In DepthSoapboxTrapped by the past as they fight for the future


Posted on Tuesday, 07 July 2015 12:12

Trapped by the past as they fight for the future

By Farai Sevenzo Filmmaker and broadcaster

Hard-core Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) supporters are not what they used to be. They sulk around, pretending to be indifferent to the political storm that has turned them from vociferous cheerleaders into powerless spectators.

In December 2014, headlines in the local press declared a bloodbath in Zimbabwe's ruling party.

Ten governors, a vice-president and several leading figures from the liberation struggle were culled at the party's sixth National People's Congress.

the revolution often eats its own but reserves the right for its leaders to rule in perpetuity

Meanwhile, life was carrying on. Liverpool was playing Stoke City in the English Premier League and a top ZANU-PF official came to my rented cottage for tea and sympathy.

A die-hard Liverpool supporter, he took charge of my remote control and switched between a dire match ending in a nil-nil score and the president of the republic addressing the party faithful.

"What is he doing now? What has become of this man?" – and it was obvious he was not asking about Kolo Touré or Steven Gerrard.

I had met him at the ZANU-PF National Conference in Goromonzi in 2006, where those at the top table included Solomon Mujuru, a general in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, and the party's information secretary, Nathan Shamuyarira, now both dead.

Then, the conference had been a who's who of the struggle. But more importantly, it showed hints of what a new generation of leaders would look like.

Eight years later, on a hot December afternoon, the culled and their supporters had kept away.

Now my guest and many like him – the new generation – could not be seen or heard as Robert Mugabe accepted his party's nomination to be ZANU-PF's 2017 presidential candidate.

Former minister Jonathan Moyo, writing in 2007, hit the nail on the head when the party then nominated Mugabe:

"The fact that Mugabe has used his party's politburo and central committee [...] to finalise such a decision without debate or opposition demonstrates that ZANU-PF has indeed become a sunset party with no capacity to pursue, articulate and defend its own ideological and political interests beyond Mugabe's whims and caprices. The ruling party no longer has the content, never mind the leadership, to survive Mugabe."

Fast forward to 2015 and Moyo has re-joined Mugabe's cabinet as his information minister.

A glimpse into the future shows us little in the way of a generational shift, of new faces on the horizon.

The ageing president presides over a politburo that has been pruned of its liberation-war branches by death and Machiavellian design.

Former vice-president Joice Mujuru is the one to watch.

After being vilified at the party's congress six months ago and accused of plotting to kill Mugabe, she has embraced the wilderness.

She is a magnet for disaffected ZANU-PF politicians who were unceremoniously booted out of the revolutionary party for being too close to her and not close enough to Mugabe's wife Grace or 'the crocodile,' vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In the 35 years of Zimbabwe's independence, ZANU-PF found its soul in the values of the struggle constantly articulated by Mugabe himself: land, education and economic opportunity for indigenous Zimbabweans.

But ordinary folk looking up at the politicians' high table have lost all appetite for such revolutionary talk.

The economy is tumbling faster than in the days of Harare's billion-dollar notes.

Constant power cuts, water shortages and an unemployment rate of nearly 90% have lent a mood
of deep gloom in every town.

The streets – with revolutionary names like Mugabe, Nyerere, Mandela and Nkrumah – heave with thousands trying to make a buck by selling cheap Chinese tat and vegetables to their impoverished fellow citizens.

All this should be welcome news to the opposition, but it is as divided as the ruling party, with splinter groups breaking away from Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

That breakaway, led by former finance minister Tendai Biti, ended in expulsion from parliament of the opposition rebels, triggering by-elections in some 21 constituencies, due in late June.

Biti made a startling apology: "We would like to apologise to the people of Zimbabwe over the lack of cohesion in the democratic opposition.

"We would like to apologise for the collective foolishness of the opposition and failure to form an alternative political voice in the country."

Ousted vice-president Mujuru had already asked for forgiveness for her part in the ZANU-PF leadership that has not delivered for the beleaguered nation.

"For my own role in this failure, I am truly sorry and apologise to my fellow Zimbabweans."

It's a fair bet that no one is listening and people are instead being herded to another set of elections.

As with all of Zimbabwe's elections, the voting exercise is not steeped in the art of subtle persuasion. The revolutionary party takes pride in its 'degrees in violence,' as Mugabe once claimed.

Already, human rights organisations are reporting abductions, beatings and threats ahead of the polls. All of this is a part of the revolutionary leadership's legacy.

The body count that was evident after this latest confirmation of Mugabe as leader was proof that the revolution often eats its own but reserves the right for its leaders to rule in perpetuity.

All across Africa, the search for an ideological and generational shift in the leadership throws up the same question – can there be a change that will not be beholden to the battles of the last century?

South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia share this struggle history.

And you would be hard-pressed to find an opposition party in those countries that could triumph over the liberation narrative and claim power in its own right.

Within the ruling parties, power is transferred from struggle comrade to struggle comrade, and leadership seems to emerge only from these ranks.

Even the African National Congress, just 21 years into South Africa's democracy, has perpetuated a kind of struggle leadership: from Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma, with the umbilical cord to the years of exile and Robben Island still attached.

No matter how much this history is revered, those who saw liberation struggles move from rebellion to government have been filling heroes'-acre graveyards.

Or they have been moulded into statues that remind the living of their pivotal roles in the creation of African nations.

Zimbabwe's leadership has an obvious dilemma: most of the country's 14 million population are young and born free, far removed from the ideologies that shaped their leaders.

More importantly, the sinking economy and lack of opportunities that are forcing the young to face down xenophobia in South Africa in search of jobs, may well light the flames of a new revolution. ●

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