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The 'Precarious' Pathway To Democracy Post-Mugabe

"I hope I am going to be proved wrong, but I think a transition is going to be very difficult in Zimbabwe."

15/11/2017 14:47 SAST | Updated 15/11/2017 16:02 SAST
Philimon Bulawayo/ Reuters
President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.

The most optimistic outcome from Zimbabwe (in light of the fact that they want Mugabe to step down) would be that the military have some kind of transitional authority paving the way to free and fair elections.

Some of the things that would make this transition possible would be pressure from the SADC, because the SADC doesn't like military coups, and Western pressure, because of Zimbabwe's dire economic situation. They would need Western aid, and the hope is that there would be a renewal strategy that brings in investment, which ultimately means dealing with investor confidence.

The most negative outcome would be that the military really wants to hold onto power, which may lead to a period of intensified repression. It would also depend on how the internal conflict within Zanu-PF is resolved, and whether or not this creates more internal conflicts -- as this may see the divisions in political leadership reflected in the army.

Whether there is a positive or negative outcome, it is a very serious precedent to have a sitting president leave because of the military stepping in. This will set a precedent for the future, and it won't be a good one. There is a petty part of me that is happy, because I have been sickened by the way in which Grace Mugabe has been behaving, and the manner in which the Mugabe family has made Zimbabwe a family business.

But at the same time, the military is not a group of nice people. They are the very people who carried out Gukurahundi massacres and launched major operations against the people of Zimbabwe -- such as Operation Murambatsvina and the killings after the 2008 elections. Zimbabwe is indeed in a precarious state.

If the conflict intensifies and becomes more complex, and there is an exodus of refugees, then there will be a wave of Zimbabweans migrating through the region. This is not something anyone would want. On the other hand, if there is a peaceful resolution which paves the way to a more democratic Zimbabwe, we would have Zimbabweans across the region returning home.

The Mugabe regime has been the destroyer of jobs, and if there's a change to a more liberal regime and increased investment, this would translate into job creation, which would be beneficial to the region.

Zimbabweans focus too much on the constitution as a document, whereas there is no constitutionalism in Zimbabwe.

We don't have an adequate theory of post-dictatorship societies, and the most dangerous thing about a post-dictatorship society is that it is a society which does not have the mechanisms to effect a transition. Smooth transitions need to have strong institutions like the judiciary, an electoral commission and a free media.

If a country does not have these institutions in place, it is very difficult to effect a transition. I hope I am going to be proved wrong, but I think a transition is going to be very difficult in Zimbabwe.

One of the biggest tragedies we've had, is that the opposition has grown steadily weaker, and is not in a good position to leverage the situation. The civil society organisations are not strong enough. If something like this had happened back in 2005/2006, Zimbabwe would have been in a much stronger position to impose a democratic transition, or to actually fight for a democratic transition.

Right now, the opposition is weak and divided. Morgan Tsvangirai is also very ill, and it is regrettable that he hasn't resigned -- which I think is what he should have done, ultimately. There is no strong and unifying leadership in the opposition.

The sections of Zanu-PF that hold military power will want an election process that they can manage, so as to ensure victory for Emmerson Mnangagwa and essentially, a Zanu-PF that is purged of Mugabe. And I do not know what that would look like -- it could be increasingly repressive, or they may chase international recognition by showcasing that they are open to democratic change.

Which is why the media in Zimbabwe is an integral component of democratic change. The freeing up of the airwaves and the media, and ending social media policing, are at the heart of driving change. Zimbabweans focus too much on the constitution as a document, whereas there is no constitutionalism in Zimbabwe.

The massive human rights violations that have occurred in Zimbabwe would not have been tolerated in South Africa.

The focus should be shifted onto the media and the press helping citizens make an informed choice. Without media freedom (which is a crucial ingredient of a free and fair election), there won't be a fair election process.

Media freedom is also important in order to maintain human rights, as there have been major human rights violations in Zimbabwe, including murders and disappearances.

The massive human rights violations that have occurred in Zimbabwe would not have been tolerated in South Africa, and I hope the human rights organisations in Zimbabwe will take an independent, non-political and non-partisan position on fighting to ensure the human rights of all Zimbabweans, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum.

Elinor Sisulu is a human rights activist, political analyst and author.

* This article was transcribed from an interview with HuffPost SA.