Is dictatorship part of Zimbabwe’s political DNA? That is the question that emerged after former Education minister David Coltart used his Twitter account to accuse the ruling Zanu (PF) of “behaving like the Rhodesian Front”.
“I wonder if leaders in Zanu PF remember that they are acting precisely as the Rhodesian Front [RF] did from 1963 onwards. In fact they learnt it from them,” said Coltart.
Asked to elaborate on this, the ex-cabinet minister was unapologetic.
“It is not a trait confined to political parties alone; it is now a Zimbabwean trait that goes back to Cecil John Rhodes. I find it absurd that the country was named Rhodesia after a living human being. We treat our leaders as demigods. It is now part of the Zimbabwean DNA,” he said.
“Once Ian Smith took charge of the RF and subsequently government in 1965 as Prime Minister, it became hard, even unfathomable to think of anybody else as leader beyond him. There was reluctance within the white community at the time that any other leader would come to power and that is why he was effectively in power for 15 years from 1963 to 1978,” Coltart said.
“People would never countenance another leader. Once Tsvangirai [Morgan] became the leader of the MDC it became difficult to think of anyone after him. We could not accept that there can be change”.
Coltart, who worked closely with Tsvangirai before following then MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube after the 2005 break-up, said the RF used a variety of laws to imprison people who were legitimately raising issues against it.
“Now in the past 35 years we have seen the same from Zanu PF. There is a list of individuals who have opposed President Robert Mugabe and fallen foul of his regime, including the man who would become his deputy Joshua Nkomo who was at one time charged with treason for daring to challenge the dear leader,” said Coltart.
Axed Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, who is now part of the leadership of a group of the former liberation struggle stalwarts coalescing to oppose Mugabe, said Zimbabweans were democratic but were gripped by fear.
“Since the Smith regime, Zimbabweans have been conditioned to torture, imprisonments, murder and disappearances as a way to force them to comply with the existing authority at any given time. Smith used a security machinery to fight a war but unfortunately we inherited the same apparatus in a supposed democratic society,” Gumbo said.
“We have the Joint Operations Command [JOC] that has torture chambers in Goromonzi and other areas where people are tortured and killed and this does not make them natural dictators. We are like any other people who crave for true independence, freedom of speech, assembly and association, but we have been denied these fundamental rights.”
The JOC, a conglomeration of the country’s security apparatus seen as the nerve centre of Mugabe’s ability to control civilians and deal ruthlessly with opponents of his regime, has been accused of a litany of atrocities including the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s as well as the violence that rocked the country during the 2008 run-off elections boycotted by Tsvangirai.
Gumbo said Mugabe has abused the state machinery to entrench power, criminalising opposition to his rule in the process.
“You can remember the detention of the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku, Joshua Nkomo fleeing the country, Tsvangirai, Ndabaningi Sithole and now it is Joice Mujuru, all accused of trying to remove Mugabe. This cannot however be turned around to say all Zimbabweans have dictatorial tendencies, but it is individual chancers who steal the people’s struggle to benefit from patronage,” he said.
Political analyst, Eldred Masunungure was more scathing, concluding that the current crop of opposition leaders and parties could not be trusted with the governance of the country.
“I subscribe to the thinking that the current opposition leaders should not be allowed anywhere near power. I am disappointed by the state of the opposition movement in the country,” Masunungure said.
“When people have tasted power, it is difficult to relinquish it because it is like money. The more you have it, the more you want it, to consolidate and expand it. The lust for power is unquenchable and those that have it want to keep it forever.”
He said the problem stemmed from a dearth of functional institution and the failure of constitutionalism.
“The MDC constitution was clandestinely changed and now we have a party with a ‘T’. The sad thing is we are actually happy to be associated with such a party,” Masunungure said.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist with critics accusing the veteran nationalist of mimicking lock-stock and barrel his erstwhile foe Smith, the last leader of colonial Rhodesia.
On the other hand, Tsvangirai has presided over the break-up of the opposition with two damaging splits inside 10 years under his watch. In the non-governmental sector, new political entrant Lovemore Madhuku, who turned former constitutional lobby group the NCA into a political party, stood on as leader way beyond his term limit despite opposition to his leadership.