Let bygones be Bygones but no Sympathy for G40
Sometime In November
In November 2017, after a week of unprecedented political events long term serving President Robert Mugabe was forced to resign from office. Prior to his resignation Mugabe was also officially fired by his party on Sunday November 19th along with his wife Grace Mugabe and other officials allied with the pair known as G40 faction in the party’s factional dispute. In the days immediately following the military intervention one concern was the possibility of a counter coup from the G40. However, it is becoming clearer that the G40 never had any clear long-term strategies to consolidate power. It is also clear that in addition to being a very weak political outfit the G40 faction cannot win the people’s hearts. In their public statements they continue to misread public sentiment. The large majorities of Zimbabweans are very happy that Robert Mugabe is no longer president. The average person is happy that sekuru as Mugabe is affectionately known has rested and almost no one I spoke to wants to see him back as president. The majorities of Zimbabweans are happy that the factional feuding in ZANU PF has ended. Most people are not happy with ZANU PF the party, which they credit with their suffering, but, they hope that Emmerson Mnangagwa will be able to deliver on the economy and bring some goodwill, back to Zimbabwe. By and large people are pleased that the military intervened because they do not believe that Mugabe would have left office otherwise. At the same time, people are aware that the military has more open influence in government now, but most say the military has always been in government. To that end, G40 has no credibility as a voice of the people and most Zimbabweans are glad that they have existed the political space – for now.
The G40 is largely made up of a younger generation of ZANU PF members who felt that party leadership should not be based on war credentials. Under normal circumstances most Zimbabweans would agree with this argument. The average Zimbabwean is aware of the country’s deeply violent history especially in the last sixteen years. Since 2000 Zimbabweans in rural and urban areas alike have been brutally forced out of their homes, beaten for voting for the opposition and there are harrowing tales of abductions and torture. And yet, the G40 members have failed to garner public sympathy.
Following his inauguration, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced that his government would be going after corrupt individuals in an attempt to recover millions looted from the state coffers. Thus far, the presidential whip has focused in on exG40 members, notably former Finance Minister Mr. Chombo, Former Minister of Tourism Mr. Mzembi who faces various allegations of various charges of corruption. The president has also engaged Interpol to bring to book G40 members who managed to flee the country, Former Minister of Higher Education Jonathan Moyo, and Former cabinet members Mr. Kasukuwere and Zhuwao.
Images of a shackled Kudzai Chipanga, the 35-year-old, former ZANU PF youth leader whose feet were locked in with those of Mr. Chombo have been the subject of online jokes not sympathy. Mr. Chipanga was forced to offer a Taliban style apology on national television. Instead of eliciting sympathy the sweater he wore on TV has become a meme #apolojersey. The former first lady Grace Mugabe has not been spared public anger, citizens have instead publicly celebrated her demise by participating in the #gracemugabechallenge mocking her infamous speeches.
Why is the public unsympathetic?
The answer is complex and yet simple. Zimbabweans cannot afford to be sympathetic. The G40 are the microcosm of a bigger problem in Zimbabwean politics or one might even dare to say African politics. They are the face of political rot, corruption, greed and unrelenting cruelty. Although the charges levelled against G40 members range from authentic to ridiculous the public is just happy to see them punished. On one hand, we have individuals like the former Minister of Agriculture who was found in possession of rusting wheelchairs and bags of rotting maize seed. On another end, there is Walter Mzembi who is accused of donating four TVs to a church. The public is not concerned about verifying the authenticity of the charges levelled against these former officials they just want to see justice. In December when I asked people in Harare if they felt sorry for the G40 the common response was laughter. On online platforms the general public is even more unsympathetic to the G40 most people asked why they should waste their sympathy on undeserving people.
