Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Africa, will see its first new leader in nearly 40 years this month. After three decades of seeing the world’s poorest billionaires carry around wheelbarrows of cash to buy a loaf of bread, the former Rhodesia will attempt to turn the chapter on a horror story that featured the lead character President Robert Mugabe. What does the future hold for the impoverished wasteland?
On Tuesday, Mugabe resigned as head of state in an exchange for immunity of his past crimes and acts that inflicted pain and anguish on many of the country’s citizens. With a jubilant public in the background, Zimbabwe will proceed to usher in a new era with former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the helm.
Although the international community is hoping for a better outcome with the ex-security chief, the realistic result will be the status quo: despotism, decay, and death. And that’s a shame for a British colony that was one of the most affluent states on the devastated continent.
Emmerson Mnangagwa Promises Prosperity
Speaking at the headquarters of the ruling Zanu-PF party in Harare on Thursday, Mnangagwa promised a “new and unfolding democracy” before he was sworn in as the new president on Friday. He told a cheering crowd that Zimbabweans “want to grow our economy, we want peace, we want jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Mnangagwa, 75, who claimed to be the victim of several assassination attempts, also gave the nod to the military for its intervention and for removing Mugabe from power peacefully.
Dubbed as the “crocodile,” he warned everyone that this will be a difficult process and that the wounds of yesterday need to be forgiven for the sake of tomorrow. Mnangagwa said in a statement:
“While all this is going on, I implore all Zimbabweans to remain patient and peaceful and desist from any form of vengeful retribution.
As you are aware, in the last few months leading to this day, the political situation in our country has been quite fluid culminating in the resignation of our former Head of State, His Excellency President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. We are currently working on transitional arrangements which will lead to the dispensation which is to unfold tomorrow.
Let us not, therefore, allow criminal elements bent on destabilizing the peace and tranquility prevailing in our country, by either settling political or social scores outside the ambit of the law.”
These are sage words. But they were also akin to what Mugabe uttered when he first rose to power. In his televised speeches, Mugabe, alongside former Prime Minister Ian Smith, regularly vowed to improve racial tensions, grow the economy and bring about justice for all.
We all witnessed what unfolded since those revolutionary days in the 1970s and 1980s: the raping and pillaging of an entire nation for personal gain and revenge against whites.
Will Zimbabwe’s Future be Different?
Mnangagwa’s past suggests that the future of Zimbabwe will hardly differ from the last 37 years.
Not only was he the lethal enforcer and head of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), he had a massive role in the 1983-1984 massacre of the Ndebele ethnic group in Matabeleland. Because this was a region of the country that opposed the Mugabe regime, approximately 20,000 civilians were killed by both the CIO and the military. After being coerced to dig their own graves in front of family and neighbors, most of them were killed in public executions. Villages were destroyed, others were buried alive and civilians were burned.
In the superb book “Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe: Mugabe,” Martin Meredith accounts the 2000 election when Blessing Chebundo, a candidate representing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), challenged Mnangagwa. For his efforts, he endured several murder attempts, his house was burned down and his family was in constant danger. It was so bad that he had to send an election agent on his behalf just to submit his nomination papers. Against all odds, Chebundo was victorious.
Cables that were part of the massive dump leaked to WikiLeaks in 2010 highlighted what world officials thought of him.
Kate Hoey, a British Labour Member of Parliament, described Mnangagwa as “the one person in Zimbabwe who inspires even greater terror than Mugabe.” This sentiment was shared by Earl Irving, a former U.S. diplomat in Zimbabwe, who depicted him as “an even more repressive leader” than Mugabe should he ever become president.
Mondli Makhanya of City Press is not optimistic about the days ahead. He writes on News24.com:
“Zimbabwe’s future will now be crafted primarily by these elements: dirty Zanu-PF fossils, a security establishment that is an unashamed extension of the ruling party and a thuggish grouping of militias. Their arms are covered in blood right up to the armpits. They are wholly dedicated to the prolonging of Zanu-PF and the protection of their own interests.
The immediate priority of this centre of power will be to eliminate internal opposition. So, the G40 leadership will ring in 2018 from behind bars, in exile or on the run. From there the Mnangagwa power brokers are likely to turn their attention to neutering the political opposition and civil society ahead of next year’s elections. The climate of terror and fear that has prevailed during the run-up to previous elections is likely to be just as bad.”
These aren’t exactly flattering portraits of an incoming leader.
Hope and Change in Harare
The key question on everyone’s mind is: will Mnangagwa permit a free and democratic election next year? Doubtful. He has suppressed the vote before, employing ruthless measures to ensure opposition supporters are unsuccessful in kicking out the Zanu-PF.
Similar to the generation that welcomed the Marxist Mugabe with open arms, Zimbabweans are holding out hope today, and that is the only thing they can do to keep their spirits up for the future. The public has been proudly thanking Mnangagwa for his “endurance and resilience” and for being true to his word of returning – he had been stationed in South Africa for the last two years.
However, as citizens turn to him as their liberator and as outsiders concentrate on the new president, everyone is forgetting about one crucial man: former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Perhaps the only real savior of Zimbabwe might be Tsvangirai. He had been a key figure in opposing Mugabe and his henchmen for years, and he has survived multiple assassination plots.
Tsvangirai, routinely calling out the corruption and violence perpetrated by the Zanu-PF, could be the hope and change in the new Zimbabwe. But if the past is an indicator, Mnangagwa, and his party will prevent that from occurring. Therefore, the new Zimbabwe will be the same as the old.
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