Zimbabwe: plus ca change...
President Mugabe, his wife Grace and family are on holiday. As usual, they are spending time in Singapore in some luxury. Back home Zimbabweans are struggling to keep body and soul together.
Businesses have closed at a rate of knots during 2014 and as the infrastructure continues to deteriorate, jobs, food and services are getting pretty hard to find. And the east of the country is awash as homes are flooded following torrential rains. Reports suggest at least 10 have died and 800 families have been displaced by the floods.
But no matter, before his holiday the 90-year old President made his mark. Having for many years successfully silenced any discussions on ‘the succession’ when he eventually leaves office, he has perhaps now declared his hand.
Along with 7 other sacked ministers, out goes Joice Mujuru, vice-President for over a decade, and in comes Emerson Mnangagwa. He of course isn’t exactly a new-comer. Like Mugabe and Mujuru he has been in government since independence in 1980 and has often overseen some of the worst aspects of repression and human rights abuses.
He was around during the Matebeland massacres in the 1980s, the terrible election violence of the early and late 2000s and the land reform programme that cost so many Zimbabweans their homes and livelihoods. So no stranger to the Security, Justice and Armed Services wings of Zimbabwean politics, he is now a new VP and still hangs onto to his old job as Justice and Legal Affairs Minister.
For years it seemed that there was no Mugabe Dynasty: there was no obvious family member who would fill the old man’s shoes when he died. But that too has changed recently.
‘Gucci Grace’, as the President’s wife is known through her penchant for shopping trips, has made a dramatic entrance into Zimbabwean politics. She stepped out onto the stage in the summer, and by autumn she was head of the powerful Women’s Wing of ZANU-PF. She quickly set about a demolition job on Vice President Mujuru. Press articles sprung up accusing the beleaguered Minister of corruption and of attempting to unseat President Mugabe.
So there is still a woman prominent in Zimbabwean politics – just a different one, and this time it’s the President’s wife. And yes there is a new vice President – but he’s hardly new either.
I wonder what all this will mean for the people of Zimbabwe and whether Minister Mnangagwa will now have time and inclination to push through the reforms required by the new constitution adopted in 2013. Things like the abolition of the death penalty (as we reported in November 2013), more media freedoms, a reformed police and criminal justice sector free from political bias, rights of assembly….
The shenanigans within the political parties have for too long taken precedence over the real needs of the people of Zimbabwe. If ordinary citizens are to reap the benefits of the new constitution those reforms must come soon. The Justice Minister and the new cabinet need to get a move on!
I wonder if they will?
Maggie Towse is the Country Coordinator for Zimbabwe.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.