style interview:By Moses Matenga
SINCE the advent of the November 2017 coup that saw the ouster of the late former President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has made a sharp turn towards a political and economic crisis. Newly appointed Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava spoke to Standard Style reporter Moses Matenga (MM) on the situation in the country, the fights in the opposition camp and the way forward for Zimbabwe.
MM: How do you describe the state of affairs currently obtaining in Zimbabwe?
BV: It is no longer in doubt that the country is in a deep crisis, a political and economic crisis caused by bad governance, grand corruption, abuse of human rights and an entrenched dictatorship. The collapse of the economy has seen the deterioration of social services in Zimbabwe with citizens having to bear the brunt of power outages, crippling strikes in the education and health sectors, drug shortages, erratic water supplies, typhoid outbreaks.
The cost of living is now beyond the capacity of many families and they are unable to afford basic commodities, but the most affected have been the most vulnerable especially women and young people.
Hyperinflation is estimated to be hovering between 800% and 1 000% following the introduction of the Zimbabwe dollar without addressing the macroeconomic fundamentals that relate to investment laws, legislation and its enforceability in curbing corruption, emergence of a growing parallel market, limited on no new investment capital to revamp industry, agriculture and mining and deepening liquidity crisis.
Politically, we have a crisis sprawling decades, and it especially dates back to the way the opposition has been abused since 2000, made worse by the military coup of 2017 which saw the removal of Robert Mugabe and the coming-in of Emmerson Mnangagwa. Since then, the repeated elections have failed to meet the minimum standards of a democratic process, the failure to undertake reforms has not made it any better.
What we are now witnessing is a desperate attempt to make Zimbabwe a “one-party state” as witnessed by the closure of democratic space and the amendments to the constitution before it’s even implemented thereby entrenching autocratic rule.
MM: You mention the issue of suspicion that there are moves to make Zimbabwe a one-party state. Coincidentally, we have seen a spike in human rights abuses in Zimbabwe in the last few months. Talk of abductions, arrests of opposition officials, lawyers and civic society activists, what do you attribute that to?
BV: It’s largely because there is no democracy in Zimbabwe, the systems of governance are broken, the rule of law is no longer there it is now rule by decree.
The rise in the cases of abuses is not surprising, Zanu PF has always thrived on trampling upon the rights of Zimbabweans. But as we said earlier, the present government wants to maintain and consolidate power at all costs and their behaviour speaks volume.
At the same time these are the results and products of a coup. We say so because coups in their very nature produce and entrench dictatorship and, in a bid to maintain power, it goes with the curtailment of rights, especially any divergent voices. In my view the coup of 2017 shredded the basis of a stable polity, that of democratic constitutionalism and replaced this with naked militarism.
MM: You have been personally at the centre of fighting for human rights in Zimbabwe from your days as a student, being in civil society and all, do you feel it is a fight you and other human rights defenders will ultimately win given the picture you are painting, that points to an almost military state?
BV: Ultimately, this is a fight that the people of Zimbabwe are going to win, you can all see that those in power are very much insecure and they know that the time is now Zimbabweans are fed up and we can assure you that victory is certain. Fighting a dictatorship is not easy, but we have no choice but to defend Zimbabwe from a few elites who think that the country belongs to them. Our fight is to free Zimbabwe from this dangerous group of self-entitled individuals who have no clue about running a modern state. What is required going forward is a clear political programme of action that is rooted in the people.
We are going back to the source and we urge Zimbabweans to be united and claim their country back from this dangerous group of self-entitled individuals.
Ultimately the contestation for a better Zimbabwe will be fought by the people themselves, as one of our liberation pioneers said ‘we are own liberators’, these were the words of the liberation then and this remains our fighting guide: human dignity and freedom for our people.
MM: What’s your rating of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa compared to under the late
former president Robert Mugabe?
BV: Rating? There isn’t any need to put this on a scale. Of course, the situation has deteriorated and has become worse, the scale of human rights abuse is getting high and reaching alarming levels. We are in trouble. What the post-Mugabe period has revealed is that the post-colonial state has not been fashioned to serve our people, but is designed to extract public resources at the expense of national development.
MM: You have also been exposed to human rights situations across the region, how do you rate our current status?
