Opinion: Paidamoyo Muzulu

IT was never going to be easy, being in uncle Robert Mugabe’s shoes, for he was a man of intellect and charm in equal measure. He commanded respect without demanding it and his friends would always whisper advice to him, but things have taken a nasty turn and Zimbabwe can be berated from the rooftops.

President Emmerson Mnangagwas is in the spotlight, all for the wrong reasons and more importantly being big on rhetoric and short on delivery. Mnangagwa’s three closest allies when he took over power via a coup two years ago; China, South Africa and the United Kingdom, have all come out chiding him like a naughty kid in a week Zimbabwe would want to forget quickly.

The United Kingdom was the first to whisper and then loudly speak out about the political reforms that are taking place at a snail’s pace. They made it clear, Mnangagwa was being a disappointment after coming in with a lot of promise and zeal to change course for the country after taking over from Mugabe.

The UK had feted Mnangagwa, gave him acres of space in their influential mainstream Press to talk about reforms and fashioning his new path. They clapped for him, pleaded for him to be given a chance arguing Mugabe’s messy was endemic and, therefore, needed some time to sweep away.

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However, on hindsight, it could be that ambassador Catriona Liang was massively handholding him, chaperoning him in the “right direction” until her reassignment to Nigeria leaving poor Mnangagwa high and dry.

Our South African neighbours were cordial and hoped that Zimbabwe, the regional problem child, was on the mend and needed all the support under the new regime. However, soon they realised they were backing a wrong horse; a regime that did not respect contracts and was pulling them down when Zimbabwe started renegading on Eskom debt.

For once, South Africa this week dumped former President Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” and went for the “megaphone diplomacy”. International Relations minister Naledi Pandor in a rare public lecture said: “By all accounts, there are serious and seemingly intractable political factors that might need attention if solutions are to be effective or implementable. The political formations in Zimbabwe remain at loggerheads and have apparent deep antipathy toward each other which makes joint decision making and planning extremely difficult.” Pandor said.

She more importantly added: “It seems clear that even as we support the call for an end to economic sanctions, the political dynamics are inextricably linked to the economic and thus should be confronted simultaneously. This can only be led from Zimbabwe and would certainly ease the development of Sadc contributions in response to the emergent compact.”

Mnangagwa was left in a corner with little room to manoeuvre, but engage his local nemesis Nelson Chamisa if he has to get the regional support. South Africa is not only big in size, but it also has the economic and military mighty to get Zimbabwe to heel. Mnangagwa may have to start thinking about where to sit at the next Sadc Summit.

The Chinese were last to speak and they were lethally brutal in their censure. They literally called Mnangagwa’s regime LIARS. They said Finance minister Mthuli Ncube had understated Chinese bilateral aid to Zimbabwe in the current financial year by a whoping US$133 million.
In an unprecedented public statement the Chinese embassy said: “The embassy has noted that the statement, among development partner support received by the Zimbabwean government through bilateral channels, the figure of bilateral support provided by China to Zimbabwe is US$3 631 500.
This is very different from the actual situation on the ground,” adding that, “According to our record, from January to September 2019, the actual bilateral support provided to Zimbabwe by China is US$136,8 million. Such a figure does not include the other bilateral supports such as the expert assistance, embassy’s donations to local vulnerable groups and so on.”

Mnangagwa’s regime had no coherent response, except to issue a feeble statement after some tea with Chinese embassy officials. “The two sides have reached an agreement on the facts and figures contained in the statement issued by the embassy on November 19, 2019 and the national 2020 budget statement,” Ncube said without elaborating what were the actual figures.

It needs no rocket science to tell that Mnangagwa is now on his own, a blacksheep among the flock and many would deal with him from a distance like a leper till he cleanses himself and his regime.
This may be the reason he has chosen to break out of his cocoon and unleash his dark side on the opposition and civil society activists.

The short-sweet honeymoon is over and everyone demands action from Mnangagwa. This may be a tall order for a man who is fighting hard to consolidate his power with whispers of a palace coup getting louder each passing day. Mnangagwa has a stark choice to make; reform or perish.

 Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist . He writes in his personal capacity