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Prospects for genuine dialogue in Zimbabwe

Professor Brian Raftopoulos thoughtfully discerns how Mnangagwa’s two adopted strategies in the post-coup of 17 November 2017 era fail to deliver progress and development. The nature of dialogue being pursued under the neoliberal framework, as applied since the inception of the Mnangagwa led government is geared to create avenues for accessing global capital, ostensibly for Zimbabwe’s economic renewal. Yet, the contradictions wrought by the coercive nature of the regime’s response to agitated citizens render futile any positive outcomes to be achieved out of the various dialogue processes to date.

The net effect has been a further erosion of business and populace confidence in the (not so) new dispensation, worsening the economic crisis, manifesting in political volatility and the associated social dis-cohesion. How the military-anchored regime proposes to deal with the worsening political and economic situation leading to 2023 is less of importance. Instead, the focus ought to be on how it must to be forced into some specific preferred reaction.

Importantly and inherently, the ruling party’s strategy hovers around the power retention agenda. This is common sense, and there is no need to bludgeon the point here. That Zimbabweans are in misery through escalating poverty has never been its prime worry.

What then can Zimbabweans do to help themselves? How can the opposition movement aid their cause? Two options also exist. Dialogue or resistance! This makes dialogue a common choice for the ruling and opposition parties and indeed for Zimbabweans if structures permitted their participation, as it must. If the Zanu PF strategy is to retain power, it might well be that the opposition wants to snatch it, or at the least undermine it. In other words, at the core of the antagonism is power, in its raw form, as we know it. Politics, stupid! The suffering masses justifies the contestation.

Arguably, the option for dialogue is undesirable for both parties. The opposition selects protests and resistance, never mind how its supporters agitated and forced this through. The ruling party cherry-picks repression. How to move the two parties from these two polar ends demands assuring both sides that their current stock of power is maintained or consolidated.

All sorts of permutations and justifications as to why dialogue is not an option surface, notwithstanding public posture to the contrary. It would be folly for the opposition to enter into any dialogue process as a weaker participant. Currently, holding the government infrastructure in its totality, the Zimbabwe African National-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) believes it has sufficient leverage to assure it a 2023 electoral victory. Therefore opts to keep its eyes on the ball.

Initiated dialogue processes with labour, fringe opposition parties and the business community, soundly articulated by Professor Raftopoulos will be pursued only to the degree that it provides for the power consolidation agenda of the Mnangagwa government. In essence, short of being co-opted, these stakeholders have unwittingly submitted to the whims of Mnangagwa’s agenda. They are fragmented and jointly feeble in their collective; therefore, being of no consequence, politically. The selection criteria of fringe opposition groups to participate in this dialogue (Political Actor’s Dialogue- POLAD) was meant to ensure an outcome that legitimises Mnangagwa’s rule and subsequently perpetuates ZANU PF domination. That is precisely why Chamisa’s MDC is excluded.

The primacy of agency and resistance is therefore apparent. Its potential is exposed by the military regime’s choice to eliminate the consummation of action by the bud. Yet, such repression mechanism reveals the façade character of internal dialogue processes and the deceptive peculiarity of the international engagement process, a critical process for the ruling party’s performance in government.

No attempt is made to define the character of the crisis here as it has become pervasive and common sense, in its various strands which manifest unevenly and increasingly deepening over time. Here I attempt to give a schema of the thought process behind the present fallacious calls for dialogue; yet, beneath the veneer are sculpting power contestations of Zimbabwe’s political elites, thus betraying a chance for a reprieve for the suffering masses.

To be sure, by nature, protests are a form of dialogue much as repression constitute a negative response to the message relayed. These two negative modes of communication tend to escalate into full-blown hostilities with implication on regional security and stability.

Yet, in undemocratic societies such as Zimbabwe citizen participation is confined to token elections. Avenues for expression, such as these, become inescapable. Bottled-up emotions on the encumbrances of shortages and joblessness by an ignored population harness pressure for action, often leading into revolutions.

Importantly, for Zimbabwe, historicizing dialogue processes reminds us of the pitfalls that litter the past. The 1980 Lancaster House dialogue process was won by the then incumbent – Smith and the settler economy, to the extent that global geopolitics ensured the persistence of the colonial iniquities on the economic front, including skewed land ownership patterns. Hence, the popular cliché: we gave them the politics and remained with the banks. The rest is history.

The 1987 unity accord favoured the governing party and swallowed the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu). The Global Political Agreement of 2008 gave Zanu PF breathing space for recuperation, come 2013, the electoral outcome spoke for itself as the Movement for Democratic Change- Tsvangirai (MDC-T) got annihilated. The Government National Unity (GNU) power dynamics favoured Zanu PF.

The biggest pose is: How differently will the proposed dialogue process articulate? Any premature attempt at dialogue will inevitably lead to the usurpation of its right intentions. A genuine conversation must start in the streets where repression and protests will interact to mount and frame boardrooms deliberative democracy.

Zanu PF, being a liberation movement, is monolingual and only understands the spill of blood as a solid foundation for the retention of political power and let alone for the change of government. Hence, former president Mugabe saying ‘a country that was borne out of the gun cannot be lost through a mere “X” or ‘pen’ (read vote). Zimbabweans must be willing to offer blood through a revolution to secure sustainable transformation.

To secure a valid seat on the negotiating table, the opposition movement would need to consider that only an unpretentious struggle of the people would entice international and African solidarity to support a genuine dialogue process. Never mind the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) own misses and opportunities, if not blindness.

This military-anchored regime has failed to master the macro-economic interventions needed to address the escalating suffering of the citizens, thus, presenting political prospects for the opposition movement to tussle for power, provided it is able to read, understand and articulate itself within the lenses of the social base, correcting past mistakes.

Dr Toendepi Shonhe is a political economist.

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