Call for a National Dialogue in Zimbabwe

Reviewing the foundation for a meeting of minds

A recent op-ed by Dr Ibbo Mandaza, director of the SAPES Trust, called for a paradigm shift to achieve reform in Zimbabwe, a country clearly in deep crisis. One of the options he proposed was a call for a National Dialogue process. The purpose of this piece is to expand on factors to consider for calling for such a process. National Dialogues are defined as “nationally owned political processes aimed at generating consensus among a broad range of national stakeholders in times of deep political crisis, in post-war situations or during far-reaching political transitions”¹. They may also be defined as broad-based, inclusive and participatory negotiation platforms involving all sectors of society brought together to negotiate and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is convenor of the SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue Forum; and co-convener (with Tony Reeler) of the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC).

In recent years, we have witnessed several attempts to conduct National Dialogues as critical tools in the prevention of conflict and for managing political crisis and transitions. However, while there may be wide ranging inclusive buy-in amongst the different stakeholders, a limitation regarding conceptual clarity persists which in turn limits the likely success of the process. Agreeing on the objectives of a National Dialogue may seem like a straight forward exercise but if the foundation of the process is not correctly laid there will be fissures of concern later in the process.

According to the National Dialogue Handbook: A Guide for Practitioners the objectives of National Dialogues tend to be context dependent: “They may focus on a more narrow set of specific or substantive objectives (i.e., security arrangements, constitutional amendments, truth commissions, etc.), or on broad-based change processes, which may entail (re)building a (new) political system and developing a (new) social contract.” It is for the Zimbabwean stakeholders to decide and agree on the objective before the process commences. If this part of the process is not carefully considered it may result in contestation over who the included stakeholders are leading to mistrust, fear, nefarious agenda setting etc. The Handbook distinguishes between two main types of National Dialogue, identified according to the function they seek to fulfil:

  • A shorter-term endeavour, undertaken strategically as a means to resolve or prevent the outbreak of armed violence
  • Key aims: breaking political deadlocks and re-establishing minimal political consensus, while further reform and steps toward change can be negotiated
  • Key characteristics: with more limited mandates, these tend to be smaller in size and shorter in duration. They are often easier to manage due to the restricted number of actors who may be involved, but also may reflect a less inclusive structure, whereby broad-based societal buy-in for desired changes can be difficult to generate.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa (3rdL) shakes hands with leaders of political parties who contested him in the last presidential elections after a dialogue meeting hosted at the State House in Harare on February 6, 2019. Photo: Jekesai Njikizana/ AFP

National Dialogues as mechanisms for fundamental change

  • Efforts with a longer-term trajectory, envisioned as a means to redefine state-society relations, or establish a new ‘social contract’
  • Key aims: far-reaching institutional and constitutional changes
  • Key characteristics: broad mandate and often fairly large in size. Seeking to include large strata of society and generate widespread support. They are confronted with the challenges of managing large-scale processes.

In the case of Zimbabwe, it may be wise to adopt a more hybrid model incorporating elements from both approaches as it may be more relevant for a longer sustained political solution. As stated, the political context in which the implementation of a National Dialogue takes place has a direct impact on the success of the process. Huma Haider, an independent research consultant, lists the following as factors to be considered:

  • Political will: the greater the level of political will and elite agreement on the way forward, the greater the likelihood of successful outcomes and implementation.
  • Links to other transitional processes: National Dialogues need to be embedded in larger change processes in order to promote real structural change. If disconnected to other political processes, such as constitution-making, they are likely to be counter-productive.
  • Common ground among parties: the absence of diametrically opposed political camps can make it more likely to arrive at a common view or shared objectives in dialogue, allowing for the process to move forward. In contrast, drastically different views can exacerbate distrust and stall the process.
  • Public buy-in: public support or lack thereof can enable or constrain progress in the National Dialogue process. The degree of buy-in is influenced by the availability of public information, good communication, and media engagement – all of which affect the level of transparency and understanding of the process.
  • Learning from past experience: National Dialogues have benefitted from dialogue expertise and learning from past National Dialogues.
  • The role of external actors and national ownership: support (e.g. political, financial and technical support) or resistance of external actors can influence the degree of success of national dialogues. It is important to strike a balance between external support and national ownership. The latter can increase the likelihood of public buy-in, perceptions of legitimacy – and chances of implementation.

