ZIMBABWE – We meet amid a serious national crisis, now worse than what it was a month ago when I issued my end of year statement. Since then, things have gotten worse as exemplified by the promised bonus for civil servants still to be paid out, with the chances of it ever being paid out getting slimmer and slimmer by the day. In the countryside, poverty levels have worsened and people have no money in their pockets, a situation exacerbated by the food shortages that are set to worsen following yet another bleak farming season.
As a region and as a country, we are bearing the brunt of climate change, a serious issue that needs attention at policy level especially now as the entire SADC region faces a burgeoning food crisis. Millions of our citizens are staring starvation in the face unless we get urgent assistance to import about 1, 8 million tonnes of grain for both people and livestock. At the moment, we are told the country only has a paltry 250 000 tonnes of maize but surprisingly, but it took this government six months until only yesterday to declare this catastrophe a national emergency!
A debilitating crisis
In Matabeleland South, Masvingo and other parts of the country, Zimbabweans face imminent hunger. But amid all this looming starvation coupled with an economy on the ropes, no one is paying attention to this national crisis. There is no government response as Zanu PF is busy with what has become the grand preoccupation of everyone in this government—-the fight to succeed Mugabe.
We in the MDC have no intention to join their debate as the man declared at the recent AU summit that he will die in office. Our only concern is that whoever is in charge of the country at any given time must commit themselves to ensuring a stable, democratic country characterized by tolerance and prosperity. But while Rome is burning, the President and his two deputies could not afford to miss the luxury of their annual vacations outside the country, at the taxpayer’s expense, of course. In the case of one of the Vice Presidents, he came back from his annual vacation to continue with his occupancy of a five star-hotel in Harare, with his whole family including his grandchildren, again courtesy of the taxpayer!
Indeed, the current state of the nation resembles a national funeral; we are currently battling to meet our pledge to multilateral financiers to service billions of our external debt by April, there is 95 percent unemployment in the country, internal power generation capacity has drastically gone down; civil servants are on the edge because of unpredictable pay dates and their outstanding bonus while our public hospitals have run out of basic essential drugs. I have been meeting Zimbabweans across the country in the past few weeks and they have been telling me that the current crisis and the collapse of basic services are in sharp contrast to the good old days of the MDC in government! They were forthright and honest with me as to their trust and faith in the capacity of this party and this leadership.
It is now a matter of public record that the country’s economy is in turmoil. There is a serious liquidity crunch while revenue collections have drastically dwindled, typified by government’s failure to meet its wage bill. At a time when our economy needs a massive capital injection, no one is prepared to invest in the country and FDI has dried up. There is minimum trust and confidence in this government. As ordinary people, all we hear of are mega deals with China, amid this mega poverty in the country. These mega deals have not had any meaning and significance outside the government pronouncements in the State media. These billion dollar deals remain mere newspaper content that has not changed the lives of the people. From where the people stand, all they see around them is only poverty, suffering and looming starvation!
Just over a year ago, I published a treatise on my personal reflections, in which I described the country as having been turned into a huge mall of vendors; indeed a highly informal economy in which everyone is trying to sell something to someone. The situation is now even worse and the high unemployment level in the country and the economic collapse have become the most portent threat to national stability.
It is pertinent to note that the national crisis largely stems from the crisis of legitimacy, spawned by yet another stolen election in 2013. Since that monumental fraud, there has been a serious deficit of confidence in the regime in Harare. Unless and until we return to legitimacy through a truly free, fair and credible election, the national crisis will not relent. The collapse of the economy and its attendant problems are a mere window through which the political crisis of legitimacy is manifesting itself. The region, Africa and the rest of the world have to assist Zimbabweans in their call for far-reaching electoral reforms that will ensure a return to legitimacy.
We as political parties have joined hands in this national demand. In an unprecedented move, more than 10 political parties have signed up to the National Election Reform Agenda (NERA). Indeed, a truly credible election is now a precondition for the return to legitimacy, which must become an issue of national priority.
The demand for a credible election
As a party our decision not to participate in elections until the implementation of far-reaching reforms has resulted in a fruitful debate in the country and important steps being taken in the correct direction. That ZEC itself has acceded to a biometric voters roll and the debate around the involvement of the United Nations in running our elections are all issues on the front seat of the national debate because of the decision we in the MDC have taken against participation in mere rituals disguised elections.
