Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

The day after Mugabe: What then? What now?

Submitted by Bryony Green

“We hope the transition will be a peaceful one, relatively peaceful, and that Mr Mugabe will step down with dignity, gracefully.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, in his uncompromised integrity, has continually called for peace and unity in Zimbabwe. His latest call, however, begs the questions of what exactly a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe would be, and to what extent peace is a trade-off with justice. What is justice in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe? What is healing? What is necessary? What is possible? What is fair?

What will happen?

With the dust not settled but rather fiercely swirling, and the Zimbabwean election picture far from complete, the question of post-Mugabe strategies may seem just a little premature — but the day after a Zanu-PF stranglehold (if not the day after Mugabe’s) is definitely here with a majority MDC Parliament already declared. I think it is imperative that Zimbabweans everywhere, particularly those at home, consider the past 28 years, what needs to be built upon and what needs to be overcome, and how.

The past 28 years of Zimbabwean politics have been characterised by the oppressive rule of a single party. From the party’s inception, Zanu-PF’s opposition has routinely been treated with contempt.

The “alleged” murder of Josiah Tongogara to pave the way for a Mugabe presidency; the mass genocide of the Ndebele people in Gukurahundi; the violence of the farm invasions and, most recently, the suppression and torture of the MDC supporters with Morgan Tsvangirai himself being threatened, arrested and beaten — Mugabe’s track record, as well as those of his cronies, points to an violent, totalitarian regime that has reacted with brutal uncompromising force to everything vaguely perceived to be opposition.

Zimbabwe’s situation may not be dissimilar to that encountered in post-Saddam Iraq and even post-apartheid South Africa. In 1980, Zimbabwe itself faced something of the same in the transition from Ian Smith’s minority white rule to Mugabe’s new-hope, united state.

It is possible that the transition to a truly democratic Zimbabwe may be even more traumatic than the transfer of power from a minority white rule to a “majority” rule in 1980. The latter took place in a period of economic strength and agricultural abundance and power was gained from an acknowledged enemy. Here, Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is dilapidated at best; in decay at worst. Zimbabweans face internal political conflict but in a climate of economic collapse, hyperinflation and with a physically starving and a morally, emotionally and politically disillusioned population. A new and novice Zimbabwean government has a plethora of challenges to face: Is justice for a 28-year tyranny one of them?

In any event, who would be the beneficiaries of such justice, and what penalties would be extracted from whom? Individuals? Organisations? Corporations? Mugabe himself? All have been complicit — to greater and lesser extents — in the human rights atrocities against Zimbabwean people. The assumption, too, is that the new Parliament (and possibly new president) will inherit the current military, police and prison infrastructure in its entirety. These state organs have spearheaded much of the human rights abuse that preceded the previous and current elections, with the MDC and its supporters the primary victims. The new government will have to decide to what extent new and positive change can occur using old, corrupt and painfully culpable machinery.

As I see it, there are three broad options:

The first option is to live and let live. This basically amounts to ignoring the past, or at least not prioritising retrospective action in the face of the possibly more pressing social and economic challenges that face Zimbabwean leaders. This option will bring a certain (if unstable) peace, but to what extent does it do duty to justice? I fear this “justice” will be carried out by the public, should some political solution not be proposed. Perhaps not immediately, perhaps not even soon, but the scarred psyches of the Zimbabwean people will be revealed later, perhaps in violent crime reminiscent of post-apartheid South Africa.

Is brutal retaliation firmly entrenched in the Zimbabwean political psyche? If so, the second option in a post-Mugabe era is something of a witch-hunt in retaliation to the violent political persecution that has characterised his regime. Would such a witch-hunt exacerbate tensions as opposed to reliving them?

The third option is something in-between. This could take a number of forms — from legal prosecution of Mugabe and other Zanu-PF leaders linked to human rights abuses to a more wide-reaching and broad-based national reconciliation process. Retributive, restorative and transitional examples of justice abound. All are open to the new Parliament. This option presents the best possibility for both justice and peace, but the way such a process is approached is critical to its impact.

It is easy to say that revenge is best served cold, and perhaps even easier to advise a turning of the other cheek. In between are myriad options, each posing potential practical or ideological challenges. A new government will need a delicately balanced combination of moral fortitude, economic savvy and political astuteness — a tough ask in any context — and must balance recovery and reparations, peace-making and justice.

This blog has asked more questions than it has answered. For me, this is perhaps my most important contribution to the discussions on Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans everywhere need to start asking questions about their future: not only questions about when Mugabe will go, but also interrogating what we will do then.

Bryony Green is a hopeful Zimbabwean, excited at the possibilities for her country. She is (in no particular order) an eternal student, an avid cricket fan, interested in student politics and a freelance writer. Currently, her “real” job is studying towards an MPhil in development studies at Oxford University