Tuesday, 22 September 2020


By Malaika Mahlatsi

I do not agree with the argument by Tendai Biti that President Emmerson Mnangagwa "and his vacuous philosophy is a danger to the ethos and very existence of Zimbabwe" and that Mnangagwa "represents the biggest existential threat to Zimbabwe". I find this argument not only simplistic, but patently ahistoric and quite frankly, apolitical. Ahistoric because it is devoid of any meaningful engagement with the history that has resulted in the institutionalisation of rot that defines the Zimbabwean state; and apolitical because it is grounded in the discredited great man theory that has so often characterised African politics - with tragic results.

The obsession with reducing the Zimbabwean crisis to a single individual is dangerous, and recent history evidences this fact. Following the deposing of Robert Mugabe in the 2017 coup (yes, it was a coup), there was misplaced optimism that Mnangagwa would institute meaningful reforms that would see Zimbabwe recover from decades of economic and socio-political decline. While many of us understood the basis for this optimism, we knew even then that Mnangagwa would not change the situation.

 I was still a student at Rhodes University at the time and I would often argue with my Zimbabwean friends that the crisis in Zimbabwe is systemic and deeply institutionalised, and that merely changing the face of leadership is not going to undo the problem. ZANU-PF, I contended and still continue to, is embedded in the Zimbabwean state. The rot is not just at the top, it is in every facet of every institution in Zimbabwe - including in the highly compromised judiciary that has long ceased to have any regard for the principle of the separation of powers.

 The violence that has characterised Mnangagwa's presidency is not new. It has always been there. And so, no matter who you put in power from the ZANU-PF, it is not going to change the situation, because contrary to the hopeful delusions so many of us might have, there is no better person within the organisation - they are products and functions of the same vacuous philosophy that Biti ascribes to Mnangagwa alone.

This ahistoric logic of Biti's is common in Africa. Even here in South Africa, we were swept into a frenzy by the false idea of a "new dawn" that was propagated by Cyril Ramaphosa. It has become evident that there is no new dawn in our country - that the corruption, maladministration, misappropriation of state funds, disregard for the rule of law and lack of accountability that defined the Zuma era is continuing unabeted. Like Biti, we were victims of our own false consciousness and belief in the idea that great men define history, with little regard for how there is a series of complex influences that produce the material conditions that define our political environment, at the heart of which is institutions.

The existential threat to Zimbabwe is the ZANU-PF as an institution. It is a metonymy of the Zimbabwean state - a state that enjoys a monopoly of violence. No matter who leads Zimbabwe from the ZANU-PF, it is always going to function as a military junta, because its very legitimacy is non-existent, and therefore depends on force and rule through a margin of terror. The real alternative lies in a stronger and better alternative, not in a reformed ZANU-PF. You cannot reform ZANU-PF no matter who you put in charge. Biti's argument is patently misguided. Via Facebook


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