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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

SAM Zim flag[Source: by Mondli Makhanya.]

In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was becoming a restless place.

After a smooth handover of power from Ian Smith to Robert Mugabe and a relatively comfortable period thereafter, the ruling Zanu-PF was succumbing to the sins of incumbency, where corruption, arrogance, lack of accountability and maladministration were becoming the norm.

Democracy was being eroded as the “chefs”– a term for party and government bigwigs – did everything to strengthen their grip on power.

On the economic front, the effects of the stringent structural adjustment programme were strangling Zimbabweans.

The people were not happy. For the first time since crushing the Matabeleland insurgency in the early 1980s, Robert Mugabe’s government was facing resistance.

Civil society groupings were challenging government practices. The intelligentsia was speaking out. There was also discontent within Zanu-PF. Senior leaders and ordinary members were looking for options.

Those options came in the form of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement led by liberation war hero Edgar Tekere, who had fallen out with Mugabe over his outspokenness on corruption and Zanu-PF’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

The other alternative was independent MP Margaret Dongo, also a liberation stalwart. Dongo earned Mugabe’s ire by always juxtaposing his leadership qualities against those of Josiah Magama Tongogara, the legendary commander of the guerrilla forces who was killed in 1980 on the eve of independence.

To this day, there is widespread belief in Zimbabwe that Mugabe had a hand in his killing.

The growing support Tekere and Dongo were garnering made Mugabe and his lieutenants very nervous. So they deployed the one weapon they could trust: fear.

The security agencies mounted dirty campaigns against them and led the whole nation to believe the Central Intelligence Organisation was always watching.

More effectively, they unleashed the Zanu-PF Youth League on the two leaders and their supporters. They were harassed and had unspeakable insults hurled at them by the youngsters. Their followers were intimidated and beaten.

The message to them was simply that if you opposed Mugabe and Zanu-PF, you were against the revolution. And if you were against the revolution, you were an oxygen thief.

By 1999, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had broken its historical ties with Zanu-PF – so disgusted were they by corruption, misgovernance and wrong policies.

The ZCTU became the engine of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which it formed along with civil society groupings.

The MDC gained traction very quickly and in the early 2000s, there were clear indications it was on its way to a comfortable majority in the June parliamentary elections.

Such a victory would have been the beginning of the end of Zanu-PF’s 20-year hold on power and would have been a precursor to Mugabe losing power in the presidential elections, which were due in 2002.

The Mugabe clique’s response was to deploy the Zanu-PF Youth to crush these new “counter-revolutionaries” and “agents of imperialism”.

These youthful enthusiasts of “the revolution” were organised into a militia force called the Green Bombers.

In defence of “the revolution”, whose custodian was Zanu-PF, the Green Bombers engaged in abduction, arson, rape and murder. Their victims were opposition politicians and supporters, civil society activists and anyone who dared differ with the almighty leader.

Throughout Zimbabwe’s dark decade, the Green Bombers ran riot. The big guys looked the other way and washed their hands of any responsibility for any of these acts. There was what the White House once called “plausible deniability”.

When I saw leaders of ANC-aligned youth formations spew venom at Public Protector Thuli Madonsela last week, my mind couldn’t help but wander across the northern border.

These young comrades took turns in lambasting the Public Protector and piled insults on her.

In their young minds, they felt justified in taking her on in this fashion because she has been categorised as the archenemy of “the revolution”. Her adverse findings against senior ANC leaders who have abused public money have placed her firmly in the camp of the counter-revolutionaries.

To their credit, ANC officials – including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe – moved to distance their party from the youngsters’ comments.

But you need to take a step back and ask what emboldened these young people to say the uncouth things they said about Madonsela.

Was it not the adults in the governing party who declared open season on the Office of the Public Protector? Week after week, senior leaders took to public platforms to declare her an agent of the opposition and therefore an enemy of the revolution.

The demonisation of her office filtered down to the loyal party youths who, like their Zanu-PF peers, have no time for diplomacy when it comes to so-called counter-revolutionaries.

The ANC’s youth are not yet at the point where they need to be abducting opponents and roughing them up. But then again, the ANC is not about to lose power so those tactics are not necessary – yet.

When that time comes, Madonsela might no longer be Public Protector and so she will escape the full wrath of the ANC’s youth brigades.

In the firing line will be other supposed enemies of the revolution: opposition parties, civil society activists, disloyal trade unionists and anyone who dares speak ill of the former liberation movement that deems itself the custodian of “the revolution”.

South Africa at a Glance
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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