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Zim civil society guilty by omission

By Denford Magora

WHO declared the following: ” In our country, we want to substitute ethics for egotism, principles for habits, duties for protocol, the empire of reason for the tyranny of changing tastes,

scorn of vice for the scorn of misfortune, pride for insolence, elevation of soul for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money, good men for amusing companions, merit for intrigue, genius for cleverness, truth for wit, the charm of happiness for the boredom of sensuality, a magnanimous, strong, happy people for an amiable, frivolous, miserable people?”

It was, in fact, the French revolutionery Robespierre. The date was February 17, 1794.

This speech describes faithfully the attitude and modus operandi of our civil society and political opposition. As the government pushed through the 17th amendment to our constitution, the population took no notice.

Zimbabweans, as in Robespierre’s utopia, pursued love of money, eschewed truth and embraced wit, quipping clever but empty platitudes to each other in bars and nightclubs. And yes, true to type, we remained “amiable, frivolous, miserable…”

A visitor mingling with our citizens would never have suspected that those in power were passing laws that would shake the foundations of our civilisation.

Part of this has to do with the dereliction of duty by pretty much all our media through ignoring the provisions and implications of this amendment.

After the deed was done and the perpetrators starting waving a bloodied knife about, the media then woke up and started talking about the nastier implications of this bill.

The overwhelming majority of our people had no inkling that a constitutional amendment was imminent. What more understanding the unwarranted and downright evil provisions of this bill?

Civil society as a whole should hang its collective head in shame. They never red-flagged this development with the population and they certainly cannot plead ignorance. They knew in advance – all of them – the opposition included. Yet the only person to issue a warning about this development was the irrepressible Jonathan Moyo.

That they all knew in advance is now self-evident, since it is also clear now that even the South Africans, the British and the Americans knew. There is no doubt in my mind now that the frantic “loan” talks were linked to the imminent passing of this bill.

The loan itself was clearly part of a carrot and stick approach to get the Zanu PF government to stop the tabling of the bill. The stick was the threat of imminent expulsion from the IMF and total isolation of Harare from international capital.

President Robert Mugabe’s retort that the MDC could talk to Zanu PF in parliament now makes sense. He was essentially saying there would be no talks on the constitutional amendment with the MDC outside of parliament, where each side could employ its electoral mandate to vote for, or against the constitutional changes.

Plainer still is the fact that this bill was crafted long before the elections. The speed with which it was presented before parliament and signed into law is nothing sort of magical. Remember, it is not even six months yet since the last parliamentary elections.

Has Zanu PF in that short time come up with an intricately woven, calculated assault on civil liberties? Of course not. It was all done long before the elections.

The question then must be asked: Where was civil society looking when this was happening? Where, indeed, was the opposition?

Something as fundamentally society-altering as this amendment would have called for report-back sessions by all opposition MPs.

Town halls should have been booked. Meetings should have been called with the constituents. MPs should then have explained this law and its implications to their people before it was tabled. Should have, could have..

What in the name of democracy has got into our opposition and civil society leaders? Those who claim to be working for the good of the people are sleepwalking through the most seismic social engineering experiment our nation has seen since the Land Apportionment Act.

Only now the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has organised a constitutional conference. One wonders if it was even their idea. Discussing the constitution and the just-passed amendment is now a moot point. The fight for a new constitution is dead. Until at least 2010, that is. Because for the next five years, Zanu PF will reign triumphant with its majority in parliament and no one can use that route to repeal these new laws.

It is also a bit late in the day to expect some sort of “people power” to come to the rescue. Too much time has passed since the bill was made law and the time for people to spontaneously demonstrate their anger is gone.

Through this limp-wristed, weak-willed and hesitant leadership, civil society and the opposition have effectively delivered Robespierre’s speech to Zimbabweans.

None of this was at all necessary. The government itself had faithfully repeated its 2000 mistake. Instead of concentrating only on the true purpose of the amendment (the nationalisation of repossessed farms), Zanu PF reverted to type and also loaded the same bill with unwarranted and draconian restrictions on the general population.

So, this time around, if the NCA, the MDC and all the other acronyms that abound in Zimbabwe had organised people effectively, there would have been a clear demonstration of the unpopularity of certain clauses of this bill. But now the initiative is lost and will remain so until 2010 at least.

This treachery against the public by those who purport to stand for their interests has wider and deeper implications. Frustration, anger, resentment and powerlessness are being artificially bottled up through commission on government’s part and omission on the opposition’s part.

* Denford Magora is a Harare-based advertising executive.

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