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Zimbabwe beware: the military is looking after its own interests, not democracy

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November 2017 will go down in the history of Zimbabwe as the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe’s 37 year tyranny. A tumultuous week finally culminated in his resignation on November 21st. One cannot understate the widespread jubilation at the demise of Mugabe and his desire to create a dynasty for himself through his wife Grace.

But the optimism is misplaced because it doesn’t deal directly with the dearth of democracy in Zimbabwe.

First, contrary to popular sentiment that the coup was meant to usher in a new era of political liberalisation and democracy, the takeover is actually meant to deal with a succession crisis in Zanu-PF. The military made this clear when it said that it was dealing with criminals around Mugabe. And the party’s secretary for legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa indicated that removing Mugabe from the party’s Central Committee was an internal party matter.

Secondly, I would argue that the military resorted to a “smart coup” only after its preferred candidate to succeed Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired from the party and government.

The way in which the military has gone about executing its plan upends any conventional understanding of what constitutes a coup d’etat. It’s a “smart coup” in the sense that the military combined the frustrations of a restive population, internal party structures and international sympathy to remove a sitting president. It thereby gained legitimacy for an otherwise partisan and unconstitutional political act – toppling an elected government.

This begs the question: Is the military now intervening for the collective good or for its own interests?

READ MORE: Mnangagwa and the military may mean more bad news for Zimbabwe

Why the military intervened

It is baffling to imagine how the military has suddenly become the champion of democracy and regime change in Zimbabwe.

It’s clear that what motivated the military commanders was a fear of losing their jobs and influence after their preferred successor was purged. They launched a preemptive strike against Mugabe to safeguard their own selfish interests as a military class and the future of their careers.

Given the symbiotic relationship between the Zimbabwean military and the ruling Zanu-PF party, it was inevitable that the top commanders would be embroiled in the party’s succession crisis. After all, the military has been the key lever behind the power of both Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF since 1980.

In the past they have acted as part of the Zanu-PF machinery, openly campaigning for Mugabe alongside other security agencies.

And they have played a key role in neutralising political opponents. Back in the 1980s the military was responsible for the massacre of thousands of civilians and Zapu supporters in Matabeleland. More than two decades later in 2008 they were responsible for the torture, death and disappearance of 200 opposition activists and the maiming of hundreds more.

In addition, the UN has implicated Mnangagwa and the generals in the illegal plundering of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have also been fingered in the disappearance of diamond revenues from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields.

On top of this the military and Zanu-PF share a special relationship that has its roots in the liberation struggle. The Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) was the political wing of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) during the liberation war. They therefore have vested interests in the survival of the party.

After independence, the relationship remained intact as the military became the guarantors of the revolution. Some of the same surviving commanders of Zanla are still senior high ranking officials. The commanders are also bona fide members of the ruling party and guarantors of Zanu-PF power.

The same securocrats are also members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. This quasi paramilitary group is an auxiliary association of the ruling party and has fiercely opposed Mugabe’s attempt to create a dynasty.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

Military must step aside

Zimbabwe goes to the polls next July to choose a new president and parliament. The elections – if conducted in a credible way – will provide the next government with the legitimacy it needs to take the country out of its political and economic crises.

Now that Mugabe has resigned the hope is that the military will allow a genuinely democratic transition to take place. All political players, including opposition parties, would need to be incorporated into a broad-based transitional authority pending credible elections.

But for the elections to be credible, the transitional authority would need urgently to reform the electoral system. This would ensure Zimbabweans can freely and fairly choose their leaders. Without this, peace and prosperity will continue to elude Zimbabwe.

In the long run, the military would do well to get out of politics instead of continuing to view itself as “stockholders” in the country’s political affairs because of its liberation struggle credentials. – Enock C. Mudzamiri, DLitt et DPhil Student in Politics, University of South Africa

Originally published in The Conversation

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died

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The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.

It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.

READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.

That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.

One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.

-Jill De Villiers

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Facebook Joins Other Tech Giants In Employing Journalists To Curate News

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Facebook is hiring a small team of journalists to help curate breaking news and repair its strained relationship with news publishers, the social media giant announced Tuesday.

The company says it will employ journalists to select breaking news and top stories that will appear in its soon-to-be-launched feature called News Tab, rather than using algorithms to determine what is shared with its vast network of users.

