The first few weeks of the year in Zimbabwe have been quite eventful, for lack of a better word. We have gone through a national shutdown, where the country was temporarily sent back to the Stone Age, as Internet services were suspended.
Guest column: Thabani Mnyama
There was a wide and systematic violation of human rights, with several deaths being recorded during the shutdown. This comes after the commission of inquiry’s report on the August 1, 2018 post-election violence was released.
Not much has happened since the report was released and the recommendations seem to have been ignored. Furthermore President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured), went on to appoint a Presidential Advisory Council, which many do not see its usefulness.
The question in all this is, what does this mean for Zimbabwe and its future? In order to clearly analyse all these issues in a clear way, we will focus on them one by one.
The national shutdown
Pursuant to the call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to stayaway from work in protest over poor wages and working environment, the country joined hands with different groups and individuals like Evan Mawarire, to send a message to the government.
During this period, Mnangagwa was globetrotting on government business, leaving Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga as the Acting President.
What started as a quiet day quickly turned into horrific turmoil as cars were burnt, roads barricaded with huge boulders and people being beaten up in the streets randomly.
State Security minister, Owen Ncube, sent a directive to Internet service providers (ISPs) to immediately shut down the Internet, to which they all obliged.
What these ISPs, however, failed to realise through their compliance was that such a directive was both illegal and unconstitutional, as the minister cited section 6 of the Interception of Communications Act in justifying this directive.
However, the Act does not provide the government with power, to have the Internet shutdown as can be easily noticed from the Act’s preamble.
They can only monitor and intercept certain messages, but not shut down the Internet. In accordance with our common law, acts of an unlawful nature need not be adhered to and acting on an unlawful directive makes the acting party complicit in the unlawfulness.
This means the service providers, in adhering to the unlawful directive from Ncube, were also liable should someone decide to pursue further legal action to this effect.
When the President then cut short his trip and returned to Zimbabwe, people expected some sort of return to normalcy, but what then followed was a peaceful march by Zimbabwean lawyers, who were arguing against the capture of the judiciary. All this brings up the question; is the President in control of the nation? If so, why is he allowing the ongoing atrocities to continue? What action does he plan on taking, if at all to fix the entire situation?
Presidential Advisory Council
The President has a Cabinet which he set up to help him execute Executive duties. Recently, the President appointed what he called the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) made up of different people who are considered experts in various fields. The confusing thing is that this was done without a constitutional basis, while ignoring constitutional mechanisms that readily provide for such assistance.
The PAC is seen as an extension of the Cabinet, which begs the question; has the current Cabinet become so useless that the President had to seek advice elsewhere on how to properly govern the nation?
Invitation to framework for a dialogue
Mnangagwa sent out invitations to all those who ran for the presidency in the 2018 elections to help map-out the framework for a dialogue on the best ways to move Zimbabwe forward.
This is a good initiative by the President, as it fosters unity and allows people to put their political differences aside in order to work together to fix Zimbabwe.
However, given Zanu PF’s past, one cannot completely rubbish MDC for turning down the invitation to attend the talks. They issued a letter which contained 10 conditions, which they demanded be met first before they could attend any talks with Mnangagwa.
There is no trust between the government and the people, which is why everything the government says, does or suggests is always better taken with a pinch of salt.
During the talks, the President noted that there were key reforms that Zimbabwe needed to fulfil. Political parties should come up with views on how those reforms should be implemented.
There is, of course, one fundamental problem — this would be better addressed in Parliament where reforms are tabled, debated and passed, a dialogue like one he had with presidential aspirants does not seem to be the best place to have brought up such an issue.
Where to from here?
The international community seems to also have lost faith in any hopes of Mnangagwa being different from former President Robert Mugabe. This could be attributed to the lack of necessary political, economic and other reforms to make Zimbabwe a better country, to have the infamous Zidera repealed and to be trusted once again by others.
The question is, will this talk with other presidential aspirants yield anything? Will the PAC end up becoming just another waste of taxpayers’ money? Will Zimbabwe actually have prospects of a better future under the Mnangagwa-led administration? At this point, one can only hope as it does not look like the odds may be in our favour.