Haider also states that in conjunction with political context factors, design or process factors are important, as these play a role in influencing the likelihood of reaching sustainable agreements. Key process factors include:

  • The degree of inclusion and participation: the vast majority of literature on this subject emphasises that the transformative potential of national dialogues can only be realised if they are genuinely inclusive of society. In order to be truly inclusive, it is necessary to help balance power asymmetries and ensure actual decision-making power. Highly inclusive and participatory national dialogues may render discussions unwieldly, however, and make it difficult to resolve key political questions. The success of national dialogues can depend in large part on finding the right equilibrium between efficiency and inclusiveness.
  • Representation and selection criteria: established selection criteria and procedures for participants in national dialogues can support or hinder the broad representation of different social and political groups. Transparency in the criteria is significantly important.
  • Objective and scope-setting: it is important to avoid overburdening mandates and agendas. It can be challenging to strike a balance between the breadth of the mandate, efficiency and independence. While a narrower mandate can be more manageable and efficient, it can limit the room for change and may contribute to the persistence of an elite-led process. Clarity and relevance to local populations are key characteristics to adopt in deriving a suitable mandate and agenda. Addressing development issues and peace dividends at the outset can be important to the success of national dialogues.
  • Institutional framework and support structures: a comprehensive support structure of important actors close to competing parties can help participants to be prepared (with the necessary expertise and tools), to compromise and to build coalitions, allowing them time to agree on common positions. Such structures do not, however, necessarily improve the quality of participation or guarantee implementation.
  • Role of authority figures: a credible, broadly accepted, independent, respected and charismatic convenor, mediator or facilitator can significantly affect the strength of the national dialogue, indicating seriousness and trust in the process.
  • Decision-making procedures: these can enable or constrain the ability of national dialogues to reach an agreement and implement it. While consensus can help to expand agendas and to include often excluded voices, an inability to reach consensus can benefit the more established forces, as the absence of movement can mean preserving the status quo. Consensus-based decision-making needs to be complemented by other pragmatic mechanisms where deadlocks can be broken, such as the use of working groups.
  • Confidence-building measures: national dialogues must be accompanied by a series of steps to attenuate tensions, in order to establish a level of “working trust” to engage in a meaningful dialogue. Trust-building is important throughout all phases in order to ensure that agreements are also implemented.
  • Provision for implementation: it is necessary to ensure that sufficient funds for implementation, expertise and accountability mechanisms are in place, such that key actors may feel bound by what has been agreed. Transitional bodies and/or new institutions are often set up to implement the outcomes. Implementation can be tough if participants have made unrealistic decisions, if political will is absent, or if external actors fail to provide necessary support.

It is important to emphasise that even with all the above factors in place, the process can still fail if the commitment from those in power are merely a means to “demonstrate” a willingness  to participate in the process but are not fully vested as seen in previous efforts:

“They want to say put in place electoral reforms that will ensure that you lose and we win. And we’re saying no. That will never happen anywhere in a modern constitutional democracy, that a political party that has come into government on the back of a new negotiated constitution, on the back of a new negotiated Electoral Act, comes up with reforms that will reform it out of power. Because the reforms they’re talking about are clear codes to say come with reforms that will ensure that you’re out.” – Former Politburo member and Cabinet Minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo.

This is the difficulty, and at times immovable challenge, in setting up National Dialogues. If Zimbabwe is to succeed, it may require certain difficult conditions to be agreed upon before the process is implemented. This may be a stumbling block too heavy to move across the start line. Otherwise, it may end up being merely a process of going through the motions without a chance of real reforms being formulated and agreed on.

In short, if the National Dialogue process is to succeed, the following foundation strengthening factors must be applied:

  • if there is no trust in the stakeholders the process will fail before it starts
  • a neutral convenor must be accepted by all parties
  • the process must be insulated from undue political or external influence
  • insisting on transparency at all levels of the process
  • outcomes from the process must be acted on and directed to their relevant streams – policy, legislation or strategy.

¹ Marike Blunck et al., National Dialogue Handbook: A Guide for Practitioners; Berghof Foundation, 2017

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.

Reimagining rural education in Zimbabwe post COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a stark reminder that advances in access to education in recent decades should not be taken for granted. Children have suffered severely from global lockdowns that have prevented access to schooling and, in many cases, severely compromised their nutrition.

Schoolchildren cross a flooded river. Photo: Hopewell Chin’ono

In Zimbabwe, we have seen how COVID-19 has had a disproportionately  negative impact upon the rural learners, who constitute at least 70% of the country’s school enrolment. The rural learners often do not have the same level of access to the internet and kinds of education technologies and learning tools available to their more well-connected urban peers.

The 2020 Grade 7 results confirm this. As important as COVID-19 safety measures are, the Zimbabwean government’s 2021 ‘back to school’ plan and conversations about the COVID-19 response must go beyond the ‘handwashing, sanitizing and social distancing’ emphasis, by recognising and addressing the major deficiencies and inequalities within Zimbabwe’s education sector which the pandemic has laid bare.

This is a sector which, in the 90s, had a formidable reputation, with one of the best literacy rates in Africa despite pre and post war governance challenges. There is an opportunity for the Zimbabwean government to utilise new technologies to fundamentally change how rural education is provided, while also addressing the longstanding issues of  teacher remuneration and other key challenges within the sector.

Lessons from the  dismal Grade 7 results. 

