Why We Cannot Simply Move on To the Business of Making Zimbabwe Great- The David Coltart Apology
The current conversation on apologies is quite encouraging. Zimbabweans are interested in finding a way towards national healing and reconciliation. The first high profile apology was delivered by David Coltart a white Zimbabwean, in his 60s, on Rhodesian atrocities, his time in the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and his role in sustaining an unjust system of government which discriminated against black people.
BSAP Officials during the war of independence.
The Coltart apology is not a perfect. At one point, he uses the problematic phrase “violence on both sides” and goes to great lengths to downplay his position in the BSAP. He was not some low-level subordinate following the orders of his superiors. He was part of the superiors. In his best-selling and yet, poorly titled book, The Struggle Continues: 50 years of tyranny in Zimbabwe he provides important background on the occasion in which he buried a black guerilla in a mineshaft, “After two weeks of going through the same routine I decided that I should see how and where my subordinates were burying the bodies.” page 80.
Even with these problems, the apology, is an important step in our national healing process. By acknowledging specific acts of violence against his fellow countrymen, Coltart has provided us another opportunity to seek redress for victims and survivors.
In this excerpt from David Coltart’s apology published on Facebook on January 27, 2018– He wrote
“I am grateful to God that I was never involved in any direct combat and have never killed anyone. There was, however, one extremely horrible incident where I was required to dispose of the dead body of a guerrilla (who had been shot and killed in a gunfight with Rhodesian forces) down a mineshaft. I disclosed this incident in my book precisely because I believe we all have an obligation to share the truth and to not spare ourselves in doing so.”
In his book, Coltart describes the dumping of this black guerilla in greater detail. He writes that the young guerilla looked as though he could have been his age mate. During the dumping, the body “caught on to a jagged flap” as if the young man was protesting this unceremonious disposal of his body. He thrown down without a prayer and a sack of lime –not sand- was poured over his body.
There are many stories of families whose sons and daughters never returned from the war. From Coltart’s apology we now know with even more certainty that there are many mass graves around Zimbabwe and that perhaps we can give some families a final consolation. As I read the apology, I imagined that somewhere is a mother who probably went mad because she has no idea what happened to her son. Somewhere is a friend of the young fighter who blames himself for not trying harder to not only save his friend’s life but also bring back his body home for burial. If this young man was a father, then there are children who have no idea how their father died. Maybe, they have spent their adult lives mad at him because they think he went to Zambia or Mozambique were made wealth with his second family. Maybe they grew up to be bitter adults who do not love their country because their country killed their father. I hope that they are well adjusted adults who have been able to heal from this loss.
About 600 bodies were recovered from this particular mine (this is not the one were David Coltart buried a body). There are a few organizations engaged in exhuming mass graves and providing proper burials. You can read more here
For most young Zimbabweans, there is a need or an urgency to get on with the business of rebuilding the economy and burying the past. Our challenge is that the past is living. Addressing the past can be good future economic social prosperity. This man who was buried like an animal would have been 60 or 65, that is not too old. That means that his family who have carried the burden of his loss are still alive. Think of it this way. Knowing what we know about some traditional families maybe they sought the help of a N’anga who told them that it was an aunt or an uncle who had forced the young man into the wilderness. Now, maybe there is a broken family, a sister and a brother who have not spoken to each other for over 37 years because they have blamed each other over the death of this young man. They have come to think that they are cursed, because, surely if their family had not been cursed, they would have been able to find his body and bury him. And, maybe his mother failed to mother her remaining children because she has never been able to get past her son who has no grave. Human beings need to bury their loved ones and to see their graves. It is not likely that we will be able to find this young guerilla’s family. I doubt it but one can be hopeful.
However, we can use these stories to engage in the practical matter of properly reburying our dead. Maybe as others open up we will hear stories of survivors who are still looking for their way home.
I am grateful to David Coltart for documenting an uncomfortable and inconvenient truth.
More from Coltart’s book
Coltart page 80: David Coltart details some of his duties as a member of the BSAP
I am sorry! Thoughts on the Zimbabwean apology
When should nations apologize?
In the weeks since President Emmerson Mnangwaga took over power from Robert Mugabe there have been calls for the President to apologize for the Gukurahundi atrocities. Gukurahundi is a very sensitive matter and should be handled with great care and respect. It is not the goal of this essay to engage the debate on the facts of Gukurahundi. Others who are more qualified have written extensively on the matter
It is my hope to create a focused dialogue on the importance of national apologies and to offer historical precedence. While I will focus on Gukurahundi I also acknowledge that there have been other deeply hurtful moments of violence and abuse in Zimbabwe’s pre- and post-colonial history.
