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Editor’s Memo

Message from Hizbollah

By Joram Nyathi

WHEN a ceasefire was declared between Israel and Syrian-backed Hizbollah guerillas in south Lebanon last week, the latter immediately sprang into action again. Hizbollah didn’

t wait to lick its wounds. It was time to rebuild shattered southern Lebanon and to provide aid to the victims of Israel’s month-long bombardment.

I don’t know precisely the relationship between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government and how it has come to be the military proxy for Syria in its war with Israel. I still don’t understand why the Lebanese army was completely invisible until the ceasefire when it was announced Lebanon was sending 15 000 troops to the south.

But it is possible to draw lessons for Zimbabwe’s supine opposition groups from Hizbollah’s actions. It not only provided leadership, but also wanted to be and was visible on the ground. It didn’t assume that since it was a Shiite movement its support was guaranteed. Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced immediately after the ceasefire that his group would help with the reconstruction of 15 000 houses destroyed during Israeli bombings. This was in addition to other assistance like accommodation for displaced people, food and blankets. He also pledged financial support for those who had lost their jobs. Nobody is quite sure where the money is coming from.

The point is not about quantities. It is about presence. Call it enlightened self-interest if you like. It is about showing care and solidarity with the people in their hour of greatest need. Leaders need to show compassion.

There was and there will always be fierce competition for influence between Israel and the US on the one hand and Hizbollah on the other in that region. The reasons for Hizbollah’s swift reaction were both strategic and tactical. It could not wait for the US and its United Nations partners to come in and take control of southern Lebanon before it had stressed a point or two about the evils of Zionism and American imperialism. It was a chance to score propaganda points while at the same time alleviating the suffering of the affected people who unless attended to could quickly blame Hizbollah for having got them into this mess.

Its actions were certain to alarm and galvanise the US and its allies into taking swift action to demonstrate that they are concerned about the welfare of the people, hence the desire for fast reconstruction to erase all evidence of Israel’s deadly strikes.

Our power-besotted opposition parties have failed to seize such opportunities because they cannot see beyond State House. I will not refer to the Matabeleland massacres in this instance because at that time people in that region were not considered Zimbabwean and had to be destroyed. But we had the 2000, 2002 and 2005 elections which opposition parties claimed had been stolen by Zanu PF. You get protests if you say the MDC lost. The pusillanimous excuse for failure to protest was either that the people would decide what to do or that the party leadership was consulting. It is possible they are still consulting.

Then came Operation Murambatsvina when thousands of people in urban areas were literally thrown onto the streets. There has never been such a windfall political opportunity for any party that wants to be taken seriously. People were either on the streets or had lost everything to care anymore. They were left wailing in the wilderness like Hannah but none heard them. As Marx would have said, all they had were their chains. I don’t know what Hizbollah would have done given the same opportunity.

The currency change-over was another chance. Many people didn’t know what was happening and lost everything. It was an opportunity for opposition leaders to interact with people to explain what Project Sunrise was all about. It was arbitrary and some of the measures adopted to speed up the process patently illegal. It was a clear opportunity for both propaganda and solidarity.

I was reminded of pictures that won Desmond Kwande an award at the CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards. One was of UN envoy Jan Egeland peeping into a plastic shack in Hatcliffe which was the home of a family displaced by Operation Murambatsvina. The impact of that picture was devastating. Unfortunately there was no opposition leader to be seen. It’s beneath our leaders to be seen chatting to stranded commuters at bus stops or people who can’t get their money from ATMs or maize meal from retail shops. Instead there is unseemly competition on both sides of the political divide to talk to or to be pictured standing next to Tony Blair or George Bush. I don’t understand where this fixation with aliens solving our problems comes from. It has been the biggest albatross around the neck of indigenous initiatives.

With the best will in the world no foreign power or leader can presume to help Zimbabweans militarily without provoking the type of chaos we witness today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have not seen a nation in this modern world that will surrender its sovereignty so easily. In international strategic relations, Otto von Bismarck would tell us we are not worth the life of a single Pomeranian soldier, but I can tell you as a sovereign state Zimbabwe is worth the life of every Zimbabwean.

What we need is our own Hizbollah, otherwise the so-called democratic resistance or winter of discontent, whether literal or metaphorical, has passed without a whimper. Which is why Zanu PF cannot fully grasp the scope of the national crisis, let alone fathom solutions.

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