With the changing compliance landscape, the need for professionals with data protection knowledge has never been greater. For example, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires organisations to appoint a Data Protection Office (DPO), who will be independent and will report to the regulator. This Data Protection & Governance training will help the attendees to connect the dots in understanding all their data to govern and protect it to mitigate any possible risk.
Black British youth are protesting in various ways, mirroring the Black Lives Matter movement in the US
Black British youth, in the era of neoliberalism, face high rates of unemployment, increasing rates of incarceration and excessive police misconduct due to decades of structural inequality. In response, grassroots movements, led by millennials, are fighting back against these longstanding problems. They are also speaking out against anti-black racism, climate change and homophobia. Importantly, their activism is interlinked with the global oppression of the black community in the United States and across the African diaspora – Africans settled outside their native lands.
Civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King said that “riots are the language of the unheard”, a statement that couldn’t be more appropriate to describe the frustration of black British youths who have taken to the streets to confront their oppressors through acts of civil disobedience.
Rioters are often misrepresented as lawless criminals, but riots are an example of what happens when those who feel the weight of oppression, and lack the power to change the system, demand to be heard.
In the English towns of Brixton, Toxteth, Birmingham, Luton and Leeds, riots spread like wildfire in 1981, 1985 and 2011, and were not without cause. In 1981, they were precipitated by the bombings of black homes and other acts of violence by the National Front, a white supremacist terrorist organisation that committed these crimes without punishment. Riots were also in response to the metropolitan police force’s aggressive sus laws (from “suspected person”), stop and search tactics targeting black youth. The 1985 and 2011 riots were instigated after unarmed black citizens were shot and killed by police. In both cases, the deaths were defined as lawful killings and the officers were exonerated.
Rather than investigate the factors that instigated the violent demonstrations, media pathologised the demonstrators.
Each time, the riots resulted in days of civil unrest, thousands of pounds of property damage, and injuries to civilians and law enforcement officers.
Rather than investigate the factors that instigated the violent demonstrations, mainstream media and most politicians pathologised the demonstrators. Although the riots enabled aggrieved citizens to express their rage, they didn’t cause institutional shifts addressing the root causes of the rebellions.
Seeing the need for a new strategy, today’s generation often uses acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in ways just as bold and disruptive as rioting.
Conditions for black people in Britain are far from what they were in the 1980s. Today, black Britons have made great strides in politics, business, law and medicine. Journalist Afua Hirsch reports that, despite these gains, black people in Britain have the highest unemployment rate across all ethnic groups and that black workers with degrees earn less, on average, than their white counterparts. They’re also more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
Clearly, millennials find themselves fighting for the same reasons as the youth in the 1980s.
Today’s activists are armed with technological resources that make the job of organising easier. Viral activism enables groups to use social media to promote their agendas to an international audience, to organise mass demonstrations beyond borders, and to maintain control of their narratives. They can also build coalitions and broadcast their activities in real-time.
Another distinguishing feature of new grassroots movements is their advocacy against sexism and LBGTQ rights, which have often been sidelined in black civil rights movements with a known history of sexism and homophobia. Black Lives Matter UK (BLMUK) and the London Black Revolutionaries (LBR) have been two of the most impactful grassroots groups, getting media attention and making their concerns known beyond the UK.
LBR, founded in 2013, is a socialist organisation of blacks and Asians who describe themselves as “a self-determined working-class urban revolutionary organisation”. Their principles and offensives range from anti-racist, anti- sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-fascist campaigns and operations. They are a democratic-militant organisation that encourages self-leadership but strictly adheres to fighting oppression and exploitation in non-abstract forms. In addition to speaking out against excessive policing in black and minority communities, they have also advocated for the homeless and immigrant workers.
BLMUK, established in 2016, is an offshoot of an American organisation established three years earlier in response to the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a policeman, and the deaths of other black Americans killed by police. BLMUK organises around the same core issues as LBR.
Both groups engage in disruptive behaviours in public spaces, intended to bring awareness to what they perceive as human rights violations against marginalised groups.