The 2020  Grade 7 Examinations results, recently released by  the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC), reflected a  dismal pass rate of 37.11% from an equally low 46.9% in the  previous year. Of the 327 559 candidates who sat for the examinations, the  highest number of those who passed were in urban based, largely private  schools in the metro provinces of Bulawayo and Harare. In some  of Zimbabwe’s rural provinces, several schools recorded zero percent pass rate. Further analysis of the results revealed that in Lupane and other parts of the country, some Grade 7 candidates are illiterate.

Although the COVID-19 lockdowns’ almost year-long school closures  posed  major disruptions to learning, these results reflect a decades-long downward trend which  bucks against the global trend of a massive increase, on average, of access to schooling across the developing world over the last few decades. Zimbabwe’s downward trend is rooted in  systematic neglect, especially of rural learners, that foreshadows the failure of the country’s public education system.

Four decades after the attainment of independence, the fact that learners are emerging   illiterate, after at least seven years of primary school education anywhere in Zimbabwe, is  scandalous. As noted by the Borgen Project, ‘The ability to read and write is one of the few skills with the power to completely change a person’s life. Literacy is vital to education and employment, as well as being incredibly beneficial in everyday life.’ The cases of illiteracy  not only reflect the cost of bad governance but simmering inequalities that have been ignored. A significant section of the population has been and continues to  be left behind. The country’s leadership needs to urgently exercise political astuteness and  action sustainable solutions that set Zimbabwe’s education on a path towards the full realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which seeks  to ‘ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.’

Refocusing the debate

Some of the interpretations of the dismal Grade 7 results spoke volumes about the incapacity of the country’s leadership (or lack thereof) in advancing solutionist thinking. There is need to refocus the debate from the deep political polarization in the country. Cain Mathema, the Minister of primary and secondary education, foreclosed constructive solution-driven  conversations, dismissing the results as a reflection of the negative impact of western imposed sanctions. Further to this, the ZIMSEC board chairperson, Professor Eddy Mwenje, reductively attributed this clearly decades long downward trend to COVID-19 induced setbacks. As COVID-19 has become a characteristic alibi in the face of its incompetence, the government continues to bury its head in the sand, overlooking the need for further investigations into why, for example, some candidates did not turn up for examinations, even  in certain urban areas. Some rural  students failed to make it for their examinations due to poor community  infrastructure  in the face of disasters such as floods.

Decades of lack of political will have led to budget mis-prioritisations that have brought the public education sector in its entirety to its knees. This was greatly to the detriment of  learners from socio-economically vulnerable households, which are essentially the majority.


Firstly, Zimbabwe has tangible lessons to draw from the Senator David Coltart-led Ministry of Education’s transformative milestones of the inclusive government era. This era reveals much about the crucial role of political leadership in delivering equality of access and education for all. Despite a dire economic context during that period, the sector recorded notable improvements, including enhanced teacher welfare and a drastic improvement in the textbook to learner ratio, from 1: 15 to 1 : 1  for a minimum of  six subjects

Further to this, Zimbabwe’s ministries of education should deliberately draw  lessons from world-acclaimed public education programmes like Singapore’s, which is credited for achieving ‘excellence without wide differences between children from wealthy and disadvantaged families’. This is key to bridging the widening rural-urban learner inequalities within the country. The current Ministry of Education can engage the Government of Singapore on the possibility of bilateral skills and knowledge transfer through capacity building for the country’s education sector.

Photo: Hopewell Chin’ono

The government should also review ongoing and previously implemented projects that are a potential launchpad for rural education technological advancement, such as the Presidential Schools Computerisation Programme, launched in the year 2000, the Rural Electrification Programme(REP), launched in 2002, as well as the Presidential Computerisation and E-Learning  Programmes.

Lastly, there are opportunities and lessons from the Strive Masiyiwa inspired and led USD $100 million funded Re-Imagine Rural Zimbabwe/Africa programme that promotes entrepreneurs with solutions to improve rural Zimbabwe/Africa, that could possibly be implemented today.


The Grade 7 results therefore reflect a microcosm of the structural challenges and deepening inequality in the access to this all important public good. Rural learners are  lagging behind. Guided by the United Nations, one of the important next steps is for the government to take the lead in advancing funding while at the same time embarking  on other creative approaches (e.g. Private Public Partnerships and well managed Community Share Ownership Trusts) to adequately fund this technologically driven future of rural education. Further to this, the government should scale up some of its notable successes, and learn from global best practices to address discriminatory policies and social practices, to ensure that no one remains behind. It is time the government considers rural technological advancement and, more specifically, internet connectivity as a foundational  right, a precursor to enabling SDG4.