BV: I can safely say Zimbabwe is a peculiar case in that it experienced a military coup and the involvement of the military in the governing of the country has worsened the human rights record.
Almost every week we have reports of activists either being arrested or at times being abducted. Generally, the closure of democratic space is being felt in other countries as well, Zambia under Edgar Lungu, Eswatini and Mozambique are all having their own share as hotspots in as far as human rights abuses are concerned.
MM: What do you prescribe as the solution to the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe?
BV: Firstly, there is a need to cure the coup of November 2017. Zimbabwe has to return to legitimacy and make sure that we reform and transform the systems of governance. The military has no business in the running of the country. It’s not their business to be dictating the pace and direction the country is taking.
The current government’s political-economic framework is not centred on the people and public policy is made to benefit entrenched interests. Secondly, the country needs dialogue, which kind of dialogue must aim at embracing all facets of society so that we chat a way forward as one people. The dialogue should amongst other things, aim at restoring the dignity of Zimbabweans, it should aim at coming up with a clear road map to reforms, political and economic reforms etc. Third, a people-centred approach in economic planning is what is needed and this means a serious shift from elite-focused extractive policy to human-centred public policy. Fourth, it is important that we build an active citizenship that shapes the current and future political trajectory of our country. The constitution begins by saying ‘We the people’ meaning workers, students, churches, business, women and youth organisations.
But above all, we need the conditions to allow Zimbabweans to participate in the democratic process to elect leaders of their choice and a space and opportunity to contribute to national development. Without these reforms Zimbabwe will remain in a crisis.
MM: Your new role as the director of the CiZC, what are your priority areas as you walk into the new office?
BV: Civil society and social movements are an important platform for active citizenship and the coalition has played this role over the past two decades in alliance with other progressive voices. Firstly, we are in a serious process of rebuilding the capacity of the coalition in order to work our national membership so that we have a united civil society voice and action in the face of a government that is attempting to close the civic space.
Secondly, we have already begun work around the constitution as we have been mobilising and raising awareness to citizens to reject Constitutional Amendments which are being pushed by the government of the day. Thirdly, we are re-organising our advocacy and community/citizen engagement strategies under a programme of action to defend and promote constitutionalism in Zimbabwe. Therefore, the coalition will press on the expeditious and full implementation of the Constitution and alignment of laws to the Constitution, the central argument is that the full implementation of the Constitution in its current state and form is a major milestone in solving the challenges facing Zimbabwe.
Fourthly, we will leverage our national presence through our membership to effectively discharge a think-tanking role to gather civil society together to reflect and evaluate the unfolding socio-economic and political crisis and come up with proposals for change. We have consistently published the Zimbabwe Briefing as an intellectual platform for re-thinking and re-imagining our future and this is going to be built as a project of coalescing thinking and action, what others would call “praxis”.
MM: What is your take on the current fights in the opposition MDC formations?
BV: This is a clearly political matter that should not have found itself in front of a compromised judiciary that has shown bias towards a certain political party. The courts lost credibility the moment they legitimised a military take-over of government. But we must be aware that the elites in power have corrupted these institutions that are supposed to be the last defence of people’s rights. The courts do not form or neither should they dictate the operations of political parties. That responsibility lies in the membership, the people. But in Zimbabwe it’s an exceptional case altogether, a court can sit and decide a leader of a political party despite that the party has its own modus operandi, its own constitution and structures who can at any particular time decide on the direction that party should take and that is not for any court to decide.
Zimbabweans should look beyond what is happening in the MDCs. It is part of a grand scheme by Zanu PF to entrench a one-party state and make sure that there’s no space for opposition politics. When Dr (Joshua) Nkomo, Edgar Tekere, Ndabaningi Sithole and lately Morgan Tsvangirai were in the opposition they were treated as renegades. Zimbabweans should not be blinded. This should not be about (Nelson) Chamisa or (Thokozani) Khupe. The future of the country is at stake and progressive Zimbabweans should come together, speak out and actively defend our freedoms, our dignity and our constitutional democracy. What is exciting is that there is a new generation of young idealists who are increasingly active and fulfilling the “prophecy” by Dr Nkomo that “the young people will not let Zimbabwe die”. There is a generational shift happening and it will need to be aided by serious intellectual leadership.