The Mnangagwa government continues to talk up its economic strategy, while the reality of power failures, fuel shortages, job losses and high inflation continues to hurt the community. The MDC and the trade union movement (ZCTU) are planning a new round of mass protests in response, in mid-August. In turn, government ministers have threatened military force to “crush” the protests. MDC refuses to accept the July 2018 national election result, and will not enter a dialogue with the government over a pathway to national recovery.
MDC MP Job Sikhala has now been arrested and faces trial on a charge of treason for allegedly calling for the overthrow of the government before the 2023 elections.
In this environment, the shooting of a Christian worshipper on a recent evening at Beitbridge deeply disturbs the society. And the more recent theatrical attempt to abduct MDC Secretary for Elections, Jacob Mafume, at the end of a Zimbabwe Council of Churches political dialogue event, at the hands of up to eight uniformed men carrying AK-47s is equally alarming.
The Mnangagwa government needs several circuit-breakers. One is a credible performance in stopping corruption, and its recent appointment of 8 new Commissioners to the Anti-Corruption Commission appears to have worked, with the arrest of Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira. But this was undermined by another Minister ordering that she not be allowed bail while awaiting trial.
Another would be substantive wage increases for public and private sector workers.
A third would be substantive changes to controversial repressive laws relating to public assemblies, the media and the security forces.
Zimbabwe is pushing to be re-admitted to The Commonwealth as early as 2020. If this occurred it would be a serious statement of support for the direction of the Mnangagwa government, but the lack of significant change puts a question mark over this possibility.
Australia is an important voice in the international community’s engagement with the Mnangagwa government, the MDC opposition and civil society, but so far its efforts are behind-the-scenes.
Zimbabwe has appointed a new Ambassador to Australia, Mr Joel Tapera Mhishi, and this is also an opportunity for a more positive engagement.
Zimbabwe Information Centre, Australia
August 2, 2019