and introspection of the very idea of Zimbabwe.

This is not for nostalgic reasons. It not for “restoration of legacy” as the coup leaders of November 2017 tried to justify their actions. It is because we are in a deep mess.

The historical record indicates that Zimbabwean nationalism became bifurcated at the leadership level in 1963 when Zanu emerged as a splinter formation from Zapu. It is always at the leadership level that things are messed up.

I have never been satisfied by the reasons given for the split. If Joshua Nkomo was a weak leader – something that was never substantiated beyond political power contestation – then shaking and beefing up the executive around him would have reinforced the leadership and pursued the people’s agenda for liberation without splitting the nationalist movement with far-reaching consequences.

Leaders should always be changed when the need arises, but not merely for individual political ambitions at the expense of the national agenda.

Now the culture of factionalism and splits is wreaking havoc on the Zimbabwean political landscape.

A bad precedent was set in 1963. Zimbabwe became born with a very bad birthmark. Lancaster House Conference never paid enough attention to intra-nationalist ructions. The British were more interested in getting a fair deal for the white minority.

That Bishop Abel Muzorewa was leading a delegation with Ian Smith as a member signaled the consequences of political divisions among black nationalists.

For Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe to pretend to be united under the Patriotic Front (PF) was just to postpone troubles that could have been nipped in the bud with political will and vision.

If we fast-forward to post-1980, we realise that a mere two years into independence, were plunged the nation into Operation Gukurahundi at a time when state formation and nation-building at their most critical stages.

The year 1963 came back to haunt the newly- born political formation. The guns of liberation were turned on each other as comrades list focus and the revolution lost its way.

Zanu PF and Mugabe used the newly-found state power to deal with PF Zapu and Nkomo through liquidation of its social base in pursuit of a one-party state and political hegemony.

This was the first sign of the perilous failure of Zimbabwean nationalism. The nation died at its birth. Zimbabwe was stillborn.

A morbid creature emerged in its place and this is what we have now.

The popular anti-colonial nationalism which animated and propelled the liberation struggle did not successfully transition into postcolonial, pan-ethnic patriotism and horizontal comradeship.

Something else was being constructed. Norma J. Kriger named it “party-nation” and “party-state.” This is not what was fought for. The very idea of Zimbabwe which people originally fought for had failed right from the beginning.

Nation-building had failed from day one. Unsurprisingly, the people of Matabeleland and the Midlands regions had to be violently suppressed for voting differently – a brutal opposition to democracy – and forced into embracing the monstrosity of a “party-nation” and a “party-state.”

A party-nation and a party-state had to have a party-army and that partisan military force enforced party political agendas and drove personal ambitions to murderous heights.

Two initiatives were at play. The first was to try and turn the integration of ex-Zanla, ex-Zipra and ex-Rhodesian forces into a party-army through Zanlafication, that is, making ex-Zanla the core of the new Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and elevating some ex-Zanla into its command structures.

After the Zanlafication of the army, then came Zanufication of government and the state.
This entailed needless repression against ex-Zipra forces and juniorisation of ex-Rhodesian troops as part of the Zanlafication process.

Even this was not trusted enough. So, a second initiative emerged. The establishment of the Fifth Brigade. It was trained by North Koreans and oriented as a pure party-army.

It is this force that carried out Operation Gukurahundi. This was the earliest sign of things to come. A governing party with a private army is always ominous.

The massacre of an estimated 20 000 civilians from Matabeleland and the Midlands regions of Zimbabwe was the consequence.

Only the surrender of PF Zapu and Nkomo would prevented further atrocities, otherwise genocidal massacres would have continued.

At the time of the signing of the Unity Accord on 22 December 1987, Canaan Banana, the first titular president of Zimbabwe, posited that the accord should mark the end of a political behaviour where one Zimbabwean is pointing a gun at another Zimbabwean.

What Banana missed was that the accord had nothing to do with change of political culture and values. It had more to do with conquest of PF Zapu and its social base for purposes of pursuit on a one-party state.

Because Operation Gukurahundi was so successful Gukurahundi for Zanu PF, ‘‘governance by military operations’’ as coined by Martin Rupiya, became normalised and routinised.

The security forces were to be unleashed to settle future political or national questions, particularly against the new opposition at the turn of the millennium.

Decades later the other military campaign, Operation Restore Legacy, resulted in the forcible removal from power of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe in November 2017.

Guns were pointed at other Zimbabweans. Others had to survive by escaping to exile.

Guns had been pointed at other Zimbabweans from 2000 onwards, including mainly during the 2008 presidential election run-off where a national military deployment was made to settle an electoral contest.

So Operation Gukurahundi became foundational not only in terms of violent conquest of society by the state and imposition of fear among citizens, but also in terms of abuse of the military to deal with civil-political affairs in Zimbabwe.

Its roots are in the liberation struggle itself where violence in the rear-bases and on the front-line inside Rhodesia was common.

This political culture continues t½o eat the lives of Zimbabweans long after the end of the liberation struggle.

Regular elections every five years have not resolved the political culture of violence. In fact, it is at election time that the political culture of violence walks on all four legs with its ugly head protruding menacingly for everyone to see it.

Mediation, both internal and external, has not resolved this problem. The military coup of November 2017 has not resolve it.

In fact, what happened in August 2018 and January 2019 indicates the intensification of culture of violence with live bullets being used by the army, which is expected to protect the citizens, against unarmed civilian Zimbabweans.

This revealed the fear that the coup would produce a military junta even though they have invited Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over as president.

The military has not yet return to the barracks, hence the awkward political reality in Harare of a ‘‘military with a political party,’’ which is currently busy trying to conquer the genuine opposition and invent a surrogate one in true Leninist dictum “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”.

Taking all this burden seriously, there us urgent need to reinvent Zimbabwe. This reinvention has to be predicated on a reconstitution of the political itself.

This is necessary because the people of Zimbabwe are currently hostage to the downside/negative cultures of liberation, with violence and impunity on the top list.

Reinvention of Zimbabwe entails recovery and reconnection with the pre-1963 forms of inclusive nationalism and common vision.

Reconstitution of the political is about recovery and reconnection with the positive values of l³iberation struggle such as equality, equal opportunity, social justice, democracy, human rights, development, and commitment to serve the people.

It is these positive values that have been displaced by negative ones of ‘‘liberation war credentials’’ and commodification of participation in the liberation struggle into entitlement to material benefits ahead of all citizens.

For this political paradigm shift to happen, there is need for a new breed of leaders with untainted political pedigrees of privileging the people-agenda ahead of itself.

A service leadership is in short supply in Harare. While at the moment and the citizens are paralysed by violence and persecution, the potentials for reinvention of Zimbabwe and reconstitution of the political lies in the hands of the people, especially the youth. Political elite bargains cannot deliver it.

Military intervention in civilian affairs has never been and will not be the solution to build a great and prosperous nation which serves the interests of all citizens without political, gender, ethnic, religious and class discrimination.

Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni is Chair of Epistemologies of the Global South Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence, University of Bayreuth, Germany.

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