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Just like Burma?


AFTER watching television footage of clean-shaven monks in Burma marching up and down the streets of Rangoon in the last two weeks, many in Zimbabwe cannot help but muse at the prospects of the country’s impoverished citizens

following suit to pressure President Mugabe’s government to reform.


National Constitutional Assembly chair Lovemore Madhuku should at least be wondering why Zimbabweans stay at home when he calls for “jambanja”.


The Buddhist monks numbering more than 10 000, some shouting “Democracy, democracy,” have since August 19 been demonstrating against the Burmese junta.


This week junta supporters and police started attacking demonstrators and imposed a curfew in major urban areas. Militias were also driving around Rangoon warning lay-people wanting to join the demonstrators that “action” would be taken against anybody who continued to support the demonstrations, news agency reports said. They announced a 9 pm-to-5 am curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, Burma’s two largest cities, and said gatherings of five or more people were banned, setting the stage for confrontation if the monks continue to protest, the reports said.


Remember war veterans here threatening to take the law into their own hands whenever the opposition and other pro-democracy groupings try to take to the streets to demonstrate against the Zanu PF government. This is just one of the similarities. There are more. Burma and Zimbabwe both have governments which do not hesitate to unleash the military on unarmed civilians to protect the tenure of the incumbent. The two governments have kept a tight rein on the press and stand accused of promoting bone-head policies which have resulted in their respective economies plummeting and all human development indices heading south.


Burma and Zimbabwe have gained a notoriety for being pariah states. The similarities however do not make the means of achieving democratic change in the two countries uniform. Burmese monks for over a month managed to express their disgust at the junta until the army and the police beat them to the ground this week. It can be said that the demonstration showed a measure of organisational aptitude on the part of the monks but it is also clear that the government there exercised a measure of restraint.


These two aspects do not exist in Zimbabwe. Civic groups including students, the National Constitutional Assembly and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, whose leaders have sometimes shown a willingness to take on Zanu PF on the streets, have not exhibited the ability to rally people around a cause. Greater organisational ability is required in Zimbabwe where the government has given law enforcers a free rein to strike fear into the hearts of unarmed citizens. This is amply shown in the way small demonstrations by the NCA have been brutally suppressed by state brutes who have recruited in their ranks Zanu PF militias and war veterans.


We have always said there is need for a change in strategy to engage the regime. But Madhuku was this week clinging to the same old script. On Tuesday at a public meeting in Harare, he was haranguing the nation to go onto the streets because he believes the dialogue between government and the opposition is not the way to go. And not many will heed the call and take to the streets like the monks in Burma. By marching on the streets of Rangoon and other urban centres in Burma in large numbers, they not only demonstrated a national resolve but also the strategy to achieve their ends.


This is a critical point for Madhuku to ponder. Fruits of militancy must be visible for this stratagem to work. Almost 20 years ago a huge demonstration in Burma left thousands dead. There was loud international condemnation of the junta which has however held on. Compare this with the small NCA demonstrations which have resulted in broken bones and serious injuries to members and sympathisers.


There is no hope in Madhuku’s plan as long as the demonstrations fail to move the struggle for a new constitution forward. The challenge before Madhuku and the NCA is how to popularise their cause which has no instruments to fight its adversaries. At the moment Madhuku’s strategy has become as predictable as the riot police’s reaction to his placard-waving supporters. No march of the monks here yet.

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