PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promises to break with the past and chart a new path for Zimbabwe after the ouster of long-time leader Robert Mugabe are ringing hollow as the southern African nation further slides into an authoritarian state six years on, political analysts have said.
On 21 November 2017, Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule came to an end after his prodigy, Mnangagwa, took the reins backed by the military.
Euphoria gripped the 15-million-strong nation following Mugabe’s ouster codenamed Operation Restore Legacy.
Upon returning home following his sacking and dramatic escape from the country, Mnangagwa pledged to break with the past and usher in a new era for Zimbabwe.
“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told multitudes gathered at Zanu PF headquarters on his return.
Many thought this mantra signalled his plans to build a strong democracy in the region. But a series of events that were to later unfold told a different story.
For starters, Mnangagwa lost international goodwill when the security forces opened fire on unarmed civilians protesting the delay in announcing the presidential election result.
Now analysts say Zimbabweans are living in dire situations engulfed by a culture of impunity and fear.
This, they say, has made Mugabe’s repressive rule appear better compared to the status quo.
A trend analysis of Afrobarometer data clearly shows that seven out of 10 Zimbabweans are unhappy with the direction the country has been taking since 2017.
For instance, in early 2017 under the late president Mugabe, 60% of citizens felt Zimbabwe was going in the wrong direction.
After Mnangagwa took over, this perception increased to 62% in mid-2018, then jumped to 67% in 2021 and reached 72% in 2022.
There is also considerable consensus that, contrary to the 2017 grandiose governance promises, the situation is worse off.
Professor of World Politics at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, told The NewsHawks that all hope that was rekindled during the coup has been lost.
“The overthrow of Mugabe led briefly to great hope, but all hope was disappointed. Everything has gotten worse, both economically and in terms of free political openness. Space and prospects have been reduced for the majority of the people. Projects and policies are designed to benefit only the elite. One has to say that the Mnangagwa regime sees Zimbabwe in its worst state since independence,” he said.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede in an interview with The NewsHawks this week said: “What is clear is that the promises made during the coup have not materialised. Many people still struggle with their extreme poverty as shown by the World Bank reports, democracy is challenged by disputed elections, human rights violations still abound, and international re-engagement is a pipe dream.
“Of course the motivations of the coup, as people now realise, might have been different from what they expected. Over half a decade later, there is need for deeper reflection and a more inclusive development path.” Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Obert Masaraure concurred.
“Mnangagwa has betrayed the legacy of the liberation struggle, betrayed his own Zanu PF party, betrayed the people of Zimbabwe and defiled the national constitution.
“The man has managed to reduce all state institutions into a circus in six years, reduce the majority of our people into paupers, destroy social services and even mortgage some national assets to foreigners.
“The highly corrupt Emmerson Mnangagwa government has trampled on workers’ rights and destroyed education. Six years on, Mnangagwa isn’t slowing down; he is on a spirited drive to destroy Zimbabwe,” he said.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said that six years after the coup, Zimbabwe is now worse off.
“I think Zimbabwe is in serious trouble after that coup. It was the worst decision for the citizens of this country to support the coup,” Mukundu said.
“We are actually seeing the negative effects of this unconstitutional removal of a political leader because the disregard of the rule of law by Mnangagwa in terms of how citizens in the opposition are attacked, changes in the constitution, brazen maladminstration of the electoral process, are all outcomes of the 2017 coup.
“So this was the worst thing that could happen to Zimbabwe if we look back retrospectively. We essentially destroyed the essence of the rule of law and we are seeing the effects now,” he said.
While corruption is still rampant, with the latest evidence being Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia corruption exposé that caught the perpetrators of graft speaking on camera about they siphoned bullion worth millions of dollars, political tolerance and respect for human rights promised during the coup remain pie in the sky.
Cases of opposition activists being the targets of systematic state-sponsored intimidation, brutality and in some cases extra-judicial killings are on the rise.
The recent abduction, torture and murder of Mabvuku pastor and CCC activist Tapfumaneyi Masaya has also highlighted the growing culture of impunity as no charges have been placed on the suspects.
He was murdered by suspected Zanu PF goons while coming for the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change party. Weeks ago, an opposition MP, Takudzwa Ngadziore, was abducted, tortured and left for dead by suspected state security agents.
After six years of the so-called new dispensation, Zimbabwe remains under Western sanctions and isolated from the community of nations because of its failure to reform from the dark days of Mugabe’s draconian leadership style that included rigging elections, an occurrence that happened again on 23 August this year.
On 15 April, 2022, just three days before Zimbabwe’s 41st Independence anniversary, Mnangagwa dispatched a tweet whose central message is a stark summary of the current state of the nation.
