Zimbabwe: "The socio-economic challenges are huge"

Cartoon by Zapiro about the current situation in Zimbabwe.
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The political situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse, the population is protesting with a Stay-Away against corruption, bond notes and a lack of payment. Paula Assubuji, from our office in South Africa, has spoken with Kudakwashe Chitsike about the current situation in the country.

Paula Assubuji: What are the challenges Zimbabweans are currently faced with?

Kudakwashe Chitsike: There are a number of continuous causes of instability in Zimbabwe. Elections are highly manipulated and almost always accompanied by violence against citizens. The controversial land reform continues to shape Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, poverty, and its relations with international actors. Decades of human rights abuses and impunity have diminished political participation by citizens and civil society, and shaped a risk averse and fearful citizenry. The socio-economic challenges are huge and the list is long. It includes long-term economic stagnation, unemployment, inflation, food insecurity, poverty, HIV/AIDs prevalence, limited provision of basic services, power outages, droughts, lack of clean water, etc. Despite the huge negative impacts on Zimbabweans, citizens have so far not mobilised protests against the government comparable to those in 1998. Migration, remittances and demographics are key insecurity dynamics. An estimated three million migrants have left Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, statistical analysis of youth bulges and civil unrest suggests Zimbabwe is at risk.

Zimbabwe has been in a crisis for years. Is there anything new about these challenges?

All of these factors, which we identified in a report in 2015 [1], still apply and some with even greater salience for stability. In a more recent report we could establish that particularly the socio-economic challenges are now dominating every aspect of life in Zimbabwe, and seem to be the motivation behind recent disturbances [2].

Who triggered the mass protests?

The above mentioned stay-away, with more planned this week and in the coming weeks, were organized by a concerned citizen, Pastor Evan Mawarire who started with a video about the state of the country. This video went viral and resulted in a #ThisFlag campaign on Twitter and Facebook. The campaign was dismissed as elitist at first but it has gathered momentum as the cash crisis, corruption and general discontent increase.

What are the demands?

A set of demands were spelt out after the stay away; these included saying no to bond notes, paying civil servants on time, removal of excessive roadblocks and dealing with corruption, more specifically government ministers involved in corrupt practices. The #ThisFlag campaign is non-violent and it has called for citizens to stay at home and not engage in destruction of property. There were pockets of violence in certain parts of the country creating battles between the people and the police, over 100 people have been arrested and there are video circulating of police beating up protestors. These videos have been made the basis of this week’s reason for the stay away; stay away against police brutality. There is another group Tajamuka-Sesijikile (we have protested) which is supporting the stay aways and going a step further by calling for and holding peaceful protests.

The stay away came at a time when citizens are at their wits end about the socio economic state of the country hence its massive success. It is important to note that this wave of change in Zimbabwe is not being led by a political party but by citizens, youthful and educated citizens under the age of 40 who have been hit the most by government policies over the last 16 years, resulting in this crisis.

What do you believe the political responses will be?

There are two obvious responses to the crisis, one desirable and the other not. The undesirable scenario is the calling of a government of national unity (GNU) again, and the coming together of the parliamentary parties in such an arrangement, as was the case in 2008. This will satisfy those positing “stability” as the best solution, and here this seems the view of the EU, and would undoubtedly find support in SADC and the AU. This is undesirable for the simple reason that the previous GNU maintained ZANU PF in the driving seat, in charge of all important organs, and produced no reform of state institutions. Another GNU would, in all likelihood, produce the same, and result in another flawed election as was the case in 2013. This perspective is based on the very obvious reason that ZANU PF has not, and will not accept losing political power. This response may produce temporary socio-economic stability, but will not create a political settlement of any lasting nature, as was pointed out in a recent RAU opinion. However, it must be said that this option is likely to have the support of all Zimbabwean political parties, the region, and the EU.

And what is the desirable response?

The desirable response is to follow the advice of senior commentators, and to move for a National Transitional Authority, much in the manner of the South African CODESA process. Here it is argued that political parties would NOT be part of the governing, parliament would remain, very basis (but important) reform of key state institutions would take place, and the country, after a period of stabilisation, would move to elections. Crucial here will be the notion that ALL political parties would participate and campaign on an equal footing, under a bona fide and independent electoral commission, and no party would have access to resources of the state. This option seems improbable at present, but is likely to get better traction in the coming months, and has some support within the opposition political parties, and certainly will be most desirable option for civil society.

Can you describe different scenarios?

As always, describing the likely scenarios in Zimbabwe is a dubious process, given that some many factors, such as the position of the security sector, are wholly opaque. Thus, the most useful scenarios are those that are empirically based and rely less upon public speculation.

I see several main scenarios as probable, drawing here on both our own work and a recent analysis by Ibbo Mandaza [3].

The continuance of Robert Mugabe as President until the elections in 2018 is increasingly improbable due to his age (and infirmity), to the vicious succession battle within ZANU PF, and to the socio-economic collapse of the state.

One scenario will be the death, retirement, or removal from office of Robert Mugabe. This can be straightforward, but succession politics may result in ZANU PF being unable to appoint a successor. The problems inherent in succession have been covered in detail in a number of RAU reports [4] and it is evident that any of the three above eventualities can result in a constitutional crisis with a power vacuum and state collapse. Suggestions that the military might step in are discounted as coups are now frowned upon in SADC, and the notion that the military might act as “kingmakers” in ZANU PF may also be dubious as there are many indications that the military are also fractured in the succession struggle. However, this scenario could precipitate serious factional violence.

State collapse as a result of the socio-economic decline may be a second scenario. This was improbable some months ago, but now is increasingly plausible, and more so with the disruptions at BeitBridge, Epworth and the mass stay-away of Wednesday, 6th July. It is evident to all that the government has no reserves, and now, as a result of the severe liquidity crisis, is unable to pay the civil service, and may have to make decisions very soon about which state employees to actually pay. Obviously, the security sector will get first priority, but the strike indicates that the citizenry at large will not take this lying down. Here it is also suggested that the paralysis of the party is resulting in paralysis throughout the government, and that there may be no ability to respond to economic meltdown and citizen action. Again this scenario could result in significant violence.

Of course, there are many twists for each of these scenarios, and each may operate in series, but it is not evident which will begin the sequence.

What do you think is going to happen next?

Only two things can be said to be certain at the present time in Zimbabwe. The first is that ZANU PF, with or without Robert Mugabe, has no intention of ceding political power, and will only do this in conditions of extreme duress. The second is that ZANU PF has very little possibility of being able to solve the socio-economic crisis: it will not be able to adhere to the conditionalities of any possible economic bail-out since these will require political reforms that are inimical to its hold on political power. These two realities are due to collide in the very near future.


Kudakwashe Chitsike is the director of the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) based in Harare, Zimbabwe. She is leading a team of researchers and advocacy experts in systematically addressing human rights violations, strengthening active citizenship in Zimbabwe, and influencing policy that focuses on women and youth.


[1] RAU, Analysis of conflict and insecurity in Zimbabwe, December 2015. Unpublished report produced for the Governance, Social Development, Humanitarian and Conflict Unit (GSDRC) unit for the EU.
[2] RAU, Conflict or Collapse? Zimbabwe in 2016, June 2016.
[3] The Political Economy of the State in Zimbabwe: The rise and fall of the Securocrat State, 2016
[4] RAU, COUP DE GRÂCE? Plots and Purges: Mugabe and ZANU PF’s 6th National People’s Congress, July 2015