LEGITIMACY in political parlance simply means acceptability or justification of political power or authority and obligation.
That is, the government derives uncontested popular seal of approval, acceptance, and recognition from the general public. Accordingly, in realpolitik legitimacy manifests itself in strands of political legitimacy, democratic legitimacy, performance legitimacy and international legitimacy. Needless to say that, for the past 18 years successive Zanu PF governments have been plagued by all manner of legitimacy deficits. This dearth of legitimacy has manifested itself in the 20-year-old socio-economic and politico crisis currently engulfing and suffocating the nation.
Accordingly, this opinion piece will adopt a contextualised deconstructionist analytical framework as it attempts to unpack the latest attempt by the Zanu PF government to manufacture legitimacy. Therefore, will unpack the tragic failures and missteps of the post-November 2017 dispensation to acquire domestic and international legitimacy. Furthermore, we will also take a contextual political flight into the past and interface the current political shock doctrine of co-optation and control, divide and fool with the past politics of colonial bantustanism puppetry. And analyse why the same historical legitimacy pitfalls and failures of colonial bantustanism puppetry will befall this latest neo-Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project of Emmerson Mnangagwa turbocharged by their trojan horse, the MDC-T.
Post-November 2017 legitimacy edifices
Military coup d’états are by their very nature afflicted by the lack of democratic and political legitimacy. Hence the reason the military junta that took power in Mali after the coups d’états that toppled President Ibrahim Keita in August 2020 was automatically and immediately suspended from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. Accordingly, the praetorian rapture of 14 November 2017 in our political ecology was immediately beset by legitimacy issues.
Thus, the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the power transfer had serious repercussions on both the democratic and political legitimacy of the presidency of Emmerson Mnangagwa. Despite the silent and tacit approval of the military coup by both regional and international players such as the African Union, Southern African Development Community and the UK government. Consequently, the raison d`etre of holding the 2018 harmonised elections was to provide an antidote to the November 2017 coup d’état. This explains why, for the first time in 16 years, the Zanu PF government decided to extend and open floodgates for election observing to the international observer missions from the United States and the European Union, which had been previously declared persona nan grata by the Mugabe regime since 2002.
Nonetheless, the July 2018 harmonised elections, rather than provide an antidote to the November 2017 military coup, instead became a secondary infection that opened another festering wound of illegitimacy to the beleaguered Zanu PF government. This is buttressed by the manner the transactionlist and paranoid Zanu PF regime conspired to shoot itself in the foot by callously gunning down six innocent civilians and injured dozens on 1 August 2018 in front of international television cameras.
This was after protests broke out in Harare by suspected opposition supporters. They were protesting the long-delayed announcement of presidential elections. Coupled with the fact that the 2018 losing presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, refused to concede defeat and recognise Mnangagwa’s presidency and authority. This refusal by Nelson Chamisa and the MDC-A to confer domestic legitimacy placed the Zanu PF government in a very difficult and untenable position. Nonetheless, in his desperate need for international legitimacy Mnangagwa instituted and authorised a commission of enquiry which was going to investigate the violence and civilian deaths at the hands of security operatives which occurred on 1 August 2018.
The Motlanthe Commission was primarily driven to appease the international community and win the favour and the endorsement of the international community, particularly the EU and the US. Rather than being a genuine and sincere instrument of restorative justice, reparative justice, and retributive justice for the victims of the 1 August shootings. Accordingly, the Zanu PF government failed dismally to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, especially the investigation and prosecution of the security operatives involved in the gunning down of innocent civilians. Therefore, the commission failed to salvage international legitimacy for the beleaguered Zanu PF government.
Faultline of shock politics of control and co-optation (bantustanism)
The inconclusive and controversial 2018 elections and the Motlanthe Commission both failed to confer political, democratic, domestic, and international legitimacy on the Mnangagwa government. The Zanu PF government decided to attempt to manufacture legitimacy through the shock doctrine politics of bantustanism. That is politics of co-optation, control, and puppetry and divide and fool. They had apartheid South Africa through Bantustan chiefs and apartheid Rhodesia through the Zimbabwe Rhodesia puppetry project as their laboratories.
This is where the so-called Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) came into play. Polad was launched on 17 May 2019 and comprised mainly 15 insignificant political nonentities whose combined national voting percentage is less than 3%. Polad, to all intents and purposes, was a puppetry vehicle designed firstly to act as a conveyor belt for conferring domestic legitimacy on Mnangagwa.
The idea was that by creating a façade of dialogue, co-existence, and cross-pollination among the July 2018 loosing presidential contestants, Mnangagwa would have hoodwinked the international community into believing that the issue of his presidency’s domestic legitimacy had been addressed and settled through local frameworks and homegrown and indigenous mechanisms without the need for external intervention.