LBR drew media attention after destroying hostile architecture designed to regulate public spaces and dissuade loitering, especially by the homeless.
In protest of what they see as discriminatory anti-homeless practices, and to spotlight the larger issue of unaffordable housing and the lack of housing schemes for displaced persons, LBR poured concrete over the spikes of Tesco’s window sills – the supermarket’s efforts to make these spaces uninhabitable for the homeless.
In July 2016, along with the Malcolm X Movement, they called out the Byron burger chain for working in tandem with immigration officials to arrest and detain immigrant workers, some of whom were undocumented. The raid resulted in the deportation of several restaurant employees. LBR and other groups demanded an apology from Byron, but the restaurant defended their actions and denied wrongdoing. In retaliation, LBR released live roaches and grasshoppers at two of the burger chain’s 56 locations, forcing their temporary closure.
In contrast, BLMUK, a multiracial coalition of activists, has taken a more traditional approach. In 2016, the group made headlines when they obstructed the tarmac at London’s Heathrow airport for several hours, creating major delays. The rally was two-fold: to draw attention to police brutality (reportedly after the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who died from suffocation while in police custody on a deportation flight to Angola), and to climate change. The group’s Instagram page explained: “The climate crisis is a racist crisis – 7/10 of the countries most affected by climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The focus on global struggles for African descendants is a key feature of the BLMUK and LBR movements.
The focus on global struggles for African descendants is a key feature of the BLMUK and LBR movement, and it’s why both groups have stood in solidarity against police brutality in the US and across the diaspora.
In a unified front with black Americans, BLMUK and LBR each organised rallies in protest of the police officer who was acquitted in shooting and killing unarmed Missouri teenager Mike Brown. In November 2014, LBR drew a crowd of almost 800 protesters against Brown’s death to demonstrate outside the American embassy. In 2014, LBR put together a die-in (a demonstration where people lie down as if dead) at the Westfield shopping center in London to protest the murder of African- American Eric Garner, a New York man choked to death by the police for selling cigarettes.
BLMUK and LBR’s alignment with the African-American cause has been questioned by Britons who don’t see the correlation between excessive policing in the US and the UK. BLMUK explained: “In the US, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin and countless others have
lost their lives. Here, we have Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder, and many more. More than 1 500 people have died in the UK during or after police contact since 1990 and 147 of them were black, according to the charity Inquest… We were also protesting over the hundreds of other black people killed all over the world by police officers who often kill with impunity. For instance, in the UK, there has never been a successful prosecution of an officer for the death of a person under custody.”
In comparison to American grassroots organisations, LBR and BLMUK are disadvantaged. In America, organisations like Black Lives Matter are able to sustain media coverage; they have investment from the community, and are supported by prominent politicians. While they haven’t seen any real justice, they have been able to enact real change, such as requiring police officers to wear body cams to capture arrests and then resolve complaints against officers. It remains to be seen if LBR or BLMUK can be as impactful.
In her article Youth struggles: from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter and beyond, anthropologist Alcinda Honwana argues: “Young people have been at the forefront of political change, however they have not yet been able to effect systemic change. While profound social transformation takes time, this generation is still wrestling with how to move beyond street protest and have a lasting impact on politics and governance.”
Only time will tell if LBR or BLMUK will see the fruits of their labour.
On 6 July 2020, Lazarus Chakwera was inaugurated as Malawi’s sixth president after winning the 2020 Malawi election, an election that was extraordinary because it was the first on the continent held as a result of a court overturning an election result. Moreover, the incumbent was defeated and stepped down.
Chakwera and his running mate, Saulos Chilima, achieved more together than they had individually in the previous election when they stood as independent candidates, validating their decision to run on the same ticket.
Interestingly, both Chakwera and former President Arthur Mutharika of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) formed alliances with other parties. Chakwera’s alliance with Chilima was supported by most other opposition parties and was called the Tonse Alliance, while Mutharika formed an alliance with Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front).
Understanding the genesis of the coalition may prove beneficial to opposition parties and pro-democracy activists, as the lessons could strengthen and deepen democracy and good governance on the continent.
