The root of misrule in Zimbabwe

ANYBODY seeking evid

ence of where responsibility for epidemic misrule lies in Zimbabwe need look no further than an address made by President Mugabe to a police passing out parade for senior officers last week. In a speech read on his behalf by Acting President Joseph Msika and reported in the official press, Mugabe called on the police to support land reform. They should not be an obstacle, he said, to economic development but become the “bedrock of this government’s drive to mould a citizenry which is mentally, economically and politically liberated…”

It was crucial to cultivate a sense of loyalty and patriotism, Mugabe told the officers.

“The remnants of colonial laws that masquerade as capitalist interests should always be viewed with suspicion by progressive African police organisations and their governments,” he said.

Attacking the MDC, he said the police should guard against “the perpetuation of subtle strategies by elements in our society who wish to ride on the back of capitalist interests into the State House without recourse to democratic practices…”

His government was opposed, he said, to the “irresponsible use of such democratic space to precipitate puppet opposition parties driving foreign agendas… to sell out our independence and sovereignty, thereby derailing the impetus for economic empowerment”.

It would be difficult to find a more irresponsible statement by a head of state entrusted with upholding constitutional liberties. The duty of the police is to uphold the law. Parliament determines what that law should be. If Mugabe has objections to specific laws, his party, which has enjoyed a parliamentary majority for 23 years, is in a position to repeal them. It is not the function of the police to assume which laws the president favours and which he objects to before carrying out their duty. Nor is it the duty of the police to be the “bedrock” of attempts by government to “mould” society’s thinking in one direction or another. That only happens in a police state.

Mugabe’s objection to “capitalist interests” advancing on State House provides no excuse for manipulation of the police. Parties favouring a market economy are perfectly at liberty to seek the support of voters. Last year 1,2 million people, according to official figures, voted for a market economy and against Mugabe’s arbitrary land seizures. In reality, of course, it was far more.

Last month Finance minister Herbert Murerwa was in Washington to hold out the national begging bowl to the world’s most important “capitalist” institutions. Clearly he did not go without the president’s approval.

The bottom line is Mugabe’s doctrinaire policies  have seen the fastest contraction of any economy in the world. They have resulted in over 70% unemployment, 300% inflation and dependence upon donors based in Washington, Brussels and London. What sort of independence and sovereignty is that? How are the police supposed to defend the fiction that Mugabe’s policies are in the national interest when the evidence of their eyes every day suggests otherwise?

The rights of Zimbabweans are enshrined in the constitution’s Bill of Rights. These include the rights to expression and assembly. How the opposition uses its democratic space is defined by that constitution, not by a ruler who has a direct electoral interest in limiting that space.

Mugabe’s likes and dislikes are irrelevant here. He does not have the right to abridge the rights of others in order to secure for himself a further purchase on power. He cannot make puerile claims about the opposition being “puppets” driven by “foreign agendas” and then order the police to act against them.

Good governance and the rule of law are values shared by a majority of our people. If they accord with the experience of successful societies elsewhere — to which Zimbabweans are flocking in droves — that doesn’t make them an offence. Rather the offence lies with rulers pursuing damaging policies that have failed everywhere else they have been tried and then telling police officers they should support such policies.

What “democratic practices” does Mugabe think the opposition have ignored? Their applications to hold rallies have been turned down, their access to Zanu PF no-go areas restricted, their statements distorted by the official media, and their liberties curtailed by arbitrary arrest and detention.

“It is vital for the public to work with the police since the culture of demonstrations and stayaways is not in sync with the government’s desire to consolidate our national unity and turnaround the economy…” Mugabe told the police officers.

The street demonstrations and stayaways are the direct product of hardships Mugabe’s misrule has engendered. They are arguably the only recourse left to a hungry and pauperised populace. But whatever the case, it is not for Mugabe to determine what kind of political culture should be permitted. The whole purpose of a constitution in a society guided by the rule of law is precisely to prevent overweening rulers like Mugabe using state law-enforcement agencies to his advantage while at the same time disabling his political opponents.

 The police have already forfeited public support by appearing to side with oppressors against the oppress-ed. An interview with a prostrate and badly-beaten MDC supporter, Tonderai Machiridza, just 24 hours before he died of his injuries, screen-ed on BBC’s Panorama programme  recently, exposed to a world-wide audience the vicious consequences of a culture of repression.

This is not something any Zimbabwean can be proud of, least of all those entrusted with upholding the law.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comparison of Zimbabwe’s regime with that of Burma’s, where state violence against a popular opposition has ensured for that country the reputation of a rogue state, appears to have stung members of Mugabe’s inner circle.

And so it should. Zimbabwe’s international standing has been prejudiced by ongoing state-sponsored terror and impunity for those who have assaulted, tortured and killed members of the opposition. Zimbabwe’s rulers are getting the reputation they deserve.

Top of the agenda for any inter-party talks must be a restoration of the rule of law and professionalism in the police force. There can be no political settlement, no fair electoral management, and no public or investor confidence without broad acceptance of a non-partisan force committed to upholding the rule of law — not the diminishing political fortunes of a president who appears intent upon doing as much damage as possible before he is finally obliged to go.

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