Therefore, the international community is duty bound to embrace and welcome Zimbabwe into the community of progressive nations. However, the Achilles heel to Mnangagwa`s Polad, a neo-Zimbabwe Rhodesia puppetry project, suffered a domestic legitimacy deficit because Nelson Chamisa and the MDC-Alliance refused to be co-opted. Therefore, without the input and involvement of Chamisa, Polad became a mere vanity political project which was doomed to suffer a political stillbirth and doomed from its very conception.
Having failed to extract both domestic and international legitimacy through Polad, Mnangagwa decided to adopt Soviet-like tactics of political brinkmanship and authoritarian consolidation. Accordingly, Vladimir Lenin once opined that “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”. Therefore, over the last nine months we have witnessed the unprecedented assault of parliamentary and electoral democracy in Zimbabwe. The judiciary and the legislature have become the theatres of authoritarian restoration and democratic backsliding. Thus, the courts and parliament have been compromised and weaponised to decimate the parliamentary and political existence of the MDC-Alliance in favour of the Thokozani Khupe-led MDCT.
In Lenin’s communist-style co-optation and control, Mnangagwa has managed to create a parliamentary opposition in his own liking and image. That is the judicially modified MDC-T is a weak-kneed, spineless, and pliant pseudo “opposition” which is more than willing to do the bidding on behalf of its master, the Zanu PF government. The coup de force was the swearing in of Khupe as leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, completing the Zanu PF government’s political gangsterism jigsaw puzzle. However, at the heart of this electoral and parliamentary daylight robbery is a two-pronged political brinkmanship strategy. On one hand, it entails the institutionalisation and constitutionalising of a de facto one-party parliamentary autocracy, whilst on the other hand is the deployment of a judicially modified MDC-T as a trojan horse for soliciting international recognition for the Zanu PF government.
There is no such a thing as a free lunch in the brutally competitive winner-eats-all game of realpolitik. Zanu PF has never been known as a benevolent political Father Christmas to other political players. Therefore, in a couple of months we are going to witness the launch of a global charm offensive campaign undertaken by the MDC-T at the behest of the Zanu PF government.
We are going to witness senior MDC-T officials such as Thokozani Khupe, Douglas Mwonzora and Morgen Komichi attempting to engage EU bureaucrats, the UK government and the US, lobbying them to unconditionally re-engage with Harare. The US will particularly be asked to unconditionally remove its sanctions regime on Harare. They will be attempting to sell the EU, UK and the US a political dummy to the effect that we are the official opposition and we represent the opposition constituency and we have conferred domestic legitimacy on a Zanu PF government.
Likewise, the international community should come on board. On the home front, people will probably witness senior MDC-T officials headlining Zanu PF-controlled “national “events. We should not be surprised to see senior MDC-T officials issuing solidarity statements, headlining and speechifying on the forthcoming SADC anti-sanctions day pencilled in for 25 October.
However, Mnangagwa cannot have his cake and eat it. That is, it is one thing to deploy compromised and captured courts and parliament to bastardised parliamentary representative democracy and install puppets and stooges in the form of a new-look JMO MDC-T. Nonetheless, it is a different political ball game together to sell that puppetry project (MDC-T) to the international community as the genuine and truly representative opposition movement in Zimbabwe. You can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Thus, the international community through its diplomatic mission in Harare has witnessed at first hand this Soviet communist-style democratic recession and parliamentary depression.
Therefore, the JMO MDC-T will not be able to confer and provide both domestic and international legitimacy on the Zanu PF government. This JMO MDC-T, on its own, is plagued by a domestic legitimacy deficit. In the court of public opinion, the MDC-T is detested. It is frowned upon and not recognised as the genuine and truly representative opposition. It is held in contempt by the ordinary opposition electorate who rightly feel short-changed and robbed of their parliamentary representatives. Therefore, such an entity, despite its state-assisted court and parliamentary victories, has huge legitimacy liabilities that it will not be able to confer legitimacy on Zanu PF both domestically and internationally.
Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes and failures. Thus, Ian Smith tragically failed with his Rhodesia Zimbabwe puppetry project manufacture both domestic and international legitimacy. We should note that even Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Chief Chirau visited the US and engaged with Washington DC insiders in an effort to buy international legitimacy for the Ian Smith/Abel Muzorewa puppetry project. Nevertheless, US president Jimmy Carter would neither recognise the internal settlement nor confer legitimacy on the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project.
Carter was fully appraised about the Rhodesian question by his ambassador to the UN Ambassador Andrew Young, who had first-hand experience of the intricacies of the Rhodesian question after he had visited guerrilla camps and nationalists in Zambia and Mozambique. It is obvious that the US, the EU and the UK are being kept appraised by their diplomatic missions in Harare about the political shenanigans of the Zanu PF government on its support of a parliamentary coup de force being undertaken by the MDC-T.
History has indeed come full circle, 41 years after the historical pitfalls of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project. We are witnessing the replay of the same script with different actors, but which is likely to spawn the same pitfalls and outcomes that led to the collapse and demise of the Smith/Muzorewa puppetry project. Will the Mnangagwa/Khupe puppetry project succeed where Smith/Muzorewa failed? Only time will tell.