LEGITIMACY in political parlance simply means acceptability or justification of political power or authority and obligation.
By Blessing Denhere
It explains a scenario wherein the government of the day derives an uncontested popular seal of approval, acceptance, and recognition from the general public. Accordingly, in realpolitik, legitimacy manifests itself in the political, democratic, performance and international strands. Needless to say, for the past 18 years successive Zanu PF governments have been plagued by all different strands 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 judicially manufacture legitimacy. Therefore, it will analyse the tragic failures and missteps of the post-November 2017 dispensation to acquire domestic and international legitimacy. Furthermore, it will also take a contextual political flight into the past and interface the current political shock doctrine of co-option and control, divide-and-fool with the past politics of colonial bantustanism puppetry and explicate 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
Military coups d’état are by their very nature burdened by the lack of democratic and political legitimacy. As such, this explains why the military junta that took power in Mali after the coup d’état that toppled President Ibrahim Keita in August 2020 was immediately automatically suspended from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. Accordingly, the praetorian rapture of 14 November 2017 in Zimbabwe’s political ecology was immediately beset by legitimacy issues.
Thus, the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the power grab/transfer had serious repercussions on both the democratic and political legitimacy of the Mnangagwa presidency, irrespective of 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 United Kingdom government. Consequently, the raison d`etre of holding the 2018 harmonised elections was to provide an antidote to the November 2017 coup de’tat. This explains why for the first time in 16 years, the Zanu PF government decided to extend and open floodgates for election monitoring and observing to the international observer missions from the United States and the EU which had been previously declared persona nan grata by the Mugabe regime since 2002.
Nonetheless, the July 2018 harmonised elections, instead of providing an antidote to the November 2017 military coup, rather morphed into a secondary infection that instigated another festering wound of illegitimacy to the beleaguered Zanu PF government. This was aggravated by the manner in which the transactionalist Zanu PF regime guided by paranoia, conspired to shoot itself in the foot by callously gunning down six innocent civilians and injured dozens on 1 August 2018 in front of local, regional and international observers and television cameras. This was justified as a reaction to protests that broke out in Harare organised by suspected opposition supporters annoyed by the long-delayed announcement of presidential elections, also sustained by the fact that the 2018 losing presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, had made proclamations of refusal to concede defeat and recognise Mnangagwa’s presidency and authority.
The refusal by 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 bid for international legitimacy, Mnangagwa instituted and authorised a commission of enquiry to investigate the violence and civilian deaths at the hands of security operatives which occurred on the 1 August 2018. The Motlanthe Commission was primarily driven by the need to appease the international community and win the favour and 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 August 1 shootings.
Unsurprisingly, the Zanu PF government later failed dismally to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, particularly the investigation and prosecution of security operatives involved in the shooting down of innocent civilians. As such, the commission failed to provide the much elusive international legitimacy to the beleaguered Zanu PF government.
Faultline of shock politics of control and co-option (bantustaism)
The inconclusive and controversial 2018 elections and the Motlanthe Commission both failed to confer political, democratic, domestic, and international legitimacy to the Mnangagwa government. In a glaring act of subterfuge, the Zanu PF government decided to make attempts towards the manufacture of legitimacy through the shock doctrine politics of bantustanism. That is politics of co-option, control, puppetry and divide and fool. This was perfected in apartheid South Africa through Bantustan chiefs and colonial Rhodesia through the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project as their laboratories.
In present-day Zimbabwe, the so-called Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) is a replay of erstwhile colonial deceit. Polad was launched on 17 May 2019, made up of 15 insignificant political nonentities. The combined national voting percentage of all the political formations constituting Polad adds up to a measly less than 3%. Polad, to all intents and purposes, is a puppetry vehicle designed 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 losing presidential contestants, Mnangagwa would hoodwink the international community into believing that the issue of domestic legitimacy to his presidency had been genuinely settled via the route of local frameworks and homegrown indigenous mechanisms, thereby disposing of the need for external intervention in the legitimacy question. Inadvertently, the international community would then be duty bound to embrace and welcome Zimbabwe into the community of progressive nations.
However, the Achilles heel to Mnangagwa`s neo-Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Polad puppetry project was that it suffered an imposing domestic legitimacy deficit due to Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-A intransigence to the incorporation and due recognition of Polad. Therefore, without the input and involvement of Nelson Chamisa, Polad became a mere vanity political project which was doomed to suffer a political stillbirth from conception.
Having failed to extract both domestic and international legitimacy through Polad, Mnangagwa decided to adopt Soviet-style political brinkmanship and authoritarian consolidation. Accordingly, Vladimir Lenin once opined that “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”. As such, over the last nine months we have witnessed an unprecedented assault on parliamentary and electoral democracy in Zimbabwe. The judiciary and legislature have become theatres of authoritarian restoration and democratic backsliding, whilst the courts and parliament have been compromised and weaponised to decimate the parliamentary and political existence of Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-A in favour of Thokozani Khupe’s MDCT.
In Lenin’s communist-style co-option and control, Mnangagwa has managed to create a parliamentary opposition in his own likeness and image. This Judicially Modified (JMO) 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 Thokozani Khupe as the 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 is the institutionalisation and constitutionalisation 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 Zanu PF government.
There is no such 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 likely to witness lots of globetrotting as the authorities underwrite an international charm offensive campaign undertaken by the MDC-T at the behest of the Zanu PF government. Senior MDC-T officials such as Thokozani Khupe, Douglas Mwonzora and Morgen Komichi will attempt to engage the EU bureaucrats, the UK government and the US, lobbying them to unconditionally re-engage with Harare.
The US, in particular, will be told to unconditionally remove its sanctions regime on Harare. They will attempt to sell the EU, UK and USA a political dummy to the effect that they are the official opposition representing the wishes of the opposition constituency, despite their duplicitous act of conferring domestic legitimacy to a Zanu PF government. And likewise, the international community should come on board. On the home front, we will probably witness senior MDC-T officials headlining Zanu PF controlled, supposedly “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 for 25 October.
However, Mnangagwa cannot have his cake and eat it. That is, it is one thing to subvert the courts and parliament and transform these institutions from important vehicles of democracy to captured puppets and stooges. Nonetheless, it is a different political ball game altogether to sell the MDC-T puppetry project to the international community as the genuine and true representative opposition movement in Zimbabwe.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The international community through its diplomatic missions in Harare has witnessed first-hand this Soviet-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 is already plagued by a domestic legitimacy deficit.
In the court of public opinion, MDC-T is a detested anathema. It is frowned upon and not recognised as the genuine and true representative of the opposition constituency. 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, irrespective of its state- assisted court and parliamentary victories will continue to suffer huge legitimacy liabilities that will militate against its capability to confer legitimacy capital 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 to manufacture both domestic and international legitimacy. We should not forget that even Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Chief Chirau went as far as visiting the US to engage Washington DC insiders in an effort to buy international legitimacy for the Smith/Muzorewa puppetry project. Nevertheless, the then US president Jimmy Carter refused to neither recognise the internal settlement nor confer legitimacy on Zimbabwe/Rhodesia puppetry project.
This was because Carter was fully appraised about the Rhodesian question by his ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, who had first-hand experience of the intricacies of the Rhodesian question. Young had visited guerrilla camps and nationalists in Zambia and Mozambique. In the same vein, it is natural and 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 the parliamentary coup de force being undertaken by Khupe’s 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. The golden question besetting Zimbabwean politics is: “Will the Mnangagwa/Khupe puppetry project succeed where Smith/Muzorewa failed?” Only time will tell!