After countless false dawns and the violent suppression of the democratic wishes of the Zimbabwe people, can they finally dare to dream that the decade’s long evening of darkness will awaken to a fresh new dawn?
In the throes of an insurmountable economic decline with formal employment now only 10% and economic activity at 50% of that 10 years ago, the question on all Zimbabweans’ minds is whether it will be economic dislocation, revolt within the previously submissive ”war veterans” or biological inevitability in Mugabe’s death that will ultimately wrest control from the Zimbabwean president’s hands.
Which of these possibilities will eventuate and, more importantly for the average Zimbabwean, will it be peaceful or will it culminate in further unforeseen dislocation.
Whatever the outcome, Zimbabwe is clearly entering unchartered waters.
Main picture: Recent anti-Mugabe demonstrations
Like the Nazi Party’s Brown Shirts, this ill-defined and ill-disciplined cabal is the ZANU-PF’s or more specifically, Robert Mugabe’s, Enforcers. Their chief role has been to intimidate Mugabe’s opponents with impunity.
It is no coincidence that Mugabe’s longevity in power is courtesy of this undemocratic extra-legal force. Having borne the brunt of guerrilla war against white minority rule in Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979, they were rightfully accorded lavish praise for their endeavours. Would these veterans mutate into a society of old soldiers much like Britain’s innocuous red-jacketed Chelsea Pensioners? No never as their utility for Robert Mugabe was not yet over.
Mugabe first employed them as his Enforcers in 2000 – a violent mob to crush the nascent shoots of a burgeoning national pro-democracy movement. They were culpable of hundreds of murders and other forms of violent intimidation of opposition politicians, liberal NGO’s, white farmers and their workers. That came at a cost to Mugabe. They were not going to be employed in this unseemly role to perform Mugabe’s dirty work without some form of remuneration. They demanded some form of recompense. Mugabe capitulated. He granted them increased monthly stipends and assured them of immunity from prosecution for their vile deeds.
Quite simply, The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association had transmuted from heroic war veterans into an agglomeration of lawless scroungers of public money extorted from the government.
Like all Enforcers, the cost of their acquiescence would not come cheap. In 1997 they held a secret meeting with Mugabe and threatened to overthrow him if he did not pay them huge gratuities. Mugabe capitulated. At his behest US$200 million in a lump sum payment were made, in addition to their monthly pensions. The government had made no provision for such a large sum, and the result was an immediate 70 percent decline in the value of the national currency.
As Mugabe’s fortunes declined, his reliance on his Enforcers surged. With the value of their stipend not reflecting their value to Mugabe in the current economic malaise, the veterans held a congress in February this year, at which Mugabe was present. One of their officials produced a list – that took 20 minutes to read – of demands for more money for themselves, their relatives, of free land, more generous than any Scandinavian government could afford, let alone a bankrupt, ill-governed African country, and in complete disregard for the critical state of the economy.
That was then
Mugabe baulked. Even one so economically ill-literate understood the implications of genuflecting to these outrageous demands. What does any spoilt child do? Throw a tantrum and preferably their toys too. So last week they issued a lengthy statement which denounced the “dictatorial, manipulative and egocentric tendencies personified by the president,” condemned “the brutal suppression of the freedom of expression,” and his “bankrupt leadership” which, they said, “needs to be uprooted, and right now.”
Like all statements where the pot calls the kettle black, their statement was rich in unintended irony, written in language that could well have come from any of the pro-democracy organisations whose offices and personnel the war vets have previously laid waste to. And the reason for the sudden disaffection with Mugabe came only after they realised that, finally, whatever their remarks about his “disregard for the values of the liberation struggle,” they would not be able to squeeze any more money out of him.
The salient point to be noted in this tirade is that any of the movements aligned to or within the ZANU (PF) has previously dared to not just openly criticise, but to demand Mugabe’s immediate removal.
Like fair-weather friends, now that Mugabe no longer possessed the wherewithal to pacify 55,000 War Veterans in a teetering economy, they have commenced the process of casting him aside.
Whilst it might be axiomatic that one cannot live beyond one’s means in perpetuity, Mugabe has ignored this dictum. He first attempted to do so in 2007 when the ZRB wilfully switched on the printing presses. His attempt to disprove economic logic would have the consequences as Economics 101 predicted: economic catastrophe as the economy imploded.
By being forced to replace a worthless currency with an external currency, Zimbabwe abrogated its ability to determine its own economic future. But Mugabe has a learning disability. In spite of an imploding economy, Mugabe appeased the rumbling civil service with unaffordable increases.
With declining tax revenues and burgeoning civil service wages – in excess of 80% of government revenue – the government had to unlock other forms of “taxation” other than inflation. They have commenced expropriating money from the private individuals by preventing them from accessing their own money in the financial institutes. Valueless IOU’s have been issued to banks and exporters. As the government will never be able to redeem these chits, in effect they are bankrupting the country.
The economy has operated under extremely trying circumstances for a decade at least. As such they have no reserves to endure a continuing downturn. All of the government’s measures will merely exacerbate the decline with bankruptcies continuing apace.
Finally, with the payment of the civil servants’ wages now tenuous, this places them at the cusp of revolt.
Mugabe’s biological clock
With tensions now palpable within Zimbabwe, the final factor to be addressed is Mugabe’s age. At 92 years of age, he is has handsomely exceeded his allocated three score and ten years. In spite of faltering health, Mugabe is intent on clinging to power until he dies. With competing interests including his wife Grace jostling for power, Mugabe will hang on to ensure that his wife supplants him. Probably Mugabe is reminded that his mother survived to 102 years. That implies another 10 years of Mugabe’s misrule.
With the nascent rallying cry of “Mugabe must go!” being heard, the vox populi is being heard once more. With the denouement of the Mugabe regime nigh, the embittered War Veterans might yet cast their lot in with the povo.
Even the most placid person has a tipping point. One gets a sense that the Zimbabwean people have endured sufficient to let them now unleash their anger on a despotic government which has ruined a country once on the cusp of economic resurgence.
That time is probably now.