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Zimbabwe: What is Next?

Based on the outcomes of past electoral disputes in Zimbabwe, it is unlikely that the Constitutional Court will overturn the results of the 2018 election. That said, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has a golden opportunity to positively transform the broken country.  What can Zimbabweans expect from him? And what can Mnangagwa do to appease his critics?

By Leon Hartwell

Firstly, ZANU-PF has garnered more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. That provides Mnangagwa with the power to push through major legislative reforms. Some of Mnangagwa’s efforts should be geared towards repealing (or at least drastically reforming) repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Other laws desperately need to focus on creating an independent public media and building confidence in the business environment. The latter would require legislation on protecting private property and investment.

Secondly, before the post-election violence, the Western world seemed ready to embrace Zimbabwe again, coup and all. Mnangagwa will have a very short period of time to convince some of his Western backers that they should not yet give up on him yet. If Mnangagwa can continue to play the role of the reconciler and take a number of steps (as outlined below) to put his money where his mouth is, then the country might be given a second chance to normalize its relations with the West. This is not to say that the West should be the Alpha and Omega for Zimbabwe’s developmental agenda, but it would be much better for the country to have friendly relations with the U.S. and Europe.

What can Mnangagwa do to facilitate a positive transformation?

Firstly, he should appoint a few opposition leaders – like Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti – to key cabinet positions. Whether you like him or not as a politician, Biti did a fine job as Minister of Finance during the Government of National Unity (GNU) years. Westerners are generally fond of him and he could be instrumental in restoring confidence in the Zimbabwean economy and pushing for the removal of Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA). Creating an inclusive government would not only create a sense of ownership of Zimbabwe’s transformation process amongst opposition supporters, but it might also simultaneously ease tensions between ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance as currently there is a perception among opposition supporters that the elections were stolen from them.

Secondly, Mnangagwa should demonstrate his earnestness for reconciliation by ensuring that not only the Commission of Inquiry into the post-election violence, but also the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) are truly independent.

Someone like Gabriel Shumba would be a great candidate for heading the Commission of Inquiry. Shumba was a victim of torture before he fled to South Africa in 2003. In Pretoria, Shumba championed the rights of Zimbabwean refugees and other victims of political violence across the spectrum. He is also respected by a few key individuals in Mnangagwa’s inner circle.

As for the NPRC, Mnangagwa has taken a few small steps forward, but it is not enough. Earlier this year, he signed the NPRC bill into law, appointed a new chair, and assigned one of his vice presidents – Kembo Mohadi – to head the portfolio on the Organ on National Peace and Reconciliation. Mohadi is the same man who, in 2007, as part of a Mugabe appointed tripartite ministerial task force, went to Maningwa Hills (Chinhoyi) to determine how a spirit medium could produce pure diesel from a rock. Mohadi and his team concluded it was a miracle and reportedly gave the spirit medium a farm, Z$5 billion, cattle, three buffaloes and a vehicle. If Mnangagwa wants to demonstrate that he is serious about transitional justice then he needs to appoint someone to head the NPRC who can command respect. He also has to set aside a decent budget that would support the NPRC with its work. Time is of the essence given that, as set out in the Constitution, the NPRC has to complete its work within ten years.

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Individuals like Eric Matinenga and Jessie Majome should be considered to head the NPRC. Matinenga is a man of principle and he doesn’t get boxed in by politics. He has, for example, defended Mugabe’s nephew – Leo – in the past and he has spoken out against the MDC when he felt some of the party leaders were in the wrong. Moreover, Matinenga has a wealth of experience in law and he played a fundamental role in writing the country’s new Constitution and roping in the parties of the GNU where necessary. He also commands respect among some senior ZANU-PF figures who admire him for his moral standing.

As for Majome, she is also a person with high moral values. She is exceptionally hard working and has considerable experience in matters of the law. The fact that she has spoken out against both ZANU-PF and MDC injustice in the past makes her a great candidate. Both Matinenga and Majome would also make wonderful candidates in the top echelons of the judiciary, another sphere of power that needs serious reform if Mnangagwa wants to legitimize his administration.

Finally, Mnangagwa has to focus on pushing for security sector reform (SSR). Although SSR is a dirty word in Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa has to find a way to put the genie back into the bottle.

The November Coup was not only unconstitutional, it opened a can of worms as the military was blatantly used to resolve a political issue, thereby setting a bad precedent. Of course, the security sector has been exploited in the past to maintain the ruling party’s interests, but what happened in November was definitely a new low. There remains a risk that the military will continue to overzealously step forward, as it did in the aftermath of the recent elections, which led to the killing of six individuals.


