The History and Political Transition of Zimbabwe From Mugabe to Mnangagwa
Book Review by Brian Maregedze*
The exit of Robert Mugabe in the presidium in November 2017 has recently offered a number of scholars an opportunity to grapple with question of whether there are better prospects for Zimbabwe. Expectations were very high both domestically and internationally for Zimbabwe in the first six months after Robert Mugabe’s departure in active politics. To some, this was an opportunity for Zimbabwe to implement whatever had been missing.
It was a moment to break with the past and steer a new path for the Zimbabwe people want. However in a period of only three years, the euphoria of the military-assisted transition has since evaporated. It has dawned on many that what is happening now is exactly the opposite of the optimism they were sold, if not the worst in statecraft. The old narrative of kleptocracy has since regained currency in media spaces.
Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Pedzisai Ruhanya edited The History and Political Transition of Zimbabwe from Mugabe to Mnangagwa (2020) in this context. Writing a foreword of the book published under Pelgrave Macmillan, Blessing Miles Tendi acknowledges that the story of Zimbabwe in November 2017 is that of a military coup which was sanitised in the name of Operation Restore Legacy. More notable is the question of nationalism, political economy and gender post-coup period. Seventeen scholars in the humanities converged and critically interrogated the various tenets underlying the Zimbabwe’s military coup of November 2017.
The book is thematically organized into four parts with Part One focusing on Colonialism, Nationalism and Political Culture; Part Two centres on Identity, Militarisation and Transitional Politics; the third part is on Social Media, Democracy and Political Discourse and the closing one on Post-Mugabe Economy, Gender and Operation Restore Legacy.
The introductory chapter by the editors, Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Ruhanya broadly points out that the transition from Mugabe to Mnangagwa is repetition without change. Using the concept of entanglement, Mnangangwa is a protégé of Robert Mugabe who in no way was likely to do better than his predecessor. The Mugabe-Mnangagwa entanglement is well attached to the paradoxes of the so called Operation Restore Legacy and neo-liberal path undertaken by the ‘Second Republic’ as well as the ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’ mantra motivated by the need to sanitise the military coup of November 2017.
At least after going through the ten matrices of power outlined by Gatsheni-Ndlovu and Ruhanya on how ZANU PF operates/has been operating, it is discernible that elitist rhetoric rules in Zimbabwe. The quest for dealing with freedom on the part of ordinary citizens remains elusive. More interesting is that the two scholars do not squarely put the blame on the nationalist movement, ZANU PF; rather they also identify the complex matrices of power which also victimise, subjugate both the state and the people, that is, neo-colonial forces.
However, the Mnangagwa regime is understood within the same trope of Mugabeism due to its reliance on anti-sanctions rhetoric and lifting the banner of fighting against imperialism. The same modus operandi once deployed by Robert Mugabe is the same template being articulated by Emmerson Mnangagwa (it is only that the former had some charisma). The results are however predictable since Zimbabwe has walked the same road before, repackaging won’t make it better. Thus the ‘Second Republic’ is predicated on repetition without change.
The second chapter by the prominent sociologist and feminist, Rudo Gaidzanwa critically tackles the continuities and discontinuities in Zimbabwe’s political culture. Rudo Gaidzanwa undertakes a long durée historical account of how the British colonisation since 1893 played out in shaping the political culture still prevalent in Zimbabwe as a country. The colonial period politics of marginalisation of blacks, elimination and torture of dissenters, or anyone who did not agree with the Rhodesian government (p. 30). It is further noted that after Zimbabwe attained independence on 18 April 1980, continuities along lack of racial equality except Africanisation of the civil service, emigration of whites who feared the ‘black peril’ as well as inheriting an intolerant state.
Gaidzanwa acknowledges positive efforts made towards a conciliatory approach by the newly independent government on promoting racial and ethnic harmony using the case of Guy Clutton Brock, the white supporter of the liberation struggle buried at the National Heroes Acre while the only other non-black person to be honoured with the same respect is that of Kantibhai Gordanbhai of an Asian background.
However, controversies on ZANU PF hegemony and its quest to control the urban populace. The Gukurahundi atrocities among others are well articulated. Various issues are brought to the fore by Gaidzanwa, which include various operations by the state which eventually saw the state gaining a bad reputation including class dimension to the land reform, a gender dimension to Operation Murambatsvina, electoral fraud among other aspects in the post colony. More notable is the way Robert Mugabe suffered betrayal from his comrades in November 2017 just in the same manner he managed to depose Ndabaningi Sithole in the late 1970s.
Also notable in Gaidzanwa’s contribution is identifying the securocrats, elites having control over the economy, businesses, and entrepreneurship. This chapter can be viewed in the same light with chapter six where identity politics factor in Zimbabwe’s transition. Various epochs are well noted in the history of Zimbabwe where critical questions have been central and identity politics is not left out. These include the liberation question (1950s–1980), the nation-building question (1980–1987), the land reform question (1980–2001), the democratisation question (1999–2020) and the post-Mugabe power transition question (2013–2017). B. Gumbo concludes this chapter by arguing for a genuine transition which ought to be guided by inter-ethnic equality, equitable allocation of political goods, and consensual democracy.
