The Struggle for Survival in Zimbabwe: The Political Tug of War Continues

Convincing the donor community to assist or investors to come back to the country when things are upside down like this is like asking ZANU PF’s Robert Mugabe to leave office. 

In a proper working democracy, when a government fails to provide simple services such as repairing burst sewer pipes, collecting and disposing of refuse from residential suburbs and providing clean water, the reasonable thing for that government to do is to step down.

However under the leadership of Mugabe, who many see as a selfish old man with absolutely no conscience, this has not happened. In fact, when confronted last year with the worst humanitarian crisis in the history of independent Zimbabwe, Mugabe and his cronies were determined to hold onto power, and even downplayed the country’s cholera crisis.

After months of refusing to compromise in a Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered power sharing deal, Mugabe finally entered into a Global Political Agreement (GPA), which led to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) with the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, led by Arthur Mutambara and Morgan Tsvangirai.

But many people here have seriously questioned ZANU PF’s commitment to the power sharing agreement with MDC leaders because of what has happened since the GNU was enacted.

The farm invasions that began in 2000 have continued despite a ZANU PF promise to stop. These farm takeovers, which strip white commercial farmers of their land, are blamed for the current food shortages and economic instability in the country. According to the Commercial Farmer’s Union, since the GNU formation, ZANU PF supporters and top party officials have invaded more than 100 commercial farms in Mashonaland Central Province. This is one of many contentious issues holding back donor support – interpreted by the global community as a clear lack of respect for the rule of private property and the rule of law.

Also in bad faith, at the end of February, ZANU PF appointed permanent secretaries without the consent of the MDC factions, disregarding the terms of their GPA which stipulated that the three parties collectively appoint such positions. With a track record that includes the continued stay of the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono, who is viewed by many as Mugabe’s personal financier, ZANU PF should not be allowed to disregard such critical terms of the GPA. In his tenure Gono presided over the worst economic crisis the country has ever faced, which he himself fueled by printing more money and buying foreign currency on the black market to finance the ZANU PF led government. Gono also dipped his hands into donor funds from organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, Aids and Malaria. Many donors are reluctant to give their funds to Zimbabwe with such a dubious character as central bank chief.

Barely a month after the GNU was formed, Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife of 31 years were involved in an accident en route to their rural home when a huge USAID truck side-swiped their vehicle along the Harare-Masvingo highway. Susan Tsvangirai was killed on the spot. After the accident speculation was rife among many Zimbabweans, including myself, that this was probably a hit from Mugabe’s infamous hit squad.

Mugabe, his wife and other ZANU PF officials, who have never really liked Tsvangirai, were the first to visit him at Avenues Clinic where he was treated for his injuries. Some said Mugabe couldn’t believe that Tsvangirai had come out of that accident alive and wanted to confirm for himself. Then after spending just a few hours in treatment, Tsvangirai was whisked off to Botswana in a private jet provided by President Khama after his security team reportedly had heard rumors that Mugabe’s hit squad wanted to finish him off at the hospital and claim he had failed to survive his injuries.

The accident raised so much tension and suspicion in the country that it threatened to collapse the GNU. Though Tsvangirai rejected any foul play, the issue remains a mystery. Many people say Tsvangirai was playing the role of peacemaker when he refuted the allegations of a possible hit.

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In June, Tsvangirai spoke before exiled Zimbabweans at a cathedral in England, urging them to return and help rebuild the country. The crowd erupted in anger and forced him to cut his speech short. Photograph by flickr user Steve Punter used under Creative Commons licenses.

There is also the thorny issue of the continued detention of MDC activists and human rights defenders, highlighting the precarious human rights situation in the country even after the signing of the GNU. While ZANU PF says they should be tried in a court of law like everyone else, state prosecutors are exploiting loopholes, opposing bail applications and working tirelessly to keep them behind bars.

One case that raised the ire of many Zimbabweans has been that of human rights activist Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP). Mukoko was abducted last year in December by state security agents and went missing for weeks only to turn up in police custody on what everyone knows are trumped up charges of banditry and treason.

After months of languishing in prison as state prosecutors sought to delay the case, Mukoko was finally released in March but many other MDC activists have not been as “lucky.” Mukoko’s case is a sad story of gender-based violence. In an affidavit of the circumstances of her abduction, Mukoko said state security agents came for in her bedclothes – she was not wearing undergarments. When she asked to go back in the house to dress appropriately, her abductors refused.

Zimbabwe needs about US$10 billion to help rebuild the economy and ease the humanitarian situation, but so far few donors have come forward to assist. Recently in his capacity as the prime minister of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai toured Europe and the United States on a fundraising mission but all he managed to return with were promises of humanitarian assistance.

In every country Tsvangirai visited he was told the same thing: go back home and deal with the human rights crisis. As long as Mugabe and his cronies remain uncommitted to improving the lives of the people of Zimbabwe, donors will limit their intervention to humanitarian aid instead of the development aid that the country really needs.

With these obstacles many Zimbabweans are already telling the MDC the famous: ‘we told you so’ and urging them to pull out of the GNU because ZANU PF has not shown it is capable of change. But I think the MDC is better in this government than out because leaving ZANU PF alone and in control of every democratic space in the country is extremely dangerous for us all.

It is also important to recognize that the MDC’s entry into the GNU has not been entirely in vain. Already in just a few months since the MDC was put in charge of the Ministry of Finance, the uncontrolled printing of money by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has stopped, bringing inflation down.

The GNU has also managed to get teachers and health workers back to work on the promise that things will improve soon. State hospitals are finally open again. Now headed by the MDC, the Ministries of Education and Health have been trying their best to get things moving in sectors that had been neglected for years by Mugabe’s government. Since this power sharing agreement is transitional, I think the MDC should hang on until fresh elections in two years and protect the people of Zimbabwe.

I believe these are starting points and that it is only fair that we give the GNU more time. But the true starting point must be for Mugabe’s ZANU PF party to respect the rule of law and stop actions such as farm invasions. It is important for ZANU PF to have a heart for the suffering people of Zimbabwe, some lying on cholera beds still battling for their lives. But with what is going on now, this does not seem likely.

Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.