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Candid Comment

Treading path to a false revolution

By Joram Nyathi

I HAVE followed with interest Violet Gonda’s interviews with Welshman Ncube, Lovemore Madhuku and Tendai Biti on her SW Radio Africa’s Hot

Seat programme. Last week’s installment was especially revealing on the sticking points between the two MDC factions.

Gonda sought a clarification on the stalemate. Ncube’s response was simple: violence, the constitution and respect for majority decisions. These were the issues that culminated in the split of October 12 and still keep them apart.

I found Biti’s response most disconcerting to say the least. He went off at a tangent of evasion and stonewalling, talking about “resonating with the masses”, as if he had never heard about the violence in his party. He was not going to exhaust himself on issues of violence when people were hungry, wanted drugs, could not afford school fees for their children and were tired of Mugabe, he said. He said the MDC was “not set up by the genius of individuals” but by ordinary people who wanted “a democratic confrontation with the regime”.

With due respect, this is obfuscation of the worst sort. Are we saying hungry and sick people should be subjected to terror attacks in the name of fighting Mugabe?

We all know that fiendish fascists like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini committed their atrocities in the name of the people and they had their apologists and philosophers. The leader is supposed to set the moral compass for his followers, not for him to shirk responsibility and principle in order to “resonate” with the people. I couldn’t understand why Biti found it so hard to denounce violence as a tool of the camp that he represents. Which amounts to a tacit endorsement.

Instead he said he was focusing on the “bigger picture”, as if that noble goal was exclusive of principles, fair play and respect for human rights.

We have heard similar demagoguery from Mugabe that Zimbabweans don’t want a new constitution, human rights and the like but food, drugs, transport and education for their children. It is as if human rights and a better standard of living are mutually exclusive.

Issues of violence can’t be peripheral in a struggle where Zanu PF’s alleged big crime is violence against members of the opposition. Least of all should we tolerate a culture of impunity for perpetrators of violence. It is simply giving hostage to fortune and Zanu PF will make maximum political capital of it, albeit to a very sceptical audience.

Tolerance for “small” crimes starts as an aberration before it becomes endemic in the party. That is how corruption, nepotism, tribalism, cronyism and political patronage have become so pervasive in all facets of life in Zimbabwe. Those fighting for democracy have a chance to demonstrate that they are better than Zanu PF.

While Zanu PF violence can be traced back to the nature of guerilla warfare during the liberation struggle, I cannot understand why we can’t transcend that stage 26 years into Independence. What Biti calls “the fundamental process of turning the dream of a new Zimbabwe into a reality” cannot be achieved using the methods of the tyranny we seek to destroy. This can only lead to a “false revolution” where the new leaders are no more than an accident of time and space instead of principled statesmen.

We insisted on the MDC looking at the “bigger picture” in its internecine fight when we thought the causes of the split were frivolous. It has turned out that they are structural and a number of political opportunists and financial refugees are finding it safer to hide in a crowd than stand up for the principles of the original MDC. There is no one who has a monopoly on this bigger picture and that picture is not exclusive of principles and personal integrity. Ranting aloud against Mugabe is no more confrontational or more effective than so-called “quiet diplomacy”. Citing a litany of Zimbabwe’s problems is not the same as resolving them. It is merely playing to the gallery. Even Mugabe can do that. Any villager will tell you what he wants. So what?

The other big disease afflicting opposition politicians the same way it has afflicted Zanu PF since Independence is the growing culture of denial. In the case of the murderous attack on Trudy Stevenson, a few apologists for violence went so far as to claim Arthur Mutambara’s camp was trying to gain political mileage. The least one can say is that this is most callous. It is callousness informed by ignorance and selfishness — that such a thing will never happen to me.

In his letter to Mugabe that we have serialised over the past three weeks, Joshua Nkomo revealed that in 1983 seven Catholic priests wrote a pastoral letter condemning the dastardly “excesses” of the Fifth Brigade during Gukurahundi in Matabeleland North. The response from Zanu PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira was that this was “contrived propaganda”. That propaganda turned out to be “an act of madness” that cost 20 000 innocent lives while their compatriots who were cheering Mugabe on thought it would never happen to them. Indeed we all thought the madness had been cured until it manifested itself as Operation Murambatsvina last year. Then it had been shorn of ethnicity or regional trappings. But we are fast relapsing into the same ethnic divisions with no content.

I have no doubt that people like Biti can do better. As a lawyer, his answer to Gonda’s question on the use of violence was a simple yes or no. You cannot afford to be ambivalent and to equivocate on basic matters of principle of you are a political leader.

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