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Editor’s Memo

What will it take?

Trevor Ncube

THE failure by Zimbabweans to rise up in their millions and deliver the final blow to President Robert Mugabe’s

illegitimate and brutal regime has been a cause of disappointment and deep soul-searching to many people in and outside the country.

Fear of the regime seems to outweigh the people’s desperate yearning for political and economic freedom. Zimbabweans are now prisoners of their own fears.

The fear is not without basis. This is one of the most brutal regimes that the continent has ever produced. It is the same government that murdered over 20 000 innocent people in the Midlands and Matabeleland in the early 1980s for standing in the way of Zanu PF’s desire for political hegemony and Mugabe’s quest for a one-party state.

It is a chilling thought that none of the perpetrators of that ethnic cleansing has been brought to book. Having benefited from a presidential amnesty, they are roaming the country freely and have now unleashed their terror on the nation while the whole world watches helplessly.

Many people have been displaced, tortured or killed over the past three years as Zanu PF fights for political survival in the face of strong public opposition, particularly in the urban areas. A combination of factors, namely ignorance, fear and lack of political sophistication, has kept the rural areas firmly under Mugabe’s grip. It is difficult to dismiss the terrible thought that one day Zimbabwe might be shocked to find mass graves of victims of Zanu PF’s violent campaign to thwart the opposition MDC threat in the 2000 parliamentary election and the 2002 presidential poll. Rural areas are presently inaccessible to the independent media, the international press or members of the opposition.

Notwithstanding the danger that Mugabe poses to those who challenge him, the current political paralysis in the country raises a number of questions. Have Zimbabweans not suffered and been humiliated enough to realise that taking to the streets in their millions is a risky but necessary step towards their liberation from Mugabe’s regime? What will it take to force Zimbabweans onto the streets to demand justice, a return to the rule of law, democracy and all the basic rights accorded citizens in a normal country?

Many have also wondered whether the MDC is up to the task of challenging the illegitimate regime in Zimbabwe and whether it was right in its choice of strategy and pronouncements in the period leading up to the week of national mass action.

Perhaps this is a somewhat harsh assessment of the MDC. There is no doubt however that the job stayaway was very successful in bringing the economy to a complete standstill. By staying home en masse, even against unprecedented levels of intimidation and state-sponsored violence, Zimbabweans collectively delivered an unambiguous message to Mugabe’s government. It is instructive that staying away from work is a strategy chosen by Zimbabweans to counter the brute force unleashed by Mugabe’s military dictatorship on those who elect to participate in public demonstrations against his continued rule.

Be that as it may, one would have thought that the dire economic situation that Zimbabweans are subjected to on a daily basis should have caused all of us to take to the streets and demonstrate loud and clear that we cannot take this pain and dehumanisation anymore. Granted, the regime had mobilised its rent-a-mob from the rural areas, the army, the police and its shadowy paramilitary units and showed that it was prepared to kill if that was what was needed to stop a massive street demonstration.

So we are to believe that while Zimbabweans desperately want change from the life of misery that Zanu PF rule has reduced them to, they were not prepared to risk life and limb in their fight against this corrupt, repressive and arrogant regime.

Zanu PF has reduced a whole nation to destitution and killed all hope except for those benefiting from its continued rule. Life in Zimbabwe has been reduced to a living hell and the most natural thing would be for Zimbabweans to rise up and unshackle themselves.

Ponder this. Inflation is running at over 300%, that is if you believe the official statistics. Private-sector economists see inflation hitting 1 000% by year-end. Unemployment is well over 70% and many businesses are teetering on the brink of collapse. An acute shortage of fuel threatens many business operations and has made the task of going to work a nightmare for all commuters. On top of all this Zimbabweans are subjected to political intimidation on a daily basis, state terror and the crudest propaganda campaign that puts to shame Goebbels’ much more sophisticated spin-doctoring. All these and more are factors that should have caused Zimbabweans to embrace the call by the MDC to take to the streets a few weeks ago. But they didn’t. Why?

While fear was a major factor, the MDC’s strategies must carry most of the blame. Let us make one thing very clear. People want change but the MDC has no capacity to deliver that change yet. It was swept to where it is by people’s anger against the tired and corrupt Zanu PF government and not because it had a better political manifesto. It has failed to enunciate a concise vision and show political passion. And of course its leader Morgan

Tsvangirai is no Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joshua Nkomo or Herbert Chitepo.

