The Sunday Mail
Sunday Mail Correspondent
ONE would be forgiven for having anticipated a more serene political environment in Zimbabwe this year, given that elections are not due for another three years.
But politics and politicians have a way of pulling surprises. Headline-grabbing incidents are always lurking, even during times when politics should be confined to the backburner by other pressing issues.
As is the norm, 2020 was full of intrigue and drama, with gains made and losses suffered in the high-stakes theatre that is local politics.
A fatal blow
The house that former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai built inched ever closer to crumbling on account of the perennial internecine infighting and factionalism within its ranks. While bitter factional divorces in the MDC have become almost annual rituals since the first split in 2005, this year’s break-up episode appears to have delivered a near-fatal blow to the former labour-backed party.
It all began with the March 31 Supreme Court ruling, which declared Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of the opposition party illegitimate, effectively handing over the party’s interim leadership to his bitter rival, Dr Thokozani Khupe. The court ordered the party to revert to its 2014 structures and convene special congress to elect new leadership.
On the strength of the court judgment, Dr Khupe used her newly assumed power to establish her authority, recalling renegade parliamentarians and councillors, expelling Chamisa from the party, taking over the party’s Harvest House headquarters and, with it, funds provided by Government under the Political Parties (Finance) Act.
The opposition was again up to its usual antics — contriving fake news headlines, abductions and forced disappearances in order to cast bad light on Zimbabwe, especially before major international events.
As has come to be expected, there were incidences of “abductions” and “street protests” whenever Government was set for a high-profile international engagement.
Ahead of the SADC Troika summit — hosted by Zimbabwe under President Mnangagwa’s chairmanship in May — there was a “wildcat” demonstration by some MDC Alliance youths in Warren Park, Harare, in defiance of Covid-19 regulations prohibiting such activities. No sooner had the demonstration ended than social media was awash with claims that three MDC-A youth leaders, who were among the demonstrators — Harare West legislator Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chinembiri — had gone missing.
The following morning images of the trio emerged, amid claims they had been abducted and subjected to torture by State security agents. News of the “abduction” came with the attendant flood of screaming headlines, seasoned with virulent attacks on Zimbabwe’s human rights record, on major international news platforms.
An investigation launched soon after by Government into the incident concluded that the “abduction” had been stage-managed.
It was discovered that there were glaring inconsistencies in the trio’s claims, while it was also learnt that one of the abductees conveniently comes from a village near where they claim to have been dumped by the abductors.
The supposed abduction was ostensibly staged to force Zimbabwe onto the agenda of impending international engagements between Government and international partners, the investigators surmised.
“There was the President’s bilateral meeting with President Nyusi of Mozambique and the follow-up SADC Troika Summit which took place in Harare under the President’s chairmanship at the time of these allegations,” said Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe while giving an update on a multi-agency investigation into the incident.
“There was also the impending re-engagement between Zimbabwe and the European Union which might have been targeted by this negativity.”
The three are now facing criminal charges for allegedly staging the abduction.
In another case, opposition youth activist Tawanda Muchehiwa was also reportedly abducted by State security agents.
It later turned out that the incident could have been an inside job involving senior MDC-A officials working in collaboration with exiled G40 activists.
Demos flop, again!
In yet another attempt to foment turmoil in the country and try to make it ungovernable, opposition activists led by journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume coalesced behind a social media campaign fashioned to marshal “public anger” in order overthrow the Government.
The #July31 crusade called for Zimbabweans to join in street protests meant to destabilise the country and eventually unseat the Government. Ngarivhume and Chin’ono were arrested ahead of the proposed protests.
They were charged with incitement to commit public violence or alternatively incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence by posting messages through their Twitter handles.
The day, however, passed with little incident as most Zimbabweans ignored the calls to protest, while law enforcement agents arrested a few demonstrators in Harare’s western suburbs. A follow-up hashtag movement under the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter also failed to incite Zimbabweans into revolt.
Away from the toxic politics fronted by foreign-sponsored activists, the majority of Zimbabwean political parties continued to dialogue under the banner of the Political Actors Dialogue (Polad).
The platform, which consists of most parties that contested the 2018 Presidential elections held its maiden Economic Summit, which brought in captains of industry, labour unions and development partners. Polad also held engagements with the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in furtherance of the country’s re-engagement drive.
The platform also convened a meeting with the United Nations (UN)’s Inter-Agency Mission to Zimbabwe to discuss issues that include the country’s democratic space and electoral reforms. President Mnangagwa also expressed satisfaction with the strides taken by the platform to bring solutions to some of the challenges facing the country and stressed the importance of dialogue.
Major gains for Zanu PF
While the opposition was consumed by wrangling, the ruling ZANU PF was quietly recording major gains. This year witnessed the reinstatement of the District Coordinating Committees (DCCs) structures in the party.
Harare and Bulawayo’s DCCs were reconstituted last year, with the remaining eight provinces having their elections early this month.
The DCCs are expected to be one of the springboards upon which the ruling party will anchor its 2023 election strategy.
President Mnangagwa, as the party’s First Secretary, said the DCC structures will bring the party closer to the people.
“Let me reiterate that the DCC structures and the elections thereof must unite the party and act as a springboard for entrenching our party’s revolutionary ideology, constitutionalism and strong grassroots mobilisation,” he said.
“However, in doing so, loyalty and discipline, as expressed through understanding and adherence of the party constitution, ethics and guiding principles, must always be at the core.”
The party also scored big wins in by-elections that were held before the introduction of an indefinite moratorium on elections triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The highlight was the trouncing of the opposition during the Mwenezi Ward 15 by-election where the ruling party garnered 1 811 votes against the MDC Alliance’s 27 votes.
By-elections on hold
The suspension of electoral activities as part of Covid-19 containment measures also made big news this year. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission initially suspended all electoral activities after the country went into lockdown in March.
Restrictions on public gatherings and observance of social-distancing guidelines meant to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have made it impossible to conduct conventional elections.
Zec then began crafting an operational framework to pave way for the “safe resumption” of by-elections. Before the framework could be rolled out, Government declared Covid-19 a formidable challenge, thereby suspending all by-elections.
As a result, there was not much electoral activities this year.
Healing takes centre stage
President Mnangagwa also continued with his healing and reconciliation crusade in provinces that were affected by the post-Independence civil disturbances. He continued with his engagements with traditional leaders and civic groups in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, culminating in the arrangement for the exhumation and reburial of the victims of Gukurahundi.
Plans are also afoot for the mass issuance of civic documents to relatives of the victims of disturbances. Resolving Gukurahundi has always been a political hot potato, but President Mnangagwa has not shirked from addressing it head-on.
The biggest winner
Dr Khupe was by far the biggest winner in opposition politics this year.
She successfully wrestled back leadership of the MDC-T party and found her way back into Parliament. However, Douglas Mwonzora seemed to have won it at the death when he was elected president at the just-ended extraordinary congress to chose a new leader after the demise of the party’s founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, on February 14, 2018.
2021 equally promises to be eventful.