It is not that Zimbabweans are cruel people but rather that the G40 members are unsympathetic characters. In a country where the average person lives on less than 35c a day members of the G40 and ZANU PF more broadly have amassed great wealth. They were unapologetic about their wealth and the way they spent the wealth. The Mugabe sons continue use their social media profiles like Instagram to show off pictures of great extravagance. On one occasion, they poured expensive champagne over a $60, 000 watch. Former cabinet member Savior Kasukuwere who has no traceable wealth built a house rumored to have 50 bedrooms. The week after the “non-coup” Mr. Mzembi gave an interview at his mansion. The BBC reporter was clearly shocked at the size of the house that Mr. Mzembi casually referred to as a modest house. There is nothing modest about his house or any of the houses owned by Zimbabwe’s wealthiest.
Zimbabweans credit elite political corruption for the country’s economic freefall. Prior to the November transition citizens were constantly harassed by the police and tax officials who daily demanded extra payouts from the citizens for tax payer funded public services paid. It is generally understood that the police worked at the instruction of politicians who would divide the spoils amongst themselves while ordinary citizens starved. Since the transition the police has virtually disappeared from the streets and life has begun to resemble a normal functioning society.
What about the professor?
ZANU PF officials have stolen from the public with impunity. The former First Lady Grace Mugabe used her powerful position to protect allies including Jonathan Moyo who publicly admitted to diverting funds from needy students towards purchasing bicycles for chiefs. It is fair to say that Jonathan Moyo is one of the least liked and was also one of the most feared politicians in Zimbabwe. When the ZimDEF story broke the public was outraged not because the chiefs in Matabeleland a very poor part of the country do not deserve good things but because of the way the minister abused his power. Jonathan Moyo continues to argue that like Robin Hood he stole for the people in Matebeleland but this is simply not true. Tsholotosho, his home district has bigger problems than the lack of bicycles for chiefs. The district has some of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world. Over 70% of the girls in his district are unlikely to finish high school. Many of the girls will have children of their own before they know how to read. Those children would have benefited from having their tuition paid or a program that supported the development of new skills had he not diverted funds.
In his interview on the BBC’s Hard Talk Mr. Moyo claimed to speak for the average person. The challenge for Mr. Moyo is that he has never understood the average Zimbabwean. During his tenure as Minister of Information (2000-2005) he crafted the most draconian media laws in modern history Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) (2001), the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialisation) Act (2003), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) (2002), the Public Order and Security Act (2002), and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (Commercialisation) Act (2003. He single handedly took away television and radio. The only two mediums between our misery and our misery, our lives were getting harder, the land reform was causing chaos across the country, inflation was on the rise and children were being expelled from school daily for non-payment of fees. People looked forward to an hour of bad, funny global television to relieve stress. Without asking, without consulting, fueled by nazi-like nationalism he decided that he was going to teach us how to love our country. He did so even as his family enjoyed cable TV and his children travelled the world. Like all ZANU PF politicians who continue to live lives of luxury as evidenced by the twitter and instagram feeds of their children he denied people what he gave without reservation to his family. For years, people were objected to ZANU PF propaganda and supporting the regime that he is now asking Zimbabweans to defend.
Ousted G40 members continue to argue that they were targeted for wanting what is good for young people. Mr. Zhuwao in an interview with the Voice of America argued that his ministry created thousands of jobs of young people. He also neglects to mention that those jobs were handed out as part of patronage. The programs were not publicized and the benefits were particularized. The youth interface rallies had nothing to do with the development of youth. The rallies were stage-managed attacks on citizens. Most people remember an image of a humiliated George Charamba as Grace Mugabe shouted “Iwe George”. It is important to be clear that neither George Charamba who used the herald to bully citizens nor any other ZANU PF official are sympathetic characters but the feud was hurting the country. The ZANU PF youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga, also used his position to terrorize young people around their country. During Kasukuwere’s tenure as minister of youth the grants that were earmarked for young entrepreneurs only benefited the children of connected politicians.
The new president Mr. Mnangagwa has an obligation to follow the rule of law and to ensure that justice is delivered fairly. Mr. Mnangagwa should not target G40 individuals or anyone who speaks out against his government to settle personal scores. Members of the G40 have the right to a fair trial and are innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. However, they cannot expect public sympathy. They will have to do more to earn people’s trust. As things stand they have lost the public