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Civic society must allow MDC to forge ahead

Jacob Rukweza

THE decision by the MDC to endorse the controversial Constitutional Amendment (No 18) Bill has sparked a volley of hysterical outrage from civic society in


The misunderstanding arises from the MDC’s acceptance of the constitutional amendment or its perceived failure to object to the passage of the amendment.

The NCA, which leads the chorus of condemnation of the constitutional amendment, has accused the MDC of selling out.

The embittered NCA insists that as a matter of principle the MDC should have rejected piecemeal amendments to the current constitution.

The frenzied condemnation of the MDC’s position on the constitutional amendment by the NCA and a coterie of civic groups would be understandable in the context of the opposition’s pronounced departure from the principle of a new constitution as a foundation for good governance.

But so far the MDC has not said anything to the effect that it has abandoned the agenda of a new constitution for Zimbabwe.

Morgan Tsvangirai has told party members in particular and Zimbabweans in general, that the MDC remains loyal to the founding objectives of building a democratic and prosperous country premised on a new constitution as the bedrock of a new order.

The question is, is it not too early for the NCA and its bandwagon of civic groups to wax hysterical and to condemn the recent constitutional concession while discounting the direction and outcome of the inter-party talks? The MDC must be allowed to move on.

The inter-party talks between Zanu PF and the MDC — which are far from being concluded — are multifaceted and not singularly centred around Constitutional Amendment No 18 which, in any case, had already been unilaterally tabled in parliament by Zanu PF.

The fact that the ruling party enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament clearly means that the amendment could still have passed anyway and with even worse provisions had the MDC not contributed, albeit minimally.

It may be wrong at this stage for civic society to condemn the MDC and accuse it of selling out without bothering to recognise the context within which the MDC is making these obviously critical concessions.

It must be understood by civic leaders from the onset that the MDC is a political party and not a pressure group in pursuit of a singular objective like the NCA.

The MDC unlike the NCA has a fastidious membership to which it must answer periodically during election time pertaining to the broader agenda of representative governance.

While the NCA has no fixed schedule in its pursuit of a new constitution, the MDC has a defined schedule fixed by existing laws and legitimate expectations. As things stand the MDC will be expected to account to its membership in the harmonised election slated for March next year while the NCA may afford to clamour for a new constitution without being answerable in any plebiscite.

It appears that sabre-rattling civic groups were expecting the MDC to adopt an intransigent attitude in its approach to the current national crisis. In the absence of tact the MDC may risk being overtaken by political events.

Realising the futility of combative obduracy it should be clear to all by now that the MDC needs the talks as much as the ruling party. Because, while the talks are meant to address the plague of illegitimacy for Zanu PF, they are creating a realistic alternative and a tenable avenue towards a new Zimbabwe for the MDC.

However, while Zanu PF had several extra-democratic alternatives in its pursuit of the power retention agenda, the alternatives are limited for the fragmented MDC.

Confrontational engagements between the MDC, civic society, and trade unions on one hand and the Zanu PF government on the other have clearly failed to achieve the desired results in the past.

Intermittent street protests by the NCA, Woza, Crisis Coalition, the Law Society and others have failed to achieve fundamental objectives. Besides sustaining their nuisance value, the protests have only served to maintain the visibility of such pressure groups while further exposing activists to obvious brutality by the regime with fatal ramifications in some cases.

The MDC’s final push in June 2003 did not do much to enhance the ordinary people’s struggle for a new and democratic Zimbabwe.

Last week’s stayaway called by the ZCTU has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that at the moment confrontation with the Zanu PF government will not do anything to improve the situation of the suffering masses. Unfortunately Zimbabweans have shown that they are not yet ready to take political risks.

The MDC has awakened to this realisation and the civic movement should allow the opposition party to move away from the captive and futile strategy of confrontation to dialogue.

Justifiably, Zimbabwe’s civic society which has been humiliated, brutalised and maligned by the Zanu PF regime is apparently in a vindictive mode and looking for an opportunity to humiliate Zanu PF in order to get even with the autocracy. It is becoming palpable that the NCA and elements in the civic movement were viewing the Sadc-mediated inter-party talks as a rare opportunity to humiliate Zanu PF by wanting the MDC to make a new constitution the alpha and the omega of the inter-party talks.

But those who have followed the Zanu PF pattern of thinking will concur that it is wishful thinking if not foolhardy for anyone to realistically believe that the ruling party will agree to the polemical demand for a new constitution before elections in March 2008. The implications of that demand are too glaring for Zanu PF to ignore.

Belligerent grandstanding as a tactic to wring set concessions has worked with limited success in addressing delicate political questions of the day. It may be necessary to briefly take civic society leaders back to the process of the negotiated constitutional deal between the Patriotic Front and the Rhodesian Front which brought about Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. The Patriotic Front went to Lancaster House in 1979 with the critical demands including the immediate return of farm land to the black majority and securing one man one vote for the black Africans before free and fair elections in 1980.

But when the negotiations were finally concluded on December 21, 1979 the Patriotic Front got free and fair elections, the one man one vote concession but not the land.

The Lancaster House Constitution made it categorically clear that the land question would not be addressed until after 1990 — 10 years after Independence. Knowing well that they were not winning the war (never mind claims to the contrary) the Patriotic Front took the necessary political risk and endorsed the Lancaster House Constitution. Fortunately, the Patriotic Front did not have vociferous civic society allies or a sophisticated membership to accuse them of selling out on the land issue.

In those circumstances, embracing the seemingly deceitful Lancaster House Constitution and the raft of attendant agreements was the best way forward for the battle-weary Patriotic Front.

It is important for the MDC and civic society groups to manage the current fallout carefully and avoid the trap that results in democratic allies fighting themselves instead of fighting the Zanu PF dictatorship.

The NCA makes very scathing claims while attacking the MDC and insinuating that the MDC is out of touch with ordinary Zimbabweans.

The statement by the NCA has two worrying features. First it exposes a salient and disquieting belief within the NCA that they are the only genuine evangelists of constitutional reform because of the mere fact that they identify themselves as a constitutional assembly.

Second, the declaration by the NCA that the claim by one of the MDC formations that it is closer to the people is hollow and is meant to smuggle into the fray the mischievous impression that the NCA is comparatively better connected with ordinary Zimbabweans and therefore more representative than the MDC.

In their quarrel with the MDC civic groups should not make impulsive decisions and reckless utterances that may have the ramifications of polarising the strategic alliance of democratic forces under the umbrella of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign as we approach the inevitable 2008 elections.

While criticising the MDC for its
occasional blunders, civic leaders must be informed by both history and current developments. But when the talks are concluded the long suffering Zimbabweans will be there to judge the MDC on the basis of the final outcome.

* Jacob Rukweza is a sub-editor at the Zimbabwe Independent.

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