The President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa is facing a huge scandal that could potentially topple his government. Serious allegations have been made that he had a sexual relationship with a minor. Susan Mutami alleged that she was 15 years old when she started having sex with the current president and it went on for several years. On Twitter spaces, she had a record number of 13 500 listeners who were captivated for 4.5 hours. She gave a chronological explanation of her encounter with the president beginning in the early 2000s.
In the early 2000, her father passed away and the current President of Zimbabwe offered to help her with her school needs. This gesture was meant to alleviate the burden caused by the passing of her father.
Eventually she moved into the president’s family home where she helped the house maid with house chores. She didn’t need to worry about her school fees anymore. She said the sex continued and she knew of other women the president had relationships with.
At times, she would breakdown while narrating her story. She mentioned many names in government or connected to the government who she said took advantage of her.
Years later, the then President Robert Mugabe, heard of the story and he was horrified. He instructed senior investigators in government plus his wife to meet with Susan. Mugabe feared for Susan’s life in case word got out that investigations were being done. As such, he made provisions for the meeting to be done in China. Susan gave her version of events to investigators who drafted statements from her testimony. She said the first lady, Grace Mugabe, could not believe that she went through such a dreadful experience and the story made her cry.
Politicians from the governing party in Zimbabwe are never held accountable. They practically operate above the law. The few that end up in court are often under punishment from their superiors. There was one exceptional case in which the current President took away the Vice President post from Kembo Mohadi. The Vice President’s phone call was leaked to the media in which he could be heard asking a young woman for sex. This case is rare because proper accountability measures were enforced. President Mnangagwa thought his Vice President had fallen below the expected standard.
Now it’s the president who is facing extremely serious allegations as compared to his Vice President who lost his job over a phone call. Many Zimbabweans on social media were saying the President must resign as the allegations could not be ignored or swept under the carpet. We live in the days of the #metoo movement which shook Hollywood when women reported how powerful men were sexually abusing them. The #metoo movement has spread around the world and is making men think about how they behave. The downfall of powerful men in Hollywood sent a message to the world that sexual abuse must not be tolerated.
The magnitude of the allegations are so serious that President Mnangagwa cannot possibly carry on as President without clearing his name. What the President must do is address these allegations directly and immediately. Susan shared her story on Friday afternoon, but the president has not responded. This is not a matter that he can view as beneath him or as not worthy to be taken seriously. He must give it the seriousness it deserves by stepping down and commit to a process where justice can prevail.
The office of the President is already in disrepute. There are criminal law hurdles that the President must overcome and only the criminal court is fit for such a case. No right-thinking person would say it’s normal for a President to discharge his constitutional obligations while on trial in a criminal court.
This matter is about the standards people expect from their leaders and the duty they have to the country. This is not an ordinary duty, but a higher duty by virtue of the responsibilities given by the constitution.
It’s impossible for any President to go round the world representing his country under such circumstances. It’s a story with an international factor that the President could potentially get arrested abroad, face demonstrations or humiliating protests. That’s why he should take some time out by resigning and come back once cleared by a court of law.
It’s not normal in Zimbabwe for a President to be held accountable. The politicians in the President’s party have a duty to tell the president that he cannot carry on without clearing his name. It can’t be business as usual. If these politicians or parliament protect the President from accountability, it will reflect badly on them and on the country. Who would want to come and do business in a country where leaders are above the law and not accountable for their actions?
In a democracy, the governed give their consent to be governed so that those who govern them can exercise that power responsibly. Hence there are checks and balances to ensure that abuse of office does not happen. Zimbabwe cannot afford to look the other side when serious allegations have been made against the president. The law must take its full course and justice must be seen to be done. There is a case to answer. Zimbabwe must ensure that Susan is heard and that no harm will come her way.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe must create a code of conduct that is designed to address the issues raised by Susan. A code of conduct where reporting abuse is easy and where action can be taken swiftly. This requires a new way of thinking. A new kind of politics. Modern and transformative leadership
Joshua Nkomo, the late Vice President of Zimbabwe spoke prophetically when he said, “Zimbabwe will not die, the young will save it.” These are uplifting words, feel good words which have inspired the young. They’ve been recited over and over again. They show great faith in the future generation that they can prevail where previous leaders failed. He uttered these words after acknowledging that his fellow leaders, advanced in age, had badly let the country down.
What no one explained to the young generation was the magnitude of the problems they must overcome in order to save the country.
Army v Democracy
The idea of a government of the people, by the people, for the people is yet to be realised in Zimbabwe. The proximity between the ruling party Zanu PF and the army has been an obstacle to strong and independent state institutions. They are so close that a senior government minister declared recently that the army is part of their political party. Such utterances do not only reflect that they have no hope of winning free and fair elections, but they are prepared to use the army to govern against people’s will.
In the 2008 presidential elections, former president Robert Mugabe said the opposition got seventy-three percent of the votes, but the army cooked the figures and forced a re-run. More than three hundred people were killed during the re-run. In 2018, the army was deployed the day after elections, and it’s alleged as many as eight people were killed. This led to an inquiry which made recommendations, but they’ve been ignored. In 2019, during the internet shutdown, the army was deployed and the number of those who died is believed to be between fifteen and twenty-one.
The way in which the army operates is contrary to democratic principles. By forcing people to be governed against their will, the army is effectively saying it cannot change its ways through logic and reasonable steps. It is essentially saying, you have to overpower us if you want free and fair elections. That’s not a responsible way of operating in a country of peace-loving people.
The young were born in a free country, have never been to war and they subscribe to non-violence politics. They don’t understand why the army is causing such havoc when it preaches everyday about gains of the liberation struggle. This is why the government is complacent and out of touch. It has the power to deploy the army against the people. There is no hope of holding the government to account.
Mission for Young Zimbabweans
Frantz Fannon said, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” Democracy ought to be the mission pursued by young Zimbabweans. The main objective must be a politics without the army and creation of strong state institutions. This mission is so vital that the country cannot function properly unless it’s addressed. No investor or company is going to invest in a dysfunctional country. Unless the politics change, the country will continue with an economic system that is based on dishonest principles and a dodgy currency. Civil servants won’t get the living wages they desperately need. The infrastructure will continue deteriorating.
This mission is not a walk in the park especially in a military state. Freedom as shown by the liberation war, does not come easily. Prisons are full of political prisoners and the persecution against opposition members is unprecedented. It’s a different matter to be liberated from a foreign power but the need to be liberated from your own government must be soul destroying.
Although this is a huge challenge, there is a feeling that enough is not being done. There is a lukewarm approach in terms of formulating an effective plan against the oppressive government. In a country where it’s illegal to demonstrate, no alternatives have been seen. Does this mean that this is the end of pushing back against oppression? The government would want it that way, but it shouldn’t be that way!
The fight for democracy has been going on for twenty-three years. People seem tired for it has been a long struggle. It could be they believe there is no reasonable prospect of the situation changing. The violation of human rights is getting worse and it’s designed to shrink political space. The current case of Job Sikhala is a shocking example of a government that has lost the plot. The government is terrified of his ability to inspire people during election campaigns that they jailed him without trial and denied him bail. Selective application of the law is the guiding principle in the courts.
A mission of this magnitude does not just happen on its own. It requires teamwork, a shared sense of purpose, direction, and a clear plan. The plan should be able to inspire those executing as well as inspire the public. The team should be made up of thinkers, strategists, and competent people. There is no lovely way of pursuing this mission as highlighted by Nelson Mandela’s life or Gandhi. The oppressor will never set you free willingly. It may take some sacrifice as Mandela’s 27 years in prison. Many people have been jailed and some have died and yet there is still no democracy. It is not for the faint hearted. This is a matter that each person must ask him/herself. No one should feel forced or pushed. This is for people driven by the strength of their convictions. You don’t choose your country and the political landscape it provides. You find it however way it presents itself. It’s up to you to shape it, or it will shape you.
Leadership and Vision
The young generation must understand that when the mission of democracy has been achieved, the hard work of rebuilding the country must begin. Zimbabwe needs visionary leadership that can do the complex work of transformation. Trying to fix the current system without turning the country upside down wont work. It’s imperative to have a new foundation clearly defining what the country is about and what the country stands for and most importantly, who Zimbabweans are.
It requires an ambitious vision that has an appreciation of both Zimbabwe’s and the world’s history, modern realities, and Zimbabwe’s place in the current world, and Zimbabwe’s place in the future of the world. This kind of thinking is different to what has been displayed in the last 42 years. A country is bigger than a village and to impose village standards on a country that must operate in a world of eight billion people is counterproductive. A leader can keep his village philosophy as long as he can rise to the challenges of a country in an intricately linked world.
You can’t address a problem without acknowledging that it exists. The way current leaders address problems is by sweeping them under the carpet or pretending they don’t exist. This is because they are not affected by the impact of their inaction or incompetence. There are people in government who hold powerful positions, but they are not qualified to be in those positions. What this does, is subject the country to mediocre standards and often at the expense of the country in the long run.
The young generation must understand that Zimbabwe needs a new leadership culture in which those interested in serving their country, must be committed to higher standards. The difference between functional countries and failed countries is the leaders. It’s the leaders who make decisions that advance a country or decisions that hurt a country. It’s leaders who are comfortable flying abroad for their medical needs instead of building local hospitals that benefit everyone. It’s leaders who make space for an independent judiciary or a captured judiciary
The question that young Zimbabweans must answer is, are they going to pass the Joshua Nkomo test? Are they going to save Zimbabwe or not? Answering this question fits neatly with Frantz Fannon’s submission that each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.