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Candid Comment

Fragmentation is our No 1 enemy

By Joram Nyathi

LAST week’s events have fully exposed the sickness at the heart of Zimbabwe’s opposition politics — division. They also demonstrated that the dictatorship

we live under has gotten more depraved, more brazen and less concerned about the will of the people or international opinion.

I say events because up to now it is not clear what it was. The organisers talked of a procession to deliver petitions to Town House, Ministries of Finance and Labour, parliament and Emcoz offices. Government warned against illegal demonstrations. The media, for their part, only added to the confusion. They couldn’t clarify the issues whether it was a stayaway, street demonstrations or some other form of protest.

The petitions, said the ZCTU, were to express the workers’ problems like failure to access free antiretroviral drugs, worsening transport and accommodation problems and a call for a minimum wage equivalent to the poverty datum line. The student movement and civic society groups sent solidarity messages.

The MDC was typically ambivalent about where it stood. First it said it didn’t have anything to do with the ZCTU protests. This was an issue for workers. It was focusing on the national agenda. Then at the last minute it urged workers to “go out in their millions” to express their displeasure with the Mugabe dictatorship.

We found this ambivalence strange for a party whose greatest support base is supposed to be the workers, civil society, students, informal traders and others impoverished by the land reform over the past seven years and who were dealt a coup de grace by Operation Murambatsvina in May last year. What national agenda does the MDC have outside the welfare of its major support base?

I normally want to look for a convergence of either ideology or aspirations to see how a group sticks together. It is not difficult to see the synergies between the MDC and workers as represented by the ZCTU and its affiliates. I could not therefore understand the MDC saying it had a national agenda bigger than the workers who supposedly constitute it.

Presumably its bigger agenda is the road to State House. Which is natural for any opposition party. Opposition can’t be an end in itself. The question arises when that road has to be walked. How is the MDC to walk the road to State House without the workers or when their aspirations are divergent and each party must pursue its agenda independently? I thought they had a common enemy that was the prime source of both their problems.

The confusion in the MDC epitomises the rot in the democratic movement in Zimbabwe. Up until the very day it wasn’t clear where the MDC and its leadership stood. After expressing their solidarity, the students also fell silent, waiting to see what happened.

Where were civic society groups? Where was the National Constitutional Assembly and its leadership? I didn’t ask myself about the Women of Zimbabwe Arise because they are always on the streets. In fact, they have become more active and more visible on the battlefront than the NCA and Lovemore Madhuku.

In short, what constituency of the working population was the ZCTU appealing to in a country where unemployment is estimated at 80%? Was it shop workers, security guards, civil servants or bank employees? How many people did it forecast to join its procession to have the desired impact?

I ask these vital questions because as it turned out, there were very few people at Town House at the appointed time. This made it easy for the police to encircle the ZCTU leadership and beat them into their Defenders, and take them to Matapi police station. It was their chance to exact their revenge on ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibebe whom they claimed had assaulted them at a roadblock along the Masvingo road during Project Sunrise last month.

In the end whatever it was that was supposed to happen on September 13 lacked the critical mass to assume any national significance. Whether this was because of the prevarication of the MDC or workers’ own scepticism or fear of the police I don’t know. But it doesn’t speak well of the marriage between the MDC and the workers.

The event also exposed the democratic forces as dangerously fragmented to pose any serious threat to the common enemy they all seek to dislodge. It was a pity that a few people got arrested or were beaten by police and left to limp back home bruised on the promise of a better performance next time.

It is a form of abuse that eventually kills people’s spirit to fight because those beaten have nothing to show for it while those who escape are afraid to venture out. It bodes ill too for those who have their eyes on State House.

As for the whole ZCTU venture, it ended in disaster. Call it inhuman or degrading treatment, violence, brutality or human rights violation, the result was broken fingers, fractured arms, bruised bodies and cracked skulls inside a police camp where they should have sought protection.

I should add that it left more enduring questions and scars than answers on the way forward. The biggest question is who will save us from a vengeful police force so emboldened by a culture of impunity that they can break people’s skulls in broad daylight without any fear of prosecution?

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