HomeOpinion & AnalysisCOVID-19 perfect cover for autocrats

COVID-19 perfect cover for autocrats

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ZIMBABWE has never been the same after March 30, 2020. Ever since then, the country has been in a lockdown and normal life in a constitutional democracy has been severely pared in the name of combating the global COVID-19 pandemic.

STIR THE POT: PAIDAMOYO MUZULU

The pandemic has been a godsend intervention for leaders with an autocratic inclination across the world.

They did not take time to impose strict lockdown measures, restriction of rights and, in some instances, imposed martial law.

Zimbabwe was no exception to this league of autocrats, notwithstanding the fact that two years earlier, in November 2017, it had experienced a coup that promised the flourishing of democracy.

It was a coup that was well-choreographed for both the international and domestic audiences.

It was a televised revolution or better still a social media phenomenon.

There was no time to think for most, they just soaked in the moment.

A moment for many in the opposition had planned for nearly two decades — to see the late former President Robert Mugabe’s departure from politics.

For the majority, it was a question of change, but no one knew what that change meant.

They wanted Mugabe to go.

Zimbabwe experienced two worst military-backed crackdowns on protests since independence in 1980.

The first one was on August 1, 2018 and January 15, 2019, apart from Gukurahindi.

The security forces that killed protestors in cold blood are yet to face justice despite the Kgalema Motlanthe commission recommendations that they be brought to book.

The flowers of the phony-revolution had wilted within seven months of the coup, making a joke of the statement that there was a new dispensation in the country.

Opposition supporters had experienced firsthand the brutal excesses of the regime, either through abductions, torture or political persecution in the courts.

Political parties could not hold rallies. They could not, and still can not petition or demonstrate against the government during the lockdown period.

The opposition has been denied political oxygen and metaphorically dying slowly, gasping once in a while on social media but the damage has been done.

At a political level, Zanu PF has been energising its base through Pfumvudza.

It is meeting its supporters under the guise of an agricultural support scheme, yet the opposition in urban areas has been denied the same opportunity, worse still, after the lockdown affected the informal sector.

Informal trading has changed and most likely for good as less than a quarter of the traders who were operating before lockdown might return to business after restrictions are removed.

The anger in urban communities is palpable but it is not harnessed or directed at real issues.

It has lacked leadership to marshall it into one giant wave and hence the ripples that we see once in a while that are quickly snuffed out.

Zanu PF behaviour is targeted at self-preservation than building democracy. Even with a two-thirds majority in Parliament it is afraid to hold, long overdue by-elections.

The by-elections have the potential of breaking into smithereens, the make-believe world the party has created of choosing who the opposition is. Life has been made easier by the opposition acquiescence.

The opposition has not made it an issue of by-election ban in Parliament, neither has it challenged it in courts.

Democracy is not an act of benevolence, but it is fought for at every turn using all legal means in a democratic and constitutional republic.

Waiting for miracles and spontaneous show of anger is like waiting for God to come down from heaven.

The COVID-19 lockdown smokescreen has been blown over by events in the region. In November, South Africa, which has experienced more than 20 000 deaths — a number twice the infections recorded in Zimbabwe — held over 100 local council by-elections in one night.

The South Africans simply followed their constitution and held the elections that were due.

Another classic example is the Malawian presidential run-off.

The ruling party in Malawi had tried to cling to power hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic but the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court ordered the run-off.

The opposition alliance led by Lazarus Chakwera won the election despite in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is too far-fetched to compare Zimbabwe to the United States. The US held presidential elections last month regardless of a COVID-19 second wave hit. In America more than 3 000 people died of COVID-19 a day, but they held elections.

Why is Zanu PF afraid of these by-elections?

It is living true to its mission of having a one-party state. It is living true to its image of intolerance to opposition.

In other words, it is living in a time warp and cares nothing about what is happening around using the national sovereignty principle.

Over time, Zimbabweans would lose interest in elections and that is a big dent on democracy.

It is important for the country to have a blueprint to deal with life after COVID-19 lockdown.

Otherwise, we will, as a country, remain in lockdown while others are moving, adapting and making the best of their situation.

For now, the lockdown is for political considerations and will remain so, if no political action is taken against it.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for now, has his wish of ruling without being questioned, but for how long can this façade hold?

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