Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS
Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS

Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has gone green, joked a Zimbabwean-born accountant, one of many attending a "rebuilding Zimbabwe" panel discussion in Johannesburg on Friday morning.

The comment followed Mnangagwa’s announcement of a "recycled" cabinet on Thursday, with familiar, old faces. Many had served under his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, who Mnangagwa replaced following a military-backed "soft coup" last month.

The four panelists were unimpressed with the much-anticipated cabinet, which was always going to be scrutinised for clues on Mnangagwa’s plan of action following Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

"These fellows cannot deliver a globally competitive Zimbabwe, these fellows cannot deliver free and fair elections," said Prof Arthur Mutambara, a former deputy prime minister in Zimbabwe’s short-lived government of national unity, set up after the 2008 elections.

According to Dianna Games, the organiser of the discussion: "The announcement of the new cabinet poured cold water on the hope and optimism of many Zimbabweans that change was in the air."

The cabinet was largely devoid of technocrats or youth, and did not include any members of the opposition, a move that many felt would have gone a long way in healing divisions in Zimbabwe. "The moment Zimbabwe had is slowly being squandered. There was so much goodwill in the country, so much goodwill internationally ... It’s slowly being squandered," said Mutambara.

The new "securocratic" cabinet has only three women, even though the need for gender balance is enshrined in the constitution.

Mutambara offered two reasons for the retention of so much of the old guard. "The motivation, number one, is to reward those that made Mnangagwa president. Secondly, the motivation is to prepare for elections."

Despite Mugabe’s departure, the system he spawned is still in place in Zimbabwe and can only be truly eradicated through credible elections. "Yes, Mugabe has left office, but Mugabe-ism is still in place ... it was a system, a culture, a way of doing things."

Mutambara argued that Zanu-PF was not capable of implementing the designed reform as the party was loathe to create conditions that would see it losing power. However, the new cabinet was good for the opposition — despite being in disarray and split into three broad alliances — as it proves that little has changed.

Albert Gumbo, secretary-general of the opposition Alliance for the People’s Agenda, said sustainable change would only come if Zimbabwe got rid of Zanu-PF, adding: "Mnangagwa is a straw-man...the system has not changed".

If there are any fairly easy victories Mnangagwa could claim, Gumbo said this would require the president to simply implement provisions in the constitution, starting with spearheading free and fair elections. 

Gumbo warned against rewarding Zimbabwe with foreign assistance - such as the offer by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - until the country had shown a commitment to breaking with the past.

Fungai Tarirah, a portfolio manager at Rudiarius Capital, cited the need for clear, consistent policies, and that a sound monetary policy environment was the prerequisite for confidence and growth.

Mutambara said Mnangagwa still has the chance to build his own legacy of turning the economy around — as many of the current policies will always be associated with Mugabe.

According to Mutambara, the indigenisation law — which provided for 51% local ownership of enterprises — needed to be completely revised, while compensation for land reform needs to cover the land itself and not just improvements, as cited in the constitution.

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