The party is over

23 11 2017

Bob’s birthday celebratory billboard. I had designs on this one but was beaten to it. His glasses are just still visible top right.

It’s been an extraordinary week. Robert Mugabe resigned his presidency at the last moment as a multi-party committee was discussing reasons for his impeachment. Jubilation ran rampant through the country and, here in Harare, people partied for 24 hours straight. They had good reason to – Mugabe had ruled with an iron fist for 37 years and for many people he was the only president they’d known. He tolerated no dissent within or without the party and opponents were eliminated (the Heroes Day public holiday honours list ceased to be shown when it became apparent just how bad drivers many of his opponents were) and freedom of speech existed only in the national constitution. In the end his extreme age and increasingly poor judgement gave his recently fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, reason to move against him with the assistance of the army who mounted a non-coup (see previous post) and he buckled under the pressure.

Mnangagwa, sometimes known as The Crocodile or just ED, will be sworn in tomorrow as the new president of Zimbabwe. It will be his job to resuscitate the comatose Zimbabwe economy and hopefully bring back a semblance of compliance with the constitution. The first obstacle is a general election that must be held in the first 6 months of next year and already there is speculation about how free and fair it will be for Mnangagwa is the chairman of ZANU-PF, the ruling party that Mugabe claimed as his own over the last 37 years. To assume that the ruling party has any intention of playing free and fair given that they beat and cheated their way to victory in 2008 and 2013 would be naive indeed. The generals who concocted the non-coup that forced Mugabe out will also want their piece of the pie (statesmen they are not) and rewards for the considerable risks they took. We might have decapitated the monster and found a new head but it’s still the same body. A cynical friend commentated that we are just swapping one group of mbhavha (thieves) for another.

One thing the ruling party will need to remember is that the people of Zimbabwe tasted the power of free speech and expression and may not be so subservient as in the past. The street protests of the past Saturday and Tuesday were unprecedented in our history and amazingly peaceful. As one wag put it; “Only in Zimbabwe does the crime rate go down when the crowds protest and the police are locked up” (the military have made sure that the ubiquitous police roadblocks have been absent over the past week). There were no reports of violence or looting – remarkable considering that the crowds in Harare numbered well into the 100,000s. It was of course expedient for the non-coup plotters to approve of the demonstrations to show the world (we were immensely popular on the news channels for the last 10 days) that the population supported them and the social media was completely unfettered. Will this practice continue or will we suffer the same fate as the Egyptian Arab spring of the past where ex-military types are common in the government?

Now that the headaches have faded and sobriety of body and spirit have returned, Zimbabweans are starting to question just how sincere Mnangagwa is. He’s certainly making all the right sounds; “rebuilding” and “servant of the people” appear in the same paragraph but then Mugabe started out well in the 1980s too.

As I was about to leave work this morning a customer walked in. We followed the customary Zimbabwe greeting;

“Good morning, how are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine and how are you?”.

“Oh, so-so” he replied.

“Only so-so? Why is that? Were you just testing to see if I was listening?” I asked surprised.

“No” he responded with a mirthless laugh, “we must be careful we are not getting into more trouble”.

The party is over.

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