It’s politics and not activism that will change Zimbabwe. This is how Acie Lumumba (28), a former Zanu-PF youth leader, sees his country.
In June 2016, Lumumba launched his own political party, VIVA Zimbabwe, but his links to Zanu-PF and allegations that have been pegged against him mean he won’t run for office just yet.
Growing up, Lumumba believed in God and politics. His mother prayed, but Zimbabwe didn’t change. So, he decided to become a politician.
“I grew up in a place that was very poor. Always, there were two types of people where I grew up: you either believed in God and politicians to save the day, or you didn’t,” Lumumba said.
At 23, he became a member of Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe’s ruling party, headed by President Robert Mugabe. After nearly five years in the party, Lumumba left, announcing in June 2016 that he was fed up with corruption.
“The final straw was realising that the higher I rose in the party, the more responsibility I was given, and the more access I had to the reality of what happens at the top,” he said.
“Zanu-PF is now at a place where it cannot solve its internal battles. Failure to solve internal battles means you cannot solve national battles.”
He intially joined Zanu-PF because he believed it was the only party where “the empowerment and emancipation of the black man” mattered. Despite years of growing unease about the party’s treatment of Zimbabweans and the increasing poverty in the country, Lumumba stayed.
When he eventually decided to leave, he admitted that he had been involved in corruption while still a member. But in June 2016, he launched VIVA Zimbabwe with no intention to run for office in the 2018 elections.
It wasn’t just his history of corruption in Zanu-PF that affected public trust. Lumumba has also been charged with forging documents for a car and fraud. The trial has been reportedly postponed, with Lumumba maintaining that there is no truth to the allegations.
He is now in South Africa, where he has organised a meeting this weekend with Zimbabweans living in Johannesburg, but he is uncertain how much can be done for Zimbabwe when the South African government maintains a good relationship with Mugabe.
Will the ANC turn its back on Mugabe?
“The ANC is tied at the umbilical cord with Zanu-PF. I cannot envisage the ANC turning its back on Zanu-PF,” Lumumba said.
“Unfortunately, there is also no leadership in the ANC that will force [President] Jacob Zuma to act.”
Lumumba believes South Africa’s strong trade alliance with Zimbabwe will mean that the government will remain at Mugabe’s side. At the same time, he has hope that the fight for a democratic Zimbabwe can continue in other parts of the continent because state security is difficult to subvert in Zimbabwe.
“Every liberation struggle that I have ever studied was organised abroad, including South Africa. You don’t fight an oppressive regime from under its nose,” he said,
But upon arriving in South Africa, Lumumba made another realisation: the main conversation for many Zimbabweans in South Africa is documentation.
Documents, borders, and becoming “illegal”
What Lumumba will discuss at his meeting this weekend will be the two options Zimbabweans have: to obtain documents in South Africa, or to leave the country and return to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans who struggle to get their documents in South Africa are unable to go to hospitals, report crimes to the police or access banking institutions. The process of obtaining documents can be laborious and, in the meantime, foreign nationals often cannot legally obtain work.
Many have criticised Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba for comments he made, linking undocumented foreign nationals to criminality, and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has even planned to meet with the mayor regarding the statements.
But Lumumba believes there is an element of truth in what Mashaba says, because the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe is porous enough to allow Zimbabweans to move into the country without following due process.
“You can take it out of the context that his plan is not clear, but his facts are accurate, there is a problem. But you rectify the problem by actually going to what are the things that create this problem. Man your borders tighter, builder a country that has space for foreigners,” he said.
He says that Zimbabweans in South Africa want to stay, even though they care too about what is happening back in the country.
Liberating Zimbabwe through the ballot box
The only way to get Mugabe out of office, Lumumba believes, is through the 2018 elections. He shrugs off any indication that elections in the country have been rigged to favour Mugabe. For him, it’s just a numbers game, where Mugabe is only winning because a minority is voting.
His party won’t campaign for the 2018 elections, but in a few years time he believes they might be the ones to beat.
In the meantime, he says that South Africa must play its part, because Zimbabweans will remember.
“We will have a very long memory of how you treated us when we were down,” he said.