There are several important lessons from the coalition that proved advantageous to the Tonse Alliance. To obtain a better understanding of the Tonse Alliance and strides made, we review the events that took place between the disputed election of 2019 and the successful 2020 election:
Stronger together – unity for change
Had Chakwera and Chilima formed a coalition for the 2019 elections, they would have garnered more votes than Mutharika. Their decision to run separately paved the way for Mutharika to remain in power longer. While this option may seem simple numerically, it was more difficult in reality, as senior figures within Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had to be convinced to step aside and free positions for Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) colleagues. For the re-run 2020 election, Chilima importantly set aside his personal political ambitions for the collective good of removing the DPP from power.
Initially, the MCP and UTM separately challenged the 2019 election result but Lilongwe High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire requested that the respective plaintiffs be joined as parties in the action. Mkandawire indicated that he was satisfied that the two cases were constitutional in nature, and needed Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda’s certification, in accordance with Section 9(3) of the Courts Act, to have them be heard in the Constitutional Court.
During the Constitutional Court proceedings, a case of political serendipity occurred: a bond between Chakwera and Chilima formed as they shared a bench under a tree during a recess. Photographs of them seemingly cracking jokes went viral in mainstream and social media. This unplanned occurrence may have been the beginning of their alliance journey.
Importance of an impartial and independent electoral management body
The resignation of former Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Jane Ansah was a pivotal development. The 2020 election might not have taken place had Justice Chifundo Kachale not been appointed as the new MEC chairperson. Kachale brilliantly navigated a combination of political and logistical obstacles, even though he took over only two weeks before the election.
Malawi was able to hold the 2020 election only because the Constitutional Court and later the Supreme Court ruled that the 2019 polls had been flawed. In addition, the court ruled that the victor in the presidential elections must win 50% + 1 of the vote, and also set out a timeframe for holding fresh elections.
The court’s overriding of the 2019 election results has set an important legal precedent that should find some footing in courts across the region. This precedent may act as a catalyst to embolden regional pro-democracy activists in other countries to address issues of poor governance and instances of perceived electoral fraud.
Neutrality of the security organs
The refusal of the security organs to be exploited to defy court orders and the popular will of the citizens stands in marked contrast to Zimbabwe’s electoral facades. Mutharika did in fact seek to bring the armed forces into play by firing the head of the military, General Vincent Nundwe, and his deputy, Clement Namangale, and replacing them with more pliable officers. Thankfully, the military has demonstrated a history of defending the rule of law during political transitions, and stood firm on this occasion too.
Minimise potential to rig the outcome
Past elections have demonstrated the benefits of obtaining large winning margins, as some incumbents may be impeded from rigging the result, or cannot rig it by a large margin and maintain credibility. A recent case in point was Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko rigging elections, resulting in an outrageous winning margin of 80.1%. In 2019, Mutharika won 38.57% of the vote, against Chakwera’s 35.41%. However, in 2020, this masterstroke resulted in the coalition securing a winning margin so large (58% – 41% = 17%) that it was all but impossible for the ruling party to rig the outcome.
Malawians took “home-grown ownership” of the 2020 election process, in contrast to past experiences. Although the international community had raised concerns about the country’s ability to hold elections in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner, Malawi proved that it could be achieved even without external observers. Although the disputed 2019 result was seemingly endorsed by foreign electoral observer teams, on this occasion – due to COVID-19 restricting the presence of foreign observers – nothing was left to chance and local observers were called on to endorse the election, holding the government accountable.
The developments in Malawi should inspire pro-democracy activists across the continent. However, replicating the outcome in other contexts may prove challenging if the factors that led to Malawi’s outcome are not properly heeded.
Several countries in the region are preparing to hold elections but are starting from a more compromised position. For instance, in Zambia, the courts have faced criticism for endorsing President Edgar Lungu to run for a second term as president in the 2021 elections. In Tanzania, authorities have stepped up repression of opposition parties, non-governmental organisations and the media ahead of the country’s general elections in October 2020.
