Mnangagwa has over the past few months moved from being defensive to taking both legal and extra-legal initiatives to pre-empt any threats to his power. He has mastered that art of using State security apparatus, closed down on democratic spaces, making the main opposition MDC a national threat that should not be allowed to hold any activities for fear they may degenerate into a full blown uprising.
The regime's paranoia was on display last Sunday when the police allegedly fired live bullets at MDC leader Nelson Chamisa when he was leading a tree-planting programme in Marondera, Mashonanaland East province, forcing them to scurry for cover.
Even though the police later claimed they only used tear smoke to disperse the crowd, Marondera Central MP Caston Matewu noted: "Live shots were fired at president Chamisa. I was beside him. We were missed by a whisker."
Surprisingly, national police spokesperson Asssistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi riposted that the claims were far from the truth.
"There were some people who came in kombis and chanting slogans and shouting, and in the process, not complying with police orders. So police had to use tear smoke to disperse them. No live rounds were fired. No rubber bullets were used. Our officers were not armed with firearms as anyone would want to allege. No weapons were fired at anyone directly," he said.
We were told the MDC had not fulfilled the provisions of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act. The regime has fashioned the art of applying laws selectively to cripple dissenting voices. It would not be farfetched for someone to conclude that the police had been given instructions from higher offices to make sure the event did not take place "at all cost".
Does Chamisa need police clearance to preside over a tree-planting ceremony? With climate change causing untold suffering to Zimbabwe, the opposition leader should have been applauded for his gesture. Planting trees is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis. And using guns to prevent Chamisa from planting trees has redefined paranoia.
A few months ago, officials at Harare Central Hospital (now Sally Mugabe Hospital) had their fingers burnt after allowing Chamisa to make an impromptu visit to the institution. To me, it now appears Chamisa is an outflow — inviting him to a church service or wedding would be tantamount to inviting trouble to yourself. This is how scared the regime has become.Last month, police officers (hope they are real police officers) viciously assaulted passers-by in the Harare central business district on assumption they were MDC supporters, who had gathered to listen to Chamisa's Hope of the Nation Address. Among those who were caught up in the melee were people who had nothing to do with the gathering – they were made to pay the price or a government's fear of Chamisa.
An image of a police officer determined to trip an old woman, who was fleeing for dear life made rounds on social media. It was clear from the image that she eventually hit the ground with heavy force, leaving her with a broken leg. It was a horrendous image of police brutality.
The August 2018 and January 2019 extra-judicial killings by security forces are a testimony that the regime is scared of citizens who demand answers to issues that relate to their welfare and governance.
The failure by the State to deliver public goods and services will fuel dissent. This will also erode the trust that citizens have in the government.
The Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act has been applied to subvert the constitutional process, albeit through legal means. The Act delegates the President to play the legislative role in making laws, reducing the other arm of the government to a passenger. Although the Act is used to deal with situations that require urgent attention, it has been used on issues that do not necessarily fall under this category. While Mnangagwa has not travelled this road yet, but the way he had dealt anything that threatens his stay at the thrown, sooner rather than later, he will use it to subvert the constitutional processes. If former President Robert Mugabe could do it in 2008 by amending the Electoral Act, his good student (ED) will certainly read from the same rule book.
However, Mnangagwa's government must realise that citizens have lost trust and that confrontation and violence will increase the lack of trust, which will lead us nowhere fast. It will remain a fact that the government and the State will remain "illegitimate" until the political powers and citizens have mutual trust. The regime has to accept that a process to create this trust is fundamental for change. We are going nowhere, especially if State security agents continue to arbitrarily beat up ordinary citizens who are struggling to make ends meet.
The events of the past few months demonstrate something with absolute clarity: The centre no longer holds. The Zanu PF government is now behaving like a cornered rabid dog.
But the social contract teaches us that power is derived from the consent of the governed. The new dispensation should be guided by King Solomon's wisdom – spare baby Chamisa, and concentrate on bringing bread and butter on the table – millions are dying because of government's carelessness.
The guilty are always afraid. Sin begets guilt and guilt breeds fear and fear and guilt spawn more sin. This could sum up Mnangagwa's governance at the moment. When you steal from someone, you fear to look them in the eye. That is probably why the new dispensation will do everything possible to disrupt Chamisa's programmes. Food for thought!
Cliff Chiduku is a journalist, he writes here in his personal capacity. Feedback: email@example.com
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