By: Anthony Egan SJ
Source: Jesuit Institute, South Africa
Robert Mugabe's resignation on 21 November 2017 after 37 years as President of Zimbabwe is the end of an era. It is also a relief for many - perhaps most - Zimbabweans, whose country has undergone political, economic and social turmoil for so long. For many the events of the last week or so culminating in Mugabe's peaceful deposition is a sign of hope. It will almost certainly have consequences wider afield.
The last twenty years have been tragic for Zimbabwe. Instead of improving the people's lot, chaotic land reform, whatever it's symbolic and social necessity, damaged the nation's economy and reduced its agricultural output. The once-strong Zim Dollar collapsed and its replacement by the US Dollar and the Bond Notes has crippled the economy and reduced the majority of citizens to poverty. Beyond that, there have been constant claims of corruption, electoral irregularities, political intimidation and increasingly authoritarian state power. As one who has visited Zimbabwe regularly since the 1980s, I have noticed over the years how behind the warmth of the Zimbabweans I met there has been an increasing sense of fear, uncertainty and even pessimism about the country's future.
This week that changed. This is all to the good. One can only hope and pray that things will improve.
There are questions, of course, about Mugabe's successor. Emmerson Mnangagwa has a reputation among political observers as a 'hard man'. He was minister of State Security during the Gukurahundi massacres in the south during the 1980s. Combatting guerrilla dissidents led to well-documented atrocities. Similarly, he was implicated later by the United Nations in mineral trafficking and using the Zimbabwe Defence Force for personal gain during the country's intervention in the civil war in the Congo. To deliver on the hope this week has generated, Mnangagwa will have to restore national confidence in democracy and introduce policies to revive the economy.
Is this possible? While cynical political observers may doubt it, the Christian vision says it is possible. At the heart of faith is metanoia - conversion of heart. But there must be the will to do it.
Looking beyond Zimbabwe, Mugabe's deposition may have wider, perhaps unexpected, consequences. The sense that a seemingly untouchable figure can be forced to resign could have a ripple effect in countries across Africa, where once-popular leaders have overstayed their welcome.
While the blunt instruments of mass protest and 'coups' are not the ideal way to change governments, particularly in constitutional democracies, they may occasionally be the only way to remove folks in power past their sell-by date. The events this week may be an impetus and inspiration in some countries to encourage unpopular leaders to consider other gainful employment.
I would not be surprised, too, that, in South Africa, Mugabe's resignation has not been watched with unease. Though there is no exact correlation (yet) between the Zimbabwean and South African situations, widespread discontent with Jacob Zuma's government grows. This should be particularly apparent to the ruling party as its party congress approaches. Could events in Zimbabwe be the catalyst for the end of yet another era…?
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