In short, there is no formula for opposition parties seeking positive election outcomes. As highlighted above, several factors need to be in place simultaneously. However, if opposition parties had to choose one factor to build their foundation on, from Malawi’s experience, it is the importance of opposition candidates with similar ideologies putting aside their personal ambitions and rivalries in favour of a united stand at the polls.
This article originally appeared in the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM).
Public reaction to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s tweet announcing the death of Lands and Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri on July 29 summarised the polarised nature of the Zimbabwean society, while also serving as a barometer of the effectiveness of government policies in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Mnangagwa did not immediately reveal the cause of death, word had already gone around that Shiri – a powerful former head of the air force and the former commander of the infamous 5th Brigade which is estimated to have killed about 20,000 civilians in the Gukurahundi massacre in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 1980s – had succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On July 31, Mnangagwa confirmed Shiri had indeed died of Covid-19, after bizarrely visiting his family brandishing test results. Meanwhile, some family members questioned the claim, and told the media that they suspected that Shiri had been poisoned. Shiri’s death shook the corridors of power and resulted in several ministers and high-ranking government officials going into self-isolation after coming into contact with him.
Shiri – a powerful former head of the air force and the former commander of the infamous 5th Brigade which is estimated to have killed about 20,000 civilians in the Gukurahundi massacre in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the early 1980s – succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the president praised the departed minister, Zimbabweans responded by criticising government corruption and reported looting Covid-19 funds and demanding working hospitals. A response from @libyPatendero read: “Build hospitals (rather) than promoting corruption through Command Agriculture. Covid-19 is the greatest equaliser.”
Command Agriculture is a support scheme for farmers introduced by government and was overseen by then vice president, Mnangagwa, who chaired the Cabinet Committee on Food and Nutrition. It was introduced at the beginning of the 2016-17 farming season to ensure food security. Joseph Made was the agriculture minister at the time.
Under the controversial programme implemented through Sakunda Holdings owned by Mnangagwa’s advisor Kuda Tagwirei, beneficiary farmers, among them ministers and senior government officials, army commanders and judges received farming inputs and implements. In 2018, Sakunda Holdings failed to properly account for close to $3 billion, according to Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s audit report for that year, subsequently corroborated by Lands and Agriculture ministry senior officials in parliament.
Shiri’s death shook the corridors of power and resulted in several ministers and high-ranking government officials going into self-isolation after coming into contact with him.
Responding to the president’s tweet, other Zimbabweans openly celebrated the minister’s death, citing the role he played in the Gukurahundi massacres; Shiri has been as “one of the key architects of the Gukurahundi mass executions in the early 1980s”. Other respondents said Shiri was a typical example of the country’s powerful political and military elite, which had subjected Zimbabweans to all sorts of human rights violations.
The state of decay of the country’s health care system has certainly been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic – and with it, another glaring inequality. It is common knowledge that the members of the ruling elite hardly ever use local hospitals. In an emergency they might use an expensive private hospital, but only until they can fly out to a better-equipped foreign hospital.
When former President Robert Mugabe died on 6 September last year, he was in Singapore, where he had been treated periodically for over a decade. Mnangagwa was treated in South Africa after a poisoning scare in 2017, while Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is a frequent visitor to China, where he has been receiving treatment since last year. Chiwenga has also been treated in South Africa and India.
While the president praised the departed minister, Zimbabweans responded by criticising government corruption and reported looting Covid-19 funds and demanding working hospitals.
Other cabinet ministers and high ranking Zanu PF officials have shown a similar preference for costly overseas treatment. Co-Vice President Kembo Mohadi and Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri were treated in South Africa after being caught in a bomb blast in 2018. Mohadi also visited South Africa several times last year for treatment. Indeed, at one time, both Zimbabawe’s vice presidents were hospitalised in the neighbouring country at the same time.
Popular opinion regarding Chiri’s death reflects the views expressed in the responses to the president’s tweet. “Covid-19 knows no elite or poor person. This pandemic is a killer, [and] it should remind the likes of Mnangagwa that they are mortal,” said Miriam Muchongwe (33) a vendor resident in Mbare, a high density suburb in Harare.
