Mugabe is gone; long live Mugabe!

Candour Nqaba Matshazi

When a king dies, an announcement is made that: “The king is dead; long live the king”, quite a confusing statement for many of us that may not be aware of the intricacies of death and ascension in monarchies.

The part that says “the king is dead” is self-explanatory, while the latter part “long live the king” is meant to reassure citizens that a new king has ascended to the throne and that
there shall be continuity.

I thought to appropriate this proclamation to our setting where, despite former President Robert Mugabe having long left power, his ideologies, which we detested and said needed an
overhaul, are still much a part of us.

It is as if Mugabe never left.

In the introductory remarks of his book, Mugabeism, scholar Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni points out a few characteristics of what defines Mugabeism as an ideology.
The first key characteristic that he looks at is that Mugabe and others who led the struggle for independence inherited the colonial State, but never bothered to radically transform it.

For me, this is a striking similarity with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, where the focus, at least from the way I see it, is on grabbing political power and nothing else.

For all the rhetoric on reforms, nothing concrete has been done and structurally, the very nation that Mugabe built and destroyed, is still what it is.

Mnangagwa has said he is repealing the much hated Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA), pronouncements which have earned him some
plaudits and brownie points.

But lawyers that have scrutinised the proposed Maintenance of Order and Peace Bill (MOPA), which is set to replace POSA, argue that it is as bad, if not worse than its predecessor.

To borrow from another scholar, Dumisani Moyo, this is akin to change without change.

I am yet to see the proposed changes to AIPPA, which will be replaced by three laws, among them the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, but I am not holding my breath.

Another aspect of Mugabeism was the militarisation of State institutions, which is as alive today as it was during Mugabe’s tenure.

Mugabe faced criticism that he filled government positions with “securocrats”, often relying on serving and retired soldiers to fill key posts.
The militarisation of the State was such a sore issue for the opposition that they spent the best part of the four years of the government of national unity calling for security sector
reform, calls Mugabe ignored. This one is a bit hard on Mnangagwa, considering the circumstances that brought him into power.

But, like Mugabe before him, he has entrenched military participation in civilian politics, with serving and retired soldiers increasingly finding themselves in the upper echelons of
power.

If Mnangagwa is serious about reform, he has to bite the bullet (excuse the pun) and seek to change this or his sentiments on change will be dismissed as rhetoric only meant to buy him
some time.
Furthermore, a key characteristic of Mugabeism is that those in power were allowed to engage in primitive accumulation at the expense of poor ordinary people. A sore point for many
would be the example of Gokwe-Nembudziya lawmaker, Justice Mayor Wadyajena, who imported a car worth close to US$500 000.

Wadyajena can argue that the money is his and he earned it legally, but he is close to Mnangagwa and accusatory glances will continuously be thrown his way because of that proximity.

On the other hand, someone who has faced accusations of running a cartel is barely investigated, and instead is named as one of Mnangagwa’s advisers.

To cap it all, the Sakunda boss, Kuda Tagwirei, splashed $200 000 on buying Mnangagwa’s scarf at an auction.

It reminds me of Francis Gudyannga, who faced several accusations during his time as the permanent secretary in the Mines ministry, instead of firing him and investigating the charges,
Mugabe simply moved him to the Higher Education ministry.

As the cliche says, the optics are not good at all.

This is worsened by the fact that life for most Zimbabweans has become harder over the past one and a half years, yet those close to Mnangagwa are seemingly thriving.

There are so many similarities between the Mugabe and Mnangagwa regimes that one could be tempted to conclude that nothing really changed, and if there was any change at all, it is cosmetic at best.

For example, people still get arrested and prosecuted under innocuous and archaic laws that bar anyone from insulting the President.

The definition of “insult” is also vague; saying the President has failed could be taken as an insult for which one can be charged.

Under Mnangagwa, security services are routinely accused of gross human rights violations, just as they were under Mugabe.
As a journalist, it would be remiss of me not to point out that as with his predecessor, Mnangagwa is averse to free media, particularly broadcast media.

Towards the elections, when he faced growing calls to license more radio stations, Mnangagwa said he would do so after the polls.

Your guess is as good as mine on why he wanted to wait for elections before issuing more broadcast licences.

Ten months after the polls, his administration is yet to issue a call for broadcasting licences.
The policy inconsistencies, particularly on currency, that were a hallmark of Mugabe’s administration, are also still with us.

One day, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube says the country will introduce a new currency, the next he says he was misquoted and the RTGS dollar is the new currency he meant.

The next day, Mnangagwa says a new currency will be introduced before the end of the year, the next he says in nine months’ time and the next thing, boom, a new currency is introduced the very following day.

This is a script right from Mugabe’s copybook, where people are kept guessing and there is a lack of predictability in the way the country is governed.

It is for these reasons and many others that I cringe every time I hear the term “new dispensation” because, besides the rhetoric and the well-managed spin, there is nothing new about this administration.

As former first lady Grace Mugabe once said, Mugabe will continue to rule the country even from his grave.

While most of us took that statement literally and laughed at Grace for being a supposed dimwit, the sad reality is that Mugabe is gone, but his ideology lingers on.

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