We note the disturbing statements from Emmerson Mnangagwa that the UN and other countries except only those in Africa will be invited to observe our elections. He also disputed the ZEC position that it was seriously considering using a biometric voter’s roll, raising suspicion as to whether the electoral management body is really independent at all. The law is very clear that it is ZEC, an independent body, which must run elections and invite observers. For the executive to interfere and usurp this role by making premature statements on the biometric roll and observer missions; issues that fall under the purview of the election management body, vindicates what we in the MDC have always said that Zanu PF rigs elections and meddles with the work of independent conditions. Mnangagwa’s statements confirm that he is the hardliner that he has always been and not the reformist that some in the diplomatic community had begun to think he was.
We in the MDC welcome new, positive developments around elections and urge ZEC to reassert its independence. The electoral management body must adhere to SADC and AU standards governing the conduct of elections. They must proceed with the biometric voters roll in line with regional standards and, with the involvement of all stakeholders, come up with a comprehensive and cogent framework to facilitate voter education, a fresh voter registration exercise and other election logistics. The UN must not observe the elections, they must run them. Given our unique situation, the UN remains the only credible international body that should be involved in the actual management of the election to the satisfaction of all the parties.
Implementing the Constitution
Our government is not only struggling to meet its basic obligations but has abandoned all pretence at democratic governance. Chief among its many crimes is the failure to align the country’s laws to the new Constitution, crafted and overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Zimbabwe in May 2013.
In that Constitution, among many other progressive provisions, Zimbabweans said they wanted devolution but more than two years after the election, that revolutionary provision has not in any way been implemented as the governance system remains highly centralized. What the Zanu PF government has done instead is to appoint Ministers of Provincial Affairs even in the two metropolitan provinces of Harare and Bulawayo where they lost dismally.
That new Constitution is one of our major success stories as the democratic movement in Zimbabwe but the government is developing frozen feet in living true to the wishes and aspirations of the citizens as expressed in that charter. Ours is a government that remains contemptuous of any agreement with anyone, including with its own people.
I also wish to advise that the current demolitions of people’s homes in Harare are diabolical and a gross violation of human rights. The people must know that it is government that is demolishing people’s houses. We have directed our councils not to destroy people’s homes but to ensure that those with destroyed homes are relocated to properly planned settlements under the direct authority of an elected local government. Most of these settlements now being demolished were unplanned dwellings encouraged by Zanu PF itself which the same government is now demolishing. On our part, we have instructed our local authorities to make sure that they do the humane thing, which is to relocate these stranded and homeless people to properly sanctioned areas.
The challenge for the region and the international community
For the region, Africa and the broader international community, the immediate challenge is the pending humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed. This country alone will not be able to sufficiently mobilize adequate food stocks required, itself a sad indictment on the much-vaunted land reform programme that has not been underpinned by productivity. The country needs international assistance to mobilize humanitarian assistance to avert the imminent starvation and to ensure food security.
Related to this is the partisan distribution of food. We in the MDC have had our supporters being denied food handouts in most parts of the country because of their political affiliation. In parts of Manicaland, our people have stormed GMB depots and bravely demanded that food handouts be given in a non-partisan manner. There is indeed going to be a huge national demand for transparency and non-partisan distribution of food by our supporters in all parts of the country. Zanu PF should stand warned that we have told our supporters throughout the country to be vigilant and to boldly demand their share of what they should legitimately get from government.
Beyond the deceptive veneer of a stable country is a monumental crisis of multiple proportions that could implode any moment. Due to this government’s culture of repression and its unique capacity to successfully prevent people from expressing themselves, it would be folly for Africa and the world at large to mistake the people’s induced silence as a sign of stability in the country. What the world needs to appreciate is that when Zimbabweans eventually express themselves—as they certainly will in the not-so-distant future—the implosion will engulf the entire SADC region.
The current false peace is just calm before the storm. Given the worsening situation, it is only a matter of time before things come to a head; and the international community should take heed.
Until very recently, President Mugabe was the chairperson of the African Union and SADC. It appears some in Africa and the broader international community had allowed his occupation of those rotational positions to cloud them from making an objective and rational judgment regarding the situation in Zimbabwe. Only last week, he was breathing fire and brimstone on the need to reform the United Nations Security Council.