In chapter 3, Ndlovu-Gatsheni delves into the national question, delineating the key components which ‘define or underpin Zimbabwean citizens’ struggle for an inclusive, democratic and developed Zimbabwe—the key citizen ideals, priorities and aspirations constitutive of what is known as the national question’ (p. 51). Because of the November 2017, Ndlovu-Gatsheni opines for the need to rethink citizenship, belonging, born-free, veteran among others.
In chapter 4, Zenzo Moyo accounts for the history of opposition politics and polarisation in Zimbabwe from 1980-2018. Due to party-state relations in Zimbabwe, it is noted that electoral results, changes and reforms are at most predictable given the strength of the ruling party in running state institutions.
Chapter 5 by Stanley Tsarwe builds on chapter One. However, the notion of political culture is examined from a media and civil society entry point. Among many other challenges confronting the civil society not only in Zimbabwe but across Africa is that of a civil society that does not sustain itself. The dependency on external sources to finance civil society activities is viewed as both a blessing (progressive) and also an obstacle.
In Chapter 7, Samukele Radebe makes the case made by Pro-Mthwakwazi Movements as they push for the need of a free ethinicized political landscape. Radebe notes that it is imperative that Zimbabwe should address perceived ethnic marginalization, unequal development and restitution for injustices of the past.
In Chapter 9, Pasirai raises the argument that the Zimbabwean government used state media as a resource to enhance the ruling party’s dominance. Pasirai further argues that, as in colonial days, public media entrenched the ruling party’s hegemonic power and vilified prodemocracy activists and opposition parties. Professor Jonathan Moyo, in his capacity as Minister of State then for Information and Publicity, played a key role in muzzling developmental journalism by way of manipulating journalists from the state press through meetings, money, threats to jobs and by creating and disseminating content via routine briefings, which resulted in a self-policing journalistic team and a pliant state press.
The use of repressive media laws by the state in the post 2000s are well discussed. Pasirai concludes by making the case that the narrowing democratic culture in Zimbabwe can be located in centralist tendencies inherited by the post-colonial government from the white colonial regime, the limited involvement of diverse civil society in civic and political processes, a restrictive media environment and the conflation of the state and party politics.
In Part Three of the book, Chapter 10, Wellington Gadzikwa engages with the tabloidisation of the political news and the quality of content produced using the entry point of reports surrounding the dismissal of Joice Mujuru in party and government. Three national dailies with different owners, The Herald, Daily News and Newsday, are studied, from October 2014 to January 2017. It is concluded that trivialisation and sensationalism has taken centre stage resulting in compromised press quality.
The fourth and final part of the book captures empirically how primitive accumulation being undertaken by elites leads to the continued suffering of ordinary people. The neo-liberal path, and ‘Open for Business mantra’ does not serve the interests of the majority but rather further entrenches dependency and imperialism. As such, in Chapter 12, Shonhe concludes that extraction of natural resources only serves monopoly capital and a few political elites which is typical of Zimbabwe’s political elites and the securocrats.
Chapter 13, by Tinashe C. Chigwata and Sylvester Marumahoko posit imperative questions in relation to imagining a New Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe. These two scholars further argue for the need to dismantle the Mugabe governance system in order to pave for Zimbabwe to be reborn. Over and above all, these two scholars are still optimistic about the possibility of rebuilding Zimbabwe into the now proverbial ‘jewel of Africa.’
In chapter 14, Leyton Ncube uses Raewyn Connell’s hegemonic masculinity concept to explore gendered and sexist discourses that manifested and played out both in the streets and digital spaces during Operation Restore Legacy. The way Joice Mujuru and Grace Mugabe were (mis)treated empirically offers the reflective locus to the chapter.
Chapter 15 offers the final chapter with Mkhululi Sibindi examining efforts by the post Mugabe government to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Although Zimbabwe has managed to reach international markets in search of FDI, the question of its compatibility to suit FDI host market remains.
On another note, the book ‘explicitly’ gestures towards Nkomoism articulated in Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo of Zimbabwe: Politics and Memory (2017). More importantly, this book also needs to be read along Mugabeism: History, Politics and Power in Zimbabwe (2015). Rudo Gaidzanwa’s chapter omits the first president of independent Zimbabwe-Canaan Banana identifying Robert Mugabe as the first president (p.30). In same chapter by Gaidzanwa, an important step worth applauding the nationalist party ZANU PF on ethnicity, race and culture on other non-black National Heroes left out include Joseph Curverwell, Vasilliki Babaletakis popularly known as Kiki Divaris and Dr. Timothy Stamps. Without painting a pessimistic narrative on the Emmerson Mnangagwa led government, it has to be noted that making a radical turn may not be as possible as is expected by the majority.
A well notable positive on the whole book is its language which is not dense but appealing to both academia-political scientists, historians, media experts, policy makers and anyone with an interest in understanding Zimbabwe politics and its place in Africa with a focus on political transition(s).
Brian Maregedze is an author, historian and columnist writing in his own capacity. For feedback: email; [email protected]
Author, historian & columnist