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Editor’s Memo

Bigoted criticism

By Vincent Kahiya

TOOK time this week to read through the National Vision discussion document prepared by three ecumenical groups in Zimbabwe and presented to President Mugabe last Friday.

After reading the 50-page document, titled The Zimbabwe We Want, I was left in no doubt that some of the critics of the initiative by the churches, especially those having a go at individual prelates, had not read the whole document. The attacks were bereft of substance largely because the critics have not focused on the contents of the document but have elected to critique the process by which the paper was created.

The critics have also premised their objection on the fact that the authors of the documents had tea with President Mugabe. They have therefore become allies of the regime. There is no doubt that some of the clerics deify President Mugabe but this deity was not at all very pleased with the document.

Government spin-doctors have, as expected, tried to make the document appear to be a celebration of Zanu PF’s rule and an outright endorsement of President Mugabe’s omnipotence. It is not.

For example state media reported on the criticism the document levels against unpatriotic Zimbabweans. They quoted: “Some Zimbabweans have unfortunately become very unpatriotic in their thinking, words and behaviour. They refuse to see any good in their nation, or to work for the welfare of that nation. This may be in part because we have not taken the development of national values seriously.”

This nugget was however conveniently omitted: “Patriotism does not mean that we develop uniformity in our thinking, culture or political party. Citizens should be able to constructively criticise their government without fearing that they will be accused of being unpatriotic.”

It is definitely not the sort of document that will send the president into ecstasy. As a discussion document designed to trigger national debate on the future of this country, the ecumenical submission contains useful detail for national discourse. The tragedy of Zimbabwe today is that the quality of national debate has been prejudiced by our failure to study issues. We are enmeshed in the politics of personalities: Who authored the report? Who presented it to him? Who was sitting next to the president at the presentation ceremony?

To some, the same document would have been acceptable if it had been authored by the Christian Alliance or the opposition who have both ironically raised a vast array of issues contained in the ecumenical document.

These include the need to repeal Aippa and Posa, guaranteeing the Independence of the judiciary, respecting the rule of law, political tolerance and the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The clerics also want a fair electoral system in which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is seen to be “impartial and not amenable to political pressure”.

One aspect that Mugabe found offensive in the document was the churches’ call for a home-grown constitution which would among other measures “circumscribe” the powers of the president to deal with Zanu PF’s autocratic rule.

The president’s fist-waving last Friday and pronouncements about the constitution falling in the realm of “non-negotiable” interests are a precursor to how the presidency will respond to the document as a whole.

“We fought for it (the constitution), our people died for it. There could never be another constitution so dear, so sacrosanct,” Mugabe said.

The president’s statement is significant in that it sends the message that the destiny of this country should not be decided by the people, but by the willingness of those in authority to parcel out power. The people cannot demand power.

Isn’t it amazing that the same President Mugabe who has told us that the people will decide on the political future of this country has the temerity to tell us that the issue of a new constitution is “non-negotiable?”

While the clerics have come up with a template for the Zimbabwe we want, President Mugabe is keen to preserve “his” Zimbabwe. Remember the September 2002 speech at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

In his Zimbabwe, a new constitution is not welcome because it would not only dilute his power but also make him appear like he is succumbing to the whims of the National Constitutional Assembly.

Demonstrations are not permitted in his Zimbabwe hence he condones the beating up of labour protestors by “his” security forces.

In his Zimbabwe, Posa is crucial to deal with any dissent.

“We cannot amend Posa when we are under an onslaught from institutions which are causing mayhem and anarchy in the country,” Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told this paper two years ago.

That is not the Zimbabwe we want. The Zimbabwe we want is one where citizens are allowed to be forward-looking and demand to be governed diligently. Will a new constitution wipe away the fact that there was a protracted armed struggle in Zimbabwe?

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