By Vivid Gwede
The European Union Observer Mission’s (EU OM) final report showed the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front’s (Zanu-PF) dominance in the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe was achieved, not by popular vote, but a cocktail of manipulation.
While the reaction by the ruling class and its media mouthpieces swiftly conveyed its revilement by the report, nothing unusual is relayed by the findings of the EU election observers.
The illegitimacy of the Zanu-PF government and the fact that the 2018 harmonised elections were held on an uneven playing field does not need the EU OM to discover, but it is a public secret.
Neither, can the outrage by Zanu-PF and its sympathisers at the pronouncement by the EU change this fact.
Zanu-PF’s perennial illegitimacy
Zanu-PF ceased governing this country by persuasion at least 18 years ago, but has maintained itself in power by sheer force and imposition, which is at odds with the national sentiment.
While Zanu-PF has succeeded for over 18 years, since 2000, to maintain power mainly through coercion, the ideas of the ruling party have ceased to capture the imagination of the nation.
Zimbabweans from many walks of life see Zanu-PF and its style of governance as part of the old past, which they must escape and not as part of the envisaged future into which they are moving.
This dilemma has been facing the nationalist party and various attempts to reinvent itself both through populist policies and coercion have not reversed this law of diminishing returns.
Crisis of authority
To borrow from Antonio Gramsci, Zanu-Pf is facing a “crisis of authority” because it failed to undertake the major national project for which it had requested or forced the people’s consent in 1980, namely building a developmental post-independence state.
Zanu-PF’s attempts at a developmental state have spectacularly degenerated into a farce.
The formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999 and its quick popularity in the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections, and the triumph of its hegemonic ideas in the 2008 elections, has to-date signified an epochal vote of no confidence in the liberation movement’s governance of the country.
Beyond the sentiment roused by its feat of winning the country’s independence, Zimbabweans no longer see the utility of Zanu-PF in a futuristic sense.
The nationalist party now for Zimbabweans is like an artefact one prefers in the museum rather than give pride of place in the living room.
The ruling party has also chosen to provide history-based leadership through jingoistic emphasis of the liberation war in frozen narratives.
Zanu-PF has not convinced people how that memory is relevant for the current times and the future.
The crisis of authority sees the supposedly victorious Zanu-Pf government struggling with a new national socio-economic crisis just a few weeks after the 2018 elections.
Which ideas dominate the national psyche?
It is therefore ironic that, while the MDC has not ruled the country, its ideas, and not those of Zanu-PF, rule the political minds of Zimbabweans.
The current breakdown in the social contract and lack of confidence in State institutions is underlined by the fundamental disconnect between the governors and the governed.
To use a popular, but instructive expression of Kenyan academic Prof. Plo Lumumba, those who have ideas do not have power and those who have power do not have ideas in Zimbabwe.
Zanu-PF does come up with blueprints, but those blueprints are not what the people call for.
Thus, as far as the people are concerned, Zanu-PF has no ideas when compared to the opposition.
Under normal circumstances where democratic competition exists and its outcomes are respected during elections, those whose ideas capture most people’s imaginations are the ones who should be governing the country.
That has not been the case because elections in Zimbabwe do not represent the popular will.
Who conceives the Second Republic?
The democratic movement’s ideas of political reform, as opposed to Zanu-PF’s well-known hatred of them since 1999, led to the new Constitution and the advent of the so-called Second Republic, not vice versa.
It is the democratic movement which, on the level of political ideation, collapsed the First Republic, paving the way for its successor.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s visit to the ailing Morgan Tsvangirai after the 2017 November coup, however malicious in its political intent, remains relevant because he were symbolically paying homage to the founding father of the Second Republic.
The real Second Republic has/will come as a result of a second liberation movement, whose genesis is rooted in the democratic movement and its main party of genesis the MDC, now the MDC Alliance.
But this Second Republic under the Mnangagwa administration’s contested legitimacy remains foetal and not fully matured, and may even be abortive.
The so-called New Dispensation, which is supposed to have now led to a vague new Zimbabwe brought about by last November’s coup against Mugabe, is in essence borrowed and plucked from the opposition’s discourse of political reform.
Vague “new Zimbabwe” because many authoritarian tendencies still subsist.
The same can be said of the so-called “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra whose main features are traceable from the successive MDC manifestoes since 2000, but without the bona-fide content, like all products of a copycat job.
In fact, it is interesting to note that Zanu-PF even thinks it can only survive on mimicking of MDC ideas.
And who should govern?
Even without State power, it is not difficult to see the MDC’s ideas dominate the country today and if truly democratic elections were held they would confirm this.
Like what partially happened under the GNU from 2009 to 2013, if the MDC’s agency and goodwill were brought into the State or government, the country’s turnaround would probably be smoother and faster.
This is because there would be many points of alignment between the people’s will and their government, re-energising public institutions.
Vivid Gwede is a political analyst