COVID-19 has only laid bare the unique pre-existent challenges that the country’s socio-economically marginalised rural communities face. The solution must begin with a move away from the partisan, ill-focused rhetoric by policy makers, to constructive engagements aimed at addressing the discrimination and inequality faced by the rural learner and teacher. Securing and directing adequate funding to the education sector to largely address the remuneration and working conditions of teachers is critical. However, the most urgent call in addressing the inequality gap for the rural learner is addressing the infrastructural, technology and connectivity gap, to enable rural learners some kind of soft landing onto this technology driven education era.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, must re-focus the debate and re-orientate funding priorities. As already noted, related projects have been embarked on before. There can no longer be full enabling or realisation of  the right to education that does not take into account enabling internet connectivity.

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.


A paradigm shift from false expectations of reform in a securocrat state, to a conference to resolve it.

The crisis in Zimbabwe: A paradigm shift


The discussion on the crisis in Zimbabwe has over the years been premised on the false expectation that a state increasingly based and surviving on the strength of a military-security machinery can reform itself out of power. What is required now is an acknowledgement, and a consensus at the national, regional and global levels, that the crisis, one almost similar to that which was resolved almost 40 years ago through the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, has to be confronted and resolved through the agency of consultations. Now, as was the case in 1979, Zimbabwe is a serious cause of regional instability. This process must be initiated at the national level, facilitated by South Africa and SADC and the AU, and scaffolded by the UK, EU, USA, Russia, China and the Commonwealth – leading to an international conference on Zimbabwe.


It is now two decades since the sanctions regime was imposed by the USA in 2001 and by the EU in 2002. And in December 2003, Mugabe quit the Commonwealth over the decision of the latter body to extend sanctions for “undemocratic behaviour”. All this was done with the expectation that the State in Zimbabwe would reform, improve its human rights record and adhere to the standards required for free, fair and credible elections. The record so far is that things have since got worse, with little or no hope for reform.

The (vain) expectations that the November 2017 coup would redeem Zimbabwe from international isolation – under the “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra – has all but gone up in smoke. The resounding consensus, even on the part of those in the global north who supported and/or warmed up to the coup three years ago, is that the State in Zimbabwe has not only failed to institute political and economic reforms, but is also “responsible for the worst human rights violations…, in 2018 and 2019, including the killing of 23 innocent people” (UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab). Thus, the UK announced its first set of designations under the country’s Zimbabwe sanctions regime, ahead of the EU (of which it is no longer a member). They subsequently, on 19 February 2021, renewed their arms embargo and assets freeze against the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), citing “a lack of substantial reforms and continued human rights violations in the Southern African nation”, based “also on the need to investigate the role of the security forces in human rights abuses.”

More recently, on 24 February 2021, the Minister of State for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK, Lord Ahmed, threatened new measures against Zimbabwe. He stated that the former colonial power was “deeply worried about the state of the Zimbabwean economy, which continues to face unprecedented challenges largely due to corruption, and poor fiscal policies and economic mismanagement by the Government”.

Citing the recent report on the Cartels in Zimbabwe, the Minister said there would be more pressure on the country, in addition to the sanctions already announced on 1 February 2021. “These measures (sanctions) will be maintained as long as the situation on the ground justifies them … We will continue to look at how all the tools available to the UK, including the full range of sanctions regimes, can be used to encourage accountability and reform in Zimbabwe,” said Lord Ahmed.

A vendor scurries for cover with her wares as soldiers disperse demonstrators on August 1 2018, in Harare, after protests erupted over alleged fraud in the country’s election. Photo: Zinyange Auntony/AFP

Across the Atlantic, the new Biden administration is expected to up the ante against the regime in Harare. Speaking at a virtual SAPES Trust Policy Dialogue Forum (on the topic “What will the Biden Presidency mean for USA-Zimbabwe Relations?”) on 21 January 2021, former deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs at the US State Department, Todd Moss, stated that, under Biden, sanctions would remain. He also pointed out that it was a waste of time for Mnangagwa’s administration to hire public relations firms to lobby on its behalf.

More than that, in a statement which inadvertently acknowledged the extent to which targeted sanctions have in effect impacted on the financial and economic spheres of Zimbabwe, Todd Moss made it clear that the USA has effectively put a brake on whatever such international financial institutions as the World Bank and IMF might wish to lend to the country; and would continue to do so given the prevailing political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.


As the moderator on that Policy Dialogue Forum, I raised the question of whether there has been any correlation between, on the one hand, the two decades of sanctions against Zimbabwe and, on the other, the intended objectives of having the regime in Harare move, even gradually and on the basis of some benchmarks, towards reform and respect for human rights.  If the answer to that question is as obvious as the situation has been over the two decades, during which things have increasingly deteriorated, does the sanctions regime not amount to a hollow commitment to principle, an end in itself, and therefore bordering on insincerity on the part of the global North in its purported campaign for a better Zimbabwe?