She was happy, she said, that limits on international travel meant that powerful people could not easily fly out of the country for treatment. “I may sound like a callous person, but I hope the pandemic hits those at the top hard. Zimbabweans are not stupid. They demand that the government should invest tax-payers’ money in hospitals and other social needs, instead of funding their luxurious lifestyles.”
Responding to the president’s tweet, other Zimbabweans openly celebrated the minister’s death, citing the role he played in the Gukurahundi massacres.
Zimbabweans have expressed their disappointment on various platforms – health care, industry and trade unions, among others – at the containment measures adopted by government to stop the spread of the pandemic since the first case was reported on 20 March.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary general Norman Matara told me that Covid-19 had brought many lessons with it. “Basically, as a country we were not prepared for Covid-19. Pandemics and natural disasters don’t give warnings, so it is important for countries to have strong systemic building blocks for health systems.”
Zimbabwe has been shown to be weak in all six system components as recommended by the World Health Organisation, Matara said: leadership and governance, service delivery, health system financing, health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies and health information systems.
“Covid-19 knows no elite or poor person. This pandemic is a killer, [and] it should remind the likes of Mnangagwa that they are mortal” – Miriam Muchongwe
“As a result, the positive policy steps taken by the government to contain the pandemic, such as introducing a national lockdown, equipping hospitals and isolation centres, decentralising Covid-19 treatment and so on, failed. You can’t neglect hospitals for decades and then attempt to equip them in six weeks. When the pandemic struck, Wilkins Isolation Hospital didn’t have plug points, or a single ventilator.”
Although Covid-19 treatment had been decentralised, most provincial hospitals lacked resources such as beds, ventilators and even personnel, including ICU nurses and anaesthesiologists, while some districts were unable to transfer patients due to a lack of ambulances. The same lack of resources has seen the government failing to roll out Covid-19 tests, with many Covid-19 deaths being discovered only during routine post mortems.
One vital lesson from the pandemic, Matara said, was that the Zimbabwean government should adhere to the Abuja Declaration, in which African leaders committed to allocate 15% of their annual budgets to improving the health sector.
Zimbabwe has been shown to be weak in all six system components as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, government declared a 21-day total lockdown on 30 March, which was extended by two weeks before being gradually eased. Meanwhile, according to the official figures, Covid-19 cases are on the rise. As of 18 August there were some 5,378, with 141 deaths reported and 4,105 recoveries.
However, it is not clear how accurate these figures are. No comparative statistics for Zimbabwe are available. Across Africa, though, the total number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than official numbers suggest, according to the International Rescue Committee. The lack of data may be “due to a variety of factors – such as testing capacity, health infrastructure devastated by conflict, and stigma,” the organisation says.
The rapidly rising numbers raise the question of the effectiveness of the lockdown. Around the world, the primary aim of lockdowns has been to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed by cases of Covid-19. But Zimbabwe’s severely neglected health care system broke down very soon anyway. So, as Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) secretary general Japhet Moyo told me, the lockdown was pointless.
As of 18 August there were some 5,378, with 141 deaths reported and 4,105 recoveries.
The government also failed to provide effective social safety nets for citizens. Most people in the country are dependent on the informal sector for a living, and they were forced to continue informal trading activities despite lockdown regulations. There was also a lack of any effective public transport, as well as a shortage of staple foods such as mealie-meal, with the result that there were often long queues at bus terminuses and shopping centres. Crammed minibus taxis and long queues are concentrations of people, and the very opposite of physical distancing, which increases contagion risk. So it’s likely that enforcing the pointless lockdown has increased the infection rate.
Moreover, while the government had introduced a taskforce, chaired by Mohadi, to fight the pandemic, it had erred by not including a range of stakeholders, among them labour and business, in the taskforce’s deliberations, Moyo said. “It’s very unfortunate that our government does not believe in dialogue or inclusivity. On many occasions business and labour were caught by surprise by some Covid-19 measures and announcements. Consultations could have seen us all pulling together in the national interest. Going forward, the government must learn to consult.”
