Addressing the recent ZANU-PF annual congress, party leader and Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe likened the (mis)fortunes of his party to those of a wounded beast. “We are now like a wounded beast,” Mugabe said, adding emphatically, “You know how a wounded beast fights. Let’s fight back and restore our own pride.”

Mugabe’s unhappiness with the current government of national unity, the brainchild of former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is well documented. He has continuously insisted that his party gets out of the marriage of inconvenience it got itself into with the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

ZANU-PF has never been shy about bringing animal imagery into politics. The most famous image, perhaps, is the once-upon-a-time statement made by a certain senior leader of the party who declared that if they were to put a baboon on the ballot paper, Zimbabweans would still vote for that baboon because, well, it was a ZANU-PF baboon.

The wounded-beast image, coming as it did during the congress, is quite revealing – the party is simply not prepared to lose the next election. The question, then, is this: what is ZANU-PF prepared to do in order to win the next election? Given Zimbabwe’s recent electoral history, its harrowing facts on intimidation, torture, murder and a litany of fraud allegations, it is almost impossible to see how this cocktail of deadly elements can be avoided.

Civic groupings in Zimbabwe have repeatedly stated that the country is not ready for an election, not when key preconditions such as key electoral, security and media reforms have not been instituted. That there is gross uncertainty over a proposed new constitution doesn’t help matters either. Still, SADC, through the appointed facilitator, South African president, Jacob Zuma, is yet to speak authoritatively and with deep conviction about the kind of election the regional body wants to see in the erstwhile breadbasket of Africa.

Hence, outside any framework that is likely to deter wounded and raging political beasts from inflicting pain on the people alleged to have caused the wounds, should Mugabe’s sincerity in denouncing political violence be questioned? Or this is the return of sanity in the zany party?

In the same speech to the congress, the octogenarian had this to say: “We [ZANU-PF] do not have to take up spears in order to win,” adding also, “No violence. Let’s have a peaceful election. Let our policies be the spear. We are now mature people and proud of our enlightenment and education.”

Spearheading policy has been one of ZANU-PF’s strategies to win over Zimbabweans who have lost faith in the party. As I have written elsewhere, ZANU-PF was a party that was done and dusted after the 2008 poll but the unity government and the latter fortunes in the discovery of diamonds in Eastern Zimbabwe gave it a surprising comeback.

Of course, ZANU-PF policies are both morally and intellectually conflicting for most Zimbabweans. For instance, how does a youthful and predominantly black majority speak in favour of the discourse on economic empowerment, popularly known as Indigenisation in Zimbabwe, without appearing to condone the national destruction that has accompanied the party’s efforts at holding on to power?

Yes, there are apparent flaws in the whole beneficiation structure but if there is anything to seriously consider in this, it is that the historical necessity of black economic empowerment cannot be delayed any further. And Zimbabweans know that all too well, albeit disagreeing on the methodology of empowerment.

Interestingly, the larger MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai has come up with what its calling an alternative economic plan – Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital, Ecology (JUICE) – but this has either received a lukewarm reception or has not been sold to the wider public effectively. But it too, has not been short of animal imagery.

This is how MDC Secretary-General and Zimbabwe Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, described the JUICE and its intentions: “ZANU-PF starts from the point of view that we should distribute the small economy, which is a rat, to over 14 million people, while the MDC wants to expand the economy…so that the rat my become an elephant and have more economic players than when you have a small population participation.”

It may take a lifetime, transforming a rat into an elephant but, supposing – as many people do – that the MDC is the party that has wounded and cornered the ZANU-PF beast, will untested blueprints such as these appear juicy enough for Zimbabweans to want to taste them and therefore guarantee an MDC electoral victory that will, in turn, translate into a democratic transfer of power?

Beyond the usual politicking and use of animal imagery to, perhaps, mystify political strategies, one would have hoped that there would be some kind of critical public discourse engagement and analysis that gives the talk of Zimbabwe’s future – the long-awaited rebirth – a more honest and objective focus.

Quite clearly, the systematic subversion of the country’s public discourse has meant that polarisation and paralysis in thinking and acting continues to overshadow important discussion and debate. It’s a dangerous trend that needs to be reversed, although this may not seem to be the most pressing thing for Zimbabweans to do at the moment.

Yet, how is the nation supposed to deal with a self-proclaimed and profoundly wounded beast that is not prepared to lick its wounds but rather fight back in the name of defending sovereignty and restoring national pride? Indeed, how is the MDC, long considered to be the government-in-waiting, going to react to a ZANU-PF poll victory under conditions approved by SADC should that happen?

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, it’s not impossible to think that the era of unity governments is not going to be over soon in Zimbabwe. We might just see a renewal of the current arrangement come the next election. Sigh.


  • @LeviKabwato is a social and political commentator. His other areas of interest include media management, journalism, media freedom, freedom of expression in cyberspace, creative writing and radical philosophy.


Levi Kabwato

@LeviKabwato is a social and political commentator. His other areas of interest include media management, journalism, media freedom, freedom of expression in cyberspace, creative writing and radical philosophy.

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