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Civil society, media now our saviour

BY TAWANDA MAJONI

Imagine a 21st century in which the politics of Zimbabwe was left exclusively to Zanu PF as was bound to happen if the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hadn’t been formed in late 1999.

Well, it depends on where you are sitting. If you are from Zanu PF and you are eating well — or still hoping to eat — you would have voted up a ruling party political monopoly. You would even go further to say the MDC mustn’t have been there in the first place because it brought sanctions, thus less eating. That’s been the mantra all along, isn’t it?

But if you are progressive in your heart and thinking, and you so much care about the general good, you would obviously shudder to imagine a millennial Zimbabwe without a strong opposition. Have a look, these ruling chaps were getting a wee too cozy with power. Too negligent. Too arrogant and increasingly repressive. By the tick of the clock, they were caring less about good governance, and more about their mouths and the sweet power that usually comes with drawn-out incumbency.

Don’t mind the big words. The point is, the formation and subsistence of the MDC, clearly the strongest opposition that Zanu PF ever had to contend with, brought much relief to people who cared/care about democracy, respect for human rights and good life. The opposition party, then under the stewardship of the late Morgan Tsvangirai, kept Robert Mugabe’s briefcase party and government under check.

Fine, the ruling party responded to the existence of the MDC with brute force, arrogance and retribution typical of the global south. But you don’t want to say the MDC didn’t try to ensure that the government was kept under close scrutiny. You wouldn’t have seen a morsel of transparency or accountability if MDC hadn’t tried on its mandate.

Things have dipped in the opposition post-Tsvangirai and post-Mugabe. But more about this in two minutes. For now, we just need to appreciate that Zimbabwe needs stronger watchdog institutions and systems more than ever before. The so-called Second Republic, practically, has a new but bizarre ideology. Kleptocracy. It has turned the country into a private enterprise, a cocktail-and-crumbs order. The power elite has developed a stiff neck, never stopping for a moment to look at the people.

So, corruption, cartelism and plunder have become the culture, and they are not bothering to even cover it with the thinnest veil. Systems of governance are being subverted as if tomorrow will never come again. Once upon a time, people had rights. Now, it’s the power elite doing eating rites. Elections are stolen out of habit, courts are manipulated and the constitution has become a cheap piece of paper.

Under normal circumstances, a government must be subjected to scrutiny to ensure good governance.  This oversight is both internal and external. Internal checks and balances prevail where there is clear separation of power between the executive, judiciary and legislature. These three arms of government must peer-review each other. But especially the executive, which, given enough space, tends to pull everything in its own direction.

Externally, key agencies of oversight are the political opposition, civil society—the church included—and the media. But then, where are these agencies today? Let’s start with the opposition. As it stands, the opposition is weak, very weak. This is due to two key factors that are internally and externally induced.

Over the years, the ruling party has actively ensured that today’s opposition is in this sorry state. The MDC that Tsvangirai led was strong, particularly in the formative years. However, as time passed by, cracks started emerging in the edifice. Zanu PF invariably manipulated elections to its benefit, taking advantage of its incumbency that translated to the bully control of state resources and kits of power. It systematically resisted reforms and persecuted opposition members and supporters alike.

This wearied the opposition leadership down with every poll. But it did worse. It wearied down the opposition membership and the general electorate too. That is what Zanu PF always wanted. So, people came to a point where they started wondering if the opposition was ever going to take over power. And it’s a question that keeps squirming.

Then there was strategic infiltration and swallowing of the opposition. The 2009 coalition government that was formed after an internationally condemned presidential run-off provided the sinking Zanu PF with a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to revitalise. It retained power in the coalition set-up, so the MDC, which by all intents had won the March 2008 elections, was reduced to a pack of whimpering losers and stooges.

Fast-forward to 2020. Within the jaws of Covid-19, the ruling Zanu PF took advantage of historical-nay, stupid — mistakes that the MDC had made. The party leadership, because of this power hunger that our politicians seem to be cursed with, dismally failed to handle its succession dynamics after Tsvangirai’s death. There were fatal internal squabbles.

The rest is history. What we now have is a severely fractured opposition, hallmarked by power struggles and hardly anything else. Yet, along all that, the opposition has become clueless, directionless. No wonder why, when government tried to evict the people of Chilonga, you got nothing from the opposition save for the boring optics. Thanks to the drama of parliamentary recalls, the opposition hardly has a voice in the legislature now. And Zanu PF has had a largely undisputed parliamentary majority from the 2018 elections.

As far as internal agencies of oversight are concerned, the picture is gloomy. It’s not unfair to say there is hardly anything happening in parliament. Hardly any legislation is taking place except when presidential powers have to be tightened and civil rights weakened. But then, that’s because Zanu PF has a majority and voting on bills becomes way, way academic. Add to this the fact that the judiciary is severely captured and can’t raise a single wig. Almost all the laws are now being made by the executive. That’s how we are having as many as 100 statutory instruments being churned out every month, and hardly any bill being passed into law.

The media, particularly the private media, has its fair of operational challenges, mostly as a reflection of the age-old economic crisis we are suffering. And civil society has suffered a big drain as regards non-state support. But these two, despite the odds, are doing their best.

The Chilonga case is a good example. When the opposition was busy with the power optics, it was civil society and the media that ran the pro-poor campaign that forced government to dilute SI50 that would have seen some 15 000 Changani villagers evicted from their land. CSOs like the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, Zela and Zimcodd took the government to court on behalf of a hapless community that would be living on the Save riverbed by now.

What it says, at the end of the day, is that, at a time the opposition is severely weakened, we must pin our hopes around governance oversight on civil society and the media. They need all the support they can get to ensure that this administration is kept under check.

 

l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw

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