Zanu PF provides the most shocking example of the culture of exceptionalism which has characterised many a liberation party in power. These include:
the belief that it is entitled to rule forever,
blatantly refusing to view itself as an ordinary political party (watch Christopher Mutsvangwa talk),
its conflating of party and state, and
its demonising of other parties as “enemies of liberation” seeking to restore colonialism or white minority rule.
Experience has taught us that there are three major barriers to a decisive break from the corrupt and dysfunctional political system that has been playing out in Zimbabwe: the ruling Zanu PF, its president and its main sustainer — the military.
No one in Zanu PF wants to oversee real change because facilitating democratic rule with real contestation for power would mean running the risk of electoral defeat.
This would jeopardise the networks of self-enrichment that have been put in place over decades.
Instead, the last few months have seen Zanu PF, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military continue to block democracy as they seek to hold onto power.
The Zanuism beast
Despite its pretention, Zanu PF has remained the major hindrance to democratic progress in Zimbabwe. For 38 years, the country has maintained the outward appearance of a multi-party democracy.
This party brings a zero-sum game mentality to politics: it must always prevail, and its challengers must be crushed rather than accommodated.
Especially now that Mnangagwa, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, aka Dominic Chinenge, and Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, aka Bigboy Samson Chikerema, are now in total control.
While the opposition parties formally exist, they have not been allowed to win an election. For years, the rural electorate has been frog-marched to voting booths with one instruction: vote Zanu PF or else.
Supported by an expansive web of patronage networks, Zanu PF colonised the State over many years, yet we continuously hear loud slogans of anti-colonialism.
The patronage has been entrenched to facilitate the looting of the State’s resources and rundown the country’s key institutions.
Any form of democratic change and accountable government poses a mortal threat to these networks and Zanu PF and its cohorts will not surrender such privileges without intense resistance.
The junta President
Mnangagwa would want us to believe that he is an agent of change, but his ominous record makes it difficult to build a persuasive case that he represents a new beginning.
For over 40 years, he was Mugabe’s chief enforcer. He played a top role in the breakdown of the rule of law and the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.
And he was a chief strategist for the gross human rights abuses that have characterised Zanu PF rule.
There are well-documented deadly abuses by government forces against opposition activists and civil society groups.
These abuses have included mass killings, forced displacement and disappearances, torture and sexual violence.
The most intense episodes of violence against civilians in Zimbabwe include the systematic attacks on political opposition such as the elections in 2002 and 2008, major military operations (Gukurahundi massacres from 1983 to 1987) and the displacement of over 700 000 people because of Operation Murambatsvina in 2005. This is a past for which he has declined to accept any responsibility.
His more conciliatory language has not matched his actions. After becoming president, he appointed an administration of cronies, perpetual under-performers, thieves, military hardliners (Chiwenga and co) and so-called war veterans.
No one has been arrested and tried for corruption except for the circus involving Ignatius Chombo.
Such appointments are not in the national interest, but to consolidate the power of the now-dominant faction of Zanu PF: the old guard securocrats who dismantled the G40 through the barrel of a gun rather than democratic processes.
Having waited for four decades to land the top job, it is difficult to envisage Mnangagwa now placing his hard-earned spoils at the mercy of a genuine democratisation process.
Remember that Mnangagwa was implicated in an alleged foiled coup back in 2007
By removing former President Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe Defence Force has secured a place for itself as a privileged political actor and overseer of the entire political system.
In any case, the defence force has never been a neutral custodian of constitutional rule.
Instead, it has always been a highly politicised extension of the ruling party, a party militia and the muscle for the party’s top brass to loot the country’s precious resources.
Before November 2017, its role was confined to repressing the ruling party’s opponents and maintaining the party’s dominance.
The principle of civilian rule was respected even if this model of civil-military relations failed to meet very basic and reasonable democratic standards. But with the coup, the military crossed a line.
They determined the outcome of power struggles within Zanu PF and introduced a culture of coups in Southern Africa (less Lesotho).
In the same way that the military has been politicised, the political system has been heavily militarised.
This can be seen in the several key military veterans who have been appointed to the Cabinet as well as Mnangagwa being the military’s candidate for the presidency.
Essentially, this is the civilian face of quasi-military rule in Zimbabwe.
This points to an effective “barracks democracy” that has taken root in this country.
The military has secured a veto over the leadership of the ruling party and over the wider political process.
For this reason, the military feels it reserves the right to reject election results that it does not approve of, or to take action that could prevent such results materialising in the first place.
It is not surprising to see the drama at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). In the words of one Jonathan Moyo, it doesn’t take rocket science to realise that Zec chairperson Chigumba is just a civilian symbolic face of the military.
Otherwise, how would one explain the extreme arrogance, and lies spewing out of the Zec?
It is absurd for anyone to believe that the military’s removal of Mugabe was a superseding good.
For a start, it ignores the fact that a coup lacks any measure of national interest, or that national interest is synonymous with such an unconstitutional act.
Zimbabweans and indeed the world simply celebrated the removal of a long-time dictator not the coup itself.
Secondly, it is dangerously naïve to expect such a politicised military force to help facilitate genuine democratic transition when its entire existence has been to preserve one-party rule (under a leadership of its choosing), to disable meaningful opposition and to preserve its own corruption networks.
Remember, the broad objective of the Gukurahundi campaign was political — to attain a one-party State, which in turn necessitated the obliteration of the rival nationalist party, Zapu.
True democratisation — as opposed to merely maintaining the procedural forms of democratic government — is anathema to Zimbabwe’s ruling party, its president and the military.
Their task is to secure support for a measure of liberalisation; pretend to tackle corruption; and provide a smokescreen of a largely vacuous democratic rhetoric (such as the Zimbabwe is open for business mantra).
This push is to convince the international community that they are doing enough to progress the country from tyranny. This way, aid, investment and endorsements will pour in.
Actual power relations inside the country will not change.
Dr Gus Manatsa writes for a number of forums and publications in the Conversation in the business, science, biotech and politics areas