Gramsci, with his interregnum notion, told us transitions in a society are messy since the old refuse to let go while the new threaten its presence. Zimbabweans have again participated in their democratic franchise of voting for a national political leadership. It was a historic occasion for many reasons. It was the first time in 40 years that Zimbabweans voted and the face of Robert Mugabe was not on the ballot. It was also the first time that Zanu-PF fielded a candidate other than that of Mugabe, the father of Zimbabwean liberation.
This time marks a fulcrum moment that started in November of 2017 when a bloodless coup led by the military delivered an Emmerson Mnangagwa caretaker presidency for the last eight months.
When we argue the relevance of Gramsci’s theory in the Zimbabwe of 2018, it is borne out by what it, as a nation, is faced with, immanent in a contest between old and new, young and old, status quo and change. Forty years mark a full generation in most societies.
Zimbabwe enters an unknown period in its politics. Regardless of how colossal the expectations or how desperate the hour defined in the economic and social fullness of life for Zimbabweans, Zimbabweans enter with this moment unknown territory as led by political leadership. While Zimbabwe claimed a bloodless coup, its challenges remain no different to the day Mnangagwa took office. It is claimed Zimbabwe is open for business, there is a hype or some euphoria about the new era, but the reality is nothing much or substantial has changed. When one argues not much if anything at all has changed since Mugabe’s last day in office, we are not dealing with sentiment as a public relations craft often relied upon by politicians. We are engaging the meaning of life for Zimbabweans which has ostensibly remained unchanged.
Perhaps one key change we witnessed with this election is the reality of a sense of freedom of campaigning by more than the usual parties. We all know this form of liberty to contest and make your case at a party-political level was not often tolerated in Zanu-PF led Zimbabwe. The reality is Zanu-PF is still in charge and will be contesting and may for a number of reasons continue to be in power all be it by a considerable closer shave than ever before. This year twenty-two parties are contesting as candidates to lead Zimbabwe.
What then is the meaning of a continued Zanu –PF led Zimbabwe for meaningful life understood in basic economic development? Though the case is often made that Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe as a dictator the more honest picture will inform us that Mugabe on two independent occasions offered to step down to make way for a younger leadership. It was the same Zanu-PF and its military veterans that used Mugabe to continue the stranglehold on a society. It is, therefore, more than correct to ask, is Zanu PF capable to lead Zimbabwe out of its morass, can Zanu-PF be trusted to dig Zimbabwe out of the abyss it essentially remains responsible for? Who is the Zanu-PF that is contesting, is it a new Zanu-PF?
Unfortunately, Zanu-PF is the same party. We know that because Emmerson Mnangagwa the crocodile represents the era, enforcement and control ideology of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. How do we know that? We know that it was the military veterans that kept Mugabe in power for their own political reasons, it’s the same military veterans that have produced a Mnangagwa caretaker presidency. Mnangagwa owes his current caretaker presidency to no group more than the army who delivered a bloodless coup, therefore his presidency.
This means space for Mnangagwa attempting to be his own man is rather slim. He, therefore, cannot be the answer for a progressive and economically blooming new breadbasket status for Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa at best is the continuation of a 40-year-old system that produced questionable election results and a spiralling economic outlook for at least two decades. Zanu- PF as led and centrally controlled and managed by the same military veterans who are essentially responsible for the state of Zimbabwe, can hardly be the answer and future for this nation.
It is easy to hide behind Mugabe. It is rather politically expedient to blame Robert Mugabe for the 40 years when those who made up the system and benefited from his governance seek to absolve themselves and accord themselves a new messianic status. This argument is equal to its sister organisation the ANC, south of the Limpopo river which equally seeks to claim today Jacob Zuma as the problem for the 26-year-old challenges the ANC produced in failed negotiations and new anomalies it fostered. As in the case of the ANC, Zanu-PF must own up to the cocktail of its limited success and grand failures. It cannot use Mugabe as the scapegoat. It appears more than just time has run out for Zanu-PF
While many more parties are legally registered to participate, the outcome of this election appears a contest between two personalities. On another level, it’s the old contest between Zanu-PF and MDC. Zanu-PF’s Mnangagwa versus the MDC’s Chamisa. A contest of the past and the future. The stuff that Gramsci coined as an interregnum, where the new is here but the old protests leaving. This contest between the avuncular Mnangagwa and the youthful Chamisa defines the essence of this election. Age against youth. It is also a red carding of a generation primarily responsible for freedom, who simply failed to give that freedom legs and limbs.
Mugabe, in a press conference held in Harare on the eve of this historical moment, shared his mind with the following words. “I can’t vote for Zanu-PF… what is left? I think it is just Chamisa.” Mugabe went on to assert, “For the first time ever we have now a long list of aspirants to power. I cannot vote for those who tormented me… I will make my choice among the other 22 (candidates), but it is a long list.”
It, therefore, does not come as a surprise that both of the leading contenders in the dead heat of a contest, would have dared to make themselves guilty of potential contravention of the electoral code as it relates to 24 hours prior to elections day. The code among others directs the behaviour of parties and leadership and articulates that parties may not be promoting, campaigning, staging press conferences, interfere with public officials and engage each other in a last-ditch attempt to persuade voters for or against their respective candidacies.
Mnangagwa, was in a sense forced to respond because Mugabe didn’t leave any doubts as to his decision not to vote for Zanu-PF. Mugabe still has traction and for him to be this categorical can only hurt Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa’s chances of leading Zimbabwe. On the other hand, Chamisa sensing the challenge of a divided Zanu-PF and aided by the Mugabe statement, felt buoyed to make his claims of victory within that same period of time allotted for no campaigning. The stakes are high and therefore the contests went beyond the recognised limits of campaigning.
Zimbabwe has never been here, Zanu-PF has never felt so much its grip on power slipping away than this moment.
We must not forget how strong and tangible the bond of city-dwellers in Zimbabwe is to their ruler identities. It is argued that Zimbabweans define themselves often from that rural reality in a sense of pride. What this might mean is that this reality will have its role in the outcome of the election.
It is not that Zimbabweans are choosing between Zanu- PF and MDC in a simplicity of choices. It’s an election about change. A change that is long demanded. When the people in Zimbabwe came out to the streets in November 2017, it was hardly against Mugabe, it was against Zanu-PF – the very organisation that freed them. It came out to red card its organisation while this situation was politically misappropriated to read it as against Mugabe. The people of Zimbabwe are less interested in the history of freedom. They want answers as to why after a generation they find themselves in this state. The stark reality of a failed economy, unemployment, and tremendous diminished economic access is what has become the deciding reality for Zimbabweans.
I am afraid it appears a generation later, Zimbabweans burdened by the shackling are tired enough of Zanu-PF and may just vote for change. It simply makes no sense to continue taking the second generation into the same nightmare of what was delivered in the last 40 years.
However, Zanu-PF is still in political and military power. The challenge Zimbabwe now faces is stability once Zanu-PF is removed. Will the same military with its entrenched and endemic tentacles of personal economic and political interest allow the people of Zimbabwe a new moment?
Lest we forget it was the same military veterans that kept Mugabe against his will in power and the same military that produced an Emmerson Mnangagwa presidency. Will they be able to allow Zimbabwe a new moment, or will the elections be rigged to favour a Zanu-PF that really lost but will continue thanks to the sophisticated rigging of a voters-roll? Zimbabwe needs a new moment, and that may not be possible with Zanu-PF.
Hopefully, Zanu-PF will know at times societies, in exercising their democratic franchise, consciously choose change in bigger frames than mere party-political definition. It will therefore not be an MDC victory but it will be a Zanu-PF defeat.
Political Commentator and Writer