Yes Mr President. We agree that the UN must be democratised. But charity begins at home. There must also be reform in Zimbabwe in every aspect of our lives. This country must also be democratised so that no one lives in fear of being another Itai Dzamara.
I am aware that the EU has decided to re-engage Zimbabwe and I know that the people of Zimbabwe stand to benefit from any form of re-engagement. But I wish to restate our position that the international community must not just re-engage without a framework. They must insist on implementation of agreed electoral conditions and the embracing of universally acceptable standards by the authorities in Harare. The world must insist on the need to respect the rule of law and the conditions sanctioned by SADC to ensure that the next election is vaccinated from the periodic mischief that has blighted the credibility of all our elections.
Any re-engagement must be accompanied by a stubborn insistence on universally accepted standards that ensure the guarantee of full freedoms and the enfranchising of the ordinary citizen. Any re-engagement must be alive to the past and present acts of omission and commission and the crimes committed against the innocent citizens of the people of Zimbabwe.
The challenge to the democratic movement
However, I do not wish to only pose challenges to the world without giving the same challenges to us as opposition parties and the broad democratic movement. Petty squabbles and hatred of fellow opposition personalities must not cloud us from the patriotic responsibility to confront Zanu PF and to chart a new Zimbabwe together. Collectively, must outgrow the selfish mindset of thinking that we can go it alone. We all need each other as a broad family of united, patriotic Zimbabweans if we are to bring a new democratic dispensation whose hour has come!
We definitely need each other and that is why the party I lead took a resolution at the last Congress that we will work with other like-minded institutions to confront the beast. In the same vein, I wish to commend other political parties with whom we crafted the National Electoral Reform Agenda. NERA is clear evidence that it is possible for us to come together and I appeal for the same spirit of patriotism to continue bringing us together on many other issues on which our togetherness will yield positive results for the sake of our beloved country.
I want to warn Zanu PF under the ambit of NERA, we will collectively do everything—-and I mean everything…..to ensure that we have credible election in 2018.
As the broad democratic movement, we have many points of convergence and it behoves upon us to harp on those areas we agree on so that we work together for the sake of our country. It is clear the only game changer ahead of the next election is for us in the democratic movement to work together and re-ignite the floundering confidence of the people of Zimbabwe that the change we seek will indeed be achieved in the very near future.. We owe it to history to seize this moment and work for our country. I remain encouraged by the spirit of togetherness that is gathering momentum amongst us. I want to boldly declare to the people of Zimbabwe that beneath the current facade, we are surely and definitely finding each other, the only condition being that any discussion must be a discussion of institutions and not individuals.
It is clear that that the country needs to open a new leaf. We cannot continue like this and it is inevitable that something has got to give! We in the democratic movement have no option but to come together and, as I have said, I am encouraged by the fact that we seem to be finding each other.
To our colleagues in Zanu PF, I reiterate the proposal I have always given them. It would be in their best interest if they agreed to a dialogue of a broad cross-section of stakeholders beyond just political parties. Our experience is that we need more than an elite conversation of political parties. We need a conversation of Zimbabweans; a conversation that must include business, labour, the informal sector and all the other stakeholders and interest groups keen on finding a lasting solution to the country’s crisis.
Indeed, once bitten, twice shy. This national conversation should not be premised on the intention of forming another inclusive government but on hammering a way out of the crisis of legitimacy. We need to agree on a framework for a truly free, fair and credible election. Only then can we begin to resolve the country’s crisis. Zanu PF may spurn this call for a national conversation but history will judge them harshly for having buried their heads in the sand in this crucial hour. If Zanu PF chooses not to talk with the broad section of stakeholders, then Zimbabweans in their broad sense will definitely speak to each other to the exclusion of Zanu PF.
In the past few weeks, I have been meeting with ordinary people in Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo. I feel emboldened and encouraged by the unstinting faith that the ordinary person has with this people’s project called the MDC. They still remember with nostalgia the days of the MDC in government when we opened schools, hospitals and other basic services that had been shut down by Zanu PF incompetence.
They miss our competent hand on the wheel of government. The glorious past of national stability, national peace and national prosperity with the MDC in government has become a distant past……..indeed a distant past that Zimbabweans can only remember with nostalgia. It was heartening during my interactions with the people in the past one month to note that apart from their poverty and suffering, they still retain unstinting faith in us; indeed they are certain that a new Zimbabwe beckons and is definitely on the horizon.