When Robert Mugabe gave his last televised speech to the nation of Zimbabwe, it was hard not to feel a sense of sympathy for the 93 year old then, head-of-state.
Zimbabwe was in the midst of a military coup, or according to the military, a non-coup. On state tv it was announced that “this is not a military take over of government,” but military tanks were driven into the capital, patrolling the streets and blocking access to government buildings.
As they prepared Mugabe for what would be his final state address, he sat slumped in his chair, thin and frail, surrounded by Zimbabwean officials – all well postured and steely faced. Mugabe struggled to shuffle the papers to read through his speech – a speech he clearly did not write himself. As he stammered his way through it, Mugabe could barely bring himself to look up to the camera fixated on him.
“We are a nation born out of protracted struggle,” Mugabe announces in a deep, wise voice.
Once revered for his role in liberating Zimbabwe during the Rhodesian Bush War, Mugabe sat on global television a man defeated, accused of economic mismanagement, political violence to consolidate his position and power, and of corruption to finance his lavish lifestyle. His wife, Grace Mugabe is nicknamed “Gucci Grace.” He even had the nerve to quip that the Zimbabwean economy was simply “going through a difficult patch.”
In 2015, the 100-trillion Zimbabwean dollar note was then worth, 40 US cents.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt talks about the banality of evil and terribly summarised, it outlines that under conditions of terror, man is capable of doing terrible things. This political spectacle embodied that notion somewhat. As I watched, it was hard to imagine this feeble man committing such horrible crimes against his people. But he did, and on the 21st of November 2017, he resigned to an eruption of joy and elation – albeit with the guarantee of immunity. Regardless, the streets of Harare exploded into a mass of celebrating people, horns blaring.
The man to replace him? Emmerson Mnangagwa, who some argue is simply cut from the same cloth. A key strategist for Robert Mugabe in his past elections, Mnangagwa remains implicated in just as many crimes against humanity as Mugabe is.
The most telling line in Mugabe’s speech was when he described that the ruling party ZANU PF was working to “start the processes to return our nation to normalcy.”
But what does normalcy mean for Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe ranks 154th out 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption rankings, which highlights that this is merely a transfer of corrupt power. As Jose Ugaz of Transparency International comments, “in too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.” This has been Zimbabwe’s normal. And right now, the nation demands a new normal.
So does Mnangagwa represent that much of a change?
“There has to be a net return to the guiding principles of our party…that have to be applied fairly and equitably to all situations,” Mugabe concludes.
The irony must have been apparent to whoever wrote the speech, regardless of whether it was written by Mugabe himself or those who lead the coup d’etat. A government that for decades sought to centralise resources and power for themselves have not applied the aforementioned guiding principles of fairness and equality.
Yes, Mugabe has been ousted bringing with it a renewed sense of hope within the population – but don’t get things confused, this is not a revolution.
One thing remains clear, lasting structural change requires more than a change in leadership. Real change, sustainable change requires a change in culture – one that demands the sanctity of freedom, equality and humanity.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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