Since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the concept of “reform” or “change” of institutions, political culture and the constitution to “widen and deepen individual, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights under a democratic and accountable constitutional democracy”, has not been part of the legislative and policy practice or agenda of Zanu PF and the state.
BY JONATHAN MOYO
In place of a thoroughgoing and sustainable reform agenda as the essence of public policy, Zanu PF and the state have over the years been preoccupied with the concept of “consolidation” of state power under the guise of “maximising on the gains of the liberation struggle by redressing colonial imbalances, especially regarding land redistribution and economic empowerment, and resisting neo-colonialism and imperialism”.
Accordingly, Zanu PF and the state have invariably seen reform or change as a counterrevolutionary and reactionary agenda of opposition politics.
It is in this regard that Zanu PF committed itself to the pursuit of monopoly politics through the construction of a legislated one-party state, right upfront at independence in 1980.
Zanu PF’s agenda for a legislated one-party state, deceptively packaged as a socialist initiative to advance the interests of the black majority marginalised by and under colonial rule, was fundamentally anti-reform.
Whereas the widespread expectation was that the reform of the colonial edifice of 100 years of racist laws, practices, customs and institutions would inform the political, policy and legislative agenda of the new nationalist rulers in Zimbabwe from 1980 onwards, the reality on the ground is that, led by Robert Mugabe, the Zanu PF leadership used the colonial edifice to widen its base and consolidate its power.
It is in this context that Zanu PF retained and extended the Rhodesian state of emergency for the first 10 years of Zimbabwe’s independence.
The panoply of measures used by Zanu PF under the state of emergency included detention without trial of political opponents, especially Zapu leaders or members, as well as alleged dissidents and subversives of one sort or another.
Even more sinister, from a reform point of view, the state of emergency measures imposed by Zanu PF included arbitrary intervention in labour disputes, price controls and the seizure of property owned by alleged “enemies of the state”.
A particularly insidious plank of Zanu PF’s agenda to consolidate its power on the back of colonial institutions, laws and practices was the party’s gukurahundi campaign against Zapu and Ndebeles in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands provinces.
Between 1980 and 1982, before the deployment of the notorious Fifth Brigade in January 1983, elements of the Rhodesian army, especially from the Paratroopers and Selous Scouts, led the preliminary attack on Zapu and Ndebele communities in pursuit of Zanu PF’s political programme to pave the way for a legislated one-
When the Fifth Brigade was deployed, its leading ranks had Rhodesian soldiers some of whom became pillars of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF); a telling example being Major Gift Munana — a veteran of the Rhodesian African Rifles — who later rose to be commander of the Special Air Services (SAS) in the ZDF, after serving in the Gukurahundi campaign in which some 20 000 civilians were massacred, with many more maimed, orphaned, internally displaced or refugeed.
Battered by Gukurahundi, Zapu succumbed and surrendered by signing a Unity Accord with Zanu PF on December 22, 1987, whose essence was to agree to a legislated one-party state to consolidate Zanu PF’s national power base.
Following the Unity Accord, Zanu PF enacted Constitutional Amendment Number 7, which elevated Mugabe from prime minister to executive president with imperial powers; under which the President “took precedence over all other persons”.
The gukurahundi campaign and its outcome combined with Constitutional Amendment Number 7 to render Zimbabwe a de facto one-party state.
It is notable that this consolidation was achieved under the Rhodesian state of emergency, which was only ended in July 1990. The effect of Zanu PF’s retention of the state of emergency in 1980 and its extension until 1990 was to postpone Zimbabwe’s independence by 10 years.
Notably, and against the background of the foregoing, when the MDC was formed in 1999, its galvanising mantra was a call to reform whose payoff line was: Chinja Maitiro, Maitiro Chinja or Guqula Izenzo, Izenzo Guqula.
Critical to this mantra was the realisation that, although Zimbabwe had gotten independent in 1980, the independence did not come with democracy because of Zanu PF’s single-minded preoccupation with the consolidation of its power at the expense of reforming the colonial system.
In the circumstances, the MDC’s reform mantra found currency and momentum in the calls and agitation for economic and constitutional reforms particularly but not only by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), two key springboards of the MDC.
Although in its name, logo, ideology and political programme the MDC was formed as a reform party, in direct opposition to Zanu PF’s anti-reform agenda, it is instructive that, since its formation, the MDC has squandered four major opportunities for reform headways in favour of making news headlines in the politics of the day, in the vain hope of either taking from or sharing with Zanu PF the spoils of political power.
The four major reform headways squandered by the MDC were in 2000, 2008, 2013 and 2017. Prior to these, the only other reform headway squandered by the opposition in Zimbabwe was by Zapu in 1987.
In the circumstances, the squandering of reform headways in favour of news headlines has been the bane of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. Despite if not in spite of styling itself as a pro-reform movement, the MDC has not had a theory of the case, that is a theory of change, based on the understanding of change through reforms as an incremental process driven by milestones that make headways towards incrementally achieving the objectives of the case.
With the MDC currently preoccupied with opposing itself, while Zanu PF consolidates its grip on power in ways that are unprecedented, it is propitious to critically unpack the five historic instances in which the opposition has squandered reform headways, highlight the consequences of the missed opportunities and assess the implications thereof; given the present situation and prospects of state politics in Zimbabwe.
lFormer minister and ex-Zanu PF election strategist Jonathan Moyo will tackle this topic in the next Sapes Trust series on December 10. Zimbabwean scholar Brian Raftopoulos and United States-based Zimbabwean academic Chipo Dendere will be the discussants while Sapes Trust executive director Ibbo Mandaza will be the moderator.
l The event will be streamed live on the Sapes Trust Facebook page and via Zoom.