On 1 May, Mnangagwa announced a ZW$18 billion ($430 million at the time) Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, “designed to scale-up production in all sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effects of Covid-19.” The amount would see ZW$6.1 billion going to stimulate agricultural production, ZW$3 billion to cover capital and operational expenses for the manufacturing sector, a ZW$1 billion credit support facility for the mining sector, ZW$500 million to support the tourism and hospitality industry and ZW$1 billion for the procurement of Covid-19 testing kits, PPEs and the purchase of drugs.
Across Africa, the total number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than official numbers suggest, according to the International Rescue Committee.
The ZCTU had asked information on disbursements during a Tripartite Negotiating Forum meeting involving government, labour and business on 14 July, Moyo said. However, they were told that the plan “remained an intention”.
In any case former finance minister Tendai Biti has said that the plan did not set aside enough money to save Zimbabwe’s ailing industries. At least $1 billion would be needed, he told the Zimbabwe Independent in mid-June. CZI President Henry Ruzvidzo concurred, describing the stimulus as “a modest amount given the challenges faced by industry” to the Zimbabwe Independent in the same article.
As noted in previous blogs in this series, even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe’s economy was hamstrung by a number of problems, among them a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute fuel and foreign currency shortages, currency volatility and low capacity utilisation as well as runaway inflation. Covid-19 has worsened the plight of Zimbabwe’s ailing industries while stretching its ill-equipped medical facilities and exposing the weakness in the health sector.
Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe’s economy was hamstrung by a number of problems, among them a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute fuel and foreign currency shortages, currency volatility and low capacity utilisation as well as runaway inflation.
As Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights’ Matara noted, major crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic seldom announce themselves, allowing time to plan. As we have seen around the world, the major difference between countries that have weathered the pandemic relatively well and those that haven’t has been the presence or absence of strong, capable institutions – in leadership, health care and research, among other areas.
It was clear from the beginning that decades of under-investment in health care would leave Zimbabwe totally unprepared for the pandemic. And as it turned out, public health care facilities at all levels were completely unable to cope.
Now other major crises are looming, with climate change at the top of the list. Some of my fellow blog writers in this series have mentioned the looming impact of climate change on Africa’s environments. Africa in Fact’s recent edition on the environment (July 2020), to which I contributed, looks at this in a number of African countries.
The warnings are clear. Also for Zimbabwe. Indeed, climate change is one crisis that is actually announcing itself. Much remains unpredictable, but we know quite a lot about its causes and likely impacts. Time will tell, though, if the message of the pandemic is loud and clear to Mnangagwa and his administration.
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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s despatch of envoys to Zimbabwe in a bid to defuse the latest crisis, in which the government has engaged in a vicious crackdown on opponents, journalists and the freedoms of speech, association and protest, has been widely welcomed.
Such has been the brutality of the latest assault on human rights by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime that something had to be done. And, as the big brother neighbour next door, South Africa is the obvious actor to do it.
It may be guaranteed that Ramaphosa’s envoys – Sydney Mufamadi, a former government minister turned academic, and Baleka Mbete, a former deputy president of South Africa, former speaker of the National Assembly and former chairperson of the African National Congress (ANC) – were sent off to Harare with a very limited brief. They were accompanied by Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi and diplomat Ndumiso Ntshinge.
The mission quickly ran into trouble. The envoys returned to South Africa without meeting members of the opposition.
Observers and activists are rightly sceptical about how much will come out of it. The best that is seriously hoped for is that South African diplomacy will bring about immediate relief. This would include: the release of journalists, opposition figures and civil society activists from jail; promises to withdraw the military from the streets; perhaps even some jogging of the Mnangagwa government to meet with its opponents and to make some trifling concessions.
After all, the pattern is now well established: crisis, intervention, promises by the Zanu-PF regime to behave, and then relapse after a decent interval to the sort of behaviour that prompted the latest crisis in the first place.
But in a previous era, South Africa once made Zimbabwe’s dependence count.
South Africa has done it once
Back in 1976, apartheid South Africa’s Prime Minister John B. Vorster fell in with US plans to bring about a settlement in then Rhodesia, and hence relieve international pressure on his own government, by withdrawing military and economic support and closing the border between the two countries.