Surely, it should be obvious by now that it is not that the regime in Harare does not want to reform; quite the contrary, they cannot do so without reforming themselves out of power! To quote former minister Jonathan Moyo as he addressed the Bulawayo Press Club on 2 September 2016, and reported in The Chronicle newspaper on 6 September under a headline, “ZANU PF will never reform itself out of power, Prof Moyo declares”:

“ZANU PF has no intention of creating an environment that will ensure it loses elections … they want to say put in place electoral reforms that will ensure that you lose and we win. And we are saying no … Because the reforms they’re talking about are clear codes to say come with the reforms that will ensure that you’re out …”

A statement made in apparent jest at the occasion, but nevertheless a remarkably accurate reflection of the securocrat state that Zimbabwe’s had increasingly become in the period since 2000. Therefore, the coup of November 2017 was an affirmation of the ZANU PF/ state’s inherent incapacity to transition towards a democratic dispensation. Hence the legacy of a self-fulfilling and, albeit, self-perpetuating process of political and economic crises. In turn, the persistent denials, on the part of the state actors, that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, constitute almost an ideology, the surreal superstructure, designed to conceal an edifice that is beyond redemption, hurtling inexorably to the precipice. Unless and until the requisite and coordinated action, at the national, regional and international levels takes place. However, this has to begin with a move away from an insistence on reform as the condition for re-engagement towards an acknowledgement that the state in Zimbabwe is extremely bereft of the capacity to change without undoing itself.

At the political level, the factors should be obvious. For the state to implement fully the 2013 constitution would mean effectively a return to constitutionalism, the rule of law, the restoration of national institutions, the separation of powers in the form of an accountable executive, a vibrant legislature, a fiercely independent judiciary, and the return of the military to the barracks. As all this would entail electoral reforms ipso facto, free and fair elections would almost definitely spell the end of ZANU PF as a ruling party, a fate it has so far forestalled through the dominant role of the military-security machinery. This machinery has, ever since 2000, turned every subsequent election into a war zone, including the coup of 2008 when Morgan Tsvangirai, and the MDC, were denied victory, and prevented from taking over power. It is commonplace now that 2008 was a coup, publicly acknowledged by party and state stalwarts since then.

A state that survives only on the strength of the military- security machinery cannot afford a democratic dispensation. Invariably, the abuse of human rights, such killings as happened on 1 August 2018 and January 2019, the abductions (118 such since the coup in 2017), arbitrary arrests of political opponents, decimation of the formal opposition, recall of legitimately elected parliamentarians, a compromised judiciary, etc., all become integral to the architecture and paraphernalia of a securocratic state.

At the economic and social levels, the factors militating against reform are derived largely from the political pathology of a state such as Zimbabwe’s. Overall, it is difficult to imagine how Zimbabwe’s economy can be reformed effectively given both the nature of such a state and the rampant corruption fuelled by an insecure leadership so uncertain of its own tomorrow. Therefore, with no tangible plan ensuring that the proceeds from the country’s rich extractive sector are invested at home and not spirited abroad on the back of cartels that now dominate the towering heights of the economy. The extent of the corruption in the extractive and all other sectors is covered in detail in the Cartels report. These are the very factors that inhibit the engagement of the global economy of which Zimbabwe is an integral part, but without which involvement the country can neither reform effectively nor reach its fullest potential.

Engagement with the global economy would include access to lines of credit, possible debt relief, investment to increase production, address unemployment and grow wealth. Such a reform and re-engagement programme would attract the interest and resourcefulness of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora – in which 75% of all professional and skilled Zimbabweans reside – without which the county’s recovery and reconstruction programme would be incomplete. Besides, the necessary involvement of the Diaspora in this regard will assist in addressing the chronic leadership deficit across the society, and strengthen both civil society and the economy into which they are contributing, in official figures, more than $1 billion per annum in remittances.


So, here is to propose that we move away from the two decades-old and futile refrain of insisting on reform as a condition precedent for re-engagement, to one which acknowledges that the state in Zimbabwe is inherently and fundamentally incapable of such a reform agenda without undoing itself. Therefore, there is need for a new strategy that confronts and addresses the crisis head-on through the following:

  1. National dialogue: Based on an honest acknowledgement of the issues raised above. If so, then the urgent need to take stock of the various attempts so far at a national dialogue, understand why they have not achieved their objective, and make an honest assessment on the basis of which to re-strategize. But this requires a consensus among civil society groups- the Church, NGOs, academia, media, labour and the Diaspora – in the first instance. To state the least, the false start by the National Convergence Platform (NCP), launched with much fanfare in December 2019, was largely due to the lack of a consensus about the nature of the state in Zimbabwe, the goals and objectives of the national dialogue process, not to mention the pandering, on the part of some, to the whims and fancies of the “national dialogue industry”.
  2. Regional Initiative: Led by South Africa but multilateral and involving SADC and the AU; and in conjunction with factors in the international sphere, the UK and the EU, the USA, China and Russia, and the Commonwealth. President Cyril Ramaphosa should revive the initiative (on Zimbabwe) which appears to have stalled mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next few weeks and months should witness a more concerted effort at confronting the crisis in Zimbabwe, beginning with behind-the-scenes consultations with both state and non-state actors in Zimbabwe, identifying a Mediation Team to lead the process, and drawing a road map towards an International Conference on the crisis in Zimbabwe. The process towards the formation of a Mediation Team, composed of eminent persons drawn from the region, the continent and the international community, should begin as soon as part of the preparation for the International Conference.
  3. International scaffolding of a national and regional initiative: This has to begin with a consensus among the factors in the global sphere of influence, that it is futile to expect the regime in Harare to institute a viable reform agenda on the political and economic front. The UK, EU and USA have been the main global interlocuters on Zimbabwe over the decades, but it is important that the Commonwealth – especially Australia, India and Canada – resumes its historic role on Zimbabwe. It would be ideal to have the International Conference on Zimbabwe chaired by an eminent person from one of the Commonwealth countries.

With respect to the political parties, the issues have been more complicated, not least by the unprecedented and ultimately senseless campaign by the ZANU PF-led state that appears to believe that dialogue (POLAD) means compromising, dividing and even decimation of the (formal) opposition in Zimbabwe. This has in turn polarised the political environment, between ZANU PF and the MDC alliance, within the MDC as a whole, and even between the factions within the ruling party itself. Meantime, the opposition forces, constituting easily the largest proportion of the country’s population, remain in suspense, rudderless and crying out for an organized leadership. The spectre of a securocratic state stares at us, bereft of a political and social base, alienated from the people, and hanging on a thread. Hardly three years away from the next election in 2023, can this reality scare us from having history repeat itself?

For obvious reasons already stated in the forgoing, there will be no electoral reforms under this regime: none at all, as long as the imperatives of the securocrat state remain alive. So why are the merchants (and their funding agencies) of the “election industry” getting all excited instead of confronting the reality so well-known and exposed like never before? These are some of the questions and issues to constitute a reasonable agenda for a new strategy towards a viable national dialogue, including the issue of a National Transitional Authority (NTA) or something similar, as the basis of resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe.


The process of consultations that must necessarily precede and feed into an International Conference on Zimbabwe will have to begin at the national level, under a representative group- the National Consensus Committee- drawn from civil society (Church, business, academia, labour, media, NGOs, the Diaspora etc.) and the representatives of the political parties. The National Consensus Committee so composed would then engage and liaise with the regional and international factors towards the establishment of the Mediation Team that will convene and conduct the conference. Such consultations would also include a discussion of the items that should be placed on the agenda of the Conference. Inevitably, these would include the following:

  • Return to constitutionalism (including the implementation of the 2013 constitution), the rule of law and the return of the military to the barracks.
  • Restoration of the national institutions, including reform of the judiciary and the public service.
  • Transitional justice, Truth and Reconciliation, including Amnesty arrangements attendant.
  • Economic Reform and Reconstruction Programme, including the return of looted resources, Debt Relief and the establishment of the Zimbabwe Reconstruction and Development Fund.
  • Establishment of a Transitional Authority through which to implement the above before any election is held.

This is an incredibly delicate exercise and process, requiring patience and selfless commitment on the part of the National Consensus Committee, with the facilitation of South Africa, SADC and the AU, and the requisite scaffolding by the UK, EU, USA, China, Russia and the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe’s ban on mobile money adds to suffering of its citizens

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which has also closed the stock exchange over forex concerns, has hit people already losing livelihood options during the Covid-19 lockdown hard

A man shows a wad of the new Zimbabwean ten-dollar notes received from an ATM outside a bank in Harare on May 20, 2020. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced this higher denomination bank note into circulation together with the Zimbabwean two-dollar and Zimbabwean five-dollar notes to ease perennial shortages of cash experienced in the country. Photo JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP

The Zimbabwean government has, for a prolonged period, been engaged in a losing battle to stem illegal foreign exchange market activities. As has been the fashion, the regime has blamed runaway inflation and spiraling price increases on nefarious activities by “market saboteurs”.

Among these innumerable efforts, in the first week of June, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) threatened to embark on an unusual exercise. It sought to pursue illegal foreign currency dealers via the surveillance of WhatsApp groups through its financial intelligence unit, in collaboration with the police, banks, mobile-money service providers and relevant regulatory agencies. It threatened to bar and freeze suspects’ mobile numbers and accounts. This proved impossible.

On June 23, the RBZ then introduced a foreign exchange auction system (FEAS), which resulted in a move from a fixed exchange rate on the interbank market, which had, since March, been pegged at one US dollar to 25 Zimbabwe dollars (ZWL). After the introduction of the FEAS, the US dollar is now officially trading at 57 ZWL, against a black-market rate of between 80 and 100 ZWL.

