Ever since his military-aided coronation in November last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has consciously been portraying himself as a Saul converted to Paul. He, henceforth, embraced a new mission, as did Paul, emerging from the Damascus conversion.
His inaugural speech was a distinct departure from that of a dyed-in-the-wool associate of former President Robert Mugabe. With the zeal of a prosperity gospel preacher, he declared his mantra: “Zimbabwe is open for business,” signalling a dropping of the hardliner thrust.
His statement, “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” echoed uncharacteristically of one whose track record earned him the nickname, Ngwena, (crocodile). He now pitches himself as a spirit-filled born again reformist, describing his administration as the new dispensation.
Recently, Mnangagwa attributed the peaceful march over the need for electoral reforms by the opposition in Harare to freedoms his government upholds. Save for the plight of a prison warden who was arrested for social media comments, threats to freedom of expression have subsided.
However, as I see it, there is a worrisome trait that distinguishes the scriptural Paul from Mnangagwa. While Paul readily owns up to his dark past, the converted Mnangagwa is keen on hiding behind the seemingly well-intentioned claim, let bygones be bygones.
The closest he came to opening up to the past was when he implored his party to break from the past and present “a new face.” Addressing the Zanu-PF central committee recently, Mnangagwa promised to break from a past which he admitted that the party cannot just wish away.
He also spoke about his watching in horror the use of underhand electoral methods by senior party cadres during the Zanu-PF primary elections held in April. What makes his remarks duplicitous is that the Politburo endorsed results of the said underhand methods.
“While we cannot change the past, we must indeed learn from it,” said Mnangagwa without getting into details. He urged the leadership to commit to correcting party practices which people are not happy with. What a circuitous task, given his let bygones be bygones policy!
With Mnangagwa now preaching political tolerance, a break from the past and the need to present a new look, could he be well and truly converted from the era of Zanu ndeye ropa (Zanu is a bloody party), one party state and one centre of power philosophy he abided by!
It was said of Paul, “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Gal 1:23). As Mnangagwa advocated for being a listening President, open enough to proffer meeting with opposition leadership, could what was said of Paul be equally said of Mnangagwa, a leader who used to draw the ire of political opponents.
Although what he had in mind will always be subject to speculation, my assessment is that he was referring to politically motivated violence that constitutes a dark part of the Zanu-PF history. The party has brutality and atrocity as its integral stock in trade.
Besides Gukurahundi, an atrocity that claimed multitudes, there are many abductions and killings of political opponents whose investigations were barely done. It must be this dark past which Mnangagwa must have meant when he said the party cannot just wish away.
It was abominable for Vice President Kembo Mohadi to urge people to forget about the massacre. How dare he, a leader who purports to have the welfare of the people at heart, could be footloose, fancy free with the emotions of people whose dear ones perished in cold blood!
There could be no better starting point for Mnangagwa to chart new way forward than to release into public domain the Chihambakwe Commission Report on the Midlands and Matabeleland atrocities. It would be a smooth progression from the secret Rhodesian files that were recently repatriated from South Africa.
Without being prodded, Paul oftentimes opened up to his past. “I persecuted followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women, throwing into prison,” (Acts 22:4). What essentially made his discipleship plausible was his owning up to his gruesome past.
Imagine how far reaching into the hearts of the citizenry it would be if Mnangagwa, after intense soul searching, were to inculcate the words of Paul, “I persecuted the opposition to their death, arresting men and women, throwing them into prison!”
Although he claimed that the opposition is enjoying freedoms they never had before, he misses the point that if he was credible, there could be no grounds for demonstrations. With election dates proclaimed before electoral reforms, Mnangagwa is indeed not meritable.
The administration he leads, the said new dispensation, is new in the sense that the military no longer calls the shots from barracks, but from the heath and heart of government. The army and police are no longer apolitical as witnessed during the Zanu-PF primary elections.
Subsequent to his ascendance to power through the unconventional military intervention, Mnangagwa was speaking more to himself than to the central committee when he reiterated the urgency of breaking with the past. His power-grab robs him of legitimacy.
Although he has reached out to the world, dishing out invitations to observe the harmonised elections, his authenticity is tainted by the manner in which he assumed office. It is for this reason why pressure is mounting on him to urgently implement electoral reforms.
With the Nelson Chamisa-led coalition having already tabled their 10-point demands for electoral reforms, and a joint United States observer mission echoing the urgency, it is incumbent upon Mnangagwa to prove that he is a conspirator-turned-Statesman by ensuring adherence to set electoral standards.
It is known that the underhand methods which Mnangagwa said he watched in horror during the party’s primary elections are not alien to Zanu-PF as he put it. He knows in his heart of hearts that his party, in particular in the 2008 elections, used worse underhand methods.
Given that his first 100 days ended with all cloud and no rain, time is of the essence for him to implement the reforms. Also, if he were sincere about the new-look he referred to in his speech to the central committee, he has to own up to the dark past as did Paul.
Mnangagwa has an obligation to be honest and open about his past. He will deprive himself of the opportunity that can usher him to loftier stations in human endeavours if he does not emulate Paul. As I see it, his let bygones be bygones strategy is not meritable.
Cyprian Muketiwa Ndawana is a public speaking coach, motivational speaker, speechwriter and newspaper columnist – email muketiwa. [email protected]