By Kenneth Mtata
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the whole world, exposing existing challenges while at the same time opening up opportunities for fresh beginnings in the direction of progress. This is not only true for the rest of the world but also for Zimbabwe. The pandemic has exposed our fragile health service system and the failure of our politicians across the divide to close ranks against the pandemic. It has also awakened the latent regional tensions regarding the balance of allocation of resources for pandemic preparedness. It brought to the fore our reality of international isolation as we could not be included among the countries to receive the IMF COVID-19 stimulus given to other African countries in need. At the heart of everything, it has exposed the deep divide regarding a mutually acceptable solution to the national question. We can either choose to continue in the same old path of paralysis and pain or take advantage of the covid-19 to chat a new trajectory towards lasting peace, justice and sustainable prosperity for all Zimbabweans. To do the later, we must choose one among the five currently proffered options.
Though some positions are hybrids of positions, there are currently 5 main ways of looking at the national question with different proponents emphasizing one over the other.
1. RE-ENGAGEMENT option: The Zanu-PF government has consistently and insistently claimed that the reason why the nation remains fragile and unable to realize its human and natural resources potential is because of ‘illegal sanctions.’ This perspective reduces the national question to economics and aims at attracting international investment with no preconditions. It sees the western world as hostile and therefore puts its confidence and trust on China, Russia and other ‘friendly’ nations. This position aims at unconditional Re-engagement with the international community.
2. RETURN to legitimacy option: Following the 2018 elections whose results they contest, the MDC (led by Nelson Chamisa) has presented, among other issues, return to legitimacy as the key to unlock national development. This position argues that Zimbabwe is in a state of paralysis because the current Zanu-PF leadership forced itself on the people by rigging elections. This resulted in lack of confidence in the economy due to uncertainty. This position sees politics at the heart of the national question.
3. REFORM option: Some public commentators have argued that the current inertia, poor service delivery and failure of the Zanu-PF government to deliver on its electoral promises have to do with corruption, incompetence and renegading on the political and economic reforms as demanded by ZIDERA, the recommendations of the 2018 EU Electoral report and the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission. This position sees at the root of the national crisis, failure to implement constitutional and policy reforms.
4. REVOLUTION option: For those citizens frustrated by 40 years of failed democratic promise, the solution lies in a fresh ushered in by a revolution that replaces the current government with another. Though, the majority of voices in this camp envision a revolution on the basis of constitutional rights to demonstrate and civil disobedience, others go even further to imagine a more violent process. This position works with conviction that freedom ‘will never be given in a silver plate but must be wrestled from the oppressor.’
5. RENEWAL option: This position largely held by the churches and other sectors of civil society sees a nation that is so stuck in mutually exclusive visions of the future that can only be extricated by a national renewal process through comprehensive and broad-based national dialogue processes. It envisions a three tier dialogue processes resulting, at the local foundational level, in an activated critical consciousness and agency among the citizens. At the second level of organized society, it must result in convergence of opinion leadership and agenda setting shaped by connection and articulation and representation of the key interests of broader society. At the third level, political and policy consensus must be reached, leading to a national settlement that will transform purely competitive and mutually exclusive visions to a shared national vision in which everyone feels included. This position works on the key following assumptions (a) no international re-engagement is going to happen if Zimbabwe is speaking with discordant voices; (b) it is no longer possible to go back to the election results of 2018 or of even of 2008 as the basis for meaningful engagement because such a process only entrenches the defenses and walls; (c) as long as reforms threaten grip of power and create an existential crisis for the party leading government, they cannot happen at a pace and depth that is mutually satisfactory; (d) evidence of outcomes of revolutions in recent years have shown that they do not always give you what you expected (for example, if one takes 2017 as a ‘revolution’); and (e) a renewal process creates enough trust and confidence that allows for the nation to go into ‘deep cleaning’ that allows for healing of past hurts, reeducates the citizenry of its rights and responsibilities, allows political parties to reorient their political ideologies towards the common good and unites the nation for a shared path to the future.
The above modeling is obviously an over-simplification of more complex positions held by different actors. The intention is not to deliberately misrepresent anyone’s views but to aid my own analysis.
Dr Kenneth Mtata is the General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC)