The word principal in the current Zimbabwean context refers to the three signatories to the country’s 2008 unity agreement, otherwise known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
They are President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.
Lately, is has also been used to refer to Professor Welshman Ncube, who is now leader of the smaller faction of MDC.
Seemingly, the principals’ ghost has also haunted the legislature.
In August last year, when the upper house was about to debate amendments to the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa stood up and vetoed further debate on the matter was being negotiated at a political level as part of the GPA.
The local courts have also failed to shrug off the principals’ hegemony.
The High Court in Bulawayo in October last year gave President Mugabe 14 days to call for by-elections in three Matabeleland constituencies that were rendered vacant when the then Mutambara led MDC sacked its sitting legislators.
Strangely, President Mugabe and his fellow principals seemingly reached a gentlemen’s agreement and extended their moratorium on the holding of by elections in vacant seats.
The first COPAC All Stakeholders conference in July 2009 was violently disrupted by unruly Zanu PF supporters.
Expectedly, police failed to arrest the culprits. Instead, what followed were the three principals on ZBC-TV the same evening jointly denouncing the disruption of the process.
After the disruption of his star rally in Chitungwiza in November last year, Tsvangirai said at a media briefing he would discuss the matter during the routine Monday meetings among the principals.
The rally was allowed to go ahead the following week incident free, thanks to the principals.
Lately, the principals have seemingly volunteered to take the trouble off the hands of the police through plans to traverse the length and breadth of the country purportedly denouncing political violence.
This shall come on the heels of their recent address to party loyalists at a glitzy hotel function, denouncing the same political violence.
Political analysts concur the principals have usurped the powers of other state institutions and blame this on what they find as a now dysfunctional governing system in the country.
“The failure to deal with political violence without first receiving signals from the principals is a clear dereliction of duty by the police,” says Nhlanhla Ngwenya, a political analyst.
“The principals themselves have arrogated themselves powers that should reside in other departments.”
Political analyst Charles Mangongera says the current dominance by the principals is both awkward and a travesty.
“It is the GPA and the GNU (Government of National Unity) that are supplanting democratic processes in Zimbabwe. This is a violation of the constitution,” says Mangongera.
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora admits the country is now functioning under a dysfunctional political system but is quick to blame President Mugabe for this.
“This shows the weakness of the whole system,” says Mwonzora.
“Police are selectively applying the law and the principal who must deal with this is President Mugabe as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The situation is of the making of the President himself together with his party.”
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras feels the country cannot exorcise itself of the principals ghost for as long as it was still under the authority of the current inclusive government where the co-governing parties have to bargain on nearly every process.
“There are provisions in the GPA which talk about nonviolence and prosecuting those who commit acts of violence,” she says.
“If that is not working out, then there is need to talk about them and decisions taken on that.”
But she is quick to bash the system which she says seeks to camouflage clear cases of state impunity.
“Quite often this is being used as an excuse by the Attorney General in perpetuating impunity. Police do not have to be answerable to anybody. They have lost sight of the fact that they themselves have got constitutional obligations to the people of this country to apply the law, fairly and neutrally.”