Earlier on the afternoon of 21 November 2017 – what some are now calling ‘Freedom Day’ – Zimbabwe burst into cheers at hearing Robert Mugabe had finally tendered his resignation as President after a full 37 years in power. The relief and jubilation was palpable everywhere: loud chanting, singing and dancing in the streets, and literal cries of joy.
The letter of resignation was read out in Parliament in the middle of an impeachment process that had been initiated a few hours earlier by Mugabe’s own party, Zanu PF. This followed Mugabe’s stubborn refusal to resign despite pressure all week from the military, his own party and the people of Zimbabwe.
A new political era begins
With his departure a new political era begins. Although unclear just what that will look like, and acknowledging complex negotiations ahead among the various political actors, crucially the process needs to ensure that not only is it Mugabe who has gone, but Mugabeism. In other words, there can no longer be only one centre of power in the new Zimbabwe.
Not surprisingly, the message from activists and opposition party actors has been to assert the need for democratising politics and governance. Yet Zanu PF officials interviewed in the media in this historic moment have also expressed a desire for and insistence on constitutionalism, even if it might mean electoral victories outside of their own party in the next elections due in 2018. This has yet to be tested, but it is an encouraging tone in the present, not least given that as an interim measure we are expecting former Zanu PF Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to be signed in as President in the coming days.
In the meantime, there is unconfirmed news that there are inter-party talks afoot in Zimbabwe among the key political parties. If so, it may signal a new dynamic of collaboration, largely unthinkable until now. One thing might have shifted this slightly. While previously Zanu PF claimed a monopoly over the ‘liberation’ narrative of the nationalist anti-colonial struggle that led to independence in 1980, the post-2000 struggle against the violence and destruction of the Mugabe regime leading up to this new liberation moment has undeniably been waged by a broad range of opposition parties and activists. Recognising a now-shared (or two-phase) liberation history of Zimbabwe may make possible a new form of more open political engagement.
One can only hope so. And one can only hope, too, that the experience in the past week of unity among the broadest range of Zimbabweans, the display of positive force of popular sentiment against both Mugabe and Mugabeism, the restraint of the military and focus on constitutionalism, the absence of any aggressive partyism on either side, and the deeply felt and often painfully articulated hope for a decent future for all, will inform the shaping of an inclusive, democratic, economically productive new pathway for Zimbabwe.
Photo by Kremlin / Public domain
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