His pedestrian style is insufficient to drive political passions even in the most down-trodden of black townships. This explains in part the calm during his two weeks of imprisonment.

The MDC’s call for street protests was marked by confusion. First it gave the government three weeks’ notice of its impending mass action. This gave Zanu PF ample time to prepare to quash the protests, including printing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “No To Mass Action” and mobilising its rent-a-mob from the rural areas. The MDC leadership proceeded to give street names, times and dates of where the mass action would take place. Of course, Zanu PF activists and the state military machine were at the venues before them. The MDC top brass was nowhere to be seen when their leadership on the streets was most needed.

To be fair, Tsvangirai was picked up by police from his home before taking to the streets but most of the leadership played it safe.

The MDC’s use of the independent media to inform the public of the nature and venues of the mass action played into the hands of the government. If the MDC had been a grassroots-based organisation it would have used its party structures thus making it difficult for the government to keep abreast of events. Struggles such as the one the MDC is trying to wage have been won without a sympathetic media. But it takes hard work, planning and living with the people to put these structures in place.

It was also a tactical blunder to label the mass action the final push. By calling it the final push the MDC raised the stakes and put its credibility on the line. Politics is a game of taking risks. The higher the risks the bigger the potential for a huge payoff. Unfortunately the very successful job stayaway was far from being the final push.

It achieved a number of things, though, among them sending a clear message to President Mugabe and his regime that he no longer enjoys the support of the urban electorate across the board. It also proved beyond any shadow of doubt that only brute force will keep Mugabe in power. But it also demonstrated that in spite of their desperate lives Zimbabweans have not yet mustered the courage to confront a regime that has turned their dreams into one long nightmare over the past three years.

The one clear result to emerge from the stayaway is the current political stalemate. The MDC does not have what it takes to harness people’s power to drive Mugabe from office while Zanu PF’s monopoly on coercive power is not enough to crush the people’s burning desire for change. This stalemate should point both parties to the fact that they desperately need each other to find a solution to the man-made crisis facing Zimbabwe. That solution can only be found when both parties sit around a table and negotiate.While regional and international intervention is important in finding a way out, it is face-to-face talks between the two main protagonists that will get us a solution.

However, it is important to realise that there are many in Zanu PF who will fight against the prospect of talks as a way of extending their political life. Chief among these is Jonathan Moyo whose political life depends on Robert Mugabe. Talks with the MDC pose a direct political threat to him, which is why he has used the government-controlled media to undermine talks and to question the role of Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo. His opposition to talks and indeed his venom against the MDC are informed by personal interests rather than the public good. Such elements in both parties must be made to realise that the more damage the country is subjected to the longer it will take to get back to recovery.

It is time for true statesmen to emerge from both parties and help find a durable solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis. And these negotiations must be informed by the fact that the current crisis is as a result of Zanu PF’s corruption and mismanagement and that Mugabe’s government is illegitimate. For its part, the MDC must now realise that more stayaways and street protests will further ruin this country and that its call for a failed final push has hurt its credibility. The MDC can only stay away from the talks if it knows that it is able to mobilise massive public support to drive Mugabe from power.

Issues to be negotiated are when will Mugabe go. Mugabe and his side-kicks have long passed their sell-by date. The talks must also focus on the nature of constitutional amendments required to put a transitional administration in place and the form and composition of that administration. The talks should clearly set out a timeframe for a new constitution and a date for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections under the auspices of the United Nations.

This will be the easy part. The more challenging task will be rebuilding this country and its national institutions which have been devastated by 23 years of Zanu PF rule. And in this Zimbabwe will need the support of its regional and international partners.

Mugabe’s rule, particularly over the past two years, is a seminal lesson on how African civil wars are made. Thank God Zimbabweans have declined Mugabe’s invitation to a civil war. For how else does one characterise his blocking of all avenues to free expression of political choice by Zimbabweans? How else does one describe his use of force and violence to frustrate a new political dispensation?

Mugabe must accept unconditional talks with the MDC to give Zimbabwe a chance to live again. Even the most heartless and selfish of politicians must be touched by the suffering of Zimbabweans from all walks of life. The world wonders whether Mugabe cares about anybody other than Robert Gabriel Mugabe. His decision on whether to begin negotiations with the MDC should help answer that question.

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