Ian Smith had little choice but to comply. Today, no one, not even the most starry-eyed hopefuls among the ranks of the opposition and civil society in Zimbabwe, believe that Ramaphosa’s South Africa will be prepared to wield such a big stick. The time is long past that Pretoria’s admonitions of bad behaviour are backed by a credible threat of sanction and punishment.
So, why is it that Vorster could bring about real change, twisting Smith’s arm to engage in negotiations with his liberation movement opponents that eventually led to a settlement and a transition to majority rule, and ANC governments – from the time of Nelson Mandela onwards – have been so toothless?
If we want an answer, we need to look at three fundamental differences between 1976 and now.
First, Vorster was propelled into pressuring Smith by the US, which was eager to halt the perceived advance of communism by bringing about a settlement in Rhodesia which was acceptable to the West. In turn, Vorster thought that by complying with US pressure, his regime would earn Washington’s backing as an anti-communist redoubt. Today there is no equivalent spur to act. It is unlikely that US president Donald Trump could point to Zimbabwe on a map.
Britain, the European Union and other far-off international actors all decry the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. But they have largely given up on exerting influence, save to extend vitally needed humanitarian aid (and thank God for that). Zimbabwe has retreated into irrelevance, except as a case study as a failed state. They are not likely to reenter the arena and throw good money and effort at the Zimbabwean problem until they are convinced that something significant, some serious political change for the good, is likely to happen.
Second, South African intervention today is constrained by liberation movement solidarity. They may have their differences and arguments, but Zanu-PF and the ANC, which governs South Africa, remain bound together by the conviction that they are the embodiments of the logic of history.
As the leading liberators of their respective countries, they believe they represent the true interests of the people. If the people say otherwise in an election, this can only be because they have been duped or bought. It cannot be allowed that history should be put into reverse.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki played a crucial role in forging a coalition government between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after the latter effectively won the parliamentary election in 2008. But South Africa held back from endorsing reliable indications that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had also won the presidential election against Robert Mugabe.
As a result, Tsvangirai was forced into a runoff presidential contest, supposedly because he had won less than 50% of the poll. The rest is history.
Zanu-PF struck back with a truly vicious campaign against the MDC, Tsvangirai withdrew from the contest, and Mugabe remained as president, controlling the levers of power. The ANC looked on, held its nose, and scuttled home to Pretoria saying the uneasy coalition it left behind was a job well done.
Third, successive Zanu-PF governments have become increasingly militarised. Mnangagwa may have put his military uniform aside, but it is the military which now calls the shots. It ultimately decides who will front for its power. There have been numerous statements by top ranking generals that they will never accept a government other than one formed by Zanu-PF. The African Union and Southern African Development Community have both outlawed coups, but everyone knows that the Mnangagwa government is a military government in all but name.
So, it is all very well to call for a transitional government, one which would see Zanu-PF engaging with the opposition parties and civil society and promising a return to constitutional rule and the holding of a genuinely democratic election. But we have been there before.
The fundamental issue is how Zimbabwe’s military can be removed from power, and how Zimbabwean politics can be demilitarised. Without the military behind it, Zanu-PF would be revealed as a paper tiger, and would meet with a heavy defeat in a genuinely free and fair election.
According to Ibbo Mandaza, the veteran activist and analyst in Harare, what Zimbabwe needs is the establishment of a transitional authority tasked with returning the country to constitutional government and enabling an economic recovery. Nice idea, but a pipe dream.
No one in their right mind believes that a Ramaphosa government, whose own credibility is increasingly threadbare because of its bungled response to the coronavirus epidemic, its corruption and its economic incompetence, has the stomach to bring this about. We can expect fine words and promises and raised hopes, but lamentably little action until the next crisis comes around, when the charade will start all over again.
Any relief, any improvement on the present situation will be welcomed warmly in Zimbabwe. But no one in Harare – whether in government, opposition or civil society – will really believe that Ramaphosa’s increasingly ramshackle government will be prepared to tackle the issue that really matters: removing the military from power.