As the much-anticipated 2018 elections loom, Zimbabwe's tortured politics face difficult times. IBTimes UK met with David Coltart, Zimbabwe's former Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, who spoke of his fears of "a perfect storm".
After almost four decades of quelled frustrations under Robert Mugabe's iron-fisted reign, a flurry of citizen and civil activism movements have been rising and spreading in the African nation, calling for social, political and economic change.
"Although it has been a long struggle, it's by no means over. In fact in many respects, Zimbabwe faces one of its greatest crises at the moment. It is what I describe as a perfect storm," the former minister and opposition MDC Senator told IBTimes UK in an exclusive interview in London, UK, where he launched his latest book The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe faces a 'perfect storm'
As Zimbabwe's economic problems have led to heightened social instability, Coltart warned that the convergence of a number of factors could plunge the country into chaos.
Firstly, the minister described a leadership vacuum left by an ageing Mugabe (now almost 93), a divided ruling party and a fragmented opposition. "As a result, the country is headless, we don't have any clear way forward, no clear leadership," Coltart explained.
The nation's "imploding" economy – a very serious shortage of foreign currency, the collapse of what was left of industry, run-on banks and the introduction of bond notes – comes in the context of fears Zimbabwe could be thrown back to the horrors of its 2008 crisis, when people's savings, and pensions were destroyed.
"There's a lot of anxiety in the country at present, with the proposed introduction of bond notes," the former minister said, adding these worries are aggravated by a crippling drought and famine. "We've had a terrible drought in the last year. That is compounded by the fact that the commercial agriculture sector has almost been destroyed and, despite the drought, there were some dams that were full – but they weren't used for crops and so, there is starvation in the country."
Facing "distractions", the international community may fail to act fast enough to prevent the storm from erupting. Neighbour South Africa has its own problems with its ruling ANC party going through a turmoil, Mozambique has seen the resurgence of RENAMO , uprisings and violence, and northern neighbour Zambia has had a contested election. The attention of the West, meanwhile, is focused on the war in Syria, Isis and the threat of terrorism in Europe.
"So we have the converge of these four factors, which is leading to what I describe as a perfect storm, a very, very worrying short-term scenario, and the real worry that those tensions will develop into violence," he explained.
Because of the rising tensions, Zimbabweans have had very few avenues to vent their anger. They turned to social media – effectively giving birth to #ThisFlag and Tajamuka protest movements that are gaining momentum.
Speaking of #ThisFlag's lack of physical leadership – its founder is now in exile in the US – and of other movements that have described themselves as somewhat 'harder' than #ThisFlag, Coltart spoke of a "real danger".
"One of my beliefs is that violence has got our country into enormous trouble, and a major challenge for leadership, for people like myself and others, is to encourage young people in particular to remain committed to using non-violence to achieve political ends," he explained. "The #ThisFlag movement has been committed to non-violence but there are – as is almost inevitable among young people – elements who feel that you've got to meet fire with fire. We hope that they don't gain the ascendancy in our political discourse. But obviously, the more the regime entrenches itself, the more the possibility for that type of violent response grows."
International community needs to work with Zanu-PF and region
When asked about potential avenues to prevent the situation from deteriorating, Coltart, who is a human rights lawyer, said that "comply[ing] with the Constitution is a good rallying point". While an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans agreed to a new Constitution in 2013, the government has so far failed to implement it and Coltart described "a need to align our subsidiary laws to that Constitution".
"We need to start respecting it in letter and deed. The government, the regime of Robert Mugabe is pushing back against the Constitution, trying to amend it, trying to ignore it," Coltart said, highlighting how he believes that the international community should work "multi-laterally" with Zanu-PF and regional players including South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.
"That's where the international community has to come in. There is no doubt that this regime is under enormous pressure and to that extent they're susceptible to influence from the outside.If Zimbabwe implodes again, it is going to impact the South African economy and the region – so it's important that the West work alongside those governments to try and get a regional consensus, which in turn must bring pressure to bear on Robert Mugabe's regime to comply with its own Constitution."