Old crocodile fails to change its spots

It’s been exactly a year since former President Robert Mugabe resigned, but Zimbabwe is still the house that Bob built — and the new President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has done little more than paper over the cracks.

just saying: Simon Allison

It is still difficult to find the right terminology to describe the dramatic events that forced Mugabe to step down after nearly four decades in charge.

It was not a revolution, despite the scenes of thousands of delirious citizens marching for the first time on State House in Harare, because this was never really about the people. Only once the tanks had rolled in and Mugabe had been sequestered in his Blue Roof mansion — where he remains sequestered today — were ordinary citizens invited to participate.

Nor, at least according to the generals themselves, was this a coup. “We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” Major-General Sibusiso Moyo said in a televised statement at the very beginning of the crisis, even as his uniform and his very presence in the studios of the national broadcaster sent a very different message.

It certainly was not an “orderly transition”, the product of cordial chats between Mugabe and his generals, as the African Union (AU) would have us believe.

“It was just a dialogue between the leadership of the country and the President, and they convinced him that maybe some of the actions taken, including around him and his immediate surrounding, were not good for the country, and he accepted to submit his resignation willingly,” said a credulous — or complicit — Smail Chergui, the AU’s peace and security commissioner.

In the long run, the terminology doesn’t really matter. What mattered then and what still matters now is that, for the first time in anyone’s lifetime, Zimbabweans went to sleep on the night of November 21, 2017 in a country that was not led by Mugabe.

In the euphoria, not too many people minded that the new guy was not so different.

Mnangagwa, the crocodile, for so long Mugabe’s right-hand man and enforcer-in-chief, promised that his administration would not be the same, old, story. It would be less corrupt, and more efficient; less authoritarian, and more transparent. This was the new Zimbabwe, he said, and it was open for business.

To prove his point, Mnangagwa has worked hard to convince the rest of the world that “old crocodiles can change their spots”. He charmed the diplomatic circuit with his jazzy scarf and his business-friendly patter, hoping to attract the billions of dollars necessary to rescue the country’s failing economy. For a little while, he played nice with the opposition, allowing MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa — who snatched the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s mantle in a ruthless power grab of his own — to deliver his stirring speeches across the country with relatively little in the way of obvious intimidation.

But as the months wore on, so Mnangagwa’s hastily-applied make-up began to smudge and fade, and it became all too obvious that the new President was, in fact, moulded in Mugabe’s image. This was most obvious when it came to the general elections in July, which were riddled with irregularities, from the ghost voters haunting the voters’ roll to the design of the ballot that defied convention to give Mnangagwa a starring role. He won, of course.

More serious still was the State’s response to angry opposition protests about the election result. In a democracy, of the type that Mnangagwa promised to deliver, citizens are allowed to voice their dissent in peace.

In the new Zimbabwe, however, soldiers and armoured personnel carriers were deployed on the streets of central Harare to disperse opposition supporters, using tear gas and live ammunition to do so. At least six unarmed protesters were killed. And yes, it was Mnangagwa who ordered the troops in, according to the sworn testimony of his own police chief.

Meanwhile, across the country, prices are rising and cash is becoming even more scarce. There are long lines for cash and for basic foodstuffs, and it can take hours to fill up a petrol tank. Some shops are closed indefinitely.

The economy appears to be in freefall, and the foreign investors who were supposedly ready to bring in their billions have yet to materialise, apparently unconvinced that Mnangagwa’s administration will create the conditions necessary to guarantee profitable returns.

Instead, the vultures are circling around Zimbabwe’s minerals, especially its chrome, lithium and diamond deposits. It seems unlikely that these shady businessmen and dodgy governments have Zimbabwe’s best interests at heart.

A year into his administration, Mnangagwa’s main virtue continues to be simply that he is not Mugabe. For many Zimbabweans, scarred by a lifetime under the sclerotic thumb of one man, that is still enough. But for how much longer?

Simon Allison is Africa editor for the Mail and Guardian


  1. Allison u are off the mark, as much as our country has challenges ED is proving to be very diff from Mugabe. Democratic space has been opened up and u can’t compare that with the Mugabe era. Prices of basics might be up but to correct the anomalies in our economy some of these must occur. ÈD is the future

  2. Comment…heroic yako gatsi

  3. I disagree with you @Gatsi, ED represents the past….the very cruel murderous past.

  4. This Alison guy is one of the brainless MDC alliance supporters who still dream of & even pray for worse things to happen to our country in the great delusion that somehow the primitive Chamisa whom we resoundingly rejected in the July 30 elections can ascend to the presidency before 2023. Forget that Mr Alison.

    You make one good admission though. That the “stupid” hoodlums who mindlessly destroyed property on Harare CBD were opposition supporters. You can whisper that to Mr Chamisa who is trying to disown them. You blatantly lie that they were not armed. Maybe it is your euphemism for saying they were primitively armed. The mad arsonists and anarchists who marched on 1 August had metal bars, stones & sticks ( of course truly reflecting the stone age leadership of Chamisa , Biti & co) . Mr Trump says treat anyone who has stones as someone with a gun. My point is the rioters were not unarmed civilians; they were a primitively armed MDC alliance army. Mr Chamisa was stupidly hoping to do what he did to Khupe on ED!

    Wake up from your deep slumber Mr MDC activist! There is more democracy in the country than the MDC alliance can allow its members ( Chamisa must not be contested, mayors must only be nominated by him, etc). The elections were the most transparent ever held on this continent. Mr Chamisa was too scared that he would lose in an election without blemish. Then he started this satanic , truly barbaric 1 August violence.

  5. Musoni, is one of the brainwashed dirty, tooth decayed youthies no doubt. What an idiot of the highest caliber. I hope he never reproduces. And by the way, who taught youthies how to type ?

  6. The Samson boy doesn’t want to believe that when chamisa reverses elections of mayors done according to the laws of Zimbabwe he is trying to be a Hitler. That ,the not-so-clever boy who pretends to be a lawyer is really a danderhead of unimaginable proportions& of the same grade as Samson. He rallies drunk youths to demonstrate, and when he feels that the long rope that ED has given him is now tightening around his neck , he calls the youths he abused “stupid”.He says he “loves ” his country but begs the USA for sanctions against the country He speaks democracy when everyday that goes down confirms him as an undemocratic power grabber in his party. He is a democrat , he barks! The next day we are told he must not be contested. Who does he send for the vile task of silencing dissent in his party ? He sends too empties called Hwende & Chibaya. Their ring is very true to the adage of empty vessels! Join them in the madness young Samson. When you are done with your Alliance foolishness , come to school and I teach you not just to type but think critically! The sell-out goons at Harvest of Thorns House will never rule Zimbabwe!

  7. This article was written by an author, who cannot differentiate red from black. The old and new dispensation are totally different regimes with the later correcting all the mistakes committed by the old regime. There are a lot of changes, both political and economic, that are taking place.

  8. Crocodiles don’t have spots. Mixing metaphors creates confusion.

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