Mugabe’s Death in Office Bad For Democracy

TB Joshua ‘s prophecy that a tragedy will strike with the demise of an African leader  triggered a media and public frenzy about the possibility of Zimbabwe’s frail 88 year old leader passing on ‘soon’ . Zimbabweans have taken the prophecies seriously for probably two main reasons: Other than the fact that the majority of Zimbabweans are Christians, more are surrendering their political and socio-economic fate in the hands of God in desperation. Other than being a national security concern, is the death of Robert Mugabe the critical juncture that would turn the political fortunes of the country. This explains why prophets TB Joshua and Emmanuel Makandiwa have captured the imagination and expectation of Zimbabweans.
 At the time of writing, there was speculation that Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika had died. But assuming as well that these prophetic declarations point at the frail Harare leader dying in office, this will not augur well for democratic struggle as it would have set precedence that a dictator can defy the general citizenry and only vacate office through natural means. This casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of democratic forces both internally and externally in dealing with authoritarian leaders. If this were to happen, then Mugabe, like his ilk Kamuzu Banda would have gotten his wish to die on the throne.
Strangely it is the Men of God who have stirred such widespread anxiety and despondency or positive expectation depending on the angle from which you look at this debate about the ‘’divine’’ moment. For us it is not the excitement that this prophecy has generated that matters, but the expectation that divine intervention can take the place of politics, that God can play the role and functions of our politicians, in other words that what our politicians have failed to do ie kicking Mugabe out of office could be achieved through divine intervention and the mistaken assumption that the possible death of Mugabe might lead to democracy.
President Mugabe has for several occasions in the past three years secretly been retreating to Singapore for medical reasons. That Mugabe will die either today, tomorrow, judgement day or any other day is inevitable. At 88 it is understandable that Mugabe is frail, vulnerable and tired. By any standards the rigours of any task that is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding are not suitable for any person of his age. That Mugabe should be rested is a position that cannot be disputed. We would wish that God blesses him with many more returns to allow him to experience normal life in a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe that is led by any of the many talented Zimbabweans including Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T if he wins the impending elections provided they are free and fair and the will of the people is respected.
Whichever way and at whatever stage the event of Mugabe’s death in office in itself is not a panacea to the long drawn, multi-layered crisis in the country. Questions about the post Mugabe era are indeed a serious issue of national interest and a state security challenge. There are fears that the shaky inclusive government might buckle under the chaos that might emanate from separate enclaves of interests playing out within the Zanu PF succession conundrum. More critically a cluster of securocrats and political elites who have materially benefited from looting minerals in the DRC and at home and in various ways have plundered the economy in Zimbabwe by pursuing a selfish agenda for self enrichment have demonstrated their unwillingness to allow political normalcy to return. The party ZANU PF only formally exist at the level of the politburo, Central Committee and its remnants imbedded within the state. A number of key actors involved in gross human-rights violations in Zimbabwe’s intermittent explosions of political violence in the past three decades cannot imagine leading a normal life and enjoying proceeds of their kleptocracy rule outside their dictatorial regime as they faced with threat of international justice. They everyday suffer from a psychological trap which casts democracy as potentially a loss of everything they worked for including prosecution at ICC if Zimbabwe one day ratifies its governing treaty. ZANU PF actors are busy looting the state dry since they do not envisage a political life for both themselves and their party beyond Mugabe.

Unsurprisingly, certain elements in the military, Zanu PF elites and war veterans are deliberately confusing the nation by conflating their fears of facing the law in the post-Mugabe era with state security and national sovereignty. We restate that the post-Mugabe era irrespective of whether Mugabe is dead or alive will require the leaders of the time to face up to the challenges of our ugly past and remodelling our institutions including the military in line with democratic politics, ethos and values of the time.
 Zimbabwe’s democratisation does not start and end with the death of Mugabe. His demise  will not be the end of the struggle yet it can be a critical moment, a great opportunity to transform the country. If this is divine intervention, it is not a substitute for innovative democratic political strategising based on the unique circumstances and experiences of the local broader context and situation in the country. For democratic forces, it is another opportunity to realise that the cost of unity and collaboration are in the long term lesser than the costs of divisive, polarised and poisoned politics amongst institutions and actors who fundamentally share similar aspirations. We contend that even with different personalities and camps, the wishes for transformation and democracy in Zimbabwe should be compelling a force to get the leaders in the democratic movement to work together.
The potential challenges are many, and they are the more complicated the more divided the camps are. Beyond political pacts, deals, and gamesmanship, there is need to fix the economic and social challenges, especially employment creation and dealing with the endemic cancer of corruption. There is need for a functional government with requisite skills that can capably respond to global and local challenges free of opportunistic and corrupt criminals who are posing as agents for democracy yet they are bend on self enrichment. There are also issues of peace, national healing, power transfer in the case of elections and security of individuals. More fundamentally the need to extract remnants of the Zanu PF regime that are embedded in the state requires cross cutting political effort. We urge the MDCs and prodemocracy NGOs to critically reflect on agreeing on a united front which is more deeply rooted in a broad and deep transformative agenda, thus ensuring electoral victory against Zanu PF.
The Arab spring has demonstrated the possibilities of defeating autocracy with people power. The recent defeat of Wade has shown the potential benefits of unity and collaboration. While Mugabe’s intransigence has stalled democratic transition, his death is no substitute for political acumen, good organisational, mobilisation, networking and collaborative capabilities. More than anything, there is more power in unity.

Gideon Chitanga is a PhD Fellow ( Politics and International Studies) Rhodes University, Trust Matsilele is a Masters of Philosophy Journalism candidate, Stellenbosch University.