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Does sovereignty mean threats?

By Rashweat Mukundu

HAVING grown up in a family which owned neither a radio nor a television set for the better part of my life, I recently heard this song: “There are better days before us and . . . w

e must believe and . . . paradise was almost closing down.” I have no idea who the artist is and fellow Zimbabweans might know.

It is however the captivating words that make one think about this country, our own paradise. This Zimbabwe, which has however turned into hell. And we are winding up 2004, the fourth year of our very deep political, economic and social crisis that has left many blinded and hope lost.

For the past four years, over three million Zimbabweans have left this country and sought refuge in other countries. By now every Zimbabwean has either a relative or friend outside the country. Our crisis has been talked of in binary terms: it’s either you are with President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, or you are one of the so-called “running dogs of the imperialists” and a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporter.

Whereas there was real hope and excitement in 2000 and 2002, when we had our controversial and bloody elections, the 2005 elections are only exciting Zanu PF and the opposition leaders as most people focus on day-to-day challenges.

Whereas in 2000 and 2002 there was excitement in commuter omnibuses and beer halls in the high-density suburbs, today no one talks to anyone about politics — instead the talk is likely to be on soccer and other issues far away from politics.

Politics to many is the beatings they go through at the hands of security agents towards elections, intimidation and the presence of youth militia and roadblocks. Apart from that, politics means nothing else and why bother participate or take heed?

Zimbabweans need to reclaim the freedom and political space that has been lost to the powerful that basically use brute force to maintain this hegemony. This hegemony is being sustained through a multi-pronged strategy that includes force and the “rule by law”.

We are a country with laws for everyone and everything. Zimbabwe probably holds the record for passing, in quick succession, the most repressive laws in the world. For the ordinary person, these laws only come to life the day you are arrested for calling Mugabe a dictator and Tony Blair a liberator. Of course, the police would gladly read sections of the Public Order and Security Act to you that criminalise such utterances.

We have to question our members of parliament whether they understand these laws when they are passed and their implications on our lives. I suppose the only consolation for many is that some of the laws from time to time trip up their proponents, who from time to time might find themselves in police custody, cut off from the state media or chased from one of their many farms because they are now multiple farm-owners.

Our real crisis is the new definition of “our sovereignty”. A new definition of sovereignty that basically is centred on Zimbabwe’s perceived “Super Sovereignty” has been evolved. It talks of a perfect country that needs no one and is prepared to go it alone, a splendid sovereignty.

Sovereignty in Zimbabwe now means passing laws that repress the same people meant to be protected. Sovereignty in Zimbabwe means believing and supporting Mugabe and Zanu PF, for the two are what constitutes sovereignty and are in fact the state.

Zimbabwe must dismiss cheap talk that Zanu PF needs a loyal opposition. The Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) was a loyal opposition but its supporters were hounded. Lest we forget, Patrick Kombayi was shot despite ZUM being a very indigenous and loyal opposition.

In the same vein that we are told of this super-sovereign state called Zimbabwe, our gold is finding its way to South Africa via Mozambique through illegal means, and our shops are filled with cheap imported goods that are resulting in our own industry shutting down. We are given a few electrical generating gadgets in exchange for our tobacco and minerals by “wise men” from the East, and the big conglomerates are mining our platinum and nickel.

In the name of sovereignty 11 million hectares of land were expropriated and given to 150 000 families. Meanwhile, millions of jobs were lost and indeed confessions are coming from the top that the land is not being fully utilised.

How do we define our friends as a country? How do we characterise our friends and our sovereignty in relation to them?

Are our friends Blair’s imperialist Britain, George Bush’s United states of America, who “demonise” us and give us food at the same time, donate towards the immunisation of our children, keep our HIV/Aids programmes running and donate to Harare city council towards the purchase of chemicals to keep our water safe?

Is sovereignty defined in terms of the threats and political challenges Zanu PF and Mugabe are facing? Does the criticism of Zanu PF by the West threaten our sovereignty and, if so, in what way? Is Zanu PF the sovereign, we must ask?

Zimbabweans need to question this new form and version of sovereignty that brutalises and impoverishes its own people rather than protect them.

In the name of sovereignty, laws that undermine the existence of the ordinary person have been passed. Real issues that define and characterise our sovereignty are ignored. We have to question whether Zanu PF has the monopoly to define what constitutes sovereignty and patriotism and whether we are all to be Zanu PF supporters in order for Zimbabwe to be a sovereign state?

*Rashweat Mukundu is Misa-Zimbabwe acting director.

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