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The tired, absurd and uninspiring in Zim’s political amphitheatre

Inside the Zimbabwean political amphitheatre are scenes of the tired, the old and the uninspiring. These are scenes not too gladly and willingly watched but forcefully shown to the audience. It sounds really absurd but in reality no one is spared from the ever-disappointing drama coming out of Zimbabwe.

Like many, I have watched with great caution the drama surrounding the swearing in of the prime minister, his deputies and ministers in Zimbabwe. I say with caution because I am one of those people who believe that this unity government is built on sand. As you might expect, the structure will soon collapse. It is a matter of time — that is if my analysis is spot-on. I know this is not palatable to many but historical and recent developments justify my pessimism. I would rather tread with cautious pessimism than wild optimism. Below are my reasons.

First and foremost, the Government of National Unity (GNU) was driven by the desire from both parties (MDC and Zanu-PF) to share power equally, of course this after each failed to claim all the power individually. Given room to assume all the power, each of these parties would have sidelined the other, as we see unfolding now. More critical for these parties was who gets what position in government? Who gets to run what department? Who has the power to appoint who and how? In other words, the main driver for the GNU was who gets the biggest share of the national resources and not what would hold the nation together.

Giving equal or even disproportionate power to different political actors is not the solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis. Rather what this might create is a perpetual conflict between the two “bulls” so to speak. If we used the metaphor of the bulls to illustrate this scenario, we would notice that the current experiment could be characterised by a perennial stand-off between Zanu-PF and the MDC-T. If two bulls are put in one kraal, expect no peace in that kraal for the bulls or the other cows. The older bull will always want to flex its muscles and apply its authority on the younger one. To do so, it has no choice but to use violence. But of course the young and new bull won’t take kindly to this. It will resist any moves to be sidelined. At the back of its mind the young bull is convinced that the old has no real stamina and that this is the moment for the new leader in the kraal. So we end up with these endless fights in the kraal causing sleepless nights for the other cows as well.

Does this not resonate? Roy Bennet was arrested some minutes before the ministers were sworn in. Is this not the case of the old bull flexing its muscles? The new bull is definitely going to fight back. How is still the question? But this is a serious test for the new bull. If it fails this test, it might as well accept that the old bull is still the most powerful in the kraal. There will be many of these unnecessary tussles.

Second, the GNU has just recycled the old, especially from Zanu-PF, back into ministerial positions. Thus nothing has changed — it is the old and tired back in the driving seat. Is there any hope for a safe landing? Your answer is spot-on. The MDC-T list is even more interesting. It’s a mixture of friends and the absurd. There are capable appointments I must say but in the main the MDC also rewards loyalty. This is as sad as it is disheartening.

I have followed some heated arguments in Facebook concerning regional representation. This is a topic for another article. Those from Matabeleland seemed concerned that they were not represented proportionally in the new appointments. And the white community felt persecuted. These are real issues that the country should discuss — whether now or later is another question. The point though is that we seem to have stagnated. Frankly, the current set-up is not inspiring. Will there ever be a time when the government and other appointments are made based on merit and not some spurious relations or loyalty?

When all this is happening of course there is total disregard for what holds the nation together. The politicians including the architects of the GNU did not ask the question: what is the national question for Zimbabweans? What are Zimbabweans’ common values and principles? In other words, should the GNU not be built on a common value system rather than on power-sharing? The very notion of sharing power implies severe or even bloody competition. Who would want to lose out? No one of course. And yet if the process was reversed and we started with the values and social glue, I bet we would not have as many bloody scuffles as we currently have. Indeed the central uniting feature would not be what goes where and who gets what, but what defines Zimbabweans in substantive ways. A GNU built on the national question and value system would be solid. Simply because it would be built on the foundation of social values and glued together by what unites society rather than what separates it. What we have currently is a union forced together by what separates society rather than its glue. Can we expect the impossible to happen?

We need to confront this monstrous and erroneous formula. I have heard all kinds of arguments regarding unity governments. I am still to be convinced that they work at the end of the day. My view is that Zimbabwe is a special case and there were no alternatives to a GNU formula. But the process leading to the GNU was very flawed as I have stated elsewhere and above. Not only was it exclusive to a few individuals but its participants were also naïve. MDC-T signed an agreement that had no serious substance. They ended up bound by the signature rather than the contents of the agreement. Zanu-PF on the other hand needed the MDC but still went on as if they could do without the MDC. Why did they take decisions that are so obviously wrong in the eyes of their constituencies? The GNU is not the solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis — it is a stop-gap measure. We still have to find a solution to the crisis.

Some actions can be taken to rectify the flawed process leading to the GNU. Firstly, what the agreement has referred to as national healing should be expanded to include what the churches at one point attempted with “the Zimbabwe we want” consultations that led to a report, which was, however, Zanunised. A national consultative process on the national question and what people care about most must be initiated with the view to building social cohesion. My view has always been that there are no fundamental divisions between political players in Zimbabwe regarding what Zimbabwe ought to be but what has separated and kept them apart are the methodologies and approaches they use to get to the desired goal.

Second, civil society formations must grab this moment to hold the government accountable for the past wrongs but also for their promises. It is more important now because there is no opposition. To do so, however, civil-society formations need to be capacitated conceptually and in practical terms.


  • Bhekinkosi Moyo is trained in political science and currently shuttles between Southern Africa and West Africa. He works for TrustAfrica-a Pan African oriented foundation that works to secure the conditions for democratic governance and equitable development. In 2007, he edited a collection of chapters: Africa in Global Power Play. He has just completed editing an 18 country book on DisEnabling the Public Sphere: Civil Society Regulation in Africa.