Zimbabwe: The view from the UK

Trevor Grundy writes on a recent Radio Four programme, and Mnangagwa's efforts to woo the whites

London, England - - - WITH ONLY a few days to go before Zimbabwe’s first national elections since the military overthrow of Robert Mugabe in November last year, the British public has shown little – if any – interest in that country, its recent history, its problems or who runs it.

But on Sunday afternoon (22nd July, 2018) followers of the BBC’s flagship Radio Four had a chance to tune in and hear about some of the problems facing ordinary men and women - 250 of them in the audience at Meikles Hotel in Harare - who were taking part in a fascinating open forum discussion about the country’s elections and its future.

Many of them had lived through almost four decades of lunacy, with one young graduate who had travelled down from Mutare to take part, asking those who had supported Mugabe for so long and who now pose as the country’s new saviours - “Were you playing chess with our lives?”

In the chair was the former BBC correspondent, Allan Little.

On the panel were Paul Mangwana, the former cabinet minister and legal adviser to the country’s ruling party, Zanu(PF); Welshman Ncube, a founder member of MDC; the barrister and independent candidate, Fadzayi Mahere; and Trevor Ncube, the businessman and newspaper proprietor.

The programme was heard in Britain at a time when a tiny group of Europeans were recovering from the shock of being guests at a surprise party at the Borrowdale Race Track on the edge of the capital hosted by Emmerson Mnangagwa.

They were there for tea, scones, jam sandwiches, handshakes and jokes and a promise from the Big Man himself that if they voted for him as president and Zanu (PF) as the ruling party they were in for one hell of a good time.

A report in The Times (July 23, 2018) by Harry Davies and Jane Flanagan said that this deeply offended a lot of people including the journalist Edmund Kudzayi.

“Mnangagwa’s apartheid – style ‘white people rally’ featuring scones, jam and biscuits is an absolute disgrace,” he was quoted saying. ”Is this not ridiculous to hold a rally for whites only in a liberated Zimbabwe?”

And this little get-together, Zimbabwe’s answer to The Mad Hatter’s Tea Part in Alice in Wonderland by Louis Carroll, got up the noses of a lot of voters, with Simbarashe Simango asking: “Is this what we went to war for? Why are they treated with priority compared to their fellow black citizens? Mnangagwa has stooped to a new low. It’s time for him to go.”

Leaving isn’t on Mnangagwa’s mind at the moment.

One white woman who attended almost had a heart attack she was so overcome with joy about this overture to whites in Zimbabwe now numbering around 25,000 to 30,000 (down from 250,000 in 1975 when the country was Rhodesia).

 ”It was such a lot of fun,” she said. “I enjoyed myself. Lots of jokes, free Zanu (PF) caps and little scarves, tea and scones and flowers, very British in a way. And Emmerson Mnangawa was helovah funny. He had people hurling with laughter.”

Reports said that the helovah funny Crocodile (now more affectionately known as ED) told a group of farmers – some of them badly injured during the Mugabe/Mnangagwa organised farm invasions of 2000, that the land “reform” programme had not gone well but was irreversible.

One wonders how long we have to wait before Mnangagwa and the appalling Perence Shiri mount the platform at Chatham House in London?

The applause from an audience that represents money without morals will be deafening.

WE DO NOT KNOW if there were snacks at Meikles but there was plenty of hard talk and meaningful discussion passed around, with chairman Little applauding ED for letting the BBC into Zimbabwe in the first place.

He said: “The very fact that we, the BBC, are here and able to broadcast this programme from Zimbabwe, is itself some small indication of his determination to open Zimbabwe to the world again.”

And yes, Zimbabwe is open for business said Mangwana, not once but several times.

With hard work and the lifting of sanctions the economy would take-off, he predicted.

Earlier, Trevor Ncube said that the ruling party had most benefitted from the imposition of sanctions.

As Little said at the start of the programme, the economy is in a terrible state.

Over 75 percent of the working age population do not have steady regular jobs, that the currency collapsed under Zanu (PF) and that in 2009 national humiliation followed, with the government adopting the US $ (or Government bond notes) as the unit of currency.

At one point, Little asked for a show of hands following his question –“Will these elections be free and fair.”

“Yes,” we heard him say,” some hands are going up there. There’s one there . . . .”

Mangwana was asked if the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission continued to be an instrument of Zanu (PF).

He replied: “We have no influence over that.”

There were roars of laughter from the audience.

Said Little: “That response is proof . . . all you need . . . that there is a trust deficit.”

And not only a trust deficit.

Fadzayi spoke about “a culture of apathy” in Zimbabwe and urged young people to turn out in force on July 30. “We need everyone watching ( in case of electoral abuse), everyone not only the politicians watching and holding the electoral management body accountable and making sure that the vote is not stolen from us.”

When Mangwana described Mnangagwa as “a compassionate leader” there was even more laughter.

Someone in the ruling party was obviously not passing round the scones.

Said Trevor Ncube who, as a child on the way to school, saw the horrors of the North Korean- trained Fifth Brigade in action - “The crux of the matter is that we are a wounded nation. We are a divided people. We’ve never been a nation since 1980. We need national unity, we need national healing, we need national reconciliation. That has never happened. It is important to realise that in each of us is a little Robert Mugabe running around (laughter). We are so intolerant of each other. For me, when it comes to national unity, not one of the people who are there will be able to unite this nation.”

There are twenty three presidential candidates but really it’s a two horse race between Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu (PF) and Nelson Chamisa (MDC).

Trevor Ncube said that Emmerson Mnangagwa “is not an angel. He has done some terrible things in the past. But I am yet to see an angel in this country.” But he added that were he now to vote his “X” would go to Mnangagwa.

Mahere said that Mnangagwa does not have the attributes to rule Zimbabwe because he has no pragmatic domestic policies especially in the field of investment. “He’s extremely divisive as far as his track record goes and this is something he never wants to confront.”

The young lawyer and independent candidate said that Mnangagwa’s past errors include his role in Gukuruhundi and all sorts of breaches of human rights which have completely divided people. “He has not apologized and will continue to divide. He is tribal and in favour of his own tribe [Karangas] and we haven’t seen any genuine commitment by him to try and unite the South (Matabeleland) with the rest of the country”

She said that Zimbabwe needed truth as well as reconciliation. “His relationship with Robert Mugabe is something we cannot get away from,” she said. ”We just can’t whitewash history, especially with someone who doesn’t want to confront it” (loud applause).

Mnangagwa’s refusal to face his past was raised by Welshman Ncube who said that before politicians tried to unite the nation after Mugabe “we must first acknowledge the rights and wrongs of the past. If Emmerson Mnangagwa is serious about Zimbabwe being open to business it should also be open to scrutiny. We are a wounded people. Over a period of 37 years, President Mnangagwa was not just a participant but the chief enforcer of the Robert Mugabe regime and all of the wounds that we are talking about, he was at the forefront in inflicting those wounds. So the first starting point is for him to accept his role, to ask for forgiveness and say ‘I have reached a Damascus moment’ and let’s move forward after this confession.”

Meantime, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Vigil in London said that the main concern of Zimbabwean in the UK seems to be not the looming election at home but the fear of being deported from Britain.

How many Zimbabweans there are in the UK is not known. Estimates indicate around 400,000.

A spokesperson for Zimbabwe Vigil said in a statement (July 23, 2018): “Some Zimbabweans here are paranoid about having to return to Zimbabwe, for economic reasons or fear of the unknown. We don’t expect this to change much even if Nelson Chamisa wins the election. This seems theoretically possible given the latest AfroBarometer poll but ignores the likelihood of Zanu (PF) cheating its way back to power.”