“Zimbabweans, our roads are in a state of emergency. It pains me to see so many potholes on our once great highways. We must act urgently,” he wrote on the social media platform, sparking animated debate across the country.
However, the state of the roads, especially the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway remains deplorable. Rewind to 13 November 2017, the then commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and now Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga held a Press conference shunned by state media and promised the nation that the military was geared to upholding the constitution and ensuring that citizens enjoy all their freedoms.
There is a sharp increase in cases of brute repression and worsening levels of corruption, with many saying the discredited politics of old are still ruling the roost.
On 13 November 2017, the then commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and now Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga held a Press conference shunned by state media and promised the nation that the military was geared to uphold the constitution and ensure that citizens enjoy all their freedoms. The address by Chiwenga marked the beginning of the coup in earnest.
“Let us begin by quoting the constitution of this country, particularly the preamble which speaks of ‘Exalting and extolling the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Chimurenga/Umvukela and national liberation struggles and honouring our forebears and compatriots who toiled for the progress of our country’ . . .”
“From a security point of view we cannot ignore the experiences of countries such as Somalia, DRC, Central Africa Republic and many others in our region where minor political differences degenerated into serious conflict that had decimated the social, political and economic security of ordinary people,” said Chiwenga.
He went on to quote specific sections of the constitution.
“Section 212 of the constitution of Zimbabwe mandates the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to protect Zimbabwe, its people, its national security and interests and its territorial integrity and to uphold this constitution.”
“. . . Further, we must understand that the freedoms that we enjoy today were as a result of supreme sacrifice by some of our countrymen and women and this must not be taken for granted. Let us remove this air of uncertainty and allow Zimbabweans to enjoy their freedoms and rights as enshrined in the national constitution,” he said.
Two days later, in the early hours of 15 November 2017, the then major-general Sibusiso Moyo who at the time was chief of staff (logistics), made a hair-raising speech on the national broadcaster ZBC vowing that the army had begun an operation to arrest criminals around the late Mugabe and fight corruption in the country.
At that time, the military had seized the ZBC, restricted Mugabe’s movement and blocked access to government offices as the coup gained traction.
“Following the address we made on November 13, 2017, which we believe our main broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and The Herald were directed not to publicise, the situation in our country has moved to another level. Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG Mugabe, and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.”
“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” he said.
The late Moyo, who died after having been appointed Foreign Affairs tzar, made further promises to improve the welfare of civil servants, ensure the independence of the judiciary, protection of the democratic roles of legislators, bring an end to political violence and the upholding of freedoms of citizens.
“To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to assure that as an independent arm of the state you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.” “To our members of Parliament, your legislative role is of paramount importance for peace and stability in this country and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets.”
“To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe, we urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.”
“To political parties, we urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behaviour.”
“To the youth, we call upon you to realise that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver. Be disciplined and remain committed to the ethos and values of this great nation.”
“To all churches and religious organisations in Zimbabwe, we call upon you and your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love, peace, unity and development,” the late Moyo pledged in the televised address before he boldly declared: “To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is actually doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict.”
However, many of those who celebrated Mugabe’s dramatic ouster have since admitted their naivety.
On 1 August 2018, barely a year after taking power, Mnangagwa’s government deployed soldiers who shot dead six unarmed civilians in central Harare. They were protesting a delay in the release of presidential election results.
When the massacre unfolded, the capital city was teeming with foreign journalists and election observers. The shootings were beamed to a stunned global audience. Mnangagwa had failed a major test; the fancy mask of the “Second Republic” had fallen.
There were further killings in January 2019. Over the years, human rights groups have reported an escalation in cases of extrajudicial killings, state-sponsored abductions and torture. Pro-democracy campaigners, opposition activists and journalists have been arrested.
Tafadzwa Mugwadi, Zanu PF’s then director of information, recently made a startling revelation at that time: He expressed confidence that Zimbabwe would soon become a one-party state.
With the clampdown on the opposition CCC through recalls of its MPs and councillors by an imposter Sengezo Tshabangu, it is clear Zanu PF is still pursuing that path predicted by Mugwadi.
On 17 November 2022, Sapes Trust led by academic and publisher Professor Ibbo Mandaza convened a webinar on Zoom, titled Back to the Future: A Review of the Post-November 2017 Coup in Zimbabwe.
Petina Gappah, an international trade lawyer, author and former government technocrat who later left the regime, explained why she parted ways with the Mnangagwa administration, pointing out it was because of its non-commitment to improving brand Zimbabwe.
“I was sabotaged, I was attacked, because people couldn’t quite work out what my agenda was.
“And my agenda was very simple. It’s an agenda, unfortunately, that is not shared by many people, which is why I left and my agenda was the country. Right, I want Zimbabwe to do well, and I left because I felt that the level of ambition was too low.”