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Search for consensus-building initiatives in Zimbabwe and lessons for the future

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BY SABELO J. NDLOVU-GATSHENI

THE search for postcolonial national consensus in Zimbabwe has taken the form of negotiations, experiments in coalition and inclusive government, unity accord, external mediation, and most recently direct intervention of the military in civil political affairs in November 2017.
These postcolonial consensuses building initiatives have been aimed at resolving particular forms of conflicts beginning with the ‘Rhodesian problem’ of settler colonialism, bringing contending political formations into one government (to test possibilities of a one-party state), the ending of violence that engulfed Matebeleland and the Midlands region in the 1980s and resumption of the one-party state agenda, the resolution of struggles for democracy, human rights, and economic recovery through inclusive government,  and the dealing with intra-Zanu PF factional conflicts through military intervention in civilian politics.
Analytically, one wonders whether these five postcolonial initiatives can really be approached as consensus-building.
What is emerging as a connective across them is the desires of a power-hungry political elite seeking to gain, control and consolidate power.  
The first is the Lancaster House Settlement of 1979 that sought to resolve the long-standing ‘Rhodesian problem’ of white settler colonialism and the demands of the liberation struggle for decolonisation.
The second is the reconciliation initiative pronounced by the newly elected Prime Minister Robert Gabriel Mugabe, which made possible the setting up of the short-lived coalition government of 1980-1982.
The third is the Unity Accord of 22 December 1987 which was aimed at ending the conflict that had engulfed Matebeleland and the Midlands regions of Zimbabwe from 1983 to 1987.  
The fourth is the Global Political Agreement of 2008, which brought Zanu PF and the two Movements for Democratic Change (MDC) formations into an inclusive government (2009-2012). The last is the November 2017 military coup that saw the military forces intervening directly in civilian politics resulting in the removal from power of Robert Mugabe and taking over of party and government by Emerson Mnangagwa.
Because these initiatives were marred by power politics and were never underpinned by imperatives of accountability to the citizens, they inevitably had few positive and more negative aspects and key lessons are mainly about what has to be avoided in future attempts at resolution of the Zimbabwean problems.
While the Lancaster House Conference of 1979 has been hailed as having successfully resolved the Rhodesian problem and opened the way for a politically independent Zimbabwe, like all other negotiations for transition from colonialism to postcolonialism it did not solve all the major issues which had caused the conflicts and war of liberation.  
The land question remained unsolved as the new Lancaster House Constitution included a clause that prevented any form of radical land reform during the first decade of independence (1980-1990). Inevitably, the struggles for land had to return in a very violent manner dubbed ‘jambanja’ and ideologically justified as the Third Chimurenga.
If one connects the discussion and resolutions of the Lancaster House Conference on land and the current initiatives by the Emerson Mnangagwa regime to mobilise funds to compensate white farmers who lost their land under the Third Chimurenga, it makes sense to table the resolution of land question as an issue which cuts across from 1980 to the present.    
Even at the very dawn of the political independence of Zimbabwe in April 1980, the newly elected leader Mugabe’s reconciliation speech targeted more the minority white constituency than the broader African people who were also polarised ethnically and politically.
At least the coalition government brought PF Zapu and white minority elements together. The reality, however, is that Zanu PF continued to pursue politics as though Zimbabwe was a one-party state and constituted by a singular ethnic group.
Political suspicions and even outright hostilities between the two former liberation movements (Zanu PF and PF Zapu) remained apparent and it is not surprising that the coalition government could not last even three years before the country plunged into what became known as Operation Gukurahundi (1983-1987).
The Unity Accord of 1987 while successful in bringing to an end the atrocities committed mainly by the Fifth Brigade on civilian population of Matebeleland and the Midlands regions and opened the way for Zanu PF to swallow PF Zapu, the unity of the nation remained at stake and at bay.
Political elites accommodated each other but never worked hard on the healing and unity of the people who bore the brunt of Gukurahundi atrocities.
The next terrain of violent rivalry involved the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and Zanu PF. Opposition has consistently been regarded as enemy that hard to be crushed violently.
Thus, the emergence of the MDC in September 1999 as a formidable opposition formation backed by the labour movement and supported by white farmers, provoked Zanu PF and Mugabe to brand it as a counter-revolutionary, neo-liberal and indeed puppet formation serving ‘Western’ interests.
Therefore, its members and leadership were subjected to various forms of violence from 2000 onwards.  Thus, it was a combination of closure of political space, collapsing economy signified by unprecedented inflation, and massive outward migration of Zimbabweans, which provoked intervention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) represented by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.
The mediation initiative produced the Global Political Agreement (GPA) of 15 September 2008. Once again, the contending political elites of Zimbabwe found themselves being persuaded to work together for the purposes of peace and reconstruction of the national economy which had collapsed.
The key limit was that the inclusive government of 2009 became another elite pact, which did not successfully deliver democracy and human rights, which the MDC was fighting for since its formation in 1999.
 What demonstrated the political resilience and success of its political cunning of Zanu PF is that after July 2013, it was back in full power.
The inclusive government had partly dented the political shine of the MDC and partly Zanu PF had strategically and tactically used that period to re-organize itself and re-capture power.
However, the economy, which had remarkably recovered under the inclusive government, entered its collapsing trajectory once more and the limited open political space closed again.
Paradigmatically, the drama of national politics shifted from Zanu PF-MDC ructions to intra-Zanu PF factional conflicts taking the form of jostling over succession to Mugabe. Two major factions emerged within ZANU-PF namely the G40 that had the favour of Mugabe and his wife Grace Mugabe and Lacoste which supported Emerson Mnangagwa as a successor to Mugabe.
The factional fights became so rough that eventually the military forces had to take sides and supported the Lacoste group and in November 2017 they launched a military coup which toppled Mugabe and opened the way for the ascendency to power of Mnangagwa in 2018.
The limits of this military intervention in civilian politics under the banner of ‘restoring legacy’ is that it not only brought the military into party-politics but that it failed to unite even Zanu PF itself, failed inaugurate a new political dispensation that was better that the Mugabe regime despite rhetoric of the ‘second republic,’ and failed to turn around the collapsing economy.
Inevitably, Zimbabwe is once again on a new search for a new consensus.
Those who took power via military means have literally captured the state and they have morphed into a looting cabal incapable of delivering the country from political and economic crisis.
The military has already demonstrated intolerance of opposition to the extent of shooting demonstrators in broad daylight in 2018.
The 2018 elections have not successfully resolved the long-standing legitimacy question.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance which gave Zanu PF the stiffest competition in the 2018 elections not only disputed the election results but also refused to recognise Mnangagwa as a duly elected president of Zimbabwe, alleging that he rigged the elections. Consequently, Mnangagwa’s attempt to initiate a national consensus through Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) failed to attract the main opposition party (the MDC Alliance).  
The privileging of political actors always short-changed the citizens as political stakeholders and is in this case so narrowly defined to mean political parties most of which have no support of any people at all.
Once again, Zimbabwe is experiencing a political gridlock with deep consequences for the economy.
Mnangagwa’s attempts to attract international goodwill and investment through slogans as ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ and such promises as compensation for white farmers whose land was compulsorily acquired under Mugabe regime, have not yet yielded any positive results.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the Chair in Epistemologies of the Global South African Cluster of Excellence University of Bayreuth

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