On June 26, three days after the introduction of the FEAS, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information and publicity, Nick Mangwana, announced a ban, with immediate effect, on all mobile-money transactions (MMTs) and trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE). These drastic measures were described as making way for “intrusive investigations” into illegal dealings linked to the foreign currency black market, in which EcoCash is cited as the “centre pivot”.

In terms of market share, EcoCash, a subsidiary of Econet, accounts for about 97% of Zimbabwe’s mobile-money services. In addressing a crucial gap in Zimbabwe’s cash crisis, MMT services have, nonetheless, made the country’s economy vulnerable to a multiplicity of illicit foreign currency activities.

That said, the RBZ must not lose sight of its contributory role to this crisis through its (mis)management of the nation’s banking system that led to the liquidity crisis in the first place. This birthed and nurtured the mobile-money system that has since spiraled off its radar and, hence, out of its control.

Like any other stock exchange, the ZSE serves as a critical link for investors in the country. The loudest, yet most unfortunate, message from the temporary ban on its trading is that Zimbabwe is not only closed for business but also has no regard for investors’ property rights. Indeed, typical of the proverbial “burning down the house to kill a rat” or “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, this drastic measure is not good for investor confidence.

Further to this looming ZSE national catastrophe, the repercussions of which are yet to fully play out, is the plight of citizens already burdened by a loss of livelihood options during this indefinitely extended Covid-19 lockdown, that is most concerning. After the shock announcement of a blanket suspension of mobile-money services, the RBZ emerged, seemingly to avert a crisis, and reviewed the ban. This reviewed statement indicated that the ban is on MMT agents and merchant mobile-money account holders, while individual transactions up to a maximum of 5,000 ZWL are permitted.

Despite this reversal of the blanket ban and the assurance given by RBZ, Mangwana’s utterance has led to anxiety and a loss of confidence, with some street vendors and supermarkets already declining mobile-money payments.

For citizens battling a worsening economic crisis under the lockdown, this unfortunate development further impoverishes people, most of whom are Econet subscribers, who constitute an unbanked population that has found relief in transacting through mobile-money services.

For the few that are banked, the protracted liquidity crisis has seen citizens brave endless days and nights in long, winding queues in an effort to secure limited withdrawals each week. It is not unusual to leave the bank empty-handed even after dedicating oneself to these queues.

Apart from the often prohibitive costs associated with opening and maintaining a bank account, MMTs have offered a lifeline amid Zimbabwe’s protracted liquidity crisis. The Covid-19 context has also increased the demand for mobile-money services. This is because in light of the increasing levels of police abuse and brutality, they are a safer option in the current context in which citizen mobility, even for access to essential services, is restricted.

MMT services have also fulfilled transacting needs within an already failing banking sector, which, due to Covid-19 social-distancing regulations, has been operating below capacity. The digitalised transacting on mobile-money platforms offered by EcoCash, OneMoney, MyCash and Telecash have come to the rescue of consumers.

Last Friday’s announcement is evidence of a huge climbdown by the RBZ. Mangwana retweeted the climbdown with no hint of irony. This announcement has the potential to decimate what is left of Zimbabwe’s meagre economy and points to a governance system that has failed to subordinate itself to the rule of law.

The government should manage its communications system and segment information outflows so that announcements are delivered by the appropriate authorities, in this case the RBZ and the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Since this is not the first example of such a case in Zimbabwe, until such time as public officials are brought to publicly account for their utterances, with consequences, not much reform can be expected in this regard.

As observed by telecommunications expert Dennis Magaya, the government’s failure to contain illegal foreign currency activities confirms a “widening gap” between a fast-changing digital world and Zimbabwe’s current monetary policy framework. This should be subject to regular review, in line with prevailing digital advances, to ensure that while monetary operations are not beyond its purview, they remain investor- and citizen-friendly.

A long-term solution to Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis, which inevitably fuels the illegal foreign currency exchange market, must be found. Beyond the concerns of manipulation and illegality and hyperinflation as a result of money supply mismanagement, the latest crackdown compounds already immeasurable suffering for the majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

This article first appeared on Business Day here

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

From Willowgate to Covidgate: Three Decades of Malfeasance in Zimbabwe

The Robert Mugabe-led government’s response to the Willowgate scandal in Zimbabwe will go down in history as a missed opportunity for setting a precedent of combatting malfeasance. Although there had been earlier corruption scandals, like the Paweni grain supply scandal in the early 1980s, Willowgate is one of the country’s biggest “grand corruption” scandals, with some of its surviving beneficiaries, like Fredrick Shava and Jacob Mudenda, still enjoying the fruits of a culture of clientelism in the form of plum diplomatic assignments and continued service in public offices.