SSR is about long-term reforms within the military and creating professionalism in the ranks. Mnangagwa will not be Zimbabwe’s savior if he cannot depoliticize the security sector. SSR could also entail greater cooperation, and perhaps even joint exercises with Western countries, in the future, which could have major benefits for Zimbabwe’s men and women in uniform.

But there are some major concerns on the horizon:

One major concern is factionalism. Arguably, the most dangerous rifts in Zimbabwe are currently not between ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance, rather it is within the ruling party itself. That said, Mnangagwa will have his hands full containing factionalism within the ruling party. The disgruntlement inside the ruling party emanates partially from the way the transition from Mugabe to Mnangagwa occurred. Some would argue that is why there was such a large gap between the high percentage of support for ZANU-PF (69%) and the significantly lower support for Mnangagwa as president (50.8%). Resentful ZANU-PF supporters thus voted for Chamisa.

The responses by the police and the military on 1 August also demonstrate the cleavages within both ZANU-PF and the security sector. If Mnangagwa, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces did not order the military to the streets of Harare in the wake of the protests, then who did? Many fingers point towards Deputy President Constantino Chiwenga.

The manner in which the police also disrupted Chamisa’s press conference at the Bronte Hotel following the elections, but then ultimately allowed the opposition leader to carry out his briefing, shows that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing in Zimbabwe’s security cluster.

Mnanagwa’s message of reconciliation became lost in the midst of the bloodshed, arrests and harassment of the opposition following the elections. If he wants to use his golden opportunity to steer Zimbabwe in a different direction, then he will have to put an end to atrocities and harassment in their entirety.

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There is a great risk that the power struggle within ZANU-PF will create a situation where some will resist the above reforms, were they carried out. I remember how one of Mugabe’s family members told me over lunch around 2013, before the elections, that “Mugabe loved nothing more than factionalism”. At the time everyone talked about the Mnangagwa and Mujuru factions. During the luncheon, Uncle Bob’s family member threw his hands high into the air and made a scale with his hands. He then said, “Mugabe sits at the top of the scale, and as long as there are two factions we have balance. If one faction is to disappear, Mugabe will fall from his scale.” I thought about the analogy of the scale when Joice Mujuru was removed and wondered who would replace her. Over time, G40 emerged and the balance was temporarily restored. Then Mnangagwa was removed and this was soon followed by the November coup.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem as though Mnangagwa, sitting atop the scale, has two factions beneath him. The scale is therefore somewhat imbalanced. Zimbabwe seems to be ruled by two centers of power – Mnangagwa and Chiwenga – each pulling in a different direction. Both are strong individuals and, as we say in Africa, if two elephant bulls fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.

Another major concern relates to the work of the Commission of Inquiry and the NPRC, particularly if these bodies threaten the securocrats with prosecutions. One way to neutralize this threat would be to propose some form of conditional amnesty. Amnesty should be conditional in the sense of providing the truth about past political crimes in exchange for not being prosecuted. Those who tell the whole truth could be granted amnesty, but those who fail to do so stand at risk of being prosecuted. A 2013 study performed by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum interviewed some 3,189 respondents. The study revealed that Zimbabweans are actually very open to the idea of forgiveness, truth telling and compensation. Only 14% of respondents said they want to see their perpetrators prosecuted.

Transitional justice is about bridging the violent past with the present transition in order to create a peaceful future. As argued, Mnangagwa will have to end the culture of impunity, which should coincide with restorative justice: you can’t expect a lion to turn into a vegetarian when you keep on feeding him steaks.

Conditional amnesty could also be one way of dealing with corrupt individuals who looted state coffers. Those who have stolen money from the state coffers have to tell the truth about their escapades. An independent commission could establish some form of reparation while making reinvestment of the past loot into the Zimbabwean economy a key priority. The latter point is crucial as a 2008 study by Léonce Ndikumana and James Boyce found that Zimbabwe’s external assets were 5.1 times higher than the country’s entire debt stocks. In other words, there is a huge lack of trust in the Zimbabwean economy, Consequently, if Zimbabweans don’t even have faith in their own country’s ability to protect and promote their investments, then why should any foreigners?

Mnangagwa has a brief window of opportunity to not only prove his naysayers wrong, but also facilitate a positive transition in Zimbabwe. The clock is ticking.

Leon Hartwell was the Senior Policy Advisor at the Netherlands Embassy in Harare (2012-2013). He is currently a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University.

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