Monday marks a watershed moment for the nation of Zimbabwe. For the first time in 38 years, the first time in six presidential elections and 11 overall since independence, Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s name will not be on the ballot.
If discussions with friends and family are anything go, though Robert Mugabe’s absence from the ballot for Monday’s election is significant, it hasn’t necessarily marked a departure from old. His replacement is Emmerson Dambuzo Mnagagwa. Although fashioning himself as a new saviour to Zimbabwe’s ill, he is still regarded by many, dare I say most, as a nothing more than a changing of the guards; the same corrupt machinations still going on behind the gates.
A new dispensation? Nothing more than a platitude
If there is one thing Zimbabweans love it’s a good platitude and of course an apt operation name. And from right out the gate, Zanu-PF did not disappoint. The coup that wasn’t a coup was actually an operation, “Operation Restore Legacy” to be exact. Then shortly after that and apparently since then, “Zimbabwe is open for Business”. And of course all this is due to the tiresome and tremendous work of Emmerson Dambuzo Mnangagwa under the “new dispensation”.
In truth, I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve rolled my eyes at the sound of the words “new dispensation”. After the events of 2 November the most common question I got from people outside the country was “How are things in Zim, now?”.
In the month afterwards, the mood was tentative, but as the New Year unfolded, many citizens increasingly became outright sceptical; jaded by the lack of genuine remorse from Zanu-PF for failing a nation. Nothing much seems to have changed, at least not the things that matter. Prices still seem to creep up every week (the price of Jacobs coffee is actually just laughable, but the fact that such a product is even on my radar speaks volumes in a country where luxury of that nature has, by all accounts, been unattainable for most, for years).
Scandals of mismanagement and corruption still seem to exist ( the allegations surrounding the National Security SA but one), the financial banking system still seems to be in slow decline – limiting cash withdrawals (if you can call these absurd bond notes cash – cue another eye roll), and the local broadcaster, ZBC, has only got more ridiculous. (Really, it’s more like watching stand-up comedy than actual news.) It seems that the talk of a new dispensation is really nothing more than a platitude. And so, come Monday this new dispensation doesn’t have my vote.
Not voting for the MDC is a wasted vote?
But beyond this, beyond knowing who not to vote for, I’m wondering if there is little else to separate the other candidates. Maybe if Morgan Tsvangirai, the founder of the MDC opposition party, were still alive today, I’d feel more at ease. And in truth, it is a cruel irony that he passed away shortly after 21 November, independence day.
But he’s not here. Instead we have Nelson Chamisa. To be sure, this current leader of the MDC Alliance does have much to recommend him – he’s young, energetic and has credentials as a political leader. But, that said, his candidature is not without controversy. By some accounts he usurped party structures and processes to gain his party’s control, leading to yet another fracture of the MDC (there are now technically three MDCs. I mean really now?!).
To be honest, the party politicking and the debacle that surrounded the succession of MDC leader Tsvangirai left me more than just uncomfortable. Through my politically jaded eyes, I can’t help but wonder whether such shenanigans are a sign of something deeper that’s amiss. But what does that leave me with? I know I want change. And if by all accounts, as the lasts polls seem to indicate, a Chamisa-led MDC will most likely get me that, shouldn’t I go for him? Wouldn’t it be a waste otherwise?
We need to trust a smile
Perhaps my inner turmoil about whether or not to vote for MDC is a reflection of what appears to be a growing sense of disillusionment with democratic means and where they really get us. To be sure, with the more than 22 other presidential candidates I do have other options and maybe I should place my X in a spot that registers just how deep my frustration is with the status quo.
Whatever my decision on Monday, two things seem clear to me. We cannot go back and we cannot be here, in this same pendulum swing of disappointed hopes, 38 years from. Is this the right motivation? I have my doubts. Yet still, I have hope.
What’s my biggest hope? I read earlier in 2018 that Zimbabwe is one of few countries where its people don’t associate a smile with trustworthiness. If that doesn’t speak volumes then I don’t know what does. My hope is that through good governance, held accountable by an active and engaged citizenry, we would heal and flourish enough to trust a smile.
To some, that might seem minor, perhaps even idealistic, but the years of degradation suffered at the hands of hypocritical leaders have frankly wrought untold damage on the social psyche and make-up of our nation.
We need more than just an economic revival. We need to trust a smile. So when I place my X on that paper, just know that in the midst of my doubt and fear, in faith, in hope I’ll be smiling. DM
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Rudo Chitapi is a legal researcher. To assuage her reckless curiosity about the manner in which law impacts society and vice versa, she is attempting to pursue a career in applied research and teaching. Her research interests include Criminal Law, Judicial Governance, and Legal Pluralism.
"We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson