By Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler
Since 2016 the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) has argued consistently for a process leading to the establishment of a National Transitional Authority (NTA). We have done this for no ulterior motive, despite the insinuations that there was a political motivation behind the PCC, but in the realisation that the national crisis then, and even more so now in the Covid-19 crisis, required a broad national effort to avoid what we termed a “hard landing”.
Zimbabwe has landed harder than anyone could have imagined in 2016, or in any subsequent year. We now live in a “broken” country, with a regime collapsing in on it, and political parties more concerned with the struggle for power and internecine conflicts than addressing a national crisis. We even see Finance minister Mthuli Ncube going with the begging bowl to the international finance institutions, admitting the complete failure of the government’s economic policies. Even captains of industry are asking for international bailouts, seemingly oblivious of the main problem, the broken politics, as Alex Magaisa put so succinctly recently.
Covid-19 may be a unique problem being faced by the country, but it is superimposed on all the problems that existed prior to the epidemic. It is a moot point whether Zimbabwe was fragile or failed prior to Covid-19: what is unarguable is that the state was broken already, reeling from, an absence of visionary leadership, incoherent policies (even admitted by the Finance minister), a broken economy, broken state services, and the spectre of mass hunger and starvation. Zimbabwe was in the deepest trouble it could be, even before Covid-19.
Behind all the problems lies the failure of governance and political leadership, and the latter is not exclusive to Zanu PF, but bedevils all political parties without exception. It is this realisation that prompted the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCoD) call for the Sabbath, the establishment of the National Convergence Platform (NCP) last year, and the call for political settlement, national dialogue and a transitional arrangement. This call is now more urgent than ever in the face of the apparent inability of the government to address the Covid-19 crisis. The contrast between South Africa and Zimbabwe in managing this new crisis is stark in the extreme, not explained by sanctions, but by bad governance.
The call for an NTA has had many critics. Politicians and diplomats have argued that this kind of arrangement only follows revolutions, forgetting the local precedent of Lancaster House. It is not true that transitional arrangements only follow military conflict or revolution. Since 1998, and across the world, 58% of transitions and transitional arrangements have been negotiated, either led by the ruling regime or an opposition: only 15% emerged from civil war or the collapse of the state. This trend is no different for Africa. It is the political and economic problems that can no longer be managed by the state, and the loss of consensual support from citizens that determine the move to a transition: we merely need to point to South Africa and Zimbabwe itself to make this point.
We do not labour the extent of the current crisis, or the inability of the government and the political parties to address the problems. This is evident to every single Zimbabwean, but what is the solution?
We reject any suggestion that a government of national unity is a realistic solution. The previous experience was an exercise only in temporary stabilisation, but mostly a respite to allow the political parties to position themselves for elections. The only outcome was a short period of lessening the hardship for the ordinary people, but followed by sustained economic decline, vicious political infighting in the main political parties, a coup and the consolidation of the securocrat state, a flawed election, and the re-emergence of political violence. There is no reason to believe that a new government of national unity will be any different.
The partial solutions to previous crises — Lancaster House, the Unity Accord, the Global Political Agreement and the coup — did not address the fundamental problem: the politics and the lack of a genuine, people-centred social contract. National crises require National solutions, which is the reason for the continual demand by the PCC for an NTA.
We submit that it is a matter of the greatest urgency that the country adopt the following strategy:
l Mediated negotiations between the political parties leading to a political settlement;
l In parallel, a national dialogue of the kind suggested by the NCP with all stakeholders outside the political parties to determine the nature of a genuine social contract and the new rules of the game for politics;
l A mediated engagement between the representatives of the national dialogue and the political parties to determine the structure and function of the NTA;
l The establishment of the NTA for a defined period of existence, and undertaking the reforms necessary for political, economic, social stability, and bona fide, uncontestable elections.
The PCC has stressed throughout that the driving force behind the NTA must be a non-partisan council, establishing a technocratic executive capable of running the day-to-day affairs of the state, but a particular emphasis upon the following:
l Managing the health crisis;
l A political and economic reform agenda: the restoration of constitutional rule;
l The restoration of national institutions, including the return of the soldiers to the barracks, reform of the public service, and the restoration of independence in the judiciary;
l Regional and international scaffolding in the form of an international rescue plan; namely, the establishment of a US$10 billion sovereign/rescue fund, to be held in London or New York, but with the objective of stabilising the economy, engendering international confidence and investment, and securing a national currency;
l A social development fund: to attend to the urgent needs in education and healthcare; revival of agriculture, industry, and employment creation; and the establishment of programmes designed to rescue the population from the scourge of poverty, as well as the re-institution of rural development;
l The engagement of the diaspora, as both investors (in such programmes as the privatisation of parastatals) and joint venture partners with external factors
Today Zimbabwe stands on the edge of the precipice, and it is no time for prevaricating, but one for action. The political crisis must be addressed with urgency, and we can see no other way than the steps we have outlined.
l Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler are co-convenors of the Platform for Concerned Citizens.
1ZHRNGOF (2019), Transitional Justice in Pre-Transitional Times: Are there any lessons for Zimbabwe? September 2019, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.