Malfeasance has become endemic in post-colonial Zimbabwe, as evidenced by other scandals dotted between Willowgate and Covidgate (also known as Draxgate, the 2020 COVID-19 medical supplies corruption scandal). There is a structural corruption continuum that has reinforced each president’s hold on power and enabled political elites’ personal enrichment. The evident absence of political will by the two respective presidents to acknowledge and support legitimate anti-corruption citizen initiatives reveals their compromised standing in this regard.

Firstly, President Robert Mugabe consciously and conveniently ignored Willowgate. This scandal occurred only four years after President Robert Mugabe launched the ZANU-PF Leadership Code that he ostensibly instituted to combat corruption after the Paweni grain scandal. The main consequence of him and his ruling coalition’s response to the Willowgate scandal has been the entrenchment, over at least three decades, of a culture of corruption in general, but also malfeasance with impunity. As indicated by the graphic below, the perception of corruption in the very institutions that are meant to uphold the rule of law and minimise malfeasance is widespread among citizens:

Source: Afrobarometer data; graphics by Monique Bennett ©

Mwatwara and Mujere’s analysis of grand corruption in Zimbabwe echoes these sentiments, noting that “in post-colonial Zimbabwe, the scourge has worsened because of the culture of impunity that the current government has established, especially in cases where politicians are involved”. Public resources meant to support critical services in various sectors such as public health and education continue to be misappropriated and plundered without any political will to deter, punish or even recover and restore them to their rightful use of improving services and developing public infrastructure.

The prevalence of malfeasance in the health ministry at such a critical juncture – when the world’s resources  are being channelled towards strengthening healthcare systems in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic – has proven beyond reasonable doubt that ordinary citizens bear the greatest brunt of high-level corruption. The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) notes: “This commitment to saving livelihoods cannot be separated from the political commitment to transparency and accountability towards eradicating endemic corruption for such measures to be affected and effective. Alas, in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, clientelism continues to mar such commitment through corruption scandals involving senior government officials and their families.”

Although the Zimbabwean Constitution provides for mechanisms to ensure the integrity and accountability of public officials, the investigations, prosecutions and sanctions of such identified cases has largely remained cosmetic. The government’s response has instead been an onslaught against citizen expression and media freedom. Three decades on, the response is still designed to protect the offender and disable, censor and even punish the whistle-blower. The sense of de javu in Geoff Nyarota’s dismissal from being editor of The Chronicle after exposing Willowgate and Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest on 20 of July 2020 for engaging in an unwavering social media anti-corruption campaign, is crushing.

In a bid to ignore the corruption scandal, Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest was framed conveniently as “inciting public violence” and not as exposing malfeasance. Although he was eventually granted bail after 44 days in pre-trial detention at the notorious Chikurubi prison, the stringent bail conditions that curtail his freedom of movement and bar him from using Twitter are testimony to the risks that accompany investigative journalism and the anti-corruption crusade. Further to this, Hopewell’s case points to how this endemic corruption has eroded, in its wake, the independence of the country’s judiciary.

To ensure the protection of public officials, there is a clear plot to control the operations of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, whose chairperson, Justice Loice Matanda Moyo, is wife to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and November 2017 coup announcer Sibusiso Moyo. It is a clear case of a conflict of interest.

Further to this, there is now a structural threat to the freedom of the judiciary in Chief Justice Malaba’s memorandum directing that all judgments are to be “seen and approved by the head of court division” before being issued. While this was strongly contested, the directive’s threat to the independence of the judiciary is evident in the delays and uncertainties that characterised Hopewell Chin’ono’s case. He was not only denied bail three times but was deprived even of his right to fair legal representation. The targeted personal attacks on his lead lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, her intimidation and subsequent barring from representing him, all point to the multi-sectoral cost of malfeasance in Zimbabwe. It has not only eroded the country’s economy but tragically, the independence of institutions that are meant to protect the citizens.

However, the Zimbabwean case confirms that despite the supreme law of the land having clearly defined provisions for combating corruption, this is insufficient. Much more needs to be done, as noted by the IIAG, to combat “the culture of clientelism that has bred continued disinvestment in infrastructure on the African continent”. Transparency International’s Delia Ferreira Rubio observes a correlation between high levels of corruption and weak rule of law, curtailed access to information and reduced citizen participation. Corruption is a threat to citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. Transparency International calls for strategies that will nip corruption in the bud, such as putting in place legal frameworks and institutions that reduce impunity for the corrupt and enlarging space for civil society voices as well as entrenching integrity and values through education.

As Zimbabwean citizens continue to dispute the legitimacy of the current government, it is worth imagining a different future, a future in which adequately punitive and judiciously executed consequences (that serve as a sufficient deterrent to corruption) are instituted. The Zimbabwean fight against malfeasance must indeed go beyond the verbal remonstrations characteristic of both eras, and the “catch and release” approach that has largely been a feature of the Mnangagwa regime.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.


Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Can South Africa get it right this time?

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)


Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent  clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.

For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken  an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.

South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.

The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks,  heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of  non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.

A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.


Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.
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