Building Democracy in Zimbabwe

The fall of Zimbabwean and Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe, Africa’s longest-serving liberation movement leader, is much welcomed, bringing great relief and fresh hope for millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans.

However, Mugabe’s exit is not yet the new beginning the country so desperately needs. The removal of Mugabe by Zanu-PF and Zimbabwe’s military wing was not a battle for democracy, but of two factions of the same party fighting over control of the state, public resources and who should succeed the ailing Mugabe as leader of the party and country.

With Mugabe gone, Zanu-PF remains firmly in control of government and society, now only with a different faction, under Emmerson Mngangagwa, dominating power, public resources and the sources of intimidation, violence, and patronage in Zimbabwe.

One faction was led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Zimbabwean deputy president and now new country president with the other faction led by Grace Mugabe, with the support of Mugabe. Emmerson Mngangagwa was fired by Mugabe, clearly influenced by Grace Mugabe, who saw him as her main threat to take over from her husband as leader of the party and the country.

While Mugabe was a key element of Zimbabwe’s stagnation, Zanu-PF is another. Zanu-PF’s governance culture, which includes a small liberation elite centralising power of the country and party selectively using democratic practices when it suits the leadership, and lack of accountability, still remains.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, now Mugabe’s successor, represents a different face of Zanu-PF albeit one that will seek to be more conciliatory with foreign donors, allowing a little more political freedom to ordinary citizens and being more welcoming to outside input.

If Zanu-PF remains the governing party of Zimbabwe, it needs to democratise itself and introduce fresh leadership and ideas or risk its undemocratic party governance system continuing to undermine the consolidation of democracy in the country itself.

Clearly, Zimbabwe, like many other post-independence African countries is in desperate need of fresh leadership, ideas and policies.

The Zimbabwean crisis has yet again shown that African regional and continental organisations, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC)  and the African Union (AU), are not only out of touch with ordinary Africans, they continue to side with African autocrats, rather than long-suffering African citizens. This stance has not only eroded the credibility of these institutions, it is also continuing to undermine democracy building in their member states.

A precedent has been set whereby the army intervenes in politics. The now familiar post-independence African pattern that has caused so much harm, has been that the army steps in to eject autocratic leaders, the public initially welcoming the intervention, and the army then eventually becomes the long-term arbiter of the country’s politics.

The question that now looms large is whether the army, firmly controlled by Zanu-PF cadres, will allow an opposition party to win a national election in Zimbabwe.

The army must withdraw from politics. It must defer to democratic, civil society and civilian oversight.

For now, it will be important to establish a transitional government, consisting of all significant political parties, to ensure the transition from Mugabe to fresh elections is free, fair and inclusive. Elections will have to be called as soon as practically possible.

Civil society, the media, and ordinary citizens must play an active part in such a transition to democracy.

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

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