Columnist/OpinionLatest

There’s life beyond State House, Mr. President!

by Tendai Ruben Mbofana

Is it not most embarrassing that Zimbabwe has never experienced a democratic smooth transfer of power since independence 43 years ago?

In fact, it gets even more shameful that the only time power was transferred smoothly from one leader to another was during the colonial period.

This means that, in a so-called ‘democratic Zimbabwe’, we have had leaders who do not want to leave office.

Whereas in ‘oppressive Rhodesia’, there were at least eight prime ministers – from Charles Coghlan (1 October 1923) to Ian Douglas Smith (13 April 1964), covering six different governing parties.

The last time Zimbabweans actually witnessed one leader passing on power to another was on the midnight of 17th April 1980, as the country gained its freedom from colonial rule!

Since then, we have only known ZANU PF!

As much as, on paper, it can be claimed that we have had two executive presidents – however, the truth is that one only replaced the other after a military coup d’état in November 2017.

Had it not been for that, Robert Gabriel Mugabe would have died in office.

Now, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa appears intent on copying his predecessor in ensuring that only death does them apart with the presidency!

This is in view of the widely suspected desire to amend the country’s Constitution, thereby either removing or extending two-term limits for the head of state.

In spite of section 328 specifically prohibiting anyone who occupies or previously occupied the particular office from benefiting from any term limit amendment – that has never stopped the Zimbabwe regime from flagrantly disregarding the supreme law of the land.

Is that not what transpired in 2021, when the Mnangagwa administration extended the retirement age [section 186 (1)(a)] of serving court judges from 70 to 75 years, as long as he or she still had the ‘mental and physical fitness to continue in the office’?

This was widely viewed as an attempt to benefit sitting Chief Justice Luke Malaba – whom many Zimbabwean believed Mnangagwa needed to preside over any challenge to presidential election results in 2023.

As with the presidential term limits, Malaba was not eligible to benefit from this extension – yet he did!

What I do not understand in all this, though, is why Zimbabwe leaders are averse to leaving office.

This morning, as I watched the news, it was so inspiring seeing former British prime minister David Cameron appearing most comfortable in his new portfolio as foreign secretary.

In the eyes of ZANU PF, this would have been interpreted as some humiliating demotion.

However, that is not how the civilized world operates.

Even right here in the Southern African region, we have all witnessed the founding president of a democratic South Africa, Nelson Rorihlahla Mandela (1994 – 1999), voluntarily vacating office after only one term.

Did we not obverse him, with undiluted pride, as he enjoyed his retirement – whilst at the same time actively engaged in charity work, especially through his Nelson Mandela Foundation?

This trend has continued with his successor, Thabo Mbeki (1999 – 2008), who is also doing phenomenal work with his own ‘African Renaissance’ foundation.

Botswana is not any different – with former president Festus Mogae (1998 – 2008) working in the fight against HIV/AIDS and currently serving as Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change.

In Namibia, Hifikepunye Pohamba (2005 – 2015) opted to retire from public life and take a well-deserved rest.

In the US, I am always touched by images of former president Barack Obama (2009 – 2017) enjoying his life with his wife Michelle.

Bill Clinton (1993 – 2001) is busy with touring the world, giving speeches, writing books, and campaigning for Democrats (including his wife, Hillary, in her 2017 presidential bid).

So, what is wrong with Zimbabwean leaders?

Why did Mugabe want to remain in office even as a nonagenarian – having been ousted from power when he was 93 years old?

Let us remember that he had already announced his intention to run again in the 2018 presidential elections – receiving his ZANU PF’s customary endorsements as ‘the party’s sole presidential candidate’.

Mnangagwa is doing exactly the same!

At present, he is officially 81 years old (although he is widely believed to actually be 85), yet there are already clear indications that he is determined to run again in 2028.

He will be 86 – meaning he will finish that term at 91 years old!

Why, why, why?

Why do these leaders appear unwilling to retire and enjoy their well-deserved rest – unlike what we have witnessed in the examples mentioned earlier?

Do they believe being a president is the alpha and omega of life – or the apex of achievement, such that any other life outside the presidency is a downgrade?

If so, then we have the misfortune of attracting some of the weirdest characters in the world as our leaders.

Surely, who would conclude that Mandela was a lesser man in his exceptional work with HIV/AIDS?

In fact, such thinking betrays a glaring lack of comprehension of what entails leadership.

It is supposed to be a mere responsibility to one’s country – where an individual plays his part and then moves on.

It is no different from the role of chairing a parents association at your child’s school.

Honestly, who, in their right mind, takes up this position with no intention of ever relinquishing it?

A normal person would understand that once you have done your part, it is time to give others a chance.

In fact, is that not what we were taught as little children in the various organizations that we joined – such as Leo or Interact clubs?

We knew from that tender age that you served for a one-year term, and then someone else took over for another year.

As such, we grew up appreciating that leadership was only for a while and passed on to others.

Actually, as a past-president, one still had a major role to play in giving guidance and advice to the new crop of leaders.

Furthermore, we fully understood that being a leader was a form of service, not a position of power.

Did the presidents we have had in Zimbabwe miss out on these crucial childhood lessons?

For instance, when one becomes head of state, it does not make them our boss – but rather, they are there to serve us.

If an individual in that position genuinely grasped such basic truths, why would they cling on to office – even to the point of rigging elections and persecuting or killing any perceived opponents?

In fact, this touches on the other reason our leaders are reluctant in vacating office.

A leader who understands what his role is – that of serving the nation – will never commit any crimes that render him terrified of leaving office, in fear of imprisonment.

Why Mandela freely stood aside after his terms as president was that he had nothing to fear.

He had not abused his power for any purpose, including looting and pillaged South Africa’s resources or persecuting and murdering rivals.

That is why he never had to rely on some curious legal provision protecting a sitting or former president from prosecution.

He knew that the position of head of state was not there for self-enrichment at the expense of the citizenry or a demigod who forced everyone into subjugation.

This, in spite of devoting 67 years of his life – 27 of which were behind bars – for the freedom of South Africans.

In a country as Zimbabwe, though, such a sacrifice would have been viewed as a license for entitlement to unfettered rule and unrestricted access to national resources.

I strongly believe that if our own presidents understood these principles, they would have served not more than two terms each.

By now, we would have been on our fifth president, at the very least.

At the same time, those who retired would have enjoyed their years of rest – possibly writing their memoirs, doing vital charity work that had a real positive impact on citizens’ lives, and leaving a meaningful legacy.

Nonetheless, if truth be told, who will fondly remember Mnangagwa when he is gone?

As a matter of fact, who still remembers Mugabe – despite forcing himself on the nation for nearly three decades?

Even the main road crossing the city of Kwekwe CBD, which was named after him, has since been renamed to E.D. Mnangagwa Street.

What this means is that, even within the ruling circle itself, Mugabe’s legacy is steadily being erased!

What will happen to Mnangagwa when he is also gone?

If only these leaders had left office when they were genuinely still loved and appreciated!

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: mbofana.tendairuben73@gmail.com, or visit website: https://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/

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