Zimbabwe illustrates how unchecked power corrupts

I RECENTLY helped edit a trilogy of books written by former Zimbabwean deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara called In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream. The first of the three books has just been released.

I had to reacquaint myself with Zimbabwean politics and history. As I was reminded of where Zimbabwe came from, and their proud struggle for liberation which ended in a flawed Lancaster House Agreement, I could not help but feel sad about what is taking place there now.

The last time I visited Zimbabwe was more than 15 years ago but, even then, one could begin to see a society unravelling. The Zim dollar was trading at around 300 to the rand, but soon it was trading at millions to the rand. The Zim dollar was eventually scrapped and Zimbabweans now trade in American dollars.

At the heart of the Zimbabwean crisis is a political party, Zanu-PF, which believes it is anointed to rule forever because of the role it played in its liberation struggle. There are people in Zimbabwe who believes in the slogan: “The bullet is more powerful than the ballot”. The argument is that Zanu-PF liberated Zimbabweans by using the bullet, so they cannot be removed by the ballot.

Part of the problem with this argument is that the rivals to Zanu-PF, Zapu, probably played a more prominent role in the liberation struggle and that the two liberation movements were forced into a negotiated settlement which left much to be desired. The theory about using the bullet to achieve liberation does not really hold water.

But Zanu-PF and its president, Robert Mugabe, have consistently found ways to undermine their country’s constitution and cling to power. As a result, Mugabe is still the party’s preferred candidate for president in next year’s elections - he’ll be 94 then. Mugabe was prime minister from independence in 1980 until 1987, and has been president ever since. He has effectively been in power for all the 37 years that Zimbabwe has been “free”.

There are similarities with South Africa. There are many people who argue the PAC was more prominent in the Liberation Struggle than the ANC, but this is debatable. The liberation movements in South Africa also had to negotiate a settlement with their former oppressors and adversaries. Like Zapu in Zimbabwe, the PAC in South Africa has all but disappeared.

For now, we have hope in South Africa, but I don’t know for how long, judging by the actions of some people in the ruling party over the past few weeks and months.

The ANC seems to think its constitution can overrule the country’s constitution, an approach that is very dangerous. Several ANC members have been talking about hounding and disciplining the ANC members who voted with the opposition in the secret ballot. The Constitutional Court’s ruling meant the MPs should have expected some protection, irrespective of how they voted. But the ANC does not seem to think so.

Also, several ANC MPs and at least one minister refused to co-operate with a parliamentary committee chaired by someone who was believed to have voted against President Jacob Zuma in the secret vote. They were effectively saying that they do not care about Parliament’s oversight role as much as they care about following the right factional line in the ANC.

It is against this background that I watched this week’s shenanigans around Grace Mugabe, 52, Mugabe’s second wife. Mrs Mugabe is believed to have assaulted a young woman with an electrical extension cord after finding her and another woman in a hotel room with her two sons, Robert jr, 24, and Bellarmine Chatunga, 20.

After Police Minister Fikile Mbalula promised that she would face the might of the South African law, Mrs Mugabe apparently “left” the country, only to resurface the next day, claiming diplomatic immunity. My hunch is that nothing will come of the case against Grace Mugabe. She has got away with worse in her country.

Those of us who care about the rule of law and democracy need to continue to put pressure on the government to make sure that Grace Mugabe does not get away with what appeared to be blatant assault. People who commit crimes in South Africa, irrespective of the position they hold, need to know they will be prosecuted and fined or jailed.

We need to start with the many South African politicians and supposed public servants who appear to have enriched themselves through corruption.

In my humble opinion, and I am thinking aloud, our only hope in South Africa is for civil society to hold the ANC and other political parties to account, to make sure that they follow the constitution so that we can achieve our potential as a country.

Power, as they say, corrupts. And nowhere is this truer than in Zimbabwe.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 19 August 2017)