With the move, Facebook is part of a growing trend in the tech industry. Apple, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat have all employed journalists to help their companies sort through the news and cozy up to news organizations.

READ MORE | Facebook Recommits To A More Personalized Dating App, Your Privacy

Apple, for example, has used some form of human curation since its subscription Apple News app launched in 2015. In June 2017, the company hired former New York magazine executive editor Lauren Kern as the app’s editor-in-chief. Twitter has also employed some form of human news curation since 2015. 

Even with a team of in-house journalists, companies like Twitter continue to struggle in the fight against misinformation. On Monday, Twitter announcedit will no longer accept advertising from state-controlled media, in large part as a response to the discovery that China ran a misinformation campaign to combat Hong Kong protesters.

Facebook, facing similar scrutiny for the same Chinese misinformation campaign, said that employing journalists will help “surface more high quality news.”

“Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships said in a statement sent to Forbes. “The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection. To start, for the Top News section of the tab we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

Facebook says the team will take into account user controls, pages and publisher as well as the news that users interact with or share, and other unnamed signals from its vast network to personalize content. 

The company has been under pressure to mitigate its misinformation problem since it was revealed in 2016 that Russian operatives carried out a misinformation campaign in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” on the network, as it was described by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Mueller Report found that Russia spent $1.25 million per month on digital advertisements in an effort to sow discord in the U.S. and influence the presidential election. On Monday, Facebook came under fire for taking money from China to spread disinformation about Hong Kong protests.

The social media giant remains an important part of many Americans lives, much more than its rivals Twitter and Snapchat. According to Pew Research, about 69% of American adults use Facebook, and of those who use it, about 74% visit the site once a day. By comparison, only one in five U.S. adults (22%) use Twitter.

According to a survey conducted in 2018, about four in ten (43%) U.S. adults get at least some news from Facebook.

READ MORE | How To Use Twitter To  Boost Your Business

In January 2017, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, a former television news anchor, to lead its news partnerships team. She remains a key figure in easing the tension between large national news outlets—those who have historically provided an endless trove of free content for the social media giant—and the company.

Publishing executives have slammed Facebook for siphoning advertising revenue away from traditional news publishers while also demanding that those same companies provide content for free. Following years of backlash, the social media company is now trying to work with publishers to create a more even relationship.

Facebook’s news partnership program involves deals that are potentially worth millions of dollars. The Wall Street Journal reports that several news outlets including the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and the New York Times have discussed receiving as much as $3 million per year to license news content.

The News Tab, which has not been publicly viewed, is being positioned in stark contrast to the company’s Trending Topics news section, which shut down in 2016 following increasing pressure from users.

In 2016, the tech website Gizmodo published an article alleging contractors hired to curate the now-defunct Trending Topics feed were actively suppressing conservative news stories. In a letter to Congress, Facebook said, “We could not reconstruct reliable data logs from before December 2014, so were unable to examine each of the reviewer decisions from that period,” thus suggesting that it may have very well suppressed conservative news when the tool first launched.

-Michael Nuñez; Forbes

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Walmart Sues Tesla Over Solar Panels That Allegedly Caught Fire

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Topline: Walmart is alleging in a lawsuit that Tesla solar panels caused fires on the roofs of seven Walmart stores, and is accusing Tesla of breach of contract, gross negligence and failure to comply with industry standards. 

  • Walmart claims that Tesla installed faulty solar panels that eventually spontaneously combusted and caught fire at seven Walmart stores around the country.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Tesla inspectors didn’t notice defects that were visible to the naked eye, used cable connectors that weren’t compatible with one another and failed to see that loose and hanging wires were present at multiple sites.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos And Elon Musk Want To Get To The Moon—They Just Disagree On How To Get There

  • Walmart says in the lawsuit it believes the failures were the result of rushed installation because Tesla’s solar division “adopted an ill-considered business model that required it to install solar panel systems haphazardly and as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit, and the contractors and subcontractors who performed the original installation work had not been properly hired, trained, and supervised.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

Key Background: Tesla got into the solar business after it acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. But production of its residential solar panels under Tesla has been mired with delays and plunging sales. 

Just this week, CEO Elon Musk announced a revamped pricing plan in an effort to boost the slowing business. The new pricing model allows residents in six states to rent solar power systems starting at $50 a month ($65 a month in California) instead of buying them up front.

Further Reading: Read the full lawsuit here.

-Rachel Sandler, Forbes


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