GNU has failed on justice delivery

Zimbabwe’s attempt at a democratic political transition emanating from the March 2008 general election failed to produce a clear rupture from the past, as was the case in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

This failed totalitarian political rupture has grave consequences for transitional justice, because the negotiated settlement left the repressive regime and its structures intact.

The functionality of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee and the inclusive government itself have to be understood and interrogated in terms of the nature of the political transition that came out of that failed democratic transition. The nature of the Zimbabwean state also has a bearing on any attempts to democratise Zimbabwean politics.

Political transition

It is, therefore, critical to appreciate what a political transition is, the types of transitions, and the one that is operating following the signing of the Global Political Agreement. A political transition refers to a regime change or simply a change of governance.

A regime change is a change in the institutional structure of a given country. It is the formal and informal organisation of political power, and of its relations with the broader society. A regime determines who has access to political power, and how those who are in power deal with those who are not. It is possible to have a regime change without changing a leader, but a regime change is not equal to the change of a leader.

For example, if President Robert Mugabe loses the next election, but the repressive and totalitarian system remains, then there will be no regime change. So the usual chorus of ‘Mugabe must go’ is not good enough to democratize Zimbabwean politics and its institutions. The Zimbabwe case needs both the faces of the regime and other oppressive elements to be overhauled.

There are basically three types of political transitions:

Transition through transaction

This happens when the authoritarian regime initiates the process of democratisation of the body politic, but remains a decisive political actor throughout the transition, although opposition political parties and other players are part of the process.

Transition via extrication

This type of transition occurs when the authoritarian regime is weakened, but not as significantly as is the case in the transition by defeat. However, in this situation, the authoritarian regime has less power to negotiate as in transition by transaction. It will be slowly phased out of power.

Transition via regime defeat

This type of transition involves a decisive defeat of the authoritarian government, leading to the end of authoritarian rule and the establishment of a democratic government. This is a very rare form transition. It happens in cases where revolutions take place.

From these three types of transitions Zimbabwe is experiencing transition by transaction where the three MDC formations led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the others by Professors Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube as well as President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) are in a compromise agreement.

Comparatively, the Zanu (PF) side of government has more power in relation to its partners. That’s why the outstanding issues can only be resolved at the pleasure of Zanu (PF).

In a situation where a vanquished political party has total access to the state, it becomes difficult to talk about the effectiveness of quasi-democratic bodies such as JOMIC because what these bodies attempt to do is to create conditions that will make sure that Zanu (PF) is removed from power. Zanu (PF) has successfully blocked most democratic initiatives.

My argument is that the nature of the GPA, and not JOMIC, is the one that is stalling the transition. What has failed is the GPA and the current government. It failed from the start because the negotiators from the MDC formations did not gain enough leverage during the talks to enable transition through extrication. The country experienced transition by extrication when Ian Smith was defeated in an election, accepted that defeat and elements of the colonial regime were axed out of the state step by step until they were all flushed out.

False dawn

To worsen the situation, Zimbabwe’s problems are compounded by the undemocratic nature of post-independent Zimbabwe. Following the fall of the colonial government, the nationalist government of Zanu (PF) did not democratise the state. The theory of elite continuity came into effect in which Zanu (PF) elements occupied state positions and structures such as the security apparatus and media.

Colonial and repressive laws were retained without democratising them. The colonial political culture of violence, as well as dictatorship, was taken aboard by the new rulers. Zimbabwe experienced a false dawn in 1980 and experienced the same following the signing of the GPA in September 2008.

The critical issue that confronts Zimbabweans is to work to democraticise the state and its politics. They need to create a rupture from both the colonial and Zanu (PF) systems of governance and make sure that the state is democratised. The state’s fundamental role is to protect and advance the rights and needs of its citizens. The state must advance rather than inhibit the democratic aspirations of the people. This cannot happen under its current organisation and leadership.

However, there are certain things, under this very constrained political environment, that civil society and the democratic forces should insist the GNU should do. For instance, to address issues of impunity, the GNU should be pressured to deliver justice to victims of the de facto police state. International law requiring punishment for atrocious crimes can provide an important counterweight to pressure from Zimbabwe’s ruling elite responsible for the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres and the post-2000 human rights violations.

Piling on the pressure

This will assist in making sure that citizens know the price of trespassing the rights of others. It will make vigilante groups such as Chipangano and its leaders think twice before they commit crimes. This will not be done by JOMIC because this body actually has sympathisers of Chipangano in its rank and file. It will be done by civil society and other democratic forces through piling pressure on the prosecuting authorities and exposing the heinous activities of such groups.

When prosecutions are administered and undertaken pursuant to the provisions of both domestic and international law forbidding acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes, they are less likely to be perceived or opposed as acts of revenge.

If Zimbabwe is to return to democratic legitimacy, the GNU should further respond to human rights violations by adopting laws which bar certain categories of former government officials and party members from public employment. Such measures will not be new to Zimbabwe; they have worked well in post-communist governments in Europe and Latin America. Such elements are rampant in country’s public service, particularly in the security forces. Zimbabwe is full of public officials who have been associated with human rights violations since Independence and their role in government is to block any judicial and political reforms that seek to make them accountable for their crimes. – Pedzisai Ruhanya, PhD candidate Media and Communication Research Institute at CAMRI, University of Westminster, London

Post published in: Politics

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