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3 April 2005. Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe speaking during a press conference at State House in Harare.

Two Years On, The Ides Of November Reflections

Thembani Mutanda

15 November 2017 will remain etched in the collective memories of Zimbabweans in and outside the country as the events which occurred on that day culminated in the resignation of the strong man, the former President, Cde Robert Mugabe, together with his acolytes who had to skip the country and gave a leeway for the incoming President, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, to bring in his own men and women to resuscitate the comatose economy and the poisoned political chalice which had made capital flight to be the in thing in the years after the year 2000.

Two years on, the general public and analysts are still searching for the right words to describe the developments in the political and economic arena in the country. The jury is still not out in the eyes of other analysts.

Some weeks earlier in 2017, in a bizarre outburst, the former President threatened to fire his then deputy furious at the boos directed at his wife, Grace Mugabe, by some sections of the crowd at a rally in Bulawayo and from there, the wheels just came off for the First Republic as years of intrigue and factionalism suddenly came to a head and the gloves were off since time had come for loyalty to be openly shown in the cloak and dagger business.

History will always wonder what would have happened if the former president had not announced the sacking of Cde Mnangagwa on that fateful day for being disloyal to Cde Mugabe. Was the first republic going to fall or life would go on until there was an elective congress?

We will never know. What we do know is that word passed around via WhatsApp groups of the might of the Zimbabwean army moving its fleet of mechanized divisions towards Harare, the capital city. Again, the return of General Constantino Chiwenga and the subsequent highly charged press conference showed clearly that it was not over for the formerly named Lacoste faction and the tension was pulpable.

Cde Mugabe bought time with the Asante Sana speech; the writing was on the wall and he seemed not to have seen it. King Belshazzar, the last Babylonian big man, saw a sign and asked Daniel, the prophet, to explain the meaning; he was told that that very minute the enemy was getting into the fortified walls and there was nothing he was going to do about it.

Cde Mugabe’s rule was coming to an end and he stubbornly refused to accept that his long time protégés could gently shove him off the grand stage and then, Lieutenant General (retired) Sibusiso Moyo appeared on ZBC and told the nation that the president was safe but his fellow leaders were merely targeting criminals around the former president and from that time, people heaved a sigh of relief as they waited for the political and economic reforms which would set the country on the road to recovery.

There were wild scenes of celebrations in the streets of Harare on 17 November 2017.

From the reception the new leader got all over the world including the former colonial power, it appeared as if the mantra championed by the highest office of the land, Cde Mnangagwa, ‘’Zimbabwe is open for business’’ would bring forth immense economic windfalls. Everywhere he went, the new president was inundated with reporters who asked if he was going to completely eradicate Mugabe’s legacy of looting and corruption. He was unambiguous: there would be zero tolerance on corruption.

In a way, quite a number of big fish were in the habit of placing their dirty hands in the cookie jar and the ‘new dispensation’ would have none of it. As a result, the new administration tackled the issue of those who externalized foreign currency resulting in the country’s struggle with the availability of forex to buy essential items such as oil, wheat and other basic materials which are in short supply in Zimbabwe.

Ignatius Chombo fell into the drag net as he had a slew of allegations which are still at the courts.  Prisca Mupfumira is currently under siege over an alleged hand of corruption over the National Security Authority (NSSA) and the allegations accuse her of taking $75 million in hard currency. The two are high profile arrests but there were a few ordinary people who fell into the dragnet.

For the first time, politicians from the other side had a fresh breath of air as they could engage in political banter without fear of arrest. That kind of liberalism went as far as the pre 31 July 2018 period where every politician could go out there in the rural areas and present his or her manifesto for the general public to be in the know.

Some analysts say the public broadcaster did not allow the opposition to flight its adverts and that was responded to by the powers that be at Pockets Hills who said they had not received any formal application for adverts from the main opposition party. Political contestations have their downsides and it has never been a fact that the opposition party cannot complain when it felt it was at a position of disadvantage.

However, the litmus test for Cde Mnangagwa came in the plebiscite where the presidency, local government and house of assembly elections were carried out.

True to earlier pressers, the pre-election era had very few if any incidence of violence and the peaceful nature in which the elections were held was hailed by many progressive nations including the opposition itself. It was calm before a storm.

Events of 1 August 2018 left the new dispensation with egg on its face as MDC Alliance members went about expressing their displeasure at the manner ZEC was doing its things and the fact that results of the Presidential elections were not yet out. What happened later could not be stomached by the generality of the Zimbabweans as a number of people, mostly bystanders or people minding their business were killed.

Without taking anything away from the man at helm, he instituted a commission of inquiry whose results were quickly made public. Question is: how would the Mugabe regime have responded if it had faced a similar provocation?

Allegations of siphoning of money by well -connected companies continue to surface with the recent Sakunda Holdings’ abortive date with the Public Accounts Committee on Friday slated to interrogate the top brass about Command Agriculture funds a case in point.

After years of battling ill health, the founding leader of Zimbabwe, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, passed away on  6 September this year in Singapore and was buried at his rural home in Zvimba. His legacy as a Pan Africanist cannot be taken away from him and when he died the entire government machine expressed its condolences and bent over backwards to construct a mausoleum for the late icon although in the final analysis, he had to be buried close to his mother in Zvimba.

Was he bitter at his comrades who toppled him? Possible but his name will always be associated with Zimbabwe’s road to independence having been one of the leaders since 1959 during NDP days and from 1977 as leader of ZANU which won the elections in 1980 with 57 seats out of 100.

Life for the ordinary Zimbabwean has turned for the worse with the banning of the multi-currency regime and yet retailers index their prices to the greenback.

Civil Servants have groaned under the heavy yoke of hyperinflation and recently medical doctors have gone on strike which they say cannot end until they have been capacitated. Teachers and nurses are threatening a strike too having seen their salaries eroded by the galloping inflation and Dr Mthuli Ncube continues to sing the song that very soon suffering would be a thing of the past.

The Second Republic’s headache is on the economic front where pauperization of close to 95% of the population is a ticking time bomb. Not everyone is working and the recent announcement by the Treasury Chief of alleviating the suffering of the vulnerable groups is commendable but if the truth be told all civil servants fall under the vulnerable groups as their salaries are unsustainable. An irrigator in one of the sugar plantations gets $1200 and goes on to be given basic commodities on top of that. Can a civil servant be compared with that irrigator?

The two years since 2017 November have been hectic and while political reforms are underway, more still needs to be done to defuse the polarity that pervades our country to the extent that some groups cannot demonstrate for fear that there would be a looting spree and an orgy of violence.

Going forward, it’s the economy. Stupid.