Perspectives on ‘Operation Restore Legacy’

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SINCE the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 followed by the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018, Zimbabweans have had to adjust to a lot of changes which have taken place both in ZANU PF and MDC-T political parties as well as in the country itself.
It is no secret that a large part of these changes are a result of ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ which was undertaken in November 2017 by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).
The question is: What is the legacy that we are talking about here and how does it fit into the trajectory of where we want to go as a nation?
Do we have a common understanding of this legacy and why it has to be restored at all?
One can argue that the legacy being referred to here is the story about the liberation of Zimbabwe.
It is a story about how thousands left Rhodesia for Zambia, for Mozambique, for Botswana and for Africa in general in order to train as guerillas, come back into the country and liberate it from white colonial rule. It is a story about blacks waging asymmetrical warfare from the 1960s right up to 1980 when Zimbabwe is born again as a new nation.
In a way, we are referring to a story which talks about the origins of Zimbabwe, a foundational story which, as time goes on, will become a legend and, later on, a creation myth about the birth of Zimbabwe.
To talk about the birth of Zimbabwe is also to talk about the strength of a shared common vision which inspired many to action; it is to talk about a shared set of objectives, about a strong sense of solidarity and commitment; it is to talk about an indomitable willpower of blacks – how that willpower prevailed over a white fortress of a country called Rhodesia, armed to the teeth and supported by the whole Western world.
Ultimately, it is to talk about the freedom, independence, sovereignty and pride of a people who liberated themselves from a predatory settler regime of British origin; a people who, since 1980, have been questing to achieve a full sense of nationhood characterised by social cohesion, cultural diversity and economic prosperity for all.
All the characteristics outlined above constitute, directly or indirectly, a tradition of liberation, a phenomenon that is partly a matter of principles, partly a matter of values and partly a matter of shared ideals and aspirations of a nation defining and being defined by its own experiences.
All these aspects amount to a legacy of the war of liberation for which many died along the way. These principles-cum-values and ideals are part of a legacy which has been bequeathed to all of us by all those who died during the war — bequeathed to us by those who fought the liberation war and survived to build a new Zimbabwe with everyone else.
The question that arises is: Why did the ZDF find it necessary to restore this legacy of the war of liberation?
To answer this question, one has to go back to the history of the war itself; how at various stages of that war of liberation key figures emerge to lead it for some time.
We recall how, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Joshua Nkomo becomes the iconic face of the struggle, how later on Herbert Chitepo and Mugabe become the iconic faces symbolising, at a political level, the struggle for liberation.
And there are many of these iconic faces who, because of the prominent roles they played in the military, also come to represent the same struggle.
Dominant figures such as Josiah Tongogara, Lookout Masuku, Solomon Mujuru, Nikita Mangena and many others, in one way or other, become major icons of the same struggle in a collective sense.
It is critical to acknowledge that there are many of these iconic figures who die during the war and after it, many who fall by the wayside for one reason or other.
The point here is that all these represented directly or indirectly all the freedom fighters who sacrificed much for Zimbabwe to be born. One can argue that the heart and soul of the independent country which emerges in 1980 is a Zimbabwe which is defined by the war of liberation and those who fought that war. And for a long time, it becomes the norm that the majority of those who lead the country are those who fought and contributed much to the struggle for liberation.
And this norm is also noticeable in the kind of leadership which emerges in most African countries which had to resort to war to liberate themselves — countries such as Angola, Namibia and Mozambique.
One can argue it is when Mugabe begins to downplay the role played by others in the liberation war as well as in ZANU PF after the war that he invites the wrath of war veterans. This attempt to sideline war veterans, describing them at one time as a welfare organisation and no more, all in an attempt to prepare the ground to elevate his wife in politics, destabilised the historical consensus which had always regarded them as core-founders of Zimbabwe.
The war veterans, in turn, wasted no time in denouncing him and the personality cult he built around himself at the expense of all other icons associated with the liberation struggle. By downplaying the importance of war veterans and then concocting all sorts of spurious allegations and then levelling them against his then Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, himself a war veteran, it became clear that he was trying to dilute the influence of the legacy of the war of liberation as a key factor not only in deciding his succession but in shaping the future of Zimbabwe.
One can also sense this bias in the way some key posts in ZANU PF were reserved for those favoured by the then First Lady.
It is also when he begins to create political space for his garrulous and grasping wife, semi-literate and clueless as to what the liberation struggle was all about, that he begins to run against the grain of the whole liberation narrative.
To put it mildly, the less than perfect performance of the then first lady during the so-called Interface Rallies left everyone in no doubt that Zimbabwe was heading for more serious trouble.
In other words, ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ was designed to re-instate the legacy of the war of liberation so that it remains the main source of inspiration for the modern day Zimbabwe.

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