A very Limited Background on Gukurahundi (which does not do the issue enough justice)
There is general agreement that Gukurahundi atrocities occurred between 1983-1987 (roughly). There is also very little disagreement that excessive violence was used by a state sponsored military brigade against an unarmed civilian population. There is general agreement that this excessive violence led to multiple deaths of citizens in the Matabeleland region. There is also general agreement that prior to the fifth brigade intervention there had been targeted killings in Matabeleland by a politically motivated individuals.
I am sorry!
I am sorry. There are times when all we want from the person who has wronged us is an apology. Those three words are powerful and can have deep healing effects. I am sorry is more than an apology it is an admission of guilt that validates the concerns of the wronged persons.
What is a national apology for historical wrongs?
A national apology is usually in the form of a speech given by the government of the day -oftentimes a head of state- acknowledging a historical injustice and promoting healing, and reconciliation in the country.
In interpersonal relationships, we sometimes do not need spell out exactly what we did wrong for an apology to have impact, but, generally one must show remorse, admission of guilt, a promise not to repeat the offending behavior and sometimes offer to repay the damage.
A national apology, especially one for historical injustices that may have taken place a long time ago tends to be more comprehensive. The actual words “I am sorry” are often accompanied by a clear lay out of the injustices being apologized for. The government, must show remorse and it is usually standard that these apologies are public. Scholars of apologies also note that since apologies tend to be controversial and might result in more conflict it is important that the government phrase apologies in “ways that minimize resistance from the non-victimized majority of the population. Opinion polls also indicate that majorities sometimes strongly oppose government apologies for historical injustices (Viles, 2002)” (Blatz, Schumann, & Ross, 2009).
In the Zimbabwean case, an apology on Gukurahundi should take into account that the majority possibly within the Shona group might oppose a public apology that they feel incriminates them for a crime that they did not personally commit. In recent discussions on Gukurahundi on social media platforms the feelings of public prosecution among Shona’s have been quite evident as citizens often innocently ask why they must be punished when their families have also suffered various injustices. Blatz at al, also write that, a good national apology must include praise for the current government, and the systems and laws that made such an apology possible. People are motivated to do good when they feel that their side of the story has been given due diligence. . I would add that it is important for all Zimbabwean citizens to feel that they have a stake in a national apology and that the apology serves a greater purpose. In most cases, victims have accepted the good will gesture of an apology allowing nations to move forward amicably in a direction geared for economic prosperity for all. In short, one might say apologies are good for the economy.
Many of us are used to thinking of apologies in the context of our personal lives and not necessarily on political or national issues. Indeed, there is a lot of debate on the utility of national apologies for historical crimes. These are not easy decisions for governments to make as admission of guilt which comes with an apology can carry grave political and sometimes financial implications for a country.
Throughout human history, governments, leaders, chiefs, kings etc have committed deliberate acts of crimes ranging from slavery, rape, land grabbing to mass murders. These government actions were oftentimes sanctioned and legal (Blatz et al., 2009). That is to say that those who physically carried out these acts, be it soldiers or the police had the legal authority to do so. Governments, respond to these historical actions in a range of ways, sometimes they might flat out deny that the events in question ever happened. For example, the Turkish government denies that the 1915 Armenian genocide ever took place. Sometimes governments will acknowledge that an injustice took place but deny to apologize. This was the United States position until very recently in 2008 when Congress offered a formal apology to African Americans for slavery. It is important to note that there is still a debate on reparations.
In recent history political apologies have increased. Scholars say that we are in the age of apology, the official “term referring to the increase of reparations in (global) politics, as a way of overcoming injustices from the past”. Perhaps, this represents a slight shift from past generations of deep violence and brutality towards a global society that is more interested in healing, justice and helping victims find closure. Between 1077 when “Roman Emperor Henry IV apologized to Pope Gregory VII for church state conflicts by standing in snow barefoot for three days, and, 1980 when former U.S. President Carter apologized to Iran to secure the release of American hostages” there had been only 24 recorded apologies. After 1980, we see quite a significant jump in national apologies
A few historical examples of national apologies
- The Holocaust
How does a country apologize for one of the worst crimes in human history?
The truthful answer is that nothing that can be said or done will ever make the hurt from the holocaust any less painful. And yet, an apology is still an important part of the national healing process.
One of the earliest acts of a humble public apology was shown by German Chancellor Willy Brandt in Warsaw, 1970. The chancellor, who was not a man of a small stature, fell on his knees in front of the Holocaust memorial during a state visit to Poland. We should all pause for a second and allow his actions to sink in.
Willy Brandt’s Kniefall. © ullstein bild/ Sven Simon
Brandt described his historical actions in very few words
‘Unter der Last der jungsten Geschichte tat ich, was Menschen tun, wenn die Worte versagen. So gedachte ich Millionen Ermordete.’ (Under the weight of recent history, I did what people do when words fall short. This is how I remembered the millions of victims.)
It had been a few decades since the end of the Holocaust but Brandt would later write in his memoirs that the he had carried a huge burden. He was not a part of the Nazi government. In fact, he had been forced to flee his home country when the Nazi’s began targeting leaders of the political opposition.
He wrote: An unusual burden accompanied me on my way to Warsaw. Nowhere else had a people suffered as in Poland. The machine-like annihilation of Polish Jewry represented a heightening of bloodthirstiness that no one had held possible. On my way to Warsaw [I carried with me] the memory of the fight to the death of the Warsaw ghetto.
Although more than seven decades have passed since the holocaust the German government is still in negotiations with survivors and families of victims over compensation.
- Bill Clinton’s apology to Rwanda on behalf of the United States
In 1994, the world watched as people in Rwanda- men, women and children- were killed mercilessly like animals over a ninety-day period. Big and small nations alike, Western and African, did not stand up to help. The United States’ refusal to help was particularly notable.
In 1998, Former President, Bill Clinton formally apologized for the United States’ inaction during the Rwanda genocide that resulted in the deaths of one million Rwandans. Mr. Clinton said, “It may seem strange to you here, especially many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.” You can read the full speech here
- Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Apology to the Maoris
In 1995, the Queen apologized to the New Zealand Maoris a tribe, for the unjust seizure of their land and murders that occurred under Queen Victoria. This was the first time that the Royal Monarchy offered an apology for misdeed resulting from British Colonial rule. The apology in the form of a Bill signed publicly by the Queen stated that the Crown had acted unjustly and offered , “profound regret and apologies for the loss of lives because of the hostilities arising from its Invasion and at the devastation of property and social life which resulted.” As part of the apology the Australian government returned 39,000 acres of Crown-owned land, valued at $NZ100m (pounds 43m) to the Tainui people.
- David Cameron’s Bloody Sunday Apology
In 2010, 38 years after the Bloody Sunday massacres in Northern Ireland then Prime Minister David Cameron offered an apology on behalf of the British government for massacres that took place when he was just six years old. On 30 January 1972, British soldiers opened fire and shot 28 unarmed civilians in a small Irish town were over ten thousand people had gathered for civil rights. A total of fourteen people died from the shootings. The bloody Sunday inquiry took 12 years.
In his apology, Mr. Cameron said, “Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behavior of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world…I know that some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, [if] a prime minister needs to issue an apology”. Mr. Cameron also said, “For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”
Three years after the massacres the British government had initially offered a financial compensation of £42,000 to relatives of victims but the relatives did not accept the compensation choosing instead to continue their fight for justice and a formal inquiry. Following the completion of the inquiry and the apology by Mr. Cameron the British government signaled a financial compensation of at least £10million.
It is difficult to achieve the kind of national healing that Zimbabwe needs without a national apology. A national apology delivered with sincerity in combination with other political and non-political gestures will do Zimbabwe a lot of good. The transition from Robert Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa has put Zimbabwe on a course for national healing and economic recovery. The new government faces many difficult decision ahead but there is enough good will among Zimbabweans.
On a personal note:
When I first arrived in the United States, my host mom introduced me to a fellow young Zimbabwean woman. All through college she was my closet diaspora family. She is Ndebele and I am Shona.
In 2006, I was a young very green second year university student when I went to visit family in England. I was at a party with about 40 Zimbabweans and I was the only Shona person. The conversation found itself to tribal injustices in Zimbabwe. I was the youngest person in the room. The adults charged their anger about school conditions in Matabeleland and the lack of representation on TV. I wanted to shout and scream that while many of them had come from great wealth affording them opportunities at private schools like Girls college and Plumtree high school, I was the child of a single mother- a cross border trader. Everything I had was the result of my mother’s tenacity and relentless courage. But I did not. I just sat there and listened. I was also quite intrigued to learn about this part of my history.
In 2014, a friend and I were invited to a party by some Swazi friends of ours in Atlanta. At that time, I had already begun by PhD on migration issues. Our friend expressed his worry that the majority of Zimbabweans at the party would be Ndebele and he had heard about the animosity between Shona’s and Ndebele’s. We shrugged and went ahead. I told him that some of my family were Ndebele as my father and siblings married into Ndebele families. At the party, a young woman- also name Chipo, spent at least 20 minutes expressing her anger because her father, a Shona man, impregnated her mother and left them in Bulawayo with no support. Again, my friend and I unsure of what to do stood there and listened.
In 2014, I was doing research in Capetown when I interviewed a white Zimbabwean woman. Before she shook my hand, she spat at me. She was upset. Her family lost everything. She nearly lost an eye during the invasions.
I do not know a lot of white Zimbabweans but as my circle of Zimbabwean friends expands I am in awe of the kindness that is at the core of the Zimbabwean diaspora community.
I share these stories because they are part of what has motivated me to write this essay on apologies. Over the years, I have become more aware of the privilege that my very Shona name – Chipo- gives me in Zimbabwe. It is not material wealth privilege, but, I have never had to question if I belong in my home. Zimbabwe has always been mine as I have been hers.
I do not speak on behalf of anyone other than myself when I say that I am really deeply sorry that our country has been so violent. I am sorry that there are Zimbabwean children of any tribe or race who have been denied their parents, their heritage and their happiness because of sanctioned violence. I am sorry.
Chipo Dendere – January 24, 2018
Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first play at the world stage – Davos
Zimbabwe’s new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. attended the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. This year’s impressive list of attendees includes over 340 political leaders, CEOs from major multinationals, civil society and international organizations. Mr. Mnangagwa’s attendance has drawn a lot of global interest as evidenced by the extensive media coverage on Zimbabwe.
Mr. Mnangagwa is under a lot of pressure to sell his message that “Zimbabwe is open for business” to the global communities who have been eagerly awaiting a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The good news is that in his interview at Davos the President made it clear that he is open to scrutiny and is not asking for a honey moon period. The big issues for Mr. Mnangagwa are two-fold; on the business side he has to address trade policies and land reform and on governance he needs to address ZANU PF’s history with violence and the diaspora vote.
Now open for Business
Mr. Mnangagwa has been in government since 1980 and therefore he must maintain a delicate balance between the more disastrous Mugabe policies and the policies he wishes to continue. ZANU PF led governments have not done well in creating a conducive environment for business. The quality of Zimbabwe’s human capital and infrastructure are not the reason that the former bread basket of Africa quickly became a basket case unable to feed its very small population of just under 13 million people. The main reason why the Zimbabwean economy tanked is political.
In 2007, the ZANU PF government introduced the indigenization act which stipulated a 51% local ownership in economic investments. Zimbabwe is not the only country with such a policy but the multiple contradictory statements from the government combined with corruption and rent seeking behavior by politicians made the conduct of business very difficult. In a welcome move, Mr. Mnangagwa said that the policy had been lifted except for diamond and platinum mining. This is likely to excite investors interested in gold, chrome and Zimbabwe’s vast mineral deposits.
Land reform is a trickier issue for Mnangagwa but he has thus far handled it well. When asked if his administration is keen on welcoming back white farmers, Mr. Mnangagwa explained that the issue of land is at the heart of Zimbabwe’s independence and that the issue cannot be handled along racial lines. Land polices should aim to provide resources for the best farmers who can effectively contribute to Zimbabwe’s economic growth.
If the future is young then the future billionaires are also young
A Zimbabwean Defence Force soldier poses for selfie-pictures with two young women as they take part in a march in the streets of Harare, on November 18, 2017 (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
In addition to changing draconian business policies, the President, must also address governance issues. If the future of Zimbabwe is held on the shoulders of its young population then the government must speak to the issues that young people care about. The youth care about human rights, they care about freedom of speech and expression, they care about addressing past atrocities and they care about the environment.
Global investors have a long list of resource rich countries with terrible human rights records to choose from if their only goal is to make more money. Zimbabwe must stand apart and chart a new pathway for African development. Everything that Zimbabwe has to offer can be found in other countries. Zimbabwe has a young dynamic population but so does Nigeria. Nearly 50% of Nigeria’s 182 million are under the age of 30 and also highly educated. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people are below the age of 35. That is an estimated 600 million nearly double the US population. India’s youth are also very educated and ahead of Zimbabwe in technological advancement.
In terms of natural resources, Zimbabwe is not in the top ten of resource rich countries in Africa. Botswana has about 35% of known diamond deposits, the Democratic Republic of Congo has at least $24 trillion worth of un tapped natural resources and the real figures could be double that. The DRC has abundant deposits so copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coltan (think cell phones) and oil to name just as a few. Tanzania has a impressive natural beauty, well developed national parks, a lot of gold and Tanzanite. This is not say that Zimbabwe’s natural resources are not impressive. They are. Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, many national parks, it has abundant deposits of coal, platinum, untapped diamond potential, and gold to name a few. The point is that it is not enough to have a lot of natural resources if the government does not address past and present political challenges.
From the first day of his presidency Mr. Mnangagwa has been forced to address gukurahundi. His allies have argued that it is not fair that Mr. Mnangagwa should have to address this when the man who signed off on the operation, Mr. Mugabe has gotten away with calling it “ a moment of madness”. Critics of Mr. Mnangagwa argue that he was the Minister of State security and therefore he played an important role. Others point to the inflammatory language he used at the time. The truth is that the massacres were not the brain child of a single person but Mr. Mnangagwa is now the face of the government and it is his responsibility to address this dark time in Zimbabwe’s history. When Joice Mujuru first announced her intentions to run as an opposition candidate and she looked like the most viable person to take over from Robert Mugabe she too was forced to engaged with Gukurahundi. In fact, the state media argued that Joice Mujuru was equally to blame for gukurahundi because of her long history with ZANU PF. Therefore, it is disingenuous for Mr. Mnangagwa to try and distance himself from gukurahundi or to argue that “let bygones be bygones”.
At Davos, Mr. Mnangagwa was asked directly if he will apologize for Gukurahundi. Mr. Mangagwa dodged the issue of an apology and instead highlighted that his government has signed the truth and reconciliation bill. However, a bill is not enough. It is not enough to suggest that the Unity accord of 1986 addressed the Gukurahundi atrocities. It is not enough to say that the past has happened and perhaps we can find a way to have a beer ceremony and move on. There is need for a truth and reconciliation process. It was unwise for the president to dismiss figure of 20, 000 victims of the massacres without providing an accurate figure. Perhaps a more empathetic response is to say that the victims of gukurahundi need just justice, the need a formal apology and that apology should come from his government. In his inauguration speech Mr. Mnangagwa alluded to a new era in Zimbabwean politics, a Zimbabwe for everyone including victims and families of gukurahundi.
Allies of Mr. Mnangagwa should also see this as an opportunity for the president to become a hero. If or when Mr. Mnangagwa offers a public apology he will have done something that most leaders are not capable of doing. By availing himself on social media he is already in the right direction. Mr. President, an apology is not a sign of weakness, it is the very epitome of human strength. The world has already seen that you have political acumen – you toppled your mentor in the same breath you gave Zimbabwe its second independence.
The Diaspora Vote and Elections
On the elections, Mr. Mnangagwa is itching to have elections as soon as possible. He is eager to move past the not-coup. Mr. Mnangagwa would like to test his own electability which just a few months ago was quite unlikely. In 2005, Mr. Mnangagwa lost his seat as MP for a small urban constituency in Kwekwe. It is my sense that Mr. Mnangagwa could win in a free and fair election primarily because the opposition is not nearly as organized as they need to be. However, ZANU PF has already begun a terror campaign in high density urban areas and in rural areas. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has not responded to numerous citizen reports of intimidation and harassment.
Image of Voter Reg slips in a ZANU PF office received via whatsapp
To date, the state media continues to operate like the mouth piece for the ruling ZANU PF. There is no coverage of opposition rallies or meetings. The press is still far from being independent.
While the president has invested a lot of time courting western investors he should also pay attention to Zimbabwean and other African investors. The actual numbers of the Zimbabwean diaspora are unclear but estimates range between two and four million. Zimbabweans in the diaspora want to vote. In his WEF interview Mr. Mnangagwa indicated that elections will likely happen in March. This move is very unfair to the diaspora which is already marginalized because there are no registration centers abroad. There is no reason why Zimbabwe has not created conditions to allow for the diaspora vote. The President argued that a diaspora vote is expensive but he has also indicated that they have recovered millions in looted funds. The government should also think of the diaspora vote as a long-term investment. Citizens living abroad are more likely to invest in the home country if they have a say in the politics. The Zimbabwean diaspora remits almost $4 billion annually. They are also willing to take investment risks that western donors may not be eager to make.
As President Mnangagwa continues to engage the global community he will be asked tough and very uncomfortable questions. It is a good sign for Zimbabwe. The president should work with his subordinates on creating an open and welcoming political climate at home. He has inherited a country hungry and impatient for change on all fronts.
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