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Is Mugabe A Liability in Zimbabwe's Democratization?

Guests Gregory B. Simpkins, Sibongile Sidile Sibanda and Rev. Isaac Mwase. (Photo: Gibbs Dube)

Some Zimbabweans and a U.S congressman say the country’s current socio-economic and political problems can only be resolved through regime change while others believe that there is need to work with the present leadership, which was elected into office through so-called democratic elections.

This came out at a townhall meeting on Zimbabwe’s 36th independence anniversary organized by the Voice of America’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe held in Washington DC on Monday.

Participants had divergent views with some like Gregory B. Simpkins, Staff director for the United States House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, saying the situation in Zimbabwe is shocking.

“… Over the years going back to Zimbabwe I have seen a steady deterioration. This is the greatest act of self-destruction I have ever seen. This government has had inflation rates that are unrealistic … you would have had a suitcase to go buy dinner.”

Simpkins, who was part of a U.S congressional delegation that visited Zimbabwe last year to assess the situation, said President Mugabe was once widely regarded as a hero but all that appears to have vanished.

“… He (President Mugabe) was a hero of the independence movement and he kept that title for a long time and it is difficult for anybody who stayed in power for 36 years to stay on track and I don’t see why anybody could say that he is still a hero, that he is still an asset to Zimbabwe.”

He said added that “there are many talented people in Zimbabwe. You cannot convince me that you couldn’t find anybody else who could do a good job as president of Zimbabwe …”


In a quick response to these remarks, another guest Reverend Isaac Mwase, said President Mugabe is the current leader of Zimbabwe and as a result there is need to work with him and other ruling Zanu PF party stalwarts.

“Accept the fact that these are the leaders that are there. Given that these are the leaders, how does the Zimbabwe populace inside and outside Zimbabwe engage them in ways that are going to change the trajectory for the future of the country. Now, it’s not going to be easy. Nation building is never easy.”

Another guest, Sibongile Sibanda, who is a Zimbabwean businesswoman based in USA, noted that changing the leadership back home may result in the needed social, economic and political transformation.

She said this can be more effective if Zimbabweans living in the diaspora are allowed to vote in various elections.

“The only way we as the diaspora can have a say in this is that we should fight to be able to vote. You know, we should be able to vote.”

Rev. Mwase immediately interjected her after she made these remarks saying that Zimbabweans living in the diaspora should be able to pay taxes if they are demanding voting rights.

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Sibanda was adamant that voting was one fundamental issue in Zimbabwe’s democratization, which could not be deterred by paying taxes.

“It’s good to pay taxes. Taxes are not a bad thing, you know, we should be able to vote. So, we need to send a word that South Africans (in the diaspora) are able to vote, Zambians are able to vote. We would like to exercise our right to vote, it’s our birthright.”

Participants took turns to buttress this position, saying President Mugabe has done his part and now it was time for him to leave.


As expected, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change’s United States provincial chairperson, Den Moyo, took the first shot at the president.

“The real issue in Zimbabwe is that of lack of democracy and as long as Zimbabwe does not have that democracy where its people choose the leaders that they want (them) to lead we are going to stay in this situation for another 30 years and we would be all walking while using walking sticks while debating the same thing because we are failing to confront the elephant in the room.

“I wish to use an analogy that my pastor used at church. He said if you have a lemon tree in your front yard and what you hope for are oranges you can try to graft it, add an orange branch to it and think that it will produce oranges but it will always produce lemons. The best way to change that tree to an orange tree is to go and uproot it and plant an orange tree in its place. That’s what we need in Zimbabwe.”


Lawyer and Hubert Humphrey fellow, Marufu Mandevere, also took a dig at the president’s supporters.

“I am tired when I speak to African students here they say (Mugabe) is a hero but they have not had a client who has been disabused. I represented (abducted Occupy Africa Unity Square leader) Itai Dzamara. His wife came to my office (and told me that Itai) has disappeared. People have not seen that.

“I have represented people who have been arrested in a situation you see that these people have not committed any offence. That’s why we have a lot of arrests in Zimbabwe and that’s why we (also) have a lot of acquittals. I think people are being arrested for nothing and people still argue that (President) Mugabe is a hero. I am tired of hearing people who have not been beaten up by (Mr.) Mugabe who think that he is a hero.”

Not to be left out was Zimbabwean living in America, Moira Nyaundi, who questioned the quality of leaders in Zimbabwe.

“Let’s say in the United States for a minor scandal you are out, you are gone. In Africa, scandals up to here (head level) and leaders still remain in power … As Africans when are we going to raise the bar in the quality of leaders that we are getting. I am tired. I am tired of ‘let’s negotiate for transitional justice, let’s forgive each other, let us move forward ...’”


Pan Africanists, including Herald correspondent Obi Egbuna and Gnaka Lagoke, criticized the West for imposing targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Lagoke noted that African leaders should not always be blamed for all the problems in their nations.

“(Kwame) Nkrumah used the word neocolonialism. It is a reality. The interference of the West in the domestic affairs of African countries and in the case of Zimbabwe ofcourse Mugabe has stayed too long in power. He mishandled many things in Zimbabwe … We agree but when somebody wants to minimize the interference of the West and the chaos that is happening in Zimbabwe I think that it is not fair.”

However, Simpkins argued that some leaders like President Mugabe always blame so-called outside interference for all economic ills in their countries.

“ZIDERA (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) was intended to be a response to serious human rights violations. The government likes to say there is no such a thing but if you remember in the 80s if you are Ndebele you will remember the serious violations. We did not respond to that as quickly as we could have. Over the years we have tried to establish some form of relations …

“The sanctions did not cause the collapse of the manufacturing sector which was built on commercial farming. When you interrupt a commercial farming you are interrupting the manufacturing. When you cause the businesses to use a false